Sanibel Island and Grouper Sandwiches

Wednesday, January 29

Grouper sandwiches are the vision. Our journey south was punctuated with the phrase “When we get to Sanibel and the grouper sandwiches,…”

Now we are just 36 miles away from Sanibel and this Wednesday morning’s weather is miserable.  It’s cold.  It’s raining.  The wind is blowing 15 to 20 mph.  Though the waterway is mostly protected along our route, four or five hours travelling through cold blowing rain is not enjoyable so we will stay at Burnt Store Marina and take advantage of the amenities here.

Bob works on projects in the cabin and I do the laundry.  We eat lunch at the delightful marina restaurant and talk about our upcoming trip back to Arkansas.  Our plan is to secure the Traveler at a marina in Sanibel and drive home to take care of a few things there.  David will meet us in Sanibel with the car and we will all drive back to the Ozarks together (Beulah included).

Thursday, January 30

Over the last month our pat answer to the question “Where are you headed?’ was always “…to eat a grouper sandwich on Sanibel Island.”

At long last.

At long last.

"Oh yeah!  I'm all about a grouper sandwich feast too!"

“Oh yeah! I’m all about a grouper sandwich feast too!”

You can see by the happy grins above that Thursday brings us to the completion of this leg of our Loop Journey.   After several sandwiches at Gramma Dot’s and on the flybridge amid white wine and dark beer, we pack up the car and give the Traveler a thorough cleaning.

The lure of Sanibel is the easy sense of island time.  You leave anything more hectic than catching fish behind.

The lure of Sanibel is the easy sense of island time. You leave anything more hectic than catching fish behind.

 

David wonders why we would leave this to return to the snow & ice of the Ozark Hills in January.

David wonders why we would leave this to return to the snow & ice of the Ozark Hills in January.

 

The marina.  What you do not see in this photo are the porpoises and the osprey patrolling the canals looking for fish.

The marina. What you do not see in this photo are the porpoises and the osprey patrolling the canals looking for fish.

David packs the car before we head out.

David packs the car before we head out.

David and I take an extended dinghy ride that I never want to return from – the temps are in the low 80s and a sweet breeze keeps me from getting too warm.  It is just perfect here.  Coolish at night and warmish during the day.  Sea birds and sea critters abound.  There’s lots of shells to look at and things move a bit slower on the island.  I can not believe that after slogging 1075 miles through the cold to get here we are leaving with only ½ day of paradise under our belts.  Poor Bob missed the dinghy ride because he insisted on defrosting the fridge.  Such is the life of responsible adults but he made up for it when he discovered a fellow-pirate.

Bob mixes it up with the pirates again.

Bob mixes it up with the pirates again.

We removed the engine hatches from the main salon with the intent of refinishing them in the workshop at home.   Time and sunshine have taken their toll on the boat’s woodwork and now we need to do a little maintenance work.  Well actually it is a lot of maintenance work.  The teak handrails and flybridge combings all need to be takken to wood and some type of varnish/polyurethane needs to be applied. Likewise for the cabin soles.

In early 203 we tested Coelan, a polyurethane product, on the Traveler’s teak brow.  We applied 7 thin coats and after one year in the Alabama sun, it looks like we just put it on.  It is purported to work well on handrails, decks and interior soles also.  Unlike the popular product, Cetol, Coelan preserves the teak’s natural color and beauty. And, although Coelan is more difficult to apply correctly, it lasts longer than comparable polyurethane products.

2014 will be the Traveler’s beautification year.

Farewell until we return in March...

Farewell until we return in March…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tampa Bay to Charlotte Harbor

Tuesday proved to be a promising travel day and we left the anchorage at Egmont Key soon after enjoying our apple and walnut-studded oatmeal.

Once across the mouth of Tampa Bay, we entered the narrow channel that makes up the ICW north of Sarasota.  This is a very populated coastline and though it was a chilly weekday, folks in kayaks, paddle boards, sailboats, and small fishing boats enjoyed the beautiful water and sunshine.

At Sarasota Bay the navigable water widened and we could maintain a constant speed across.  South of Sarasota the ICW again narrows as it winds along the coast in a well-marked and well-protected channel.

The sun glistens on the ICW

The sun glistens on the ICW

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Sailboat at anchor off the ICW on Florida's west coast.

Sailboat at anchor off the ICW on Florida’s west coast.

Two ferries crossing the busy ICW; cruisers must maintain constant attention on the waterway.

Two ferries crossing the busy ICW; cruisers must maintain constant attention on the waterway.

 

Ferry docking at the barrier island.

Ferry docking at the barrier island.

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After a long day of cruising, we reached Charlotte Harbor and headed east 10 miles  towards Punta Gorda.  We hoped to reach Burnt Store Marina before sunset, but manatee zones and bridge opening schedules delayed us.   The waning light on the water in Charlotte Harbor was beautiful as dozens of dolphins fed on the fish around us.

Dolphin jumping belly-side up to watch the Traveler as she crosses Charlotte Harbor.

Dolphin jumping belly-side up to watch the Traveler as she crosses Charlotte Harbor.

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I know that the shutter was clicked a bit late but I just love the splash.

I know that the shutter was clicked a bit late but I just love the splash.

The approach to the marina is well lit by a flashing red marker and we left it to starboard as we picked our way through the dark into the channel.  The harbormaster had given us a slip number earlier in the day and we found it easily in the light from the docks and the stars.  We tied up and washed down the hull and deck, removing the salt from our Gulf crossing two days before.  We were tired and happy to have made another 84 miles into warm weather.  We were so close to Sanibel Island that we could almost taste the grouper sandwiches at Gramma Dot’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crossing the Gulf

Saul Creek provides peace and beauty.

Our view upstream from the Traveler's bow.

Our view upstream from the Traveler’s bow.

The sunsets are ever-changing.

The creek reflect the beauty of the evenings.

The creek reflects the beauty of the evenings.

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After five restful days at Saul Creek waiting for an auspicious weather window, we said goodbye to the serene views, weighed anchor and powered east 36 miles to Shipping Cove, a fairly well protected anchorage  off the northwest corner of Dog Island.  I remember from my childhood that it was named Isle de Chien, and I always wondered why it was named that.  I never imagined that it would be such an important spot on a chart for me in the future.

Dog Island is where we stage the Traveler to cross the northeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico when heading south, and it is our point of landfall when crossing that same corner when heading north.

Sunday morning was clear and the temperature was 54 degrees.  At 1245  we turned on the engine, raised the anchor, and headed for East Pass, following the buoys out through the channel and into the Gulf of Mexico.  By 1600, we were out of sight of land.  Our course was set for the Anclote Key buoy, just off the coast from Tarpon Springs.

The Gulf of Mexico: our view for the next 24 hours.

The Gulf of Mexico: our view for the next 24 hours.

The sun sets over the gulf of Mexico.

Note the waves as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.

Red sky at night - sailors delight.

Red sky at night – sailors delight.

Through the afternoon and into the night the clouds came and went.  A light rain fell for two hours at 0200 and then we saw the stars.  The clouds returned and by 0500 a patchy fog began to form.  The fog thickened as we approached the coast.  When we were 30 miles offshore we decided to head south rather than to risk piloting through crab pots in the fog.  We checked the NOAA weather on the VHF radio and noting that the winds would remain light, we changed our destination from Anclote Key to further down the coast to Clearwater or Tampa Bay.

The wind and waves were kind throughout the night.  The seas ran one to two feet with the occasional three footer thrown at us.   The changing wind direction often made it a bit sloppy.  At different times the wind and waves were quiet and there were only unbroken swells to raise the hull and then lower her again.  The wind ranged from light to 15 mph.  Mostly it stayed in the five to ten mph range.

