Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend


We had a great weekend, with four family members joining us for Thanksgiving, and the remainder spread across the country from Hawaii to Denver to Houston. We over-ate, and had beautiful weather for the day, allowing son-in-law Matt to deep-fry our turkey outside. We have plenty to be thankful for, including good health, lots of people we love in our lives, and the opportunity to have fun and interesting adventures.


Saturday dawned rainy and cold. At 6:15 Bob drove to Fox Island to Bob S and Debi’s home, whose boat christening party we attended a week ago. Shortly after, Bob S, his son-in-law Ted, and Bob cast off the lines of In My Element, Bob S and Debi’s new Great Loop boat, and headed north. An hour later, traveling at 15 knots, they passed Bob and Cathryn’s home on Colvos Passage, but it was raining so hard the photos aren’t good. Fortunately In My Element has both a pilothouse and glass windshields with wipers, so all on board were comfortable.


The 80-mile trip from Fox Island, through the Puget Sound shipping lanes, and up the Swinomish Channel to the town of LaConner was happily uneventful. Bob S was competent and confident at the helm (lots of prior chartering of large boats), and Bob offered an overview of use of the Garmin Chartplotter and radar, because it’s identical to ours on Next To Me.


Debi had packed lunches for the crew, and shortly after 1 PM  they pulled up to the dock in LaConner. November boating in Seattle is sure different from boating anytime in Florida!

Bob S and Debi are adding a few final amenities to In My Element, then having it shipped to Mobile, Alabama (where Next To Me awaits our return) where they’ll begin their Loop.


The rest of the weekend was spent celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary, Bob’s 65th birthday, and various chores and errands around the house, including some minor house repairs. It’s good to be home for a time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Weather and Boating


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After living on Next To Me full-time for 10 months, and following “summer weather” around  North America for the first 9 of those months, we began to complain a bit when the weather turned cold and rainy, then cold and sunny, from Chattanooga to Mobile on our Loop journey. No more complaints!

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Here at home the conditions make Looping weather look like a warm beach in Hawaii! It hasn’t broken 50 degrees since our arrival; it’s rained 4.3 inches this week; our one-lane roadway suffered a mudslide that made it briefly impassable til a neighbor drove through the muck in his full-size pickup truck, clearing the way for regular cars;


and Bob had to stand in the surf on the stairs to our beach wrestling a giant tree trunk out of the stairs before the waves bashing it around could break off the entire stairway. Oh, and we had a brief power outage. We’re mindful this is nothing compared to what the folks in New York and New Jersey experienced recently, but Mobile’s weather is looking pretty good right about now!


During a typical year in Seattle, folks launch their boats in May or June, and pull them back out by October 1. It’s a short season due to cold water (48 – 52 degrees year-round) and cold weather. We expected to suffer withdrawal from boating after leaving Next To Me in Mobile. But Bob  volunteered for an all day boat ride Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to accompany friend Bob S (whose Loop boat christening party we attended last weekend) and his son-in-law on the delivery of their boat In My Element from their home in Gig Harbor to LaConner for shipping, up north on the Swinomish Channel.


It’s about a 75-mile journey, and the weather this time of year is usually windy and rainy, or foggy and cold. Bob’s contribution on the trip is to run through Garmin 5212 Chartplotter/Radar use with Bob S, as it’s the same electronics package we installed in Next To Me last February. Photos to follow after the journey takes place.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Boat Nerds

Doing the Loop is slowly but surely turning us into boat nerds.  We find ourselves fascinated by things we had no knowledge of or interest in only a year ago.


One example of that trajectory is a story Cathryn finds  embarrassing. Two years ago after Bob extracted a promise from Cathryn that she would, over time, become Co-Captain of our Loop boat in order to gain his agreement to take this journey, we signed up together for a Power Squadron course on boat engine maintenance. Our instructor, Tom S, as far as we can tell, knows everything there is to know about the topic. And he showed no dismay the first night of class when Cathryn raised her hand and asked “Can you please explain exactly what a throttle is before you continue this discussion?” The polite group of men didn’t even laugh.


Fast forward 24 months, and guess what our youngest daughter Adrienne gave us for birthday gifts this month? Bob got a laser radiation infrared thermometer, and Cathryn got a digital snap-around multi-meter, both for use on our boat. And we even know how we plan to use them.


