08/05/2012, Bradenton, Tampa, Florida
And over the VHF came 'This is the Unites States Air Force Launch, AF1 - you are in a missile testing zone and a live exercise is in progress with the US Air Force and you must leave the area now' at which point, an F-111 flew overhead, just above mast height! I replied 'We have a flare gun and a vicious dog on board (India, Boston Terrier) - you don't scare us' - well that's what I wanted to say, but Kathy said I mustn't ....................... Instead I said 'Yes, Sir, pleased to oblige'
We were on passage from Panama City to Tampa Florida (200 miles), it was a beautiful, early evening, clear sky, deep water, wind on the starboard beam and we were having a class of white wine for 'Sundowners' - and in steps the military to screw it up! To be fair, the Coast Guard had been announcing it on VHF 22Alpha all day, but.................. Anyway we headed south - and we only 1 mile into the zone.
We left St Andrews Marina, Panama City on the 28th June after spending 3 months there - we LOVED it (apart from the biker bar just opposite our berth, which had loud music, excessive drinking and fights. Kathy and I tried hard to compete, but they were professionals!) I had just come back from Romania, where I was working on the southern slope of the Transylvanian Alp's (and yes, it had biting wind - Ha!) whilst my Kathy had stayed on the boat, as Tropical Storm Debby passed directly overhead! It was a big rush to get ready, but there was an 'ideal weather window' behind the storm front. We anchored overnight in St Joe's Bay at Eagle Harbor - truly a beautiful spot and a chance to empty the Fuzzle.
The run across was uneventful on our boat (the way we like it!), but a lot was going on around us and we were 60 miles out to sea! 3 guys were picked up in a life raft after their barge sank in the storm and they were adrift for 3 days in a coastal life raft (little provisions and water) and were in a bad way. We heard of 2 lots of distress flares being set off via the VHF, and a pontoon boat was found 50 miles out to sea with no one on it!
We made landfall at Tarpon Springs and stayed overnight at the Turtle Cove Marina - great little place! Tarpon Spring is predominantly Greek and the main industry for many years was sponges. There are museums about the early days and the sponge divers. Had Greek meal that night and headed out to Tampa the next morning.
We are currently at Twin Dolphins Marina, Bradenton to hide out for the hurricane season, then we head southwest to Key West, with a few stops along the way, and then to Marathon and preparation for the run across to the Bahamas, Exumas Islands and Cuba (we need to be careful, as this is still an embargoed country by the US and if Kathy spends money there she can be arrested for 'Aiding the Enemy'! - How long ago was the revolution and the Bay of Pigs?)
Anyway, we are getting settled into life here in Tampa and the marina is top class (http://twindolphinmarina.com/). Mitch and Rachel (his girlfriend) came over for 3 weeks and they did the usual tourist bit, LA and Disney Land, New Orleans and Bourbon Street, then 2 weeks with us. We went up to Crystal River, which is the only place in the US you can swim with wild manatees and they did not let us down. I was swimming beside a little calf, about 4' long, when mummy came up UNDER me! It was like watch Red October surface! About 12 ft long and a huge tail, which I did not want a closer look at! They are very tame and they let you scratch their noses and belly - I did roll over and offer to let people do it to me - but I got no takers - COWARDS!!
We had a week in Miami and Nikki, Kathy's daughter joined us - again we did the tourist bit! - all the Keys down to Key West, airboat riding in the Everglades, etc..
Last weekend we spent at the St Petersburg yacht Clubs and loved every minute of it! People refer to St Petersburg as 'old Florida' and it is easy to see why. Lovely old building and parks and great restaurants.... We did however have a tragic return trip to Twin Dolphin when we did a recovery of the body of a 32 year old man who had jumped of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (180' from span to sea), but at the time we did not know that was where he had come from the bridge - we thought it was off one of the same vessels nearby. Very sad.....
Well, I need to go back to my bunk, as I am nursing a hangover as the result of a good night at the marina, where Kathy forced me to drink too many screwdrivers and had the audacity to tell my this morning that it was own fault!............... I was just being polite and joining in! Ho hum........................
