Monday, December 21, 2015

Finishing the Loop

We returned to the boat in Panama City the end of July.  After a few days we headed east to Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, and Carrabelle.  We only spent a day in Port St. Joe, but we spent five days each in Apalachicola and Carrabelle.  Diane continued her oyster experiment mentioned in the previous post.  Our five days in Carrabelle were due to weather so we took advantage of this and retrieved our car from Panama City.  The beaches near Carrabelle were used to train amphibious troops in World War II and there is an excellent museum there.

Our choices for the next leg of our trip were either an overnight passage across the Gulf to the Tarpon Springs area or multiple days going around the Big Bend.  We chose the later.  Did you know that the Big Bend is the spawning ground for most of the fish in the Gulf of Mexico?

Our trip around took us first to Steinhatchee, where scallop season was in full swing, then to Cedar Key and finally to the Anclote Keys off Tarpon Springs.  On the way we passed the now defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal.  This was a project begun in the 1930's to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico across northern Florida.  About 30% of the route was built before environmental concerns killed it in 1991.

We worked our way down the west side of the Pinellas Peninsula  stopping in Dunedin and Gulfport and arriving at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina in mid August.  This is one of our favorite places to take our boat and we took a slip for a month.  We retrieved our car from Carrabelle and on the trip spent a night at the Lodge at Wakulla Springs.  Wakulla Springs is the filming location for The Creature From the Black Lagoon and other films of similar ilk.  The lodge was built in 1937 and still has an original operational elevator and is still cooled by circulating cold spring water through radiators in the rooms.  Highly recommended.

Down Time needed some repairs and upgrades so we took her to Endeavour's (the manufacturer) boatyard.  It was then back to the municipal marina for another couple of weeks.

We left St. Pete on September 20th headed south with friend Ron Westbrook aboard.  As mentioned in the previous post, our yacht club membership gives us reciprocity at other Florida yacht clubs and we took full advantage of this as we headed back to Marathon.

Our first stop after leaving St. Pete was the Field Club in Sarasota.  The club was at one time the winter home of one of the Marshall Field family members now converted to a yacht club.

Next was Bird Key Yacht Club also in Sarasota where we met and had dinner with Judi Nofs, a long time sailing friend.  We had met Judi and her husband Dave in 1991 when we were headed to the Caribbean.  Sadly, Dave passed away just a couple of years ago.

On to Venice and the Venice Yacht Club and more boating friends, John and Bobbie Hanna.  We met them in 2003 as they had just purchased the same boat we now own.

Another stop to visit friends of Jim at the St. Charles Yacht Club in Ft. Myers.  Jim's first job out of college was at Chemical Abstracts Service in Columbus, OH.  There he met Dave Haring and his wife Lou..  Dave and Jim reconnected via Facebook a few years ago, but had not met in person in more than 30 years.

Our last yacht club stop was in Naples.  From there we headed to Indian Key in the 10,000 Islands where we anchored.  Our last stop before Marathon was an anchorage in the Little Shark River.  The mosquitoes were ferocious and we hooked the anchor on something and thought for a while that we were going to have to abandon it, but finally it came free.

The run across Florida Bay was the usual minefield of crab pots, but is was not as bad as it could have been because stone crab season had not begun.

We arrived at the end of our six plus year Loop at 1:40pm on Monday, September 28.  We actually went back in the same slip we had left in May 2009.

When we have some more time we will post some statistics for the trip and some pictures.

Happy Holidays to all.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Back on the Loop

Well, we are finally back on the Loop.  Down Time was at Dog River Marina in Mobile from November 2013 until April 2015.  We visited her twice; once in July 2014 when she was launched and moved to a covered slip and once in October 2014 when we took her out for a few days.

We returned to Dog River in early April and spent about three weeks getting her ready to go.  From Mobile we headed to New Orleans.  On the way we anchored at Petit Bois and Cat Islands, both in the Mississippi Sound.  We took a slip in New Orleans at Pontchartrain Landing Marina and retrieved our car which we had left in Mobile.