The Traveler took it all in stride as did most of her crew; Beulah was her typical grumpy self, but even a bit more so.  When she wasn’t sulking in the aft cabin, she was complaining loudly at the change in her schedule and the ever-changing angle of her resting spot.

Note the calm seas; the morning's silver lining to our crossing.

Note the calm seas; the morning’s silver lining to our crossing.

At 1015 we were 15 miles west of Blind Pass, and had traveled 184 miles.  While it was mostly cloudy, the fog had lifted.  We changed our course to a more easterly heading, planning on a landfall at Egmont Channel into Tampa Bay.

Fog returned as we neared the coast and by the time we arrived in the channel, it was as thick as pea soup.  We picked our way into Tampa Bay, navigating with electronic charts equipped with a GPS to note our exact position on the channel. We sounded the horn at the appropriate intervals.  As we rounded Egmont Key, we left the channel and approached the anchorage on the lee side.  We had wanted to continue moving south, but the fog prevented us from going any further.  For safety’s sake, it was time to anchor well out of the way of any other vessels.

Out of the fog a chemical barge appeared.  It was not moving, and it appeared to be waiting for the fog to lift.  We turned to port rapidly to avoid a collision.  Ever more carefully, we eased behind the island to anchor amid several unexpected workboats.  It was 1245.

We had traveled for 24 hours over 205 miles of open sea.  It was time for a nap.

 

Fog

We often talk about purchasing a radar system to see for us in times of low visibility.  I am now a believer.

Although eerie, the fog has a certain beauty.

Although eerie, the fog holds a certain beauty.

These rusty barges look silver in the slanting sunlight.

These rusty barges through the fog look like a silver city in the slanting sunlight.

Late in the afternoon the fog dissipated and this amazing tugboat from New York, NY could be admired for all its stately power.

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Saul Creek

From the Laird Bayou anchorage we crossed the short bay and traveled along the canal cuts, arriving in Port St. Joe, and stayed at the marina there for two nights.

Bob gets directions from a Port St. Joe pirate.  Then we all went for a beer.

Bob gets directions from a Port St. Joe pirate. Then we all went for a beer.

The Port St. Joe Marina is a lovely and safe haven, close to good restaurants, fun watering holes, and a grocery store with plenty of fresh produce to help us stock up for the next leg of the journey to Sanibel Island.  But before getting to Sanibel, one must first accomplish crossing the northeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf crossing is 170 statute miles over open water.  At our trawler speed, it takes us from 17 to 20 hours to complete the trip, necessitating an overnight cruise.

It is important to approach the other side at Tarpon Springs or Clearwater during daylight in order to see and then avoid the crab pot buoys that litter the waters off the west coast of Florida.  There are hundreds of these small markers and the cables/lines which attach them to the traps are a great hazard to propellers and shafts.   An entangled propeller can render a boat dead in the water, far from land and help.

Though small, these buoys mark a grave danger for trawlers when entangled in a propeller.

Though small, these buoys mark a grave danger for trawlers when entangled in a propeller.

Crab pots aside, the real trick to the crossing is catching a favorable weather window.  The Traveler is a stout boat and can withstand rough seas, but her crew deeply believes that recreational boating should be recreational; not a rodeo.   The Traveler has a semi-displacement hull which is a nice way of saying that she is round bottomed.   There is not much keel to keep her steady.  A bit of chop is fine.  Cruising downwind with following seas of moderate height is just ducky.  Spending 17 hours hanging on as the boat rocks and rolls through seas, tossing gear and crew about, falls outside of our parameters of fun.

Mostly though, we want a perfect weather window because we love the crossing.  We want to always look forward to it.  There is something magical about being far away from and out of sight of land.  It appeals to the independent spirit in us and allows a special time for musing and introspection.  The wildlife is somehow different – you are in their element and it is a very foreign environment to our every-day experiences.  There is no din of civilization, no radio, no cell service, no internet.  It is just us, the wind and waves, and our sturdy boat.

So here we sit, anchored in beautiful Saul Creek, waiting and watching the weather.

The Arkansas Traveler, peacefully at anchor in Saul Creek.

The Arkansas Traveler, peacefully at anchor in Saul Creek.

Friends and fellow cruisers share the anchorage and the wait.

Friends and fellow cruisers share the anchorage and the wait.

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Fairhope, Alabama to Florida

We left Fairhope on a windy morning, heading to Florida and warmer weather.  As we turned east into Bon Secour Bay, the clouds cleared and the temperature rose to 52 degrees.  We entered the narrow canal that leads past Orange Beach and Perdido Key toward Pensacola, Florida.

I know that I have been whining about the cold and the travails of winter cruising, but this is now Sunny Florida, land of orange trees and perfect weather!  Just to prove it, Porpoises arrived, jumping at the bow and leaping through the Traveler’s stern wake.

The Traveler is welcomed to Florida by her favorite residents.

The Traveler is welcomed to Florida by her favorite residents.

Just west of Pensacola is Big Lagoon, and at its east end there is a spoil island created from sand and mud piled high using the deposits of channel dredging.  Just south of the island is a delightful anchorage that will hold several boats.  We arrived at the anchorage at 1600 and were the only boat finding refuge there for the night.  A full moon rose over the Pensacola skyline.

Early the next morning the sky was clear and the temperature was 30 degrees.  On cold nights the cabins chill down quickly, making it necessary to run the generator to power the heaters.  We have electric strips which warm air as it is blown over them.  While I don’t like running the generator so much it does give us a chance to charge all of the electronics.  There is a small inverter that plugs into a 12 volt socket but it is not a very efficient use of electricity.  We are looking at a better inverter/charging system to enable us to charge the precious Apple gear from the alternator while cruising.

The moon sets over the spoil island on the east end of Big Lagoon.

The moon sets over the spoil island at 0530 on the east end of Big Lagoon.

And the sun rises over Pensacola.

And the sun rises over Pensacola.

At 0700 we raise the anchor and continue east 73 miles past Fort Walton Beach and Destin, and into Choctawhatchee Bay.  We lower the anchor in 9 feet of water by the bridge at the east end of the Bay.

From Choctawhatchee Bay, it’s an easy 50 miles to Laird Bayou, located east of Panama City.  There are several good anchorages in this area and as we were expecting strong winds from the north and west, we chose one with plenty of protection from that quarter.

The approach to Laird Bayou is tricky with shallows galore.  We negotiated the sand bars and shoals and entered a delightful pool with plenty of space to swing on the anchor.

Grounded sailboat - what you don't want to see as you enter an anchorage.

Grounded and abandoned sailboat at Laird Bayou – what you don’t want to see as you enter an anchorage.

When anchoring in stormy situations we are up and checking our position many times during the night.  We also utilize the anchor drag alarm function on the Garmin GPS.  The holding bottom at Laird Bayou is great and while the Traveler veers quite a bit at anchor, she held steady and the ground tackle did not budge.

The Traveler’s bow is equipped with a 35-pound stainless steel CQR with 20 feet of chain and 250-feet of 3-strand twisted nylon line as her rode.  Many cruisers utilize all chain and there are many arguments within the various internet forums praising the attributes of one anchor type over another.  It’s analogous to figuring out who has the prettiest dog in the dog park.

Our anchor and rode came with the boat and gets a stamp of approval from the boating bible, Chapman Piloting and Seamanship.  We have two spare anchors, a 25-pound Danforth for the stern, rigged and ready to deploy, and a 15-pound lunch-hook stowed below.  We have held through 40+ mph winds and find that the trick is to deploy enough rode to keep the seabed to boat angle as flat as possible.

