Hard to believe that the last time I wrote was before Christmas. I won't be detailing the three weeks ashore because I kept in touch with family and friends during that time, and I'm sure no one else cares to read about all the fun I had with my grandkids!
There is one thing I want to share that has nothing to do with sailing or our life on the water, but it made such an impression on me. While visiting friends in Alabama, I witnessed one of the best examples I have seen of genuine loving kindness. The brother of Johnny's best friend is an adult with Down syndrome who lives with our friend and his wife and is an integral part of their family. On Saturday morning, he was up early and dressed in his favorite University of Alabama shirt. This, I might add, in a household of die-hard Auburn fans! As the morning passed, I noticed him frequently looking out the front windows, obviously waiting for someone. Soon that someone arrived, and they left together. What happens every Saturday is that this family friend takes our friend's bother out for lunch and some "guy time." I just think that is the coolest thing I've witnessed in a long time. No organization is involved, no fund raising necessary, no red tape to get through, just one man showing another man that someone likes him enough to spend time with him. This showed me again that the best gift we can give to anyone is our time and attention.
As I write today, (January 15) we are at Ft. Myers Beach. We came here mainly to see Katie and Jessie before heading farther south. Last night we went to the restaurant where Katie is working (one of her two jobs) and had a chance to catch up on what's been going on with them since we parted ways at Tarpon Springs before Christmas. Both girls have jobs and are happily living aboard Louise with Rusty and Bird. Jessie's dad is in town for a few days and she was spending time with him, so we didn't get to see her. That was disappointing, but maybe we can squeeze in a visit before we leave here.
Leaving 'Bout Time at Little Harbor Marina turned out to be a wise choice. The resort has great amenities, and our dock neighbors kept a close eye on her while we were gone. We will definitely put it on our list of good places to stop.
Since January 7, we have anchored in the Manatee River near Bradenton, in Sarasota Bay, at Higel Park in Venice, and at Boca Grande before reaching Ft. Myers beach yesterday, January 14.
Our hands-down favorite stop was Boca Grande. Such a quite place, but with interesting things to see and do. This was our first chance to try out the folding bikes that we got for Christmas. So much fun! They allow us to see and do much more than we ever did on foot. Thanks, Santa! We especially enjoyed our visit to the lighthouse museum where we learned a lot about the history of the area. Of course we had to check out the cool hardware store as well as the bakery next door. Then there was a lovely Sunday service at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, and afterwards we had lunch at a local Relay for Life fish fry. Spent most of a pleasant afternoon on the beach lounging, wading, and collecting shells. We strolled through the public rooms of the Gasparilla Inn, and I have to say it's quite impressive. Wouldn't mind spending a few days there sometime, but we just don't leave the boat to do that. We had great food at the Pink Elephant, which is part of the Inn complex.
The first two months on the water we mostly covered areas that we were already familiar with, but since then we have headed to new places and enjoyed it immensely. And now that we've returned from the Christmas holidays, we feel more like true "live aboards." Knowing that we won't be back home for several months gives a different feel to our everyday activities and travels. Kind of hard to explain, but it represents really a big shift for us mentally.
Tomorrow we head home to Kentucky to spend about three weeks with family and friends there and in Mississippi. Cleaning and packing are on the To Do List today (just like any other trip), as well as a few items we've been waiting until we were in a marina to address.
We chose to leave the boat at a marina on Tampa Bay, and our choice turned out well. We've already met our neighbors who are live aboards and will be keeping an eye on 'Bout Time while we're away.
Our decision to cross to Cedar Keys and cruise down the coast from there turned out to be the right choice. We thoroughly enjoyed out time at the town of Cedar Key, even though fog delayed our departure for two days. We just took advantage of that time to learn more about the area and met some really cool folks. If you are ever in the area, look up Pat and Cindy at Low-Key Hideaway. I can guarantee you a delightful visit. And, of course, our geeky side came out as we visited a local historical society museum as well as a state park. Renting bikes allowed us to get around the island easily and was much kinder to my knee than walking.
From Cedar Key we continued south with Louise with our next stop at Crystal River. Katie insisted that her trip would not be complete if she didn't get to swim with the manatees. She and Katie did, as well as Johnny, but I stayed in the dinghy and managed to drift into a sanctuary section. A local resident immediately popped out of his house wielding his camera and taking photos of the registration number on the dinghy. I tried to tell him that I was getting out of there as quickly as my limited rowing skill would take me, but that didn't faze him.
So, I guess he may turn me in or something. Who knows? I was only a few feet inside the markers for the sanctuary area, and truly hadn't realized where I was. But I know, "Ignorance is no excuse!"
