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........................
04/07/2012, Panama City, Florida
Martin: 'Why aren't they carrying Bibles'?
Martin: 'Those guys in the white shirts and ties'
Kathy: 'Why should they carry Bibles - they are business men'?
Martin: 'Oh - I thought they were Mormons come to preach the Good Word'
Kathy: 'What!!! - Why'?
Martin: 'Cause in Texas only Mormons where white shirts and ties.....................................'
We're in Florida! Yesssssssssssssssssssssssss!
We had a dream trip over from New Orleans - with added excitements as well. Crossing the Mississippi delta, just after New Orleans, we ran into thick fog - I mean 50' (15m) visibility - the forecast had said light fog but.................. Before we left Texas we made the decision to bite the bullet and have an AIS (Automatic Identification System) transmitter and receiver installed. This allowed us to see other vessels as well as be seen. So, how is that different from radar? Well, it certainly is not a substitute for radar - it does not show a vessel without AIS, but the advantage over radar is that it provides information on your vessel, such as, name, type, course, speed, status, anchored, etc. This is a must for anyone transiting the ICW. It means that other people can identify you and you them (even if you can't understand what they say when they call you on the radio!). During the crossing of the Mississippi delta, we managed to:
• Try to run into a 20' thick wall - they are building a flood gate station across the ICW just outside New Orleans - this is not on the paper or electronic charts! A guy who was controlling the traffic called us, by name, and advised us that if we keep going on our course will make our boat considerably shorter! The fog was so thick they sent out a workboat to lead us through the construction area! That's service. When I advised him that we were also hungry and could he come and prepare lunch for us, he declined - I guess service only goes so far!
• Moor on a pile (wooden pole driven into the sea bed) as it was really quite dangerous to keep going at this stage, but the all-seeing man at the flood gate station called us, AGAIN, and advised us the a barge carrying 5,000 tons of benzene was going to tie up there very soon. How inconsiderate. I asked him if he realized who we were? - he was not impressed!
• Get run down by the afore mentioned barge carrying 5,000 tons of benzene - actually this is a gross exaggeration, as we saw each other on the AIS and we negotiated how we were going to pass . We were only 100' apart we hardly saw each other. We did eventually anchor for about 2 hours until the fog started to lift.
The transiting of the Mississippi delta, after the fog cleared was an absolute delight. A 10' spotted dolphin adopted us for about 20 minutes - just to plague India - she would stand rigid and shake, with an expression of 'what is it - Aghhhhh'?
We made a number of overnights/longer stays which we fabulous, such as:
• Point Cadet Marina, Biloxi, Mississippi -here is where we 'washed our fuel'? Some of you may of have heard of fuel polishing' (running all your fuel through a fine filter and having the tank/s cleaned out). This is the DIY version, when one person fills the fuel tank - and leaves the plug out (me) and another person washed the deck down and water goes into the fuel tank and pushes out afore said fuel (Kathy). Ummmm.... A day later we had the engine running again! Ho hum - the joys of cruising!
• Lu Lu's restaurant at Homeport Alabama - this is owned by Jimmy Buffets sister and is a great place for a Margarita and a burger!
• Palafox Marina, Pensacola, Florida - great place to stop. Fabulous restaurant overlooking the marina and the city is just the best, with everything that you could want (even a Greek food store just down the road). We stayed there a little longer than expected and we had a double front came thorough, which decided to stop right over us! 3 days of 30 knot winds, rain thunder, etc. BUT, being in Pensacola made up for it!
Also, Pensacola was the end of ICW passage and now it was the big boys stuff - the Gulf of Mexico! When we entered Pensacola Bay, we watched the water turn from ICW turd brown to crystal clear green/blue (I must confess to there being a visible stirring in my nether regions..... Kathy said that I could put that away and stop being silly!
Anyway, when we did get a weather window we made for Panama City, via Destin - to empty the Fuzzle. The trips can only be described as 'magic' - although the wind was light - clear blue sky, golden sun, clear blue sea - Ooop's ... there's a stirring happening again! We had booked a berth at Treasures Marina at Destin but made the decision to anchor overnight instead and empty Fuzzle using the dingy. THAT WAS A GOOD MOVE! The place is Party Town! We were 3 miles down the bay and the music still made the glasses rattle on the boat!