03/09/2012, New Orleans - Part 1
We had heard all the horror stories about heading east on the ICW and up until today were wondering what all the issues were. We left Houma at approximately 6:15 AM . We arrived just outside New Orleans at approximately 12:30 - and tied up to the Seabrook Marina which is located in New Orleans at 9:45 that night. We transited the Bayou Blue Pontoon Bridge, had quite a wait at the West Larose Bridge which was incorrectly labeled SR21 in Active Captain. One thing that you need to know about bridge handlers - if you don't know the name of their bridge - they will not answer. If you get no response use VHF 13 and call a barge captain to get the correct name. It will save you tremendous time and frustration. When we finally found out the correct name of the bridge - we had hit curfew. This is a time that some bridges will not open - usually due to traffic conditions - not a coffee break - although......? While we were waiting for the bridge to open a small boat filled with large uniformed persons and bright flashing blue lights approached us - that's right - we were boarded by the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard brought their friends from Homeland Security and Immigration and ATF. The only group that didn't participate in the boarding and subsequent search of our boat was the DEA. They found nothing - no surprise - but it emphasized the need to have your paperwork, your safety equipment and your plumbing up-to-date, on board, and Y-valves in place and locked. If you don't know the regulations necessary - take the time to read up on them. This could have been a very costly stop had we not been prepared. Instead it was very interesting, and had its funny moments - at one point I had one of these very professional and strapping young men carrying up my purse so I could get out my ID as I was busy steering the boat in circles at the time. While they were searching the boat and questioning my "alien" I asked the young man who remained in the cockpit with me filling out the paperwork - Why Us? His reply was that the decision had been made to target Houma and we were the only pleasure boat out in this weather - Hmmm - does that make us intrepid or idiots? This little delay - while interesting - cost us about an hour and a half.
We left Morgan City at approximately 7:35 - had to wait for the RR bridge again but it didn't take long. There was very heavy barge traffic around Morgan City today but I have to say that barring one barge that we had to deal with twice, all were very courteous, friendly and helpful. There appears to be an unmarked/unlabeled ferry just before you reach Bayou Boeuf Lock (VHF 14). The lock was open so we passed through this one quickly and easily. The trip to Houma was relatively easy and definitely through the swamp. Saw a 3 foot alligator today but Martin says that it doesn't count because he didn't see it. This was the one and only alleged sighting on the whole trip. Passed though the Bayou DuLarge Bridge without issue (VHF 13/16) and arrived at the Houma City Dock at about 4:15. Backed the boat into the canal and tied up to the pilings. Houma City is a nice stopover with water, power and pump out - all for $25.
Our plan was to stay in Morgan City tonight. We left Shell Morgan landing at 6:15 and had a beautiful and relatively uneventful trip. Reached the Southern Pacific Railroad Bridge (VHF 13 or 11 it there is no answer). The RR bridge was closed so we put a line around a barge that was parked along the side of the channel and waited for approximately and hour. The Morgan City Marina is basically one long pier between two bridges. If there is room you can tie up close enough to have power /water. We weren't that lucky. But we had a REALLY great meal at Jo Jo's just across the road. I would highly recommend this one.
03/06/2012, Intercoastal City
We left Lake Arthur at approximately 8:15 and were back in the ICW by 10:15. We reached the Leyland/Bowman lock at about 3:15 and had a long wait due to barge traffic. We ran aground while trying to find somewhere out of the way of traffic and had an interesting time getting off. Fortunately we made it before it was our turn to transit the locks. We arrived at the Shell Morgan Landing in Intercoastal City at approximately 3:45. This is another little gem in the rough. Diesel/power/water are available and service is great - all for 20$.
03/05/2012, Lake Arthur
Left Bow Tie Marina at about 8:00 and enjoyed our trip down the Calcasieu as much as we did the first time. The Calcasieu lock (VHF 14) was open and there was no wait for traffic. The tide was coming out and it was a little bumpy going through the lock but Martin handled it like a pro. Right after the lock we transited the Black Bayou Pontoon Bridge (VHF 13). We had no wait at this bridge either - it was down for repair. Our plan was to go up the Mermentau River, stay at the City Marina in Lake Arthur, and have dinner at the new restaurant there called Regatta. I would highly suggest that if you have the time, you take the trip up this river. It is absolutely breathtaking and we had depths that ranged from 19 ft to 39 ft all the way. We arrived in Lake Arthur and couldn't find the city marina - they haven't built it yet and the Regatta is closed on Monday - hmm. We tied up at the end of the Regatta docks and walked to the police department. We let them know who we were and what we were doing and they said just go ahead and stay where we are. Extremely quaint and friendly town. There is a lovely city part adjacent to the Restaurant where the future City Marina will be started sometime in May??.