Enough on anchoring in a blow.  Nice thing about storms is that the sky paints a pretty palette at the end of the day.

Laird Bayou, January 18, 2014

Laird Bayou, January 18, 2014

Sunset at Laird Bayou

Sunset at Laird Bayou

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Fairhope, Alabama

We arrived at Fairhope on New Year’s Day, tying up at Easten Shore Marina to have some work done on the Traveler.

For starters, Fairhope is all about great sunsets.

For starters, Fairhope is all about great sunsets.

We had visited with Ed at ESM about having the bottom painted before heading south into salt water and of course we called him back at the Amory anchorage when we incurred the propeller damage.

You can see that her bottom needs painting!

You can see that her bottom needs painting!

Some very unseasonably cold weather held up the work for a few days, but soon Keith and Mike began working on the various punch list items that we had given them.  The prop was trued and put back on the shaft and an ablative paint was used on the bottom to discourage marine growth from making permanent homes on the hull.

The four-bladed prop is 26 inches across and has a pitch ratio of 22.

The four-bladed bronze prop is 26 inches across and has a pitch ratio of 22.  It has been painted here with an ablative paint.

For the time that the boat was out of the water, Beulah, Bob and I moved to a lovely inn located close to the downtown area.  The innkeeper, Becky, loves animals and welcomed Beulah as a guest.  We stayed in a cottage close to the main home.  Becky, a native of Fairhope told us wonderful stories about the area and its amazing, and sometimes quirky, residents.

The view from the breakfast table at the Bay Breeze Inn.

The view from the breakfast table at the Bay Breeze Inn.  The well-shaded backyard overlooks Mobile Bay.

We used our time away from the boat to explore town and to research some of Becky’s stories.

Fairhope is a Utopian Community.  In 1894 a group of 28 Populist reformers led by E. B. Gaston landed on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to establish a Single Tax Colony as prescribed by economist, Henry George (1839 – 1897).  Incorporated as the Fairhope Industrial Association, the group purchased a large tract of land and then leased it back to individuals, charging an annual rent (the Single Tax) in return for municipal services.  They retained the bluff and the best waterfront property for the use and enjoyment of the community.   As new people moved in, the municipal services were expanded and the community thrived.

Today, the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation, (a non-profit corporation) owns 4,200 acres.  Homeowners and merchants still lease parcels of land from the Corporation.  The Corporation pays all state and local taxes from the rent and manages a fund to make community improvements.  Fairhope has brought Henry George and Gaston’s vision into the 21st Century.  Combined community efforts create value from the land and that value is then returned to the community on a collective basis.  The rent fund benefits the entire community.

The Utopian beginnings are relevant and readily apparent on many levels.  Most strikingly, the people who were involved in the initial experimental community were a freethinking, intellectual group.   Fairhope continues to attract artists, philosophers and writers.  The town boasts independent bookstores and hardware stores in the thriving downtown district.  Unique art galleries, shops, and restaurants abound.

Land use planning continues through green areas for public use, a town pier that is a nightly gathering spot for watching sunsets, waterfront parks, playgrounds, and a bike and pedestrian friendly commitment.  The Corporation has taken an active role in developing the museum, rebuilding the library, and contributing to major hospital improvements.   

There are only a few Single Tax Colonies in existence in the United States currently.   Fairhope has managed to make the idea fit the ideal through changing political and economic environments.  And they have managed superbly.

The museum contains many permanent exhibits and also has an area for traveling exhibits.

The museum contains many permanent exhibits and also has an area for traveling exhibits.

Ironically, the economist Henry George never visited Fairhope because he didn't think that the community would be viable.

Ironically, the economist Henry George never visited Gaston’s Fairhope because he didn’t think that the community would be viable.

Marietta Johnson, author and educator, founded the School of Organic Education in 1907.  The school boasted "no tests, no grades, no shoes" - my kind of place!

Marietta Johnson, author and educator, founded the School of Organic Education in 1907. The school boasted “no tests, no grades, no shoes” – my kind of place!

Bob enjoying a quiet moment reading about Fairhope's history.

Bob enjoying a quiet moment reading about Fairhope’s history.

When the boat work was complete and she was returned to the water, we stocked up on fresh food, did a last load of laundry, filled the tanks, and headed into Mobile Bay.  After two glorious weeks we again head south towards warmer weather.Did I mention that Fairhope has fantastic sunsets?

Did I mention that Fairhope has fantastic sunsets?
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2014 – The New Year and Fairhope

From Big Bayou Canot to Mobile is more swamp than river; looking at the map, it’s difficult to tell where the navigable channel is.  The rivers are close and five of them enter the Gulf almost as one and yet spread across several miles.  This is a risen delta; the water is brackish and wildlife flourishes.

The land is rife with alligators and eastern rattlesnakes.  Birds are plentiful.  Other than the intrusion of occasional hunters, the habitat is untouched.

The recent flood water was accepted and absorbed across the delta.  New Year’s Day brought us calm winds and an overcast sky.  The decks were wet from the night’s rain, but there was no precipitation at 0645 and the temperature was 42 degrees.  We turned on the engine and raised the anchor.  At 0700 we were powering out of the bayou.

A Great Egret glides over the water.

A Great Egret glides over the water.

Two Bald Eagles watch the river just north of Mobile.

Two Bald Eagles watch the river just north of Mobile.

As we approach Mobile, tows become plentiful; maneuvering barges and working the ships.DSC_0061

Other than the tows, very little is working on this holiday morning.

Other than the tows, very little is working on this holiday morning.

A squadron of Brown Pelicans supervised by a lone Double Crested Cormorant, welcome travelers to  Mobile.

A squadron of Brown Pelicans supervised by a lone Double Crested Cormorant, welcome travelers to Mobile.

At 0900 we transit Mobile Harbor.

This stately suspension bridge is a marvel in its own right.

This stately suspension bridge is the gateway to the harbor and a marvel in its own right.

 The Brown Pelican is a curious creature.

An elegant Brown Pelican inspects the Traveler’s flybridge

Though the morning remains gray, most fortuitously there is no rain.

The Mobile skyline appears ghostly through the fog behind the commercial waterfront.

The Mobile skyline appears ghostly through the fog behind the commercial waterfront.

Tows work 365 days a year and 24 hours a day transporting bulk items through the nation and keeping our harbors productive.

Tows work 365 days a year and 24 hours a day transporting bulk items through the nation and keeping our harbors productive

The New Year is here.  We are past the winter waters and there will not be any more ice on the Traveler’s decks.  As we power out the ship channel and across Mobile Bay, the sun peeps out and illuminates the eastern shore, delineating the Fairhope Municipal Pier and the many parks along the waterfront.

At 1100 we approach Eastern Shore Marina where the Traveler will be docked for maintenance and where the propeller damage from the Amory Anchorage will be repaired.  The tide is out and rather than risk running aground in the narrow entry to Fly Creek, we anchor offshore in 9 feet of water to wait for the rising tide. 

For ten days we were immersed in the remote back country of Mississippi and Alabama.  We traveled 472 miles and through twelve locks.  We only saw river workers, tow crew members, hunters, and fishermen.  The transition to the city of Mobile and the wide expanse of Mobile Bay and the Gulf was an exercise in contrasts.  I think that we really anchored to help catch our breaths before rejoining the world.

A lone Brown Pelican lands in the water next to us and circles the boat, as if to welcome us.

A  Brown Pelican lands in the water and circles the boat, welcoming us to Fairhope.

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2013 – The Year Ends

On December 30 at 0600, the sky was overcast, the winds were light and variable and the temperature was 41 degrees.  Just after sunrise we raised the anchors and turned downstream.  The day remained overcast as we motored toward the last lock on the Tombigbee/Black Warrior River at Coffeeville, Alabama.