We are now in Panama City, having decided that we could not take the chance on poor internet connections at Port St Joe, as Kathy relies on that for work (Port St Joe is beautiful, but tiny!). I love where we are in Panama City - firstly, I love Florida, pity about the old people - hang on a minute, I am one of them! We are at St Andrews Marina on the south east side of the bay, I can only describe it as a maidens dream come true (me being the maiden - well , my feminine side at least!), safe, secure, bars and restaurants all around us, a farmers market in the marina on a Saturday morning, selling homemade bread and fresh produce. I know the history and lives of more people on our dock than I ever knew in all the places I have ever lived! There is even a guy at the end if the dock, who lives aboard a 20' yacht with his scruffy, pound puppy, called Gizmo, who plays the bongos every evening - my kinda guy!. ALSO, each night, a few minutes before sunset people blow on horns and conch shells to remind everyone to watch the sun go down!
'Taint a bad life we've got!
03/19/2012, New Orleans
Our trip across to New Orleans has been full of adventure - yeee har! I have often heard that the ICW is just an industrial highway- but, dat ain't so! We have had a great time and been to some wonderful place and seen some amazing things - we have not dropped the anchor once, but stayed at docks or marinas all the way over. I have attached some photos of the various places we stayed at.
We did manage to get boarded by: US Coast guard, Immigration and Homeland Security waiting for a bridge to open outside Houma, Louisiana - what the f....? Anyway, we had nothing to hide and they searched the boat from one end to the other. I was asked if I had been arrested and then he asked me if Kathy had - the Homeland Security guy said - 'Hmmm, this might not be a good time to find out!!'
Between Houma and New Orleans we managed to get a tree between the hull and the propeller - much clunking and juddering and we eventually cleared it, so we will need a haul out or I/Kathy will dive on it in Florida, if the water is warm enough.
I had one of the best meals of my life in a little restaurant in Morgan City called Jo Jo's - at first I had some reservations about the place, as it was boarded and shuttered with iron bars on the windows - but once inside it was like Aladdin's Cave! I cannot recommend this place highly enough - it is worth taking a detour for! Also, Bow Tie Marina on Lake Charles is a delight and a pleasure to go to. It is also the local Coast Guard base - very secure.
On our passage from the ICW to the Mississippi, took us along the Industrial Canal and I had an argument with the bridge master at the La Palco bridge - the man was so rude and angry - the bridge had electrical problems but he did not let us know what that meant or how long it would take. After 1 hour of standby, I asked him if he knew when we might transit, as there was a weather front moving through - he blew a fuse and shouted at me to go to a marina! As we all know I do not take kindly to people losing it with me, so I call the office of the Director of Transport. Eventually they shut the bridge down and we had the transit via the Algiers Canal.
Anyway, we did get to Seabrook Marina on the Industrial Canal and had 3 nights there. I need to say that outside the tourist areas of New Orleans, it is a dangerous dump! So much is still in ruins 7 years after Katrina and there is a general lethargy about the place which is depressing. We had originally planned to stay here for a couple of months - but we got out as soon as we could - we had to travel 30 miles to Slidell on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain to do our laundry as all the others were to unsafe!! I am re-reading a book called The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley - which tells the real story of Hurricane Katrina - well worth a read!
Some of you may be asking why we stop overnight at marinas? We have two reasons for that:
1. We like our creature comfort and to see the places and sites; and
2. We need to 'Empty the Fuzzle'- eh? We recently read a book called 'Bumfuzzle' by Patrick Schulte ( Another recommended read, even if you are not a sailor) and we decided that the name Fuzzle was much more suited to India's (our Boston Terrier dog). So, I am sure you work out what 'Emptying the Fuzzle' is? We have to do this at 12 hour periods - hence, the lazy way we are making it to Florida.
Next: Florida or bust!
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.