We won’t go into details about all the things we’ve learned about on-board maintenance of marine toilets (including the book we own on the topic), but all of our overnight guests have been amused at the detailed instructions that come with being a visitor. And we won’t bore you with details of the book we own and read on anchoring either.


But all overnight visitors have taken our “safety briefing” seriously: showing them where fire extinguishers are located and how to use them, making them pick out and properly size the straps and buckles on their very own life vest for the duration of their visit, and paying close attention to how to open the overhead hatch in the guest stateroom by touch (in the dark) should they need to escape from fire or the boat sinking in the middle of the night.

Bob has been unfailingly compulsive (in a good way) about doing fluid checks in the engine room every morning before we run the boat (something Cathryn forgot to do the day she single-handed the boat across Mobile Bay recently).

When we talk to non-Loopers, we try to take note if (or more often when) their eyes start glazing over while we discuss Looping, a sure sign  we’ve either gotten into Nerd-talk, or just gone on too long. Remember that U-Tube video of an insurance advertisement our daughter sent us a couple months ago? “The boat, the boat, the boat . . . that’s all they ever talk about . . . . ”Link Here

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Looper Boat Christening

Our three days at home have been great, despite the wet, gloomy weather which is normal in Seattle this time of year.

We have a great “support team” at home which contributes to the ease with which we left home for a year to do the  Loop. Our mail has been handled alternately by Bob’s sister Lynn and our good friend Hobie. They recycle the junk, open the rest, and scan the important stuff to send copies to us by email. All our bills go directly to a credit card which Bob pays online, or are deducted directly from our checking account, so only medical bills actually come in the mail, and we haven’t had any of those in the past 11 months (knock on wood!)  Our good friends Jim and Phebe also live in our neighborhood and made arrangements for a crew to do our yard work this summer, including paying them for mowing and weeding. This is just the routine stuff: all these folks have done lots more. We feel so lucky and grateful!

When we flew home Wednesday, Jim and Phebe had already turned up the heat in our house, picked us up at the park and ride lot where the airport shuttle dropped us off, and took us home with a pot of soup for dinner, breakfast food for the next morning, and some wine.

Thursday was Cathryn’s birthday, so Bob’s sister Lynn and her husband David invited us for dinner along with Jim and Phebe. It was great to be reunited!

We’ve re-joined the local gym so we can get exercise while home for a while, something in short supply while Looping.

Last December when we visited our dentist, we had to explain why we wouldn’t return in 6 months for another routine cleaning, because we’d be leaving to do the Loop. He asked if we knew Bob and Debi who live nearby; Bob is a recently retired endodontist, and they also plan to start the Loop soon! There aren’t very many Loopers from the West Coast, so we were excited to hear of these nearby. We sent off an email, then had dinner together in December, only a month before our departure for Florida to begin our Loop.


It turns out Bob and Debi were about a year behind us, but last week they bought their Loop boat, a beautiful 43-foot Fathom Element! They bought it here and will have it shipped to Mobile, Alabama in the next few weeks. Today was the boat christening party, and we were invited to join them at their lovely waterfront home along with 30-40 friends for the big event.


“In My Element” was christened in style with a reading by Bob on the bow, and a Champagne bottle-smashing by Debi using a sledge hammer. Wow!  We’re so excited for Bob and Debi’s journey to begin, and hope their boat arrives while we’re still in Mobile so we might enjoy some travel together along the Florida panhandle or perhaps even do our Gulf of Mexico crossing together, as their boat is also capable of doing a daylight fast crossing.


We had a text message from Looper friend Joy on “Jim’s Joy” saying they arrived at Dog River Marina in Mobile and are parked across the dock from Next To Me.  It’s nice to know friends will be close by and keep an eye on her for the next week.