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A Great Egret picks its way along the sill of the lock gate, and looks for stranded fish.

The birds were happy with the weather and the water.  We enjoyed the adventure.  The rivers were not to the flood stage as defined by NOAA, but they were in the action stage which is one notch below flood.  While apprehensive and very careful, we took advantage of the increased current to make up for the diminished RPMs and short days.  

Run-off joins the river.

Run-off joins the river.

Beyond the Coffeeville Lock, the river becomes tidal and this adds another dimension to the current.  We did not want to travel into the night and we did not want to anchor in the river again, so at 1500, and 100 miles north of Mobile, Alabama, we ducked into the cut-off to the abandoned Lock Number One.  We had covered 68 miles.

A Great Blue Heron rests on the sill of a lock gate.

A Great Blue Heron finds a bit of sunshine on the sill of a lock gate.

Lock Number One and its cut-off channel are now a state recreation area.  Due to the flood conditions, the water was much higher than normal and we anchored in the middle of a large pool and were able to swing on one anchor through the night.  It was a safe and beautiful anchorage with fish jumping around us.  It was still cloudy but warm and Beulah ventured on deck to watch the fish and to listen to the birds.  We sat on the flybridge until it was time to go below to cook and to discuss the next day’s float plan.

New Year’s Eve

At 0715, Bob started the engine and at 0730, we were underway.  The temperature in the closest town was 42 degrees, the winds were light, and the sky was overcast.  We nosed into the river tentatively, expecting to again see a flood of debris, but the river was clear.  The current was just as swift as the day before but there were not any threatening trees or branches heading down the river with us.

An eagle assesses our progress.

A Bald Eagle assesses our progress on New Year’s Eve.

Sixteen miles north of Mobile, another cut-off, Big Bayou Canot, offers some of the best anchorages along this part of the river.  It is subject to tides, and in normal conditions the addition of a stern anchor is recommended to hold a boat parallel to the shoreline, but in this near flood-stage circumstance, the strong downstream current did not let the Traveler budge.  After 88 miles, we anchored at 1630 in Big Bayou Canot, well before the 1700 sunset.   It was a wonderful day and we put plenty of miles under the keel.  The only drawback was the cold and we welcomed the warmth of the cabin once we anchored.

We watched the weather closely.  It was to be a short day’s trip through downtown Mobile and then across the bay to Fairhope, Alabama where we planned to have the boat hauled and the bottom painted as we readied her for salt water.  Rain showers were predicted for the morning with higher winds, waves and storms in the afternoon.

We decided to travel early, in spite of the rain, because stormy weather was forecast for the rest of the week.  We had survived without damage the near flood stage conditions and did not want to risk sitting out a flood with its various dangers.  This was our window.  Besides, Beulah was almost out of cream.  And I was craving black-eyed peas and spinach for luck in 2014.

At 2200 the sky opened up and the rains came pouring down.

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The Current Quickens

Because of a river’s meander, one doesn’t refer to the various banks as north, south, east or west, but rather as left descending bank (LDB) or right descending bank (RDB).  This cuts down on confusion as one generally knows (or should know) which way the river is flowing (upstream or downstream) in relation to his/her boat.  Additionally, currents tend to run faster on the inside of a curve and will switch sides as the river bends back and forth along its route to the sea.  Uprooted trees and other debris tend to stay where the current runs the strongest.

We raised anchor and left Rattlesnake Bend entering the main channel of the Tombigbee River, picking our way through the flotsam and jetsam.  The captain announced that he never wanted to anchor in flood conditions after dark again.  Shortly thereafter, The Black Warrior River joined the Tombigbee and the debris increased.  Within a few miles we reached Demopolis and took on 115 gallons of diesel fuel and filled the water tank.  Beulah hid in the aft cabin and wanted nothing to do with the noise of the large tow filling up across the pier.

Directly after the Demopolis yacht basin is the Demopolis Lock.  With this step down toward the Gulf, the current increased.  We now had over three miles per hour added to our speed, and averaged over 10 miles per hour.

A red nun marking the LDB is pulled by the strong current.

A red nun marking the channel’s edge along the LDB is pulled by the strong current, creating its own wake.

Three double crested cormorants take a break from fishing on a green can.

Three double crested cormorants resting on a green can marking the channel’s edge along the RDB.  Note the debris hung up on the navigation marker.

After 56 miles of picking our way between floating debris we approached Barron’s Landing, a relatively safe in-river, but outside of the channel, anchorage at mile 168 along the LDB.  It was 1630 and we had plenty of time to anchor before nightfall.  As it happened, the current was running strong along the LDB and debris was running swiftly and dangerously close to the boat as we turned across the river and made our way up to the anchorage, bow into the current.  There are several dangers associated with anchoring in strong currents and things floating downstream and hitting the boat is one of them.  Another is debris drifting and hanging on the anchor rode.

We knew that this would never work and that we would have a sleepless night, so instead we powered nine-tenths of a mile upstream to the previous location of Old Lock Number Two along the RDB.  The current was swift but the debris was all on the other side of the river.  We anchored close to a boat ramp and dropped back on the rode.  The Traveler had her bow dead into the current as the anchor grabbed and dug into the mud.  We lowered an anchor from the stern to keep her from swinging into the close-by bank should the wind pick up during the night or should we move from the wake of passing tows.  I set the anchor drag alarm for 30 feet and we went below.  We notified the first tow that we would be spending the night there and asked that he let others on the river be on the lookout for an anchored trawler at mile 168.9.

It was an uneasy night and we got up throughout it to check on our position.  The spotlight on the front of the flybridge was focused on a large tree and that tree became our touchstone.

Posted in V - 2013; Back Onboard Again | 2 Comments

White Pelicans, Pickensville, and Rattlesnake Bend

It is the winter migration habit of American White Pelicans to climb to catch a thermal current to take them to warmer climates.   These large birds rise in an upward spiral searching for the best altitude to carry them south.

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As the pelicans travel on thermal currents above the Tombigbee River, we travel the river currents below them.

We made only 31 miles on Thursday, greatly slowed by delays while we waited for tows pushing heavy barges through the locks at midday.   At 1500 we anchored at Pickensville, Alabama to wait out the traffic jam of tows.

Many of the entries to the traditional anchorages have silted over on the upper Tombigbee and we didn’t want to encounter more submerged objects so the next morning we pushed 83 miles past sunset and into the dark to get to Rattlesnake Bend, a reliable anchorage close to Demopolis, Alabama.  It was an anchorage that we knew from an earlier trip on the river.

Heavy rains of the previous weekend had stirred up the creeks flowing into this part of the river and we began to see a growing amount of floating debris.  Additionally, we heard reports of pending flooding of the Alabama River which flows into the Tombigbee/Black Warrior River below Demopolis.

The trip to Rattlesnake Bend was arduous.  We pilot from a flybridge that is exposed on all sides. It was our fifth day on the river and the cold was unrelenting.  It wasn’t Antarctica, but it was continuous, and this was an 11 hour day of constant chill and damp, peppered with wind at each bend in the river.   Darkness slowly enveloped us as we powered toward Rattlesnake Bend and we used the searchlight to spot branches, trees, and other dangerous debris on the water ahead of us.  It was a long, tiring day and even the hand warmers that we tuck into our gloves had given out.

At 1800 we dropped the anchor in the loop cut-off known as Rattlesnake Bend.  Soon it began raining and we awoke to continued rain.  This rain would lead to more flooding, stronger currents and increased flotsam on the river, but the three of us welcomed a  weather-day of rest, boat clean-up and warm soups.