We had two sets of guests in New Orleans.  First were Bill and Birute Fleck from Michigan and second were Walter and Margaret Boswell from Cleveland.  None of them had been to New Orleans before so we laid on the whole tourist thing.  Some of our activities were:
·       A guided walking tour of the Garden District
·       Lunch at Mothers
·       The World War II Museum
·       Beignets at the CafĂ© du Monde
·       Muffulletas at the Central Grocery
·       Dinners at Arnaud’s and Pascal’s Manale
·       A tour of Oak Alley Plantation
·       Riding the complete length of the St. Charles streetcar line

After our guests left we took a driving tour of Cajun country basing ourselves in New Iberia.  We visited sights from James Lee Burke’s books as well as the Tabasco factory and a rice mill still using 100 year old equipment. We drove to Starkville, MS for Jim’s 50th high school reunion.

We left Pontchartrain Landing on May 19 headed east.  We made one night stops in marinas in Gulfport and Ocean Springs, MS and in Gulf Shores, AL before spending the Memorial Day Weekend in Orange Beach, AL.  We spent a week with Jim’s high school classmate Bill Shook at his dock on Perdido Key, AL.  Jim’s sister, Melanie, drove down from Birmingham for a few days.

Back in April we had rejoined the Marathon Yacht Club which gives us reciprocity with yacht clubs all over Florida.  So our next stop was the Pensacola Yacht Club.  We visited the National Naval Aviation Museum (twice) where we watched the Blue Angels practice  We availed ourselves of the all you can eat boiled shrimp and the all you can eat prime rib nights at the Yacht Club.

Our next stop was the Fort Walton Yacht Club, and then on to the St. Andrews Marina in Panama City.

Now it was time to return to Cleveland for medical checkups.  We left the boat at a friend’s dock in Panama City (thanks Rich) and headed back to Ohio in our car.  On the way we visited Jim’s sister and both sets of grandkids.

We are now finishing our two weeks of medical tests and getting ready to head back to the boat.  Once back, we will continue east along the Florida panhandle with stops in Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, and Carabelle.

Since we left Mobile we have been enjoying the Gulf seafood.  Diane is trying an experiment to see if it is possible to eat too many oysters.  So far the answer is “NO”.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

No Cruising in 2014

We bought cruising guides and charts.  We updated our chart plotter.  We even bought an electric motor for our dinghy.  Then Jim went to the Cleveland Clinic for a cardiology consultation and came out 17 days and a quadruple heart bypass later.  They say recovery takes at least six months, so there goes the 2014 cruising season.  There were breathing issues that were not corrected until late April so that’s when the six months started.

We have decided to leave the boat stored on the hard in Mobile until March 2015 when we will start the cruise we planned for 2014.

We will spend the summer in Cleveland with Jim doing a three month cardiac rehab program at the Clinic.  Diane is doing yoga and walking every day.  Jim hopes to return to yoga in July.  We spent the past winter in Cleveland and it was a particularly harsh one.  We swore we would never spend another winter here.  We will be somewhere warm for the next one.

Tune in next March for our return to cruising.

Monday, December 16, 2013

End of 2013 cruising

Our 2013 cruising season is officially over. Down Time was hauled out of the water November 22 and stored at a boat yard in Mobile, Alabama. We had originally planned to leave her in a marina on the Tennessee River near Huntsville. But when we arrived there in September we didn't really like the place, despite all of the good reviews other boaters had given it. We needed to stop in a boat yard in Mobile to have some work done anyway, so we decided to head there to store the boat. This will save us a couple of weeks in the Spring when we go back to the boat.

DT being hauled to her storage spot

Mobile is an active ship construction and maintenance harbor. On our way to the yard we passed this strange looking ship.

Turns out that this is the USS Jackson which was built in Mobile and officially launched on December 14. It is a new class of vessel called a littoral combat ship. Wikipedia says:

"The littoral combat ship (LCS) is a class of relatively small surface vessels intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore) by the United States Navy. It was 'envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals.' The LCS designs add the capabilities of a small assault transport with a flight deck and hangar large enough to base two Seahawk helicopters, the capability to recover and launch small boats from a stern ramp, and enough cargo volume and payload to deliver a small assault force with fighting vehicles to a roll-on/roll-off port facility."

The other strange thing we saw was this tented ship.

It looks just like a house that was being treated for an infestation of termites would look. I didn't want to think about what they might be trying to eradicate on the ship.