We’re still re-learning where things are kept in our house, and surprised by how much we’ve forgotten in 9 months. It sure takes a lot longer to squeegee the walls of our big shower at home than the one on the boat! But we’re enjoying having the bigger hot water heater that means long showers won’t turn into cold showers as quickly.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Yesterday at Dog River Marina we woke to bright blue skies,  continuing cold temps in the low 40s, and calm wind.
Ross, Laura, Carolyn and Susan all dropped by for quick hugs and good wishes until we meet again, and we wish them well in their travels over the next few weeks.
At 9:30 am Sonny Middleton, owner of the Dog River Marina, arrived in his van to pick us up, along with the folks from Oceanus, to take us to the Mobile, AL airport. This is one of the services the marina provides, though we were surprised it was Sonny who took us! He and his crew Rudy and Glen, the ones we’ve met so far, are great folks, and we feel comfortable leaving Next To Me in their hands to work on the boat while we’re home for Thanksgiving. We’ve already received an email from Sojourner telling us work has begun to replace the broken window on Next To Me yesterday.  Woo hoo!
We won’t be providing “days on cruise” or other stats while we’re home; in fact we’ll suspend the count and data until we rejoin the boat. We do have Looper plans this weekend which we’ll report on afterwards.
Loopers by the dozens have recently finished, or are now finishing, their journeys down the inland rivers from Chicago to Mobile. All of us face the same big challenge next, commonly referred to as “our crossing”. This, along with traveling up New Jersey’s shoreline, and making it through the shallow, rocky waters of Georgian Bay, are the Top Three on the list of Looper challenges.
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“Our Crossing” refers to the journey we all must make 300 miles after leaving Mobile and heading east past Pensacola and other stops on the Florida Panhandle. Most boats stop at either Appalachicola or Carabelle to prepare for this 170-mile non-stop journey which takes you 50 miles offshore at the greatest point. Almost all boats do it with one or more buddy boats to stay in contact via VHF radio. Trawlers and sailors who can only travel slowly have to do it as an overnight crossing, usually about 20 hours, departing mid-afternoon one day and finishing mid-day the next. This is the only segment of Florida coastline which has no Intracoastal Waterway (protected water between the mainland and barrier islands, shown in yellow above).
While we almost always travel at “trawler speed”, about 9 mph, Next To Me has big twin engines, and we plan to make use of that capability to travel 18 or 19 mph when we do our crossing so we can begin at daybreak and finish before dark that night. We have tentative plans to meet Stephen and Charlotte on Jackets II to make the crossing together.
Weather on the Gulf this time of year is not frequently kind to folks wanting to cross, so it requires sitting patiently, very patiently, waiting for a good weather window to open. Sometimes you get lucky and get a good window only a day or two after arriving at your crossing point, but we’ve heard of folks who have had to wait two or three weeks, and there’s not THAT much to do in Carabelle, so we know people get bored and antsy, and imagine it’s tempting to go when conditions may still be uncertain.
So we’re starting to hear from folks who have crossed recently. “Say Good-bye” and “Toucan” had “good” and “okay” crossings. Another boat we’re friends with had an “absolutely horrible” crossing. Blue Heron and Sequel arrived in Carabelle today and plan to cross as soon as the weather allows. We sit on pins and needles for each one, waiting to hear they made it safely across, and that it was smooth and good.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Departure Prep

Days on cruise:  235
Up on the flybridge we have a full enclosure made of a canvas bimini with clear plastic windows that zip open and can be rolled up in warm weather. In the past month it’s been cold at times, so we’ve often traveled with all the plastic windows zipped closed. The front windshield window had developed a small tear at the bottom, and some scratches that left visibility less than ideal. Island Canvas a mile away said they could replace that piece for us, and up-grade it to Strataglass which is more expensive, but much more scratch-resistant.
We set our clock for 6 am today, borrowed the marina’s courtesy car, and showed up at Island Canvas at 7:15 to drop off the canvas piece. Five hours later Eric arrived to re-install the newly sew- in windshield, zipper it into place, and give us a few instructions about letting it “set” for a few days before we roll it up. The new windshield looks great, and we’re glad to check that item off the list, and it only cost HALF a “boat buck” – what a deal, eh?
The rest of the day was spent doing laundry, packing, confirming final arrangements for additional repairs to be made while we’re gone, and leave the Boatyard with a key to Next To Me so they can get in and do the work.
We wandered next door to Turner Marine where Looper friends Henning, Joanne and Erik are staying on their sailboat. They’re happy to have their mast stepped and expect to leave in the next few days to make their Gulf crossing. We’ll also say farewell to good friend Ross and Laura on The Zone, and Carolyn and Susan on Sojourner when we take off in the morning. We hope to see all of them again.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Boat Work at Dog River

Days on cruise:  234

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We’re busy here at Dog River Marina (blue dot in upper center left, above) getting ready to fly home to Seattle for Thanksgiving, and making arrangements to get work done on the boat while we’re away.