DSC_0933                                 Passing a northbound tow on the Tombigbee River 

Posted in V - 2013; Back Onboard Again | 1 Comment

Christmas Morning at the Amory Lock Anchorage

Christmas morning was clear and crisp.  After a leisurely breakfast to temperatures in the low 30’s, we radioed the lock master to to check his schedule.  He said that there would be a wait and at 10:30 we raised the anchor and powered out the small channel that is the approach to the anchorage.

I would love to tell you that the captain was at the helm, but typically I pilot the boat away from anchorages while Bob secures the anchor.  As luck would have it there are several submerged snags in this channel and happenstance took me over two of them. Whatever we hit bent the prop and at high RPMs there was a noticeable vibration throughout the boat.

Severe and out-of-alignment vibrations cause a myriad of problems.  We tested the boat at various RPMs and found that at 1400 the engine and hull purred.  Anything over that gave everything the shakes.  Generally we run at 1900 RPMs and make 8.5 to 9 mph; at 1400 RPMs we were running at about 7 mph.  I tried to look at the bright side – we were much more fuel-efficient at 1400 RPMs, and we could enjoy the scenery more – but my objective at that particular moment was to travel south to warmer mornings and sunny days as quickly as possible and Santa had certainly put stout branches under the keel: switches in my stocking.

At 1530, after two locks and 30 miles, we lowered the anchor at Waverly anchorage along the Tombigbee River.  The anchorage is tucked behind a small island.  It is secluded and lovely at this time of year.  There is an abandoned railroad bridge and best yet, the Traveler was well out the way of any passing tows.  As the sun set we shared wine on the flybridge and listened to the chorus of birds.  Temperatures were falling to the mid 20’s.

DSC_0077     The shores along the Tombigbee River promise many interesting surprises.

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Posted in V - 2013; Back Onboard Again | 1 Comment

Three Dog Night

Morning at Anchor

It was truly a three-dog-night but we only had the ship’s cat, Beulah, to boost the BTUs of the Traveler’s heater system.  It was 20 degrees at daybreak and frost blanketed the boat.  We waited until 0900 before starting the engine and raising the anchor; the temperature  clawed its way up to 25 degrees.

The anchor came up without a hitch, the wind was quiet, and the sun was shining.  Bob washed the mud off of the anchor, I slowly turned the Traveler toward the channel, and we whispered goodbye to Bay Springs Lake.  As I straightened the wheel, it unexplainably quit turning to starboard.  It would turn to port, but not back to starboard.

We had our second emergency anchoring within 24 hours.  Bob tried the lower helm with the same result.  We couldn’t turn to starboard.  Then, by magic, the wheel began working again.  And then it wouldn’t.

Sometimes on a boat there are things that remain a mystery.  We hashed and rehashed possible explanations for the problem.  We examined the steering gear in the lazarette for possible causes for the malfunction but everything was in order there.  Going back to the helm to test the mechanism, we found that the wheel turned in both directions as it always had, and there were no more problems.   We raised the anchor and cautiously headed south.

After much discussion during the day and a call to our dear friend, Tom Barnes, we surmised that the most plausible explanation involved a bit of frozen condensation at the helm on the flybridge in the steering lines that caused a break in the flow of hydraulic fluid.  The Traveler’s flybridge is not enclosed and we had failed to place the canvas cover over the helm and instrument panel the night before.  It is now a task that we will be sure to include in our nightly shut-down procedures.

Locks of Luck

Though the days are short and this one started late, we encountered only brief waits at the locks as they lowered us toward the Gulf of Mexico.  We traveled 44 miles through five locks without incident, and chose to anchor just above the Amory Lock near the Amory Recreation Area.

This is our first experience traveling with a pet.  It was Beulah’s second night at anchor and she had reconciled with being a ship’s cat; she settled down and began ruling her domain.

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Back Onboard Again…

An Explanation

Bob and I took a three year hiatus from the Loop while we attended to work and family responsibilities.  The good news is, that in the end, we are responsible adults.  The bad news is that during the ensuing three years, we did not grow any younger and it will be up to the Arkansas Traveler to right that issue.  It’s a little tougher to fold into the engine room and the fingers are a little rusty with the lines.  Whining aside, the improvements to the boat, the updates to the navigation and electrical systems, and the art of provisioning have returned us happily to trawler life.

The Leaving

A few days before Christmas, son David drove us to the boat with a mountain of food and gear.  After two days of stowing, straightening, and saying good byes to David and friends Tom and Margaret, Tom cast off our lines and we headed south from Iuka, Mississippi toward the gulf.  Thirty-four miles through the cut is our favorite inland anchorage; a secluded spot in the uncrowded waters of Bay Springs Lake.   It is a perfect place to downshift from the hectic days of readying the boat and crew to life at seven miles per hour.

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While at Aqua Yacht Harbor in Iuka, the capable folks at the boat yard installed and upgraded several systems on the boat.  One was replacing the windlass that had seized up when we first purchased the trawler in early 2010.  The previous owners rarely anchored and the salt air and lack of use over her first eight years did not bode well for the windlass.  We have always done well lowering and hoisting the anchor (20 feet of chain and 250 feet of rope rode) by hand; the arm-strong method.  Lowering the anchor with a machine had to be easier, or so I thought.  At 1630 we glided into the anchorage and Bob went to the foredeck to ready the anchor.  He flipped the breaker for the windlass and I stood on the flybridge staring at the two arrows on the switch.  One pointed up and one pointed down.  Years and oceans of sailing and power boating had not prepared me for this moment but I knew that the anchor was supposed to lower so I pushed the down arrow.  There was a whir and then a clunk and nothing happened. Apparently the up arrow is for “out” and the down arrow means “pull ‘er back in.”

I had inadvertently pulled the anchor tight to the boat and no amount of arm-strong on Bob’s part could un-jam it.  We quickly (and manually) dropped our second anchor, a Danforth generally reserved for the stern, to secure the boat.  We resorted to using tools and un-shackled the anchor, fiddled carefully with whatever levers and knobs were on the windlass and finally worked through the jam.  Bob then hoisted the Danforth and I returned to the flybridge vowing to never push another button.  I knew that I didn’t like windlasses anyway, and now there was one more reason.

At 1730 we lowered the anchor properly, made the line fast to the samson post, and watched the light diminish.

Posted in V - 2013; Back Onboard Again | 4 Comments

June 22; Four-Mile Bend to Sumter Recreation Area

Trying to make up for lost time earlier in the trip, we put in a long day to gain 85 miles. We refueled at the Demopolis Yacht Basin, taking on 155 gallons of diesel, and topped off our 120-gallon water tank.    We passed through two locks, Demopolis and Heflin, and anchored in a small embayment in the Sumter Recreation Area near Gainesville, Alabama as sunset ended our 12-hour day.

A constant cloud cover protected us from the high heat of an Alabama June sun.

The Tombigbee River has been shaping the limestone banks for millions of years.

 

The weather was warm with intermittent showers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A highway bridge and a railroad bridge span the Tombigbee River.

Posted in W - June, 2011; Fairhope, AL to Florence, AL | 1 Comment

June 21; Powell Landing to Four-Mile Bend

Tuesday took us through the first of twelve locks.  The Coffeeville Lock and Dam would lift us over thirty feet out of tidal waters and into the fresh water of the Tombigbee River.

After shaking off the cobwebs of the prior night’s work in the engine room, we raised the anchor and got underway at 0700 hrs.   We powered upriver for 11.5 hours and traveled a total of 96 miles; an average of 8.35 miles per hour.  The day was partly cloudy and due to our lack of air conditioning, we welcomed the relief from the Alabama sunshine.  Late in the afternoon, the gray sky deepened.