So happy holidays everyone. We'll be back on the boat around mid-April. Next year's adventures include cruising to New Orleans, touring around Cajun country, a trip across the panhandle of Florida, and a return to Marathon, Florida where we will officially end our six year adventure. 

See you in the Spring.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway

We are half way through the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, the Army Corps of Engineers created link between the Tennessee River and the Gulf of Mexico. The Tombigbee River was a commercial river as early as the 1830s, although river boats could only run on it during the rainy season, which ran from November to April. The rest of the year there wasn't enough water to support even the shallow draft paddle-wheelers. The locals started agitating to dam the river and connect it to the Tennessee as early as the 1870s, although Congress didn't approve the project until the late 1940s and didn't fund it until the 1970s. There is a 25 mile ditch dug between the Tennessee and the headwaters of the Tombigbee and a series of dams that ensure the river remains deep enough to support year round commercial tug/barge traffic.

Tenn Tom ditch
There are several large creeks in the area where the ditch was dug, but the ditch is too narrow to let those creeks flow directly into the ditch. The water flow would push traveling boats, especially small pleasure craft all over the narrow ditch. So the Corps of Engineers devised these special flow control areas to break up the creeks and feed the water gently into the Tenn Tom.

We had a first on the boat this week. It was actually too cold to move the boat.  In the three weeks since we left the Knoxville area, we have had 5-7 days of below 30 degree temperatures. Some boats are built with heaters that run off of propane or diesel fuel. As a Florida-built boat, Down Time has a heat pump that provides both heat and air conditioning, just like a home heat pump does. But the heat pump runs on 110 volt power which we can get either by plugging into a marina's power or by running our generator. If we are in a marina, no problem. But if we anchor out and the temperature drops below freezing, the only way to keep from freezing ourselves would be to run the generator all night. Not a good idea. So we ended up staying an extra day in the marina in Columbus, Mississippi because the forecast was for 25 degrees.

We have also discovered that in extremely cold temperatures, it rains inside the boat. The warm air inside the boat meets the cold temperature outside the boat at the plexiglas hatches, condenses on the inside of the hatches and then drops from the hatches (which are installed at an angle) onto the surface below. Unfortunately, one of the surfaces below two of the big hatches is our bed, specifically my side of our bed. Nothing like a good splash to wake you up in the middle of the night. We've owned the boat for ten years and are just discovering this "feature." I don't guess it will be a problem when we get back to Florida, but for now it is driving me crazy.

This part of the country, Alabama and Mississippi, is timber country. There are lots of tree farms and wood processing plants in this area and there are a reasonable number of logs and tree limbs floating in the water of the rivers. You pay attention and maneuver around them with your boat. Yesterday, Jim was driving and we both saw what we thought were partially submerged logs. But they were moving very strangely. I grabbed the binoculars to see what was going on and saw this -- two dogs swimming across the river.  They weren't this least bit panicked, clearly knew where they were going and had done this before. Gave us quite a start, though.

Dogs crossing the Tenn Tom
Today we passed the White Cliffs of Epes, Alabama. You've heard of the White Cliffs of Dover in England? Well, these are much smaller, but made from the same chalk-like substance as the bigger cliffs in England.

The rest of the area is trees to the waterline and then you come to this startling 1/8 to 1/4 mile long set of white walls on one side of the river. No where else on the river looks anything like this. Most of the shoreline is trees in various stages of Fall colors.

I'll close this post with some shots of the colors in the trees.

Next week we'll be in Mobile and the week after that we'll be home!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leaving the Tennessee River

We have traveled nearly 400 miles from our northern-most point on the Tennessee River back to Iuka, Mississippi. This is where we will leave the Tennessee River and begin traveling down the Tombigbee River to Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is our final destination for this year. We'll have the boat hauled out of the water there and stored on land until sometime next Spring. One reason to have the boat hauled is because next year we'll be back in salt water for the first time in four years. A boat in salt water needs anti-fouling paint on the hull, so we'll get the yard to apply the bottom paint while we are back home for the holidays.