Bob returned Saturday afternoon from his trip on our friends’ boat from Bobby’s Fish Camp to Mobile. Their leaking fuel pump held up, and they made it here without incident. He described it as a pleasant, relaxing two day journey, and the only real work he contributed was to help with anchoring Friday night, as they’ve only anchored out 4 times previously and aren’t yet confident; we remember being there!


There are a few other Loopers here, and that night we went out to dinner with Carolyn and Susan from Sojourner at the adjacent yacht club, where transient boaters at Dog River  are allowed to eat, and had a fun time visiting, as well as catching the last quarter of the football game between University of Alabama and Texas A&M. Cathryn’s Dad is a U of A graduate, all six of her nephews and nieces graduated from Texas A&M, and both of her sisters and brothers-in-law were actually at the game! Everyone was happy with the result except for Cathryn’s Dad, we assume.

Sunday morning we began the process of doing our own oil change for the first time ever, but couldn’t find the engine oil filters we KNOW Bob bought a couple months ago. So we were only able to change the oil on the generator, for which we had a filter. It’s a mystery to us how easy it is to lose things that are stored on a boat. There just aren’t that many places to look!


Sunday afternoon Henning and Joanne from Flying Free came by for a visit. Their son Erik is also on board with them for the Loop. They’re excited that after two months without their mast, they’ll get it stepped Monday. Sailing Loopers mostly remove their masts in Chicago, then have them shipped to Mobile, as they can’t sail on the rivers anyway, and it avoids low bridge problems.


Later in the afternoon our “Big Sister Ship” (a 52-foot Jefferson to our 42-foot Jefferson), The Zone with Ross and Laura from NYC came off the rivers and into port, and we were delighted to see them again. They came for cocktails on our boat later, and it was great to catch up.


Monday morning Cathryn was looking in the storage cabinet beneath the refrigerator, where we store plastic grocery bags for future use as garbage bags and stumbled upon . . . you guessed it, four oil filters for our main Caterpillar engines! Hooray! No idea which of us put them THERE, or why, but we’re happy to see them. Bob proceeded to pick up the filters he had ordered yesterday anyway, and this time we stored them in the same location we keep the rest of our spares.

So off we went to do the oil change! It’s pouring down rain, so a perfect day to stay inside and work in the engine room.


The oil change went smoothly and leaves Cathryn mystified as to WHY she was so intimidated by the prospect of doing it. Anyone who can run a washing machine and dryer to do a load of laundry can change engine oil on a motor vessel. It’s messier than doing laundry, but just as easy. Yes, we’re talking 13 gallons of oil, but still! Oil pressure is correct, oil dipsticks show at the right level, and no leaks. Woo hoo!  Just saved $400, so that paid for the new oil transfer pump we had installed in August in Benton Harbor, Michigan. (Note to Sara: if you want to learn to do this instead of docking, Cathryn can teach you how!)


The oil change project is something that Cathryn wanted to be “hers”; she’s been worrying about the degree to which she has kept up her part of the “deal” in being Co-Captain. So Bob stayed out of the way and only hung out nearby to offer moral support and lift the occasional 5 gallon bucket of used oil out of the engine room. We’re both pleased the oil change produced a sense of accomplishment for Cathryn (and an “I told you so” opportunity for Bob, who had all along assured her she was up to the task). Atta Person!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Improbable Happenings on the Loop

Days on cruise:  231

Distance traveled:  12.1 miles

Travel time: 1 hr, 27 mins

Total trip odometer:  5,157 statute miles

This post has no photos and is written only by Cathryn, unlike our usual posts which are joint efforts. Bob takes, processes and posts all our photos and we’re temporarily, briefly apart.