We faced another delay leaving Crystal River. We were told at the fuel dock that we should be able to make it out to the main channel, even at low tide. Wrong! This time "local knowledge" that all of the cruising guides tout proved quite fallible. We spent about an hour waiting for the tide to turn before we could head out to deeper water and continue south to Tarpon Springs.
We are learning to interpret the NOAA weather forecasts and to usually expect more wind and waves than predicted. We knew scattered showers were in the forecast, and for the entire day we traveled under heavy, foreboding clouds. In the distance we could often see rain, but we had little of any note. What did happen was that the predicted winds of 10-15 suddenly increased to 15-20 and then to 20-30. Thank goodness the wind was from behind, and even though we rolled steadily, we weren't getting pounded.
Louise was a couple of hours ahead of us and had less time in those seas. Thank goodness. Remember, these girls are in a 27' Cal with tiller steering and no cockpit protection. They are some kind of tough. We all decided to anchor slightly up the Anclote River rather than at Anclote Key, and they reached the anchorage before dark. They kept texting us to find out where we were as we motored in after dark. We've gotten so used to watching out for each other that we don't like it when we're not in sight. The chart plotter was dead on with the channel, and we arrived safely.
Thursday we spent the day at Tarpon Springs as the girls headed farther south. They have family meeting them at Ft. Myers Beach for a visit, so they are trying to make it there as quickly as possible. Tarpon Springs waterfront houses many of what I think of as Old Florida tourist shops. Not much of interest, but fun to just walk around. We did have a great Greek meal and learned a little about the history of the Greek community there as it relates to what was a thriving sponge industry.
An easy day down the GIWW took us to Maximo Point anchorage, and the following say we enjoyed sailing on Tampa Bay as we headed toward the marina.
One of the things that has truly astounded us on this latter part of the trip is the number of truly palatial homes on the water. I'm not talking about big; these are beyond huge. I don't begrudge anyone their success or lifestyle, after all, we're living our dream, but seeing those huge mansions, many of which sit unused much of the time, I can't help but wonder how much is enough. Again, I realize that what we have seems opulent to those who have much less. It truly is relative, and what it really made me think about is how accountable I am for using what I have been blessed with wisely and from a heart of gratitude.
This will be my last blog until we return after the holidays. I wish for each of you a joyous holiday season filled with memory-making time spent with those who are dear to you. May we each remember to reach out to someone and share our blessings.
The Adventure Continues
After leaving Navarre Beach, two more days on the water took us to Apalachicola. What a delightful town! We had been in communication with the girls on Louise and they were at the dock to meet us. They had already found a great little restaurant and bar where we joined them for oysters and beer. Being from Michigan, they haven't quite gotten up their nerve to try the raw oysters yet, but we all enjoyed the fried ones.
Spent two days in A'cola getting a few supplies and checking out the local spots of interest. Found a great local bookstore and stocked up. My knee became increasingly painful, and for a while it looked like we might be heading back to Mobile and driving home to my orthopedist. I was not a happy camper. But after a phone call to my doc and getting his advice, we opted to continue on and just deal with this when we are home for the holidays.
So, with that out of the way, we resumed our plans for crossing the Big Bend with the girls. Charts came out and a course was plotted.
Tuesday, November 27, we filled up with fuel and water and headed for Dog Island, our point of departure for the crossing. As an added treat, we got to spend the afternoon walking a beautiful island beach and witnessed the most gorgeous sunset I think I have ever seen. The girls joined us aboard for dinner and we set our departure time for 1:00 P. M. the following day. All of this was set in order to arrive offshore from Cedar Key in daylight so that we could see well enough to avoid the numerous crab traps that we knew to expect in shallower water.
Wednesday brought a beautiful day, and the forecast indicated 5-10 mph winds, which meant we would be motoring a lot, but we opted to leave as planned. Calm prevailed until some time after dark when the winds picked up and both boats put up sails. The winds increased steadily as did the wave height. Yours truly began to feel a bit queasy, but my Sea Bands kept full-blown seasickness at bay. We were all just glad to be sailing instead of motoring.
Then the dreaded occurred. In 65' of water, we began to see crab traps! This meant that we would need to stay offshore in really deep water until daylight. The wind was 12-15, and we were holding our course, and I took the wheel so that Johnny could catch a quick nap in the cockpit. Too rough to sleep below. Then the winds increased, gusting above 20 mph from the east, so I had to wake him to reef the sails. At this point, we basically tried to just hold our own and not go too far south beyond our planned course for landfall at Cedar Key. I was actually able to sleep some in the cockpit, and that was the only thing that kept me from crossing the line to becoming really seasick.
I don't think any four people have ever greeted dawn with more relief. Still a long way from our destination, at least we were not longer held hostage by the dark.
We misread one of the channel markers heading into Cedar Keys and it took us a bit out of the way. The girls hit the course dead on, and sent a text telling us to meet then on shore at the Pickled Pelican. Now tell me, who could refuse that invitation!