The trip down the Tennessee has been much quicker than the trip up. First of all, the river current is flowing with us, so we are are traveling 1.5 - 2.0 knots per hour faster at the same engine speeds. Another reason for the speed down is the weather. The weather has been very changeable (I guess that is pretty much the definition of Fall, isn't it?) It seems that for every pleasant, sunny day we've had, there have been two overcast, cold days. One morning it was 25 degrees on the back deck when we woke up. Since I am the one who catches the bollard and rides on the deck as we go through the locks, I found these chilly days somewhat of a chore, especially since we always try to go through the locks in the morning if we can (to allow time to deal with unexpected delays if needed). The first shivering through a locking down resulted in a new hat and glove set for me. Actually, I had already made the fingerless gloves as a way to learn a new crochet technique, so I was able to whip up the hat using the left over yarn while we traveled between locks.
Warm wool boating accessories
I realize that I mentioned the "catching the bollard" above, yet I may not have explained that in previous blog posts. The locks on these rivers are much higher than the locks on the Erie Canal or in Canada. There the locks have ropes hanging on the walls and you pick one or two up as you enter the lock, hook it to a cleat on your boat and and take it up (or let it out) as your boat goes up or down in the lock. But when the lock is 50 - 90 feet deep, taking up or letting out that much line simply isn't practical. So in these locks you pull up to a bollard, wrap one of your own lines around it, and it floats up or down with the boat as the lock fills or empties. But sometimes these bollards get hung up and stop rising or dropping with the water. If that happens your boat can be damaged quickly, so you don't get to tie the line to the bollard and then step back into the warm cockpit. You need to hold the line and be constantly prepared to let it go if a problem develops, which explains why I needed the hat and the gloves.
Lock floating bollard
We did make a couple of stops on the trip down river to see things we hadn't seen on the way up. Jim's sister Melanie joined us for a few days of cruising, including a return to Florence, Alabama. Florence has the only Frank Lloyd Wright house built in the state of Alabama. When we first visited Florence, the house was closed, so we made it a point to schedule our return on a day the house would be open for touring.

Front of the house
There is no question when you are driving around the neighborhood which house you are looking for, it is a classic Wright house.  The back is a little less stark with a great wall of windows that overlooks the generously sized backyard.

The house was owned by one family for nearly 60 years. The money to build it was given to the couple as a wedding present by her parents in the early 1940s. They were newlyweds when they built it, but over time they had four sons, so it became the only Frank Lloyd Wright house for which Wright designed and built an addition. As is typical of an FLW house, he designed the furniture and even the lighting fixtures, much of which has been preserved. Every built in light in the house had this design. Apparently, each house he built had it's own light design.

Lighting detail

Living room furniture designed by Wright
Note the lovely turquoise furniture contrasting with the brown walls and floors. The "service area" (FLW-speak for kitchen) in the original house was a 4 ft x 4 ft cubby off of the dining room, so when she commissioned the addition, Mrs. Rosenbaum requested a more functional food preparation space. This is the stove she got when the addition was built in the 50s, a stove she used until the late 1990s when she finally left the home.

I would have coveted it if it had been gas, not electric.

The most amazing part of the Wright house story is how it came to be a tourist attraction in Florence, Alabama. By the time Mrs. Rosenbaum left the house, it was falling down around her. The city of Florence put a tax initiative on the ballot to increase the local sales tax to raise $600,000 to buy and re-hab the house. And the voters of Florence voted "yes". Can you imagine that happening today?

The other attraction we missed heading up river was the Apron Museum in Iuka, Mississippi. There are over 2,000 aprons in the collection, some dating from the civil war. There are men's aprons as well as women's aprons, although most of the collection is hand decorated "hostess aprons" from the 1950s.

Iuka, MS Apron Museum

Samples of 1950s hostess aprons
It is amazing to think of the time and attention to detail women spent on these things when they were stuck in the home during the 50s, with few outlets for their creative or artistic interests. As a needleworker myself, I was fascinated by craftsmanship of many of the pieces. The woman who owns the museum accepts donations and always tries to get stories from the women who make the donations about the history of the aprons and their family members who made them. She is not only collecting aprons, she is preserving the histories of women who would otherwise be forgotten. If you happen to be in Iuka, Mississippi, it is a fun stop.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Little Tennessee River and the Great Smoky Mountains

We have made it as far north as we are going on the Tennessee River, to Lenoir City about 50 miles south of Knoxville. I know we said we were headed to Knoxville, but Fall is really falling around here. We've gone from the high 70s and low 80s during the day to the mid to low 50s in little more than a week. Two days from now the low will be 27. I know to my family living in Salt Lake and our friends in Cleveland that doesn't sound so bad, but we are on a boat and boats are not known for their insulation. Its getting cold here.