When we began our Loop 9 months ago we felt we were “newbies” to this boating business, and surely the most inexperienced boaters doing the Loop (which turned out not to be true, but we wouldn’t know that for some time). We were told that because typical boaters put 50-100 engine hours on their boat each season, we’d gain the equivalent of 10 years experience doing the Loop in one year, adding 1,000 engine hours of experience. We were also told that doing the Loop would “stretch” us to grow and learn in unexpected ways, and today’s stories shows how true that is.

Those of you who know Bob know he’s more an introvert than not, and loyal forever to those he knows and loves, but considers any group bigger than 6 to be a “party” and too large for his preference. He would tell you his greatest concern about doing the Loop was handling all the problems that inevitably arise, as he’s not naturally mechanical, he knew he’d end up being more responsible than Cathryn (because he’s better at that kind of thing), and we pay to have almost all of our engine and systems work done as we don’t know how to do it ourselves.

Cathryn would tell you her biggest fear about doing the Loop was meeting Bob’s Co-Captaincy requirement, the condition on which he agreed to do the Loop, and overcoming her very significant fears about doing her share of driving, docking and navigating this big boat. She’s gradually built up to doing her full share of driving, and most of our docking, always with Bob nearby of course.

In our last post we mentioned we were headed 120 miles north in a rental car to Bobby’s Fish Camp (where we’d already been a week before on our boat) to assist fellow Loopers who were having problems on their boat and wanted assistance getting it down to Mobile. It struck us (mostly Bob) as most unlikely that he would offer, or anyone would agree, that he could do what was needed. But that’s what happened.

We drove to Bobby’s Fish Camp, both spent the night on the boat with our friends, then the next morning Bob took off down the river with them, knowing there was still a leaking fuel pump that might cause the single engine to be disabled and they’d be stranded. The three of them felt they could handle what might come, and Bob was okay taking off with people he likes really well, but doesn’t really know, for two days and an overnight. Only those who know Bob can appreciate how improbable this scenario is, and only those who have traveled this remote, isolated, “deep south” segment of the Tenn-Tom can fully appreciate what it means to potentially face such issues. And they had no spare fuel pump on board.

Cathryn got a text message from Bob this morning saying all is going smoothly, their anchorage last night was good, the fuel pump has held up so far, and they’ll arrive in Mobile this afternoon. What a relief!

Meanwhile, Cathryn turned in our rental car and returned to Next To Me in Fairhope on the east side of Mobile Bay. Our plan was to reunite late Saturday, then drive our boat to Mobile on Sunday where we’ll leave it to fly home for Thanksgiving. But on arrival in Fairhope at noon, Cathryn found the Bay was completely calm, sunny and warmish, and the forecast for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday called for high winds, waves and thunderstorms. We fly out of Mobile on Wednesday, so what to do? What to do?

Improbably, and with Bob’s support and confidence, but absolutely no urging, Cathryn decided to go ahead and move the boat across the Bay to Mobile, by herself! By phone Bob repeatedly told her not to do it if she felt uncomfortable. Well . . . there’s no way anyone would EVER do something like that if they waited til they were comfortable, right?

So Cathryn asked Corey (local guy) on the next boat over to help her set her course on the chartplotter, Keith to help cast off her lines, called the marina in Mobile to make SURE someone would be there to catch her lines on arrival, and off she went, with her heart in her throat. And it went fine.

The route is only 12 miles, the water is shallow (8-20 feet), it crosses the shipping lane going into Mobile, and there was only one tow with barges and one freighter to maneuver around. Despite this, Cathryn managed to work up a good adrenaline rush that lasted the whole journey, and was VERY excited to find Henning, Joanne and Erik from Flying Free (haven’t seen them in almost two months) on the dock to help catch her lines, having heard her calling ahead on the VHF radio and learning she was alone.

So . . . the idea that we can do things we weren’t sure we can do was reinforced. The idea that we’re still learning new things at this stage of life was too.  And we’re both very proud of each other for tackling something that felt scary and potentially difficult.

