Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Day At “5 Over”

Days on cruise:  2

Distance traveled: 672 miles

Travel time: 11 hours, 30 mins

Total trip odometer: 1,070 statute miles

Still accustomed to waking early, we hit the highway at 7am, beating feet to Denver for a Tuesday arrival, in “horse back to the barn” mode at this point. It was barely light when we left. Soon after, we crossed into Central Time, so gained an hour, happily. And we spent the whole day setting the cruise control at 4-5 mph over the speed limit.

It rained, the sun came out, it rained again, and the sun came out again. Tupelo, Mississippi looked not so different from Aurora Avenue in Seattle, a little less dense.


On the road this time, we crossed the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway where we enjoyed fond memories of time on the river, including the extraordinary Bobby’s Fish Camp which we visited twice.


Later in the day we crossed the Mighty Mississippi, though a segment we didn’t do on our boat as we’re further south now.


Finally, after passing through Alabama, Mississippi and a short stretch of Tennessee (where Graceland called us to visit, but we took a pass), we entered Arkansas.


We know from others who have been here: there are scenic places in Arkansas, but Interstate 40 territory doesn’t meet that definition. And like all states, it has some weird place names.


We ended our long day in Conway, Arkansas 35 miles west of Little Rock, and our motel was chosen by Bob in large part for its’ proximity to Starbucks across the street. He’s suffering from inadequate coffee he considers drinkable on this road trip so far. But we’re making good time and expect to arrive in Denver on schedule for a visit with our youngest daughter and about-to-be son-in-law.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

End of a Chapter

Days on Cruise:    1

Miles traveled:   398

Travel Time:    5  hours, 45 mins

Total trip odometer:  398 statute miles

At 10am today after a couple hours of hauling the last things to the truck, cleaning the boat, and our last pump-out (there ARE silver linings to ending this trip!) we took one final photo of “Next to Me” and walked down the dock to the truck.

As we headed toward the freeway, Bob plugged in his iPod and began playing “our song”: Next To Me, by the Subdudes out of New Orleans.  While this resulted in a few tears for Cathryn, it also reminded us what’s important:  wherever we are, as long as we’re together, we’re “Home”!


We drove 2 hours north, going 70mph on the freeway segment, and after 100 miles we arrived in Titusville, FL.  Bob commented “Well, we just covered the same distance that took us two days last year while beginning the Loop.” Our travel scale has now reverted to “American Standard” rather then “Looper Standard ”, so 9 mph is no longer the norm.


In Titusville we drove to the marina where we stopped a year ago to tour the Kennedy Space Center, this time to connect with friends from home, Bob and Debi from Fox Island, WA . They recently began their Loop in Mobile, Alabama. We’re a bit jealous of them for the adventure they have yet ahead.


Since our truck is loaded to the max with a back seat full of clothes hanging on a rod, cooler full of food, suitcases for our stops in motels each night and more, Cathryn squeezed  into the backseat while Bob and Debi both sat in the passenger seat.  Luckily we didn’t pass any police cars while on our way to Dixie Crossroads restaurant where we had lunch and shared stories. It was great to see Bob and Debi again!


After a 3-hour lunch we got back on the road and drove 4 more hours to Tallahassee, FL where we’re now ensconced in the local Best Western, where we had leftovers from last night’s dinner, warmed in the microwave.

We plan one more Loop-related blog with some reflections on our trip.  It may take a bit longer to really absorb this thing we just finished. 

In the meantime we’ll continue to post about our journey home and resumption of life at home. We hope you’ll stay with us as we decide “what next”. We’re NOT done with experiencing adventures around the world until we’re no longer able. We’ve already made a reservation for a month-long stay in a tiny bungalow on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala for the month of February 2014.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Three Very Busy Days; One Final Sunset

Days on Cruise: 320

Distance traveled:  16.3 miles

Travel time:  1 hour, 42 minutes

Total trip odometer:  6,340

15 months ago we were conducting a Sea Trial here in Florida as part of our process to decide whether to buy Next To Me; Tuesday, two days ago, we were doing it again, this time to help Jack and Sara decide whether to buy her from us.  Almost unbelievably, the photo below was taken on the day WE were testing the boat to buy it in December 2011, and on that same day, Jack and Sara (our contingent boat buyers) were out on a training day with Captains Chris and Alyse Caldwell who took this photo! Who knew our lives would “collide” in such a wonderful way six months later, and now lead to their own Sea Trial and Survey of our boat?