At 1815 hrs, lightning reigned, and thunder was on top of us.  Again we found ourselves without an off-river anchorage nearby and we began to look for whatever refuge was available.  A south wind blew.  Heavy rain drops began to fall and we tucked again behind red nuns (navigational aids marking the channel), today at Four Mile Bend, to find a spot out of harm’s way to spend the night, or to at least wait out the storm.

I turned the boat into the wind as Bob went to the bow to ready the anchor.  Lightning continued to pop all around us.  The rain poured down in buckets at this point and I couldn’t see through my glasses so I tossed them aside; not much visibility anyway.   As the Traveler turned her bow southward, and the wind menaced, Bob lowered the anchor in nine feet of water.  The current was trying to swing the stern back toward the channel and I fought it with the stern thruster as the boat tugged mightily against the anchor.  Suddenly, a calm fell around the boat.  We could see the wind whipping the water further into the river, but we were in a quiet halo of stillness.  The rain fell in vertical sheets, but the Traveler sat motionless with her anchor line slack, bow to the south, and parallel to the river’s bank  – giving us time to set out the stern anchor.

It was a thunderstorm to anchor by.  Just as quickly as it had approached, after an hour the storm abated and left us with the air cooled and ready for night.

Arkansas Traveler tied to the floating bollard in the Coffeeville Lock.

The niche for the floating bollard to rise and fall in.

Lock gates close behind the Arkansas Traveler.

A snowy egret defends its fishing territory on the lock gate.

Posted in W - June, 2011; Fairhope, AL to Florence, AL | Leave a comment

June 19 & 20; Big Briar Creek to Bates Lake & Powell Landing

Big Briar Creek/Tensaw River Cutoff

Big Briar Creek was the ideal anchorage to catch up on rest and boat work.  The morning dawned peacefully and the world seemed in harmony.  We had hoped to get back on the river early, but between the idyllic surroundings and that “just one more cup of coffee,” attitude, we weighed anchor at noon.  The late start was something of a disappointment, but the alligator that eased by during that next cup of coffee seemed to be a harbinger of great times and fantastic wildlife spotting ahead.

But life and travel are not always what they seem.

We were below the first lock at Coffeeville, and were in tidal waters which necessitated using two anchors in most spots to avoid being drawn into shallows by the current.    As evening approached we realized that we would not reach Coffeeville by dark and decided to slip into Bates Lake for the night.

The entry to Bates Lake

Bates Lake is a serene spot with a fishing village feel.  I don’t know if most of the folks who live here do so year-round, or if these are vacation getaways;  I only know that everyone was friendly.  The passage into the lake is silted in with a soft mud and needs dredging.  We entered at nearly high tide and though we barely slipped over the muddy, shallow shelf, we didn’t bump the bottom.

The quandary would come the following day when the tide was low.  But, being smart and invincible, I just knew that it would work itself out.  Tides, however, have their own pace and their own schedule and the tide was, of course, dead low in the morning.  Being resourceful, we decided to make it a play-day there in the lake.  Cody learned to drive the dinghy and we spent our time exploring and fishing.

By three o’clock in the afternoon we were anxious to get back on the river and log some miles for the day.  Since we hadn’t even bumped bottom the day before, we thought that we could slip out prior to the high tide, and besides, if we were to get stuck, a rising tide floats all boats.  Or so the saying goes.

We left and slowly motored to the sill separating Bates Lake from the Mobile River.  A retired Corps of Engineers captain was guiding us via VHF radio through the cut, but soon we could tell that we were churning mud as the depth-sounder beeped its alarm. Deeper and deeper into the mud we wedged as the water became shallower and shallower.  Finally, Bob gunned the motor and we plowed straight through to the safe, deep water of the Mobile River.

We checked the exhaust from the motor to ensure that engine intake valve for the raw water cooling system was not plugged with mud while we dragged bottom.  Happily, clear water flowed out the stern, just like always.  We kept a close eye on the temperature gauge for the next several hours.

A few miles upriver, I went below to check on something and noticed that the air conditioner was not on, nor was the generator.  After flipping a few switches, it was quickly apparent that the generator was not going to work.  A large amount of mud had sucked into the intake valve as we left Bates Lake.  This meant no air conditioning.  This is Alabama.  It is June.  It is hot and the nights are still and filled with mosquitos.  We were on mile 70 of a 500 mile cruise.

Thirty-seven miles out of Bates Lake, the sun began to set.   There were no practical anchorages off-river, and we had never dropped the hook directly in the river.  There are several reasons for this: shallow depths, unknown snags on the bottom, poor holding ground, but mostly the danger from tows which travel 24 hours a day pushing 2 to 9 heavily laden barges.  On this evening we had no choice so we anchored just south of Powell Landing where a tow was working both sides of the river shuffling barges of coal to and from the local power plant.   We radioed the tow and asked if we would be in the way, nestled between a red nun navigational buoy and the landing further upstream that he was working from.  He offered to help with the generator or with anything else that we might need.  We declined his offer, but it was comforting to know that someone was concerned and was letting passing tows know that we were anchored so close to the channel.

After making sure that the anchors were secure, and preparing dinner for Cody, Bob and I climbed into the engine room and cleaned mud out of the strainers attached to the intake valves to the main engine, the generator and the air conditioners.   The bilge was covered with the sticky ooze and we sponged, flushed, and sponged and flushed again to ensure that all hoses were clear.

After several hours of work, sitting contorted in a hot engine room, Bob switched the fail-safe circuit breaker on the generator, pressed the start toggle switch and the generator grumbled, then chugged.  The raw water intake was working and clear water came sputtering and gushing through the exhaust as if there had never been a problem.  It was a wondrous moment of relief to know that we had not killed the generator.

The air conditioners were not that simple, and after checking several potential solutions, we went to bed, too tired to care if it was hot.

Cody operating the dinghy in Bates Lake

Docks along the edge of Bates Lake

Basking turtles

Note the anchor lines forward and aft. The stern anchor keeps the current from turning the boat out of the wind.

Posted in W - June, 2011; Fairhope, AL to Florence, AL | Leave a comment

June 18; Eastern Shore Marina to Big Briar Creek

Fairhope, Alabama recedes in our wake.

It is sixteen miles from the Eastern Shore Marine docks in Fairhope, Alabama to
where the Highway 10 tunnel intersects the Mobile river in downtown Mobile; mile 0 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  The waterway connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Tennessee River through a system of rivers, canals, and twelve locks.

This is the last leg of the long leap-frog journey north from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the Traveler’s summer berth.  Work beckons between cruises and delays the Loop trip for a year, or two.

Bob’s grandson, Cody, serves as deckhand on this trip.  He is 10 years old and loves to fish and scoop up the scores of mayflies that find themselves stranded on the decks in the morning.  We each look forward to the 500 mile cruise through the country’s amazing interior at an average speed 7.5 miles per hour.

Bob and Cody pilot through the harbor.

Saturday was hectic, provisioning, stowing, and checking systems.  Our start was late (1730 hrs) and the winds had picked up to 15 knots as we crossed Mobile Bay with a light chop on the beam sea.   Typically, the dinghy caused havoc as it tried it’s best to break free.  The davits (stainless steel arms which hold the dinghy away from the stern, above the water) are the folding type, which means that at any opportunity they set up a swing whereby dinghy and motor lurch violently from side to side.  Over the past year we have tried a myriad of methods to stabilize the system; all to no avail.  My humble advice is to always install stationary davits, and they are on my wish list for the Arkansas Traveler.