Cathryn will let Bob speak for himself if he wants to add more to the story later, but wants to give a big shout out to all the folks who helped her get to the point where she was willing to single-handedly take our boat across Mobile Bay:

- to Kevin P and Tom from Bremerton Power Squadron who so effectively taught the classes we took to prepare us before this journey began;

- to Mark T in New York who gave us the idea to do the Loop, then helped us repeatedly via email and phone with technical information as we shopped for our boat and learned how to do things once we bought it;

- to Chris and Alyse from Captain Chris Yacht Services who spent 3 days training us on our boat in January, then remained connected friends of ours, to help out by phone or email anytime we had questions or problems;

- to Jim and Sharon A who we met in the Keys last February on our “shake down” cruise, then adopted us and became mentors, offering advice and technical assistance by phone and email whenever needed;

These folks each supported and encouraged us to learn, build more skills, and become confident, capable boaters. We aren’t nearly as accomplished as we’d like to be, but we’ve come so far and are so appreciative to those who helped us get to this point.  Thank you!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ups and Downs of Life on the Loop

Days on cruise:  230

After returning from Selma yesterday we had a fabulous dinner at The Gumbo Shack here in Fairhope. Generous, delicious portions of gumbo (Cathryn) and jambalaya (Bob) combined with a fun atmosphere to make it a good evening.

This morning we drove the marina’s courtesy car to Point Clear at the southern end of Fairhope. It offers beautiful scenery with great views of Mobile Bay, and at the end is the Marriott Hotel where we sat and had lunch on the boardwalk.

Recently we heard from Looper friends we first met in Michigan, then saw again in Kentucky. We agreed to meet in Mobile this Friday. They’re now at Bobby’s Fish Camp, 100+ miles north, where we were a week ago. They developed an engine problem yesterday that someone is working on, but are concerned about traveling the next two days down the river in case of further problems. The area is SO remote and unpopulated with no marinas, so requires an overnight anchorage on the way south. They have AT&T phone service which works hardly anywhere in that stretch.

So we’ve rented a car and are headed to Bobby’s Fish Camp to spend tonight on their boat. Tomorrow morning Cathryn will drive our rental car back to Fairhope, while Bob stays on the boat to journey down the river with them. He can supply his Verizon phone if needed to call for a tow, and great problem-solving skills (Cathryn’s phrase, not his).

More on this story later we suspect.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Selma, Alabama

Days on cruise:  229

This post is not about the Great Loop. Unless you know us personally and are interested, this one would be good to skip.


Cathryn’s 4 grandparents lived most of their lives in Selma, Alabama, situated on the Alabama River (above), and both her parents were born and raised there. Cathryn made dozens of trips to Selma (from Texas where she grew up) to visit grandparents and has many fond memories of time with them.


When we drove our truck from Seattle to Florida last January to close on the purchase of Next To Me, we planned to stop in Selma on the way. The schedule didn’t work out. When we were in Demopolis two weeks ago, only 50 miles from Selma, we planned to rent a car and spend a day there. We learned there aren’t any car rental agencies in Demopolis; the closest one is in Selma!


Finally we rented a car yesterday in Fairhope, drove 3 hours to Selma, and spent the night in a motel (watching election returns late into the night).



We drove to the sites of both of Cathryn’s grandparent’s homes, though her father’s home has been torn down and turned into a church playground and parking lot (above). But the top of the retaining wall along the sidewalk, on which Cathryn used to walk as a child while holding her grandmother’s hand, is just the same.



Her mother’s family home remains little changed from the last time Cathryn saw it 30+ years ago. The current owner has been there 20 years and invited us to walk the property.


Cathryn’s grandfather had a machine shop out back, and a life-long dream of building a river paddleboat, and actually constructed the paddlewheel, helm and pontoons. The paddlewheel still sits in the yard, though the grandfather who built it died almost 40 years ago.


We went to Live Oak Cemetery where many of Cathryn’s ancestors are buried and found a couple dozen plots of her extended family. The cemetery is full of gigantic live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.


Finally we took in a little Civil Rights history by walking across the Edmund Pettus bridge and visiting the Voting Rights Act Museum. It was an interesting coincidence, visiting here on the day after our first black President was re-elected.




The visit evoked lots of feelings and memories from another time, especially of feeling much loved by four grandparents! Tonight we’re back on the boat in Fairhope.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fairhope, Alabama

Days on cruise:  227

This town could accurately be labeled “The City of Flowers”. Along with crew from Toucan (Rick and Diane) and Alacrity (Craig and Barbara), we took a courtesy van into town for the afternoon. It’s a small town, and we walked the six-by-four block downtown area. There are flowers everywhere!