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The day of the Survey and Sea Trial, Tuesday, Tim the Engine Surveyor, Bill the Hull Surveyor, Curtis and Gill Stokes the boat broker handling the deal, Jack and Sara the Buyers, and Bob and Cathryn the Sellers all convened on Next To Me to spend a day testing and evaluating her so Jack and Sara can decide whether to buy her. It was a cool day, and lots of doors and windows were open as people came and went, crowded with 8 of us on the boat for 10 hours.

The Surveyors spent two hours checking things in the engine room, then we drove the boat to Crackerboy Boatyard nearby to pull her out of the water for an inspection of the hull, props, shafts and more. That took an hour.

Next up: the Sea Trial. This is where the two Surveyors tell us how to run the boat on the water so they can test its’ engine performance. We ran the boat at the usual 1200 rpms or about 9 mph; we ran the boat at 2200 rpms, “cruising speed” or about 18mph, the fastest we’ve ever gone; and then we ran the boat at Wide Open Throttle, 2800 rpms, by far the fastest we’ve ever run it in the 15 months we’ve owned her! And guess what? She hit 27.2 mph, this 30,000 pound thing, AND both surveyors, the boat broker, the buyers, and sellers were all smiles, as it was a smooth, comfortable ride. Wow!

The engine surveyor gave a hugely positive verbal report (to be followed with the results of the oil analysis and the formal final report) and left. The Hull Surveyor stayed a couple more hours continuing tests of the rest of the systems onboard. He left with a more cryptic verbal report with a promise of a list of “deficiencies” the next day and a final report by Friday. Long day! Happy, but tired, Buyers and Sellers to have this day behind us.

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When we bought our boat, there were lots of things we struggled to figure out over the first 3 months, and we found this sometimes frustrating, so we offered to spend two days with Jack and Sara “showing them the ropes” on board Next To Me so they could avoid some of this frustration. That’s what we’ve been doing since the survey. Jack and Sara developed their own wish list of things to be explained, as did we, and the four of us started working through the lists. First up: Jack performed an oil change on the two Caterpillar engines and Westerbeke generator under Cathryn’s tutelage. That was 6 hours of work that saved $700 compared to hiring someone else to do the oil change every 150 engine hours.


One evening the four of us were invited to Chris and Alyse Caldwell’s boat down the dock for dessert, along with their two students on board for five days of training. We’ve all had great training at the feet of the Caldwell’s and enjoyed meeting their newest students.

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The next day we continued orienting Jack and Sara on other components of Next To Me, but at 3:00 took a break to catch the lines of Jackets II, Stephen and Charlotte, coming into our marina where we met them, our first Looper friends, in January 2012, and today they were crossing their wake and closing their Loop! Stephen was grinning, Charlotte was crying, and we were all hugging in happiness and celebration.


Stephen and Charlotte below: the newest Gold Loopers! That night Jack and Sara returned to their hotel, understandably exhausted by the travel from Indiana followed by two very intense days on the boat, and we went out to dinner with Stephen and Charlotte following one last cocktail hour on their boat enjoying Charlotte’s fabulous, and somewhat famous, margaritas.


Today was the final day of Jack and Sara’s orientation on Next To Me, and it involved climbing up on the sundeck roof to deploy the dinghy, reviewing the use and settings of various systems on board (such as air conditioning/heat, toilets, combo washer/dryer), blogging and an actual pump-out of the black water holding tank, cheerfully performed by Jack under Bob’s direction.

At 4:30 the four of us settled on the Sundeck for a beer, and Jack and Sara High-Fived their absorption of a HUGE amount of information in short order, very successfully in our view.


Utterly astonishing, and overwhelmingly touching to us, Jack and Sara presented us with a gift to thank us for our friendship and willingness to spend time teaching them “the ropes” on Next To Me: a spectacular, gorgeous Weems and Plath gimbaled box clock.

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An inscribed brass plate in the lid reads “The Great Loop Odyssey on Next To Me  2012-2013”. It’s so beautiful Cathryn was brought to tears and Bob had a genuine (rare) grin on his face.

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So tonight the four of us went to “Chuck’s” for dinner, across the street from the marina, and sat at an outside table to eat fried shrimp and crabcakes, enjoy a beautiful sunset, and talk about topics other than The Boat, including our kids and upcoming plans for the remainder of 2013 for all of us.