We followed the Mobile River north twelve miles which took us through the city and into the swampy areas north.  The confluence of the Tensas cutoff and Big Briar Creek offers a grand anchorage where we could swing on one anchor.  As darkness fell, we left the river and dropped anchor in the day’s last light.

Waves breaking over the bow of a tow as she headed into the wind in Mobile Bay.

Dodging tows pushing heavy barges in Mobile Harbor.

Cochrane Bridge over the Mobile River.

The day ends too quickly as the sun sets on the Mobile River

Posted in W - June, 2011; Fairhope, AL to Florence, AL | Leave a comment

Stuart to Peanut Island; December 11

Just as the fog over Lake Okeechobee provided a stark contrast to the crisp, bright Florida days, our introduction to Florida’s east coast cast a distinct change from the quiet of the inland waterway.   Where the day before we met the occasional boat, avoiding collisions with other mariners was now our primary task.  There were big boats, little boats, sailboats and personal watercraft buzzing about, all creating wakes, all enjoying the weekend weather, and all at varying stages of sobriety.

We felt wrenched from our cruising-time, laid-back attitude and tossed into an ever-alert, traffic-ridden environment peppered with numerous bridges of low clearance.  Boats would back up on both sides of the bridge, holding against the wind and current.  As the bridge opened, we all jockeyed for position to pass, with smaller craft buzzing through it all and adding to the confusion.  It was a long day.

Intracoastal Waterway on Florida's southeast coast

Riverbanks give way to bulkheads and concrete walls.   Wildlife all but disappears.  The gold in the Gold Coast is obvious.

Typical home along much of this stretch of the ICW

The homes were lavish with individual architectural styles and lush landscaping.  The tropical plants and trees provided endless pleasure as we transited the waterway.  Homeowners focused on aesthetics facing the water.  Large windows, patio spaces, manicured lawns, large flowering splashes of color, and facing terraces all spoke of welcoming havens to relax and visit.

Barrier islands protect the Intracoastal Waterway from ocean waves.  Where there are no natural barrier islands, the waterway is a man-made canal or a canalized river system.  Passages to the ocean exist between the barrier islands and these are often navigable inlets to ports or the ICW.  Sand shoaling often makes these inlets dangerous and care must be taken when entering or exiting.

The day turned windy and we opted to stay in the protected waterway channel.

Looking out through an inlet to the Atlantic Ocean

The lighthouse at the Jupiter inlet under renovation.

As late afternoon approached, we entered Lake Worth and the speed limit on the waterway lifted.  Boaters heading home came barreling across the lake tossing smaller boats in their 2 to 3+ foot wakes.  Our goal was to reach Fort Lauderdale in the early afternoon on Sunday to join my family for dinner.

We continued cruising southward, putting as many miles behind us as possible before the sun set.  Anchorages were becoming sparse and we left the channel to find a quiet spot in the lee of Peanut Island.  This was our last night at anchor for some time and we knew that we would miss this favorite time of day, sitting on the flybridge watching the last rays of sunlight easing over the water.   So we sat, enjoying the fresh air and reviewing the charts and cruising guides for tomorrow’s passage of the 25 miles to Fort Lauderdale.

Our plan is to leave “Arkansas Traveler” in my brother’s hands.  Someone would check on her regularly, run the generator, and a boat-washing service would visit monthly to scrub her down and shine her up.  Meanwhile we will work, and in our spare time we will fill the gaps to this blog as we wait for spring.

Posted in X - December 2010; Sanibel Island to Fort Lauderdale, FL | 1 Comment

Clewiston to Stuart; December 10

Thursday morning came with rain and a chilly wind, creating the perfect day to stay tied at the dock.  We spent our time working on projects and resting.  In the afternoon, the sun came out and we borrowed the marina courtesy car (a vintage Cadillac Limo with an 8-track tape player complete with a Kenny Rogers tape) and set out for a grocery store.  Clewiston is not the ideal port for provisioning.

We could hear the strains of music from the local tiki bar, but declined to visit and instead spent the evening watching a ’40s Alfred Hitchcock movie onboard.

Early Friday morning, the NOAA weather forecast was favorable for the lake crossing.  We anticipated cool air, sunny skies and light winds of 6 to 9 knots.   The temperature was 45 degrees as we cast off our lines and headed out the hurricane gates that protected Clewiston

Sunrise as "Arkansas Traveler" leaves Roland Martin Marina, headed for Lake Okeechobee

It's a straight shot through the hurricane gates and to the lake.

We looked forward to the three-hour crossing and the sun warming the day as we progressed across the open water.

The morning sun over easy seas.

Laughing gulls fishing above the "Traveler's" wake.

Thirty minutes after entering the lake, a thick fog descended.  Visibility fell to 50 feet and remained there for the entire crossing.

There have been several moments on this journey when I was taken from any zones of comfort and my skills, sometimes nonexistent, were put to the test.  This was one.  But I learned that I can sit still and concentrate, well-focused, for several hours; all the while ever-alert, watching, listening, being ready to change course in an instant should a day beacon or vessel loom out of the fog.

Within minutes fog descended, restricting visibility to 50 feet.

As we reached the Port Mayaca lock on the lake's eastern shore, the fog began to lift.

Two and one-half hours later we reached Port Mayaca.  It was almost 1100 hours and we were exhausted and hungry from the morning’s tension-filled trek across the lake.  The St. Lucie canal flowed east to the Atlantic Ocean and we proceeded through her quiet waters to the lock at the eastern end where we entered the St. Lucie River.  We worked our way up the North Fork of the river to a quiet anchorage where we enjoyed the day’s end and a good night’s sleep.

A picturesque railroad bridge on the St. Lucie canal.

Nightfall at anchor is a special time on any day.

North Fork of the St. Lucie River

Posted in X - December 2010; Sanibel Island to Fort Lauderdale, FL | 2 Comments

La Belle to Clewiston; December 8

Cattle ranches, orange groves, sugar cane fields and houses are the backdrop as the Caloosahatchee River works its way upstream to Lake Okeechobee.  We spent the night near La Belle, tied up at a private dock at the home of my brother’s friend.

Frost on the handrails and hot coffee up at the house punctuated the morning.  The “Traveler” has heat, powered by heat strips, but only when the generator is running.  As the boat is constructed with fiberglass and there is no insulation, the cabin generally runs three to five degrees warmer than the outside during the colder months.  We had run the generator for most of the night and were able to keep cozy enough against the freezing exterior temperatures.

Some of the homes along the Caloosahatchee River have a distinctive southern tone.

Though cold in the morning, this sunny day unfolded to one delight after another.  In the last few miles before Lake Okeechobee, two locks take you up towards the level of the lake.  The first, at Ortona, lifts boats eight feet and the second at Moore Haven has a one foot lift.

The locks in the Okeechobee Waterway let water in by cracking the front gates slightly.

A gulp of double-crested cormorants assess the captain's skills as we enter the lock.

After Moore Haven we entered the wonderland that is Lake Okeechobee.  Yes, of course there are alligators, and many of them, lurking at the edge of the canal that leads to Clewiston.  To starboard, you can only see the well-mowed levee; to port is a marshy land filled with water birds and critters.  Our adrenalin ran high as we spotted and identified one species after another within the same area or perched on the same tree.  Bob said it best when he likened the numbers and types of birds to a diorama that one might see on display.

White ibis (with immatures) and snowy egrets take flight as "Arkansas Traveler" passes.

A great egret fishes in the shallows.

To starboard, the levee rims the canal. To port, the marshy wilderness reaches toward Lake Okeechobee.

A river otter runs along the bank.

One joy of traveling in a trawler is that it is by definition slow.  And by taking our time, we are able to capture and cherish those many moments in nature that we are blessed to glimpse.