As we sat on the restaurant deck enjoying our first real food since leaving Dog Island, we agreed that the crossing tested some of our skills and our endurance, but all in all we made the best choices under the circumstances.
Now, for any seasoned blue water sailors reading this, I realize that a 100-mile crossing is a baby step, and you are probably smiling or laughing at my account. But for us it was a major addition to our resume and we now know that we are ready for even greater distances. Just how much greater, I'm not sure. Still have to think about that one.
As planned, we left the boat for several days in order to spend time Thanksgiving week with family. 'Bout Time remained at Sundowner Marina on Dog River in Mobile while we traveled to Smith County, Mississippi. There we were able to have my parents with us in their home each day. (They currently reside in a local nursing home.) All of the traditional food was prepared under my mother's watchful eye, and I almost perfected her famous cornbread dressing.
I've been having trouble with my left knee for several months, and it chose this week to show me just how painful it could be. I had an army of reinforcements to help with everything and I could not have managed without my daughter-in-law, Jenny, my brother, Mike, and hubby, Johnny. They proved to me that I really am not indispensable.
The week also included an annual reunion of the descendents of my father's parents, Phillip Lee and Sally Stringer James. Daddy is the only surviving sibling of a family of eight children, but this year's gathering was well attended and the large number of youngsters promises that we'll be continuing this tradition for years to come. Our James clan gathers at the family's home church each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to enjoy each other's company and lots of great home-cooked food, then later in the evening we reassemble at the home of a cousin for a pig roast. Needless to say, no one goes away hungry. For me the best part this year was watching our two grandsons play with my various cousins' grandchildren, much as we all used to play. Brought back lots of good memories.
After nine days away from the boat, returning to her truly felt like coming home. As I put away clean laundry and a few supplies, I realized how quickly this small floating residence has become our home. Can't help but wonder what the adjustment will be like five months from now when we return, even temporarily, to life on land.
As anxious as we were to get underway again, the weather on our first morning back was absolutely horrible. Cold, winds gusting to 25, and heavy rain. So we opted for a few maintenance chores and a movie on the iPad.
The following day rewarded us with sun and fair winds. Sailed from Mobile east to Wolf Bay and then to Pirate's Cove Marina at Josephine, AL. We had read that this was a place not to be missed, and we have to agree. Although the off season yielded a small group of guests, the burgers were delicious and the sailing talk lively. We were allowed to stay tied up at the restaurant dock rather than moving to anchor. It's just that kind of laid back place. Definitely on our list of places to which we will return next spring.
Tonight as I type this, we are on anchor at Navarre Beach, FL. We motored most to the day due to no notable wind. Only one slightly unnerving incident occurred this afternoon. When you travel by sailboat, bridge clearance height is always a matter of importance. The last one we planned to clear today showed a height of 50' on the charts. This was fine, as we require exactly 49' for our mast and electronic antennae. As we approached the bridge, a small skiff came alongside and asked what we needed to clear. I replied "Forty-nine feet."
The guy driving the skiff then told us that due to a construction platform that had been constructed under the mid-section of the bridge, clearance was 4' less that normal. At that point, we weren't sure exactly what we were going to do. After consulting tide tables, it seemed our best bet was going to be to anchor near the bridge and wait for dead low tide tomorrow morning and then ease under if we could. Not what we had hoped for, but we know these things happen.
We were heading over to where we hoped to anchor when the same man in the boat came back. He asked about out draft (4' 6") and then offered a suggestion that we go under a section of the bridge outside the channel where he knew the depth was sufficient for our keel. There was no construction platform suspended at this point, and we should have just about 50' clearance.
After careful calculation, we decided to try it. I stood on the deck looking up at the top of the mast as John carefully eased us under the bridge. We cleared with room to spare, but we were both more than relieved to exit the other side.
So, after having taken the dinghy ashore for delicious crab bisque and conch fritters, tonight we are on anchor, each quietly working at our computers. Johnny has installed Wi-fi so that if we are near an open network, we can use it. Convenient when we want or need it, but honestly, most of the time I'd rather play Dominoes, which is what I think I'll see if Captain wants to do right now.
I have mentioned before what a huge factor weather is on our journey. The past two days provide the perfect examples. Yesterday brought wind and rain, and though the rain moved out today, the wind gusting to 38 mph just didn't sound like our idea of fun. Call us fair weather sailors if you will, but we're doing this for pleasure, not as an endurance challenge. We figure there will be plenty of times in the coming months when we have to deal with unexpected bad weather; why do it when we don't have to?
So, what to do for two days tied up in a marina? Well, there's always laundry. I have learned to take advantage of any opportunity to catch up. We also had use of the work truck here at the marina, so we picked up a few groceries at a nearby Winn Dixie. Johnny completed the installation of our Wi-fi antenna, giving us greater internet access. We also added a little engine oil and filled the water tank that we had almost emptied since last week.