We are SO grateful to have such friendly, smart, kind, generous people with whom to conduct the otherwise stressful business of selling a boat, and pleased that we have new friends, truly, as a result.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Blogger’s Insecurities

Days on cruise:  317

Our blog first was created in late 2008 just after we completed a one-month trip to Africa with Bob’s sister Lynn and her husband David. That trip, we only posted a link to our Picasa web album after the trip was over, no words. Since then, as we traveled every winter for 3 years to Mexico, then began our Loop journey 15 months ago, it expanded to include lots of stories of our activities, experiences and thoughts on whatever we were doing. Like most bloggers, we wished for more “comments” so we’d know what readers thought, even though the primary purpose of the blog was to keep a journal for us, and keep our immediate family and close friends informed about our well-being.

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Over the 4 years of active blogging, our readership has grown, presumably because our topics have become more varied from RV-ing in Mexico to Looping on a trawler. We have a “site meter” attached to the blog which sends us reports each month offering lots of data about our readership.

As the screen shot below show, our readers numbered 118 the day we completed our Loop,  the next day 45 had viewed it by the time the report was generated.

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That was a not uncommon range this past year, though it grew over the course of the year, except during the six weeks in November and January when we went home for the holidays.

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It’s astonishing to us how much data this site meter offers, including what countries and cities readers hail from, or at least where their ISP is located.

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We’ve enjoyed writing blog posts and adding photos to commemorate our travels. For our Christmas gift, daughter Mackenzie gave us an IOU for a bound, published version of our Loop blog, and we expect to enjoy re-reading it in its’ entirety when we’re in our 90s, no longer adventuring, and can’t recall any of the details without such a tool to remind us. Meanwhile, it might become our primary coffee table book. Thanks for reading along!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Comments And Congratulations

Days on cruise:  317

In addition to being met at the dock as we crossed our wake by Captains Chris and Alyse Caldwell, and Jerry and Janet from “Wind Song” to help us celebrate, it was great fun to receive dozens of emails, text messages, and blog comments from relatives, friends and blog readers. Samples include:

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Many of these were from people we know and love, and just as many were from people we’ve never met who followed our journey on the blog. Repeatedly we heard that one of the reasons those folks liked to follow our blog was because we posted most days, not just occasionally. It was great fun to learn through comments and emails who some of those folks were, and why they were reading. We’re sorry we aren’t able to include here any of the text messages received on our cell.

To all: thank you for sharing our journey and enhancing it for us with your comments, questions and even emails telling us who you are and why you followed our story. For those of you who are future Loopers, we’d love to have you send us a link to your blog so we can follow your journey too.

Happy adventures to all!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Last Anchorage and Weather!

Days on cruise:  316

Distance traveled:  21.1 miles

Travel time: 2 hrs, 30 mins

Total trip odometer:  6,324 statute miles

We had a lovely evening on our last anchorage Saturday night, enjoying the late afternoon sun and warmth, then grilling steaks and veggies for dinner. On checking the weather before going to bed, we learned today, Sunday, would be VERY windy, so decided we’d leave early to head back to Fort Pierce in the morning.

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Friends Mark and Allyn on “Second Wind” left Vero Beach early this morning headed north to continue their Loop, and they caught the photo above of us at our last anchorage before we even had the VHF radio on to hear their call. We checked the weather forecast before daylight, and below is what we saw (click on photo for larger image):

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And the radar showed this storm cell passing over the area. Green and blue are light rain, yellow and red are very heavy rain. So after a first cup of coffee, but before breakfast and before Cathryn got out of her jammies, we pulled the anchor and headed north at slightly higher speed than normal.

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We called ahead to Dockmaster Malcolm to ask him to catch our lines on arrival back at Harbour Isle Marina, and he was joined by two other guys who happened by on the dock. We were very grateful, as the wind was the highest in which we’ve docked the boat our entire Loop! All went well.

So we spent the afternoon doing more boat chores and preparing for the week, and by late afternoon the wind was blowing steadily 25-30 and gusting higher, rain was blowing sideways, and thunder and lightning made it great fun to sit on the sundeck with a glass of wine enjoying the spectacle, all snug in our buttoned up environment.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

One Last Cruise

Days on cruise:  315

Distance traveled:  21.3 miles

Travel time: 2 hours, 39 minutes

Total trip odometer:  6,303 statute miles

Well, we decided not to stop Looping after all, so today we headed north again, ready to begin Loop #2!

Ok, maybe that’s not what really happened. Ten days at dock sorting, cleaning, unpacking the boat, loading the pickup truck and having Dave handle a list of minor repairs was enough, and we were ready for a break, so we took a trip!

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Actually we started the day by going to the Fort Pierce Farmer’s Market one last time. It seemed there were far fewer booths, especially fruits and vegetables, than last year, but we enjoyed it anyway.


