Daytona Beach to Home
14 October 2018 | Home
Sunny with a chance of completing the Great Loop
Underway Day 103:
Today was another easy and relatively uneventful day. It was a nice calm Florida Fall afternoon. There were more Dolphin and Manatee sightings, and a few times, the sea birds swooped in from behind and led the way. It felt auspicious to me. I know these home waters relatively well, and I t was a nice feeling to pull back in to our home, St. Augustine. It is the oldest city in all of North America, having been first founded by the Spanish in 1565. It also happens to be my current favorite. As we cruised under the Bridge of Lions, aka Ponce De Leon, the tourist Pirate ship was out giving tours. We pulled into my boat lift, and Justin was amazing, helping to unload and clean the entire boat!
We have officially completed North America's Great Circle Loop. It took us through 3 countries, 18 states, and 2 Canadian Provinces. We passed through exactly 170 locks. After an initial 952 mile shakedown cruise to the Abacos, Bahamas and back, we then traveled 6413 miles on the great loop, for a total of 7365 miles. I didn't count how many bridges, but there were hundreds to be sure. We had to buy 2 new engines, and change the oil and haul out the boat 8 times.
We saw approximately 75 of our closest friends and family. They journeyed with us, hosted us in their homes, dined with us, and entertained us on stage. Of all the wonderful things that happened on this adventure, the time spent with our loved ones and new friends was perhaps the most special.
We spent 103 days underway, out of a total of 169 days, from May 2 to October 14, about five and a half months. We did all of this in a 29 foot open boat. We have been living out of our waterproof duffel bags and more or less living outside a good deal of the time, sleeping on an air mattress, with a wool blanket, inside of a mosquito net, inside of a teepee tent. We cooked on a camp stove, used a small 12v fridge, and showered on the back deck.
We chose NOT to do it slowly over a year or two on a trawler, complete with a galley, cabin, and the comforts of home. We chose to do it the hard way, a different way, and a new way. It wasn't easy, but we did it. I'm very proud of this accomplishment and I'm especially proud of my wife Mary for being such a badass partner. Calm days or rough, hot or cold, wet and dry. All the sleepless nights and bug bites... she took it all in stride.
As far as I know, and having asked the manufacturer, we are the first people to complete the loop on a World Cat. According to the American Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA), between the years 2010 and 2017, only 72-94 boats completed the loop. We are among only a handful through the years that have done it in an open boat. Literally, more people climb Mount Everest every year than complete this trip. Doing it our way is the equivalent of reaching the summit without supplemental oxygen.
Reflecting on this adventure a bit, I feel like Mary and I became a better team and improved our communication and our marriage. Having mostly been a blue water and coastal sailor with approximately 25,000 blue water miles experience, I feel like I truly became a better Captain. I gained solid new skills and 7000 river miles experience. I became an expert in navigating inland waterways and a wide variety of navigational terrain and hazards. One important thing I've learned in life is that there is always more to learn.
This is likely the last blog post for the Mombo. We bought a 2015 Lagoon 450 Flybridge, owners version, sailing catamaran. It is called Chapter Two. We are renting out our house on Airbnb, so the sailboat will be our new primary residence. I call it a Condo-maran. We plan to start a new adventure and sail wherever the wind and our desires take us for the next year before getting back to work and starting a new business. This new boat will take us anywhere in the world. We have a massive solar system, 2 Diesel engines, 13kw generator, state of the art Lithium battery bank, water desalination system, washing machine, air conditioning, a beautiful quiver of sails, and lots of navigational gadgets and resources that will enable us to live off the grid, anywhere on the planet, for months at a time if needed. I will probably start a new blog.
I've wanted to do the Great Circle Loop for almost 20 years. It was an amazing challenge and adventure. I'm already thinking about exploring more of America's 25,000 miles of navigable inland waterways. We may possibly do the loop again someday, hopefully on a boat with a cabin.
Melbourne Marina to Daytona Beach, FL
13 October 2018 | Daytona
Calm about a busted flush
Underway Day 102:
Today was a choppy day on the inland waterway. The wind was out of the north, but we managed to cruise closer to home without any major issues.
It was a long run up the Indian River, which is a fairly large body of shallow water. As we ran through the Manatee Cut back east, we did see quite a few Manatee hanging out. We continued our run up the Mosquito Lagoon, and then through the laborious and numerous no wake zones that surround New Smyrna. Next time I head south, I'm going to run outside on this section.
The day was more or less uneventful, but at least we had the pleasure of Juice's company to keep the conversation going. It was an enjoyable day. Once we reached Daytona Beach, we docked the boat, and walked over to the Irish Pub to watch the ND football game. After dinner, we took an Uber to the hotel, and then Mary and I headed over to the Hold Em tables at the Daytona Poker room. I was very happy with the way I played, and I had built up a powerful stack until my Ace high flush got busted by a Straight Flush to the King. We headed home with out tail between our legs.
Stuart to Melbourne, FL
12 October 2018 | Melbourne Florida
Beautiful with dolphins and manatees
Underway Day 101:
Yesterday the weather was bad, and we enjoyed taking a day off to relax and eat home cooked meals after running so hard. Justin even let me use his grill, and I cooked up a delicious meal.
Our other friend Justin Ackley, aka Juice, drove in from Orlando last night. He was on the Mombo delivery crew in 2015, and he was in the very first blog post, on the shakedown cruise. He is going to join Mary and I for the ride up the East Coast of Florida for the next 3 days. It seems poetic that he will be the one who first left the dock with me on this adventure and he will be the one to return with us. The Alpha and Omega Crew Member award goes to Juice!