Even the trash cans on every block are topped with flowers.


As are all four corners at every intersection.


We’re told the flowers are changed out seasonally. We found a combination bookstore and coffee shop and spent some time browsing and even buying a couple of books.


This town is a real artist’s haven, and there are lots of galleries and shops selling local offerings.

We’re enjoying our stay at Eastern Shore Marina, a “nice but nothing fancy” place with very friendly staff. Our only real complaint is there seems to be no protection from the weather on Mobile Bay, and our boat rocks and rolls non-stop, especially at night. One dock line suffered last night, chafing more than we’ve ever experienced anywhere.


Rick and Diane on Toucan invited us, along with Craig and Barbara from Alacrity, to have cocktails and dinner on their pretty DeFever, as it was raining outside. The men barbecued outside anyway, we ate inside, and had a nice evening. For the first time on this trip, an interesting, completely civil, and lively political discussion ensued. The D’s and the R’s were all cogent in making their points, and listened respectfully to each other.  We’d like to think our country could move forward in such an intelligent and respectful manner, no matter the outcome tonight.

Monday, November 5, 2012

End of the Tenn-Tom

Days on cruise:  226

Distance:  68.4 miles

Travel time:  6 hrs, 33 mins

Total trip odometer:  5,145 statute miles


Exactly two months after leaving Chicago to begin the “western rivers” part of the Great Loop, we’ve covered 1,900 miles on the rivers, and today we finished that stretch. In addition, 450 miles since leaving the Tennessee River, we completed the Tenn-Tom Waterway this afternoon. We found it interesting, but also felt compelled to keep moving as there were few towns or destinations to cause us to slow down, and for the most part, the weather was cold, urging us southward.


Today we saw lots of Spanish moss (which isn’t really moss, but is related to the pineapple family), many brown pelicans, marshlands, and we detected the smell of salt water for the first time since we made our way up the Hudson River in New York in June. We expected to see alligators (as Looper friends who are ahead of us did), but didn’t see any today. Or dolphins, which we were also told to expect.

Locals refer to this as the Dolly Parton Bridge. Hmmm.


Turning the clocks back an hour Saturday night threw us off, so we were up before the crack of dawn Sunday, despite not planning to be. The other two boats sharing our anchorage, Rienzi and Branchin’ Out, were also up early. We pulled our anchor shortly after sunrise and headed south.


The river was placid but filled with lots of sticks, floating logs, and fixed deadheads sticking above the water.

We’d planned to anchor out somewhere north of the Mobile River, but given our early start and the forecast for some “weather” to arrive late Sunday, we decided to keep moving and make it across Mobile Bay if the conditions looked good when we got there. And they did.

Most Loopers encounter more boat, freighter and cruise ship traffic than we did, presumably because things are quieter on a Sunday.


There were some odd-looking boats too. We assume these two warships serve some specialized purpose. Does anyone know what that would be?


It was a bit of a shock to enter a larger city after so long in remote territory.  Check out the red triangles on the chartplotter below: these are boats equipped with AIS transmitters (we have “receive” only). We got so annoyed with the constant beeping and “a dangerous target has been detected” messages that Bob finally turned off the AIS altogether as it was too distracting for the 12 miles while we traveled the Mobile River.


The waters of Mobile Bay are shallow, meaning our depth sounder often showed only 2-3 feet of water beneath the hull as we made our way across to Fairhope on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.


We also discovered we didn’t have paper charts for Mobile Bay, so made up the gap with verbal directions from two other boaters via VHF radio, though our electronic chartplotter also had everything we needed. We just hate to be without paper charts in case of some failure of electronics.


Early afternoon we arrived at Eastern Shore Marina in Fairhope and settled into a slip adjacent to Looper friends Craig and Barbara on Blue Heron, and Joe and Edie on Seaquel. It was a treat to have such great friends catch our lines yet again!


At 4:30, early because of turning back the clocks an hour, the six of us took our folding camp chairs to the adjacent beach to watch the sunset, and it sure put on a good show! Some weather arrived during the afternoon, so clouds, whitecaps and sailboats conspired to contribute nice scenery.

We’re busy reminding ourselves how to tie the boat to the dock to accommodate rising and dropping tides and other knowledge we haven’t needed since New York last May.