A tri-colored heron lands in front of a river otter.

Beauty is everywhere along the edges of the lake.

We tied up at Roland Martin’s marina at Clewiston.  Here we will take a day off from traveling to catch-up on some projects and to wait for fair weather to cross Lake Okeechobee.  The lake is renowned for its short choppy waves in windy weather and after our rocky Gulf crossing in November, we yearned to see some big water that was positively placid.  So here we sit, talking about the marvelous sights of the day and looking forward to more of this amazing part of Florida.

A pair of cormorants watch the sunset from the dock in Clewiston.

Posted in X - December 2010; Sanibel Island to Fort Lauderdale, FL | 1 Comment

Caloosahatchee River; December 7, 2010

The easy flow of the Caloosahatchee River and the spanish moss bring a welcome feeling of the Old South.

The trip from the anchorage near Owl Creek on the Caloosahatchee River was brightly punctuated with a sighting of three sandhill cranes strolling the river bank.  The morning was cold and we waited until 1045 hrs for the sun to perform its magic before raising the anchor.   The wind blew 5 to 10 knots from the north, keeping us well chilled throughout the 17 mile journey upstream.

Soon after leaving the anchorage, we encountered our first lock on the Okeechobee Waterway.  We would eventually pass through three locks, taking us up as we headed east toward the lake.  Two locks east of the lake would lower us to the Atlantic Ocean.

Today we were raised 2 1/2 feet and locked out of tidal waters as we headed to the interior of Florida.  We put out fenders to starboard to cushion us from the concrete walls of the lock.  The locks in this waterway have lines hanging from cleats at the top of the walls for mariners to use to tie-up.  On the Tombigbee Waterway, we would loop our line from the amidships cleat around a floating bollard in the lock wall.  Here, ropes are provided at the lock to tie to the bow and stern cleats.

While most locks have smaller sluice gates affixed in the lock gates or at the bottom of the lock, here the lock-master cracks the front gate slightly to let the water in or out.  This produces quite a bit of turbulence and churns the fish which in turn excites the birds with the prospect of easy fishing.

At 1345 hrs we tied-up at the river dock behind the home of Bill and Pat, friends of my brother, Jack.  Jack and Susan drove up from Fort Lauderdale that afternoon and Pat fixed dinner.   Here at La Belle we enjoyed a lovely evening filled with good conversation.

The Caloosahatchee River provides a perfect corridor across Florida.

The bridge tender at the Denaud swing bridge greets us as we pass through.

Posted in X - December 2010; Sanibel Island to Fort Lauderdale, FL | Leave a comment

Siesta Key to Cayo Costa; November 26

 

Dolphins perform in our wake daily.

Blackburn Swing Bridge; note bridge tender on swinging section

It is forty-eight statute miles from the Robert’s Bay anchorage at Siesta Key to the state park on Cayo Costa.  Dolphins chased and leapt through our wake as “Arkansas Traveler” cut through the open waters of Lemon Bay, Gasparilla Sound, and Charlotte Harbor.  The remainder of the seven hour cruise wound through residential areas and manatee zones.

“Arkansas Traveler” requires a 19 foot clearance to safely pass under bridges and generally has no trouble along the Intracoastal Waterway.  Today, however, there were two swing bridges and one bascule bridge that required opening for us to pass.  We call ahead on the VHF (the bridges generally use their own channels) as we approach the bridge and the operator happily stops traffic to let boats through.  Some bridges only open on a set schedule.  Today we met both types.

Albee Bridge opening for "Arkansas Traveler"

Sometimes it takes 4 pilots to get through a bridge.

The swing bridge at Gasparilla Sound opens on schedule at 1300 hrs to let boats pass.

Note the contrast in construction. We prefer the organic structure and the tax-free status of the osprey home in the foreground.

Posted in Y - November, 2010; Mobile, AL to Sanibel Island, FL | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Day, 2010

David and the boys took the dinghy to the pier and walked two blocks across Anna Maria Island to the beach on the Gulf of Mexico.  On their trek back they picked up sandwiches and grouper bites to snack on during our crossing of Sarasota Bay.  Not your traditional Thanksgiving lunch, but a great starter to a fine day of Florida weather.

At 1430 hrs we were underway for a short cruise south to Roberts Bay, on the east coast of Siesta Key.  This anchorage is well protected and much quieter than the popular one at Cortez.

Thanksgiving dinner consisted of pan-fried turkey breast from an Arkansas wild turkey (a Marion County specialty) harvested and frozen in the spring turkey hunt and gingerly carried on dry ice to the Arkansas Traveler.  Traditional dressing and pumpkin pie accompanied the turkey.  A bit of spinach salad added color and the crew was happy.

A galley is a wonderful place.

Fishing is a great way to wait for dinner.

Will and Drew on deck

The sunset graces the evening as we give thanks for many blessings.

Posted in Y - November, 2010; Mobile, AL to Sanibel Island, FL | Leave a comment

Bay Springs Lake to Amory Lock; October 22

October 22, 2010

Though we intended to travel from can to can’t, we had difficulty leaving the beauty of Bay Springs Lake.  Shortly after 0815 we raised the anchor and reluctantly headed south.

The day was work-filled, stepping down through 5 locks.  We discovered a slight but continuous drip from the dripless stuffing box (that contraption that helps the spinning drive shaft exit the hull and yet not let water enter).  We have the dripless type, unless, of course, it drips.  After tightening the end hose clamp, the dripping ceased, at least for the time being.

The day was also filled with birds – numerous codgeries of rafting coots, a coil of blue-winged teal, and a sublime pair of bald eagles watching us as we picked our way through snags to the anchorage just north of Amory Lock.

One last look at Bay Springs Lake:

Built primarily for commercial traffic, the locks swallow a trawler.

Built primarily for commercial traffic, the locks swallow a trawler

Fenders protect the boat from the lock walls.

Fenders protect the boat’s hull from the lock walls.

Another anchorage; another superb sunset.

Posted in Z - October, 2010; Florence, AL to Mobile, AL | Leave a comment

Tennessee River to Bay Springs Lake; October 21

Two Rocks Anchorage, Tennessee River

As the warm waters of  the Tennessee River meet the cool night air, a mist invariably forms.  When the sun’s rays first glance through that mist, a prism of golds scatter across the water, giving the “Arkansas Traveler” a glowing send-off on her first full day of the loop.   We pulled up the anchor and headed west as the sun rose.

Two Rocks Anchorage, Tennessee River

We turned south into Yellow Creek which feeds into the Tennessee River and encountered our first of many tows on the trip, “Green Wave.”  Yellow Creek is the connection to the Tombigbee River via “the cut.”  The cut is a dividing canal which was dug during the 1980s and provides a link between the Mississippi River watershed and the Mobile River watershed.  This connection has greatly improved commercial traffic within the country and provided untold amounts of fun for recreational boaters.  The idea was first broached by the French in the 1700s prior to the Louisiana Purchase.

"Green Wave" on Yellow Creek

The cut connecting two great watersheds

Shortly after 2:00 p.m. we arrived at Bay Springs Lake, Mississippi, and anchored deep within the Natchez Trace Recreational Area.  This is a quiet anchorage with only jumping fish and birds for company.  It is without a doubt my favorite anchorage thus far though I’m sure that there will be many more which are just as enchanting.  We swam (okay, one of us did; it’s cold in late October), rested, ate, and took a few dinghy rides before night set in.Bob enjoying late afternoon on the flybridge“Arkansas Traveler” at anchor in Bay Springs Lake, MississippiBay Springs Lake, where the trees eat the moon on a regular basis

Posted in Z - October, 2010; Florence, AL to Mobile, AL | 1 Comment