Today we untied from the McLane dock and began to run North for the first time in Months. It was a relatively easy and straightforward run up the ICW. We are now literally on the home stretch, and I'm always mindful that things can still go wrong.
It was perfect boating weather; calm, comfortable and overcast. The dolphins seemed to enjoy the weather as well. We saw dozens of them throughout the day, a few riding the bow wave and playing in the wake. Daily dolphins never get old! We even saw a few manatees, and the fish were jumping high, and very active.
We arrived in Melbourne, FL, hometown of Jim Morrison, and had lunch at Ichabods on the water before walking over the an Airbnb that we rented for the night. After settling in, we walked to town, hand a nice time at the Irish bar, and stumbled onto a large street festival. The band Cold War Kids put on a good show, and this seems like a pretty cool town. I'll have to come back some day, but for now, we are anxious to get home.
Franklin Lock to Manatee Pocket, Mclane House
09 October 2018 | McLane Residence, Manatee Pocket
Safe Harbor with a chance of flying corks
Underway Day 100:
We may have set a new record today, having crossed Florida, from Franklin Lock to Stuart, in only 7 hours. It was as if all the locks and bridges were waiting for us with green lights. We woke up, broke camp, paid for slip, and were underway by 0930. The Denaud Swing Bridge opened right away.
We fueled up in LaBelle. This was the same marina where we stayed the first day I ever took to the helm on Mombo. I had purchased her in Naples in 2015, and my buddies Chuck, Justin and Jason helped me delivered her across Florida and up to St. Augustine. I’ll always remember how they had jumped off a 40’ tuna tower, doing flips and gainers into this Alligator infested marina. We all slept out in the open and got attacked by mosquitoes. Good times!
We continued to run east, away from Hurricane Michael. We locked up eight feet at Ortona Lock, and about three feet at Moore Haven. The locks here on the Okechobee are different than all the other locks on the loop. Rather than open sluice gates or windows to raise the water, they actually crack the gates open.
We traversed the Clewiston passage, carefully passing a very wide car carrier in the narrow channel. We went by the newly remodeled Herbert Hoover Dyke, which, unlike the famous Dam, nobody has ever heard of. Crossing Lake Okechobee was uneventful. There was some light chop, and I knew the way. There was one exposed wreck just outside the channel and a few hazards to navigate in the channel as we approached Mayaca Lock.
I had been concerned about the Blue/Green algae issues, which have become a major issue on this waterway, but we saw no sign of them on this trip. Once again, we had no wait at Indian Town Swing Bridge. We then locked down one foot at St Lucie Lock. The waterfront houses along this stretch are also beautiful. We ran towards Stuart through some larger water and heavy chop, but we made quick work of it.
We pulled into Stuart Florida, and I had officially completed the loop, having crossed my own wake from February. Since Mary didn’t join the crew until St. Augustine, however, I won’t consider the trip complete until we return to our house, where we started this journey together.
Either way, after another long day, it was a heartwarming and special feeling to pull up to Justin and Angeline McLane’s Dock. People who have read the whole blog will recall them from the Bahamas shakedown cruise. They had an ice cold bottle of Champagne waiting for us! It was a pleasant, unexpected, and very thoughtful surprise. I had only just finished tying the dock lines, when Justin popped the cork right over my head and filled the flutted glasses.
We raised our glasses for a toast. It was just a fantastic and heart warming feeling to be welcomed by such gracious hosts. I actually teared up a bit. We settled into their guest house, drank some cocktails, cooled off in the pool, and enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal. The conversation was intelligent and intellectually stimulating. Justin and Angeline are first class people. I’m grateful for their hospitality and friendship.
St. Petersburg to Franklin Lock/ Okechobee Waterway
08 October 2018 | Franklin Lock, Okeechobee Waterway
Outrunning Hurricane Michael
Underway Day 99:
Today was a long, rough, and windy day. There was a small craft advisory in effect. We were outrunning the hurricane and the various no wake/manatee zones frustrated our progress. We were often headed into the wind, at low speed, which caused the boat to sneeze and blow spray at us. There were, at times, thousands of birds, flying erratically.
We cruised through Sarasota, and the Blackburn Swing Bridge opened right away for us. The Albee Bridge did the same. Venice was very scenic and the houses were very nice. The weather showed the hurricane passing directly West of us, offshore.
As we entered Pine Island Bay, outside of Ft. Meyers, we were hit with a nasty storm cell. The waves kicked up to 4-6 feet, stacked up like razor blades. It was blowing 25-30 knots with pounding rain. It was dark at 2pm. We plowed into it, taking massive spray and lots of water. We did not see, smell or feel any of the reported Red Tide with Cyanobacteria that I had been concerned about. A good thing, since we were doused in this water. We were safe but it was uncomfortable and frustrating, to say the least. I elected to take a short cut through a shallow but more protected area. 45 minutes later, our hellish ride was over. The Matlacha Pass Bridge opened right away for us, and we were clear of the weather.
Once we got into the Caloosahatchee River, things settled down and we were able to make good time. We arrived at the Franklin Lock, just before it closed and locked up only six inches. We grabbed a slip at the state park marina/campground for $30 and gave the boat a good wash down before cooking dinner and calling it an early night after a long day.
We were exhausted, but now safely out of the path of Hurricane Michael. Thank God Mombo is fast!
Crystal River to Magnuson Marina Cove
07 October 2018 | Magnuson Marina
Squally sunsets and storm surge on the way
Underway Day 98:
Yesterday, we went tubing down the Rainbow Springs River with Connie. It was another beautiful spring in the area and a nice relaxing two mile float down stream. There were, beautiful houses, turtles, snake head birds, fish, and some small craft. Afterwards, Connie dropped us off at the Trinler's house in