Fellow Loopers Mark and Allyn on Second Wind, and Deanna and Dick on Sareanna were 10 miles north in Vero Beach, so drove down to meet us there. Mark and Allyn are new friends we met in Sanibel a month ago who just started their Loop the week before. We’ve spent lots of time with them since then and greatly enjoy their company. Dick and Deanna were the Lead Boat in our Gulf Crossing flotilla from Carabelle to Tarpon Springs in January, and they also completed their Loop three days after we did!


Shortly after noon we slipped our lines and headed up the ICW for a last night at anchor, just for the heck of it. We didn’t anchor out much after we left Mobile, AL in early January, mostly because it was so cold and we wanted shore power to keep the heat running, but also because it was unusually windy. We missed anchoring out and wanted one last night on the hook.


As we passed Vero Beach City Marina (above) we texted Second Wind and think we see their boat, just barely, in the photo above.


The mansions lining the ICW here are different than those further south: still big, but less so, and prettier, we think.


We dropped the hook in 8 feet of water between Pine Island and Hole in the Wall Island, just off the ICW five miles north of Vero Beach. We anchored here a little more than a year ago when Captains Chris and Alyse Caldwell sent us on a “test run” by ourselves, and we liked it. There are lots of Spoil Islands in this area (islands created by piles of dredged material from the ICW), and many of them have pretty white beaches where smaller boats pull ashore to picnic, as above.


Our chartplotter screen shows the “figure 8” we did to check  the depth of the bottom where we intended the drop the hook, then the path the boat followed while settling after the wind and current, running in opposite directions, decided where we would land.

Now . . . for a relaxing evening!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The List is Done!

Days on cruise: 313

Hear it in your head:   “The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone . . .” and on and on. 

We have an 8KW Westerbeke generator at the front of our engine room. It has a 25-foot very thick, rigid 2-inch diameter hose that carries exhaust from the generator to the rear of the boat, running down the port side on top of the fuel tank, which is behind the port engine. We don’t know how old that hose is (the boat is 27), but it’s old. It began showing signs of age, cracking and a with a bit of a water leak, so recently Bob patched it with Rescue Tape (a must-have item on a cruising boat, in our view) and put replacement of this hose on Dave’s List when we got back to Fort Pierce. Dave was not excited about this project, but absolutely agreed it needed to be done, as leaks in any exhaust hose are a safety issue. Dave’s assistant, Jeff, cut out the old hose Thursday morning.


Dave bought 30 feet of new hose, which unfortunately costs a lot more than your typical garden hose, as do all marine parts.


Guess what Dave found when the old generator exhaust hose was removed? Behind that hose are two other hoses which weren’t visible to inspection as long as the generator exhaust hose was in place. The top hose (below) is the fuel overflow hose which runs from the port fuel tank to a vent on the side of the boat. This is a hose you hope never to use, but which does it’s job occasionally. If it gets used, it means you’re spilling fuel into the water, a big No-no! The bottom hose is the fuel fill hose which runs from the deck fitting to the port fuel tank. Here’s where the song at the beginning of this post comes in.


Dave found both of these hoses to be old, saturated with fuel and “soft”, all undesirable features. Off he went to buy replacement hose of these as well, not expensive as they’re so short. Can you find Dave in the photo below???


Those who’ve paid great attention to details on this blog will recall we have twin engines, so might ask: what about those same fuel hoses on the starboard fuel tank? Good question! Dave examined those, which are readily visible because they’re not hiding behind a generator exhaust hose, and found they’d already been replaced sometime in the past couple of years and are in great condition.

So off we went for a dinghy ride, missing being on the water after a week. Doesn’t Next To Me (in the middle) look  mighty small in the photo below, parked next to that 64-foot Hatteras? We’re dwarfed!


We motored over to “Little Jim’s”, a place mostly visited by locals and Harley bikers. We came here last year on our first foray after buying the dinghy, sent by Chris and Alyse Caldwell (our training Captains) on a navigation exercise. The food has improved greatly since we were here a year ago. The scenery and ambiance remain as fun as we remembered them.


The approach to Little Jim’s shows it to be a simple, small marina, with this as the only amenity beyond docks.


And last night we had an absolutely fabulous evening at the home of Chris and Alyse Caldwell, but forgot our camera, so only have a photo of them from last year.  They invited us to their very lovely home situated on an small pond out in the country near Vero Beach. We had appetizers on the dock (and fed the fish and turtles), followed by an unbelievable 3-course dinner, then dessert. Oh, and wine. Those folks from New Orleans sure know how to cook! And they even know how to serve food in a beautiful presentation, making it more special. Multi-talented folks, these two!