We both caught up on emails, bill paying, etc. And I made a pot of delicious soup that suited this chilly day perfectly. Finally, I downloaded some classics to my iPad, and I have read almost half of A Tale of Two Cities, something I somehow managed not to have read before.
So there you have it. Exciting? Hardly. But all in all not a bad way to spend a couple of a lazy days. Forecast for tomorrow indicates much better conditions. We plan to rise early, fill the fuel tank and head east. With any luck we'll be back in Pass Christian tomorrow night. Getting close to Thanksgiving, which we plan to spend with family in Mississippi. Gotta get moving!
Hard to believe that we have been on the water four weeks today. In some ways the time has passed very quickly, but in another way it seems like we've been living aboard for much longer.
Our travels after leaving Mobile took us to Bayou LaBatre, Biloxi, Pass Christian, and now New Orleans.
We enjoyed returning to Pass Christian where we had spent two nights at the city marina when we brought the boat home from Texas. This time we docked at the Pass Christian Yacht Club (love those reciprocal yacht club privileges!) and enjoyed visiting there. A morning walk took us past many of the lovely older homes that grace the coast of Mississippi. In much earlier days, inland plantation owners sent their families to the coast in the summer for the cooler, breezy climate. They built summer homes there and continued their established social lives. Pass Christian was at one time referred to as the "Saratoga of the South."
Of course Katrina left her mark, and there are many vacant spaces. In a local park, memorials to those who lost their lives in Katrina, 2005, and Camille, 1969, were somber reminders that living in this beautiful part of the world comes with a risk for which one must be prepared. But folks here say that's just part of it, same as tornadoes or earthquakes or blizzards in other areas.
We decided to anchor at Rabbit Island, at the mouth of the Rigolets, the channel that connects Lake Borgne (which is really an extension of the Gulf of Mexico) to Lake Pontchartrain. Peaceful, quiet marsh surrounded us, if you don't count the four trains that passed about 50 yards from us during the night. I never mind heaing trains, and once the Captain takes out his hearing aids for the night, he's oblivious to most anything!
A beautiful Friday morning found us motoring on the Intra-Coastal Waterway into New Orleans. On the advice of the folks who rescued us when our starter failed, we chose to stay at Seabrook Harbor Marina. Not the most picturesque location, but nice people and more than adequate facilities. Plus, they loaned us their work truck Saturday, and that allowed us to get out and to the things we wanted to.
Ever since I knew our trip would include a stop in NOLA, where I grew up, I've been in touch with friends and family here trying to arrange visits. Saturday greatly exceeded my expectations. A few texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages resulted in lunch with nine dear friends, folks I've known since I was eight years old. We grew up going to church together, and of the group, there are three couples that were sweethearts back in our teenage years who are still married today. Lots of catching up to do about parents, children and grandchildren. An added bonus was the delicious seafood we all enjoyed at Charlie's Seafood in Harahan, right where we all grew up.
Also on my list of people to see were Eileen and Lucien, my sister-in-law and her husband. And that could not have turned out better. They came to the marina to see our "home away from home," then we all went to one of their favorite places to hang out when they used to live in this part of town. When most people travel, they usually seek out those truly local places that visitors and tourists never see. Well, I can tell you that "Henry's" is probably not on any published lists of "must sees" for this fair city, but I can also tell you that there's nowhere I would have rather been to watch the Saints take down the undefeated Falcons. Talk about enthusiastic fans!!!
(Just a bit of explanation for friends who do not know Eileen and Lucien. My oldest brother, Fred, was married to Eileen in 1966. Two years and a baby boy later, Fred died as the result of burns received in an offshore rig explosion. A few years later Eileen married Lucien, and they and their sons, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren, and even their extended families have been a huge part of our family all these years. So much love multiplying out of heartbreaking tragedy. They are two of the most generous, big-hearted people I know, and spending time with them can never happen often enough. Plus, they bought me a loaf of French bread and a bottle of wine!)
After listening to last night's NOAA weather forecast, we knew that we would not be heading east today. The strong winds and rain came as predicted, so today we are dedicating today to laundry, a few minor boat maintenance items, and catching up with correspondence and my journal.
Right now checking the forecast for tomorrow. Main concern is wind out at Rabbit Island where we would anchor. The marsh there doesn't provide much protection from the wind, so we'll need to take that into consideration in our decision about when to head out. I'll say it again. You better not have a schedule if you're traveling on a boat!
By the way, if you're reading my posts, I'd love an occassional comment. Several have said they are following, but it would be fun to know just how many. So how about just a quick note to let me know you're following. Plus, it makes me feel more in touch with all of you. Thanks a bunch!