We have been having a wonderful time since we left Chattanooga.  Most people doing the Great Loop cruise never even get to Chattanooga and even fewer head further north, but believe me, they miss the best part of the trip. The lakes north of Chattanooga are surrounded by hills with forest running all the way to the water line. The river twists and turns through canyons giving you great views around every corner. As you get further north the Great Smoky Mountains become the backdrop behind the Tennessee River hills. It is all just stunning to see.
Smokies in the distance
Our friend Ron Westbrook from Texas drove up to spend some time with us and we went cruising up the Little Tennessee River and Tellico Lake. Tellico Lake is the last lake formed by a TVA dam. The TVA decided it needed to dam the Little Tennessee River at the point it connects with the Tennessee for flood control purposes. They started building the dam in the 1960s and folks around here went nuts. The Little Tennessee was the last naturally flowing river in this area and there was tremendous opposition to damming it. The development was tied up in the courts for over 10 years and the lake wasn't created until 1979. I'm not sure that we would have been able to take a boat as big as Down Time into the Little Tennessee if the dam hadn't been built, so I'm grateful for the dam.

Because Tellico Lake is so new, some of the structures in the areas that were flooded are still standing. These three silos are poking out of the water marking the location of a farm that was flooded.

For so new a lake, there is a surprising amount of residential development around the northern end of Tellico Lake, the area around Knoxville. Lots of very expensive and reasonably ugly monster homes line the banks of the lake. But as you get further south, the housing thins out and by the time you get to to foot of the Smokies, you are back in nearly undeveloped land.

This is the area the Cherokees inhabited before they were driven out to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. The Cherokees fought for the British/Americans in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Before the men would head off to fight, they asked the British to build a fort to provide protection for their women and children. The fort site was thoroughly excavated during the time of the anti-Tellico Lake lawsuits and the point of land on which it had stood was built up to ensure that it wouldn't be covered by the new lake. Then the fort itself was recreated on the site. We anchored off the fort and took our dinghy in to walk around and learn more about the history of this area.

Fort Louden
While we were at the fort, the ranger (state park employee, not a furloughed federal worker thankfully), told us about the Sequoyah Birthplace museum just a mile up the river. Like probably most of you, I had heard the name Sequoyah but couldn't have told you more than he was a 19th century Native American. Turns out he was the man who single-handedly developed the Cherokee alphabet, the only known instance in history of an alphabet being developed by a single person. Even more amazing, once the Cherokees understood what he had done, the entire tribe (approximately 30,000 people) were able to read and write within a year.

From Fort Louden we continued south to the end of the marked channel on the Little Tennessee River, as far a you can safely take a boat as big as ours. We anchored at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Foot of the Smokies
As the days have cooled down, we are also getting mist rising up from the river in the morning.

Some days the "mist" is a thick fog. Yesterday, the boat next to us in the marina had to wait until 11:00 AM for the fog to burn off enough to move, another indication that it is time to head south.

One other stop we made on the way up the Tennessee was Dayton, TN, site of the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925. You may remember (or you may have seen the Spencer Tracy movie Inherit the Wind) that the Scopes trial was about teaching evolution in the schools. The courthouse in which the trail was held is still in use today. In fact the same spectator chairs, judge's bench and jury chairs that were there in 1925 are still there today. Many of the same businesses are still operating. Dayton is a small town that hasn't changed much at all. They do have a nice little museum about the trail in the basement of the courthouse.

Jim at the Clarence Darrow/Spencer Tracy podium

Original spectator chairs
On the way up the river the trees were still mostly green with just a hint that fall colors were to come. I suspect that we will see some beautiful colors on our way south. We will try to capture some of the best views to share with you. Think positive thoughts about us getting out of here without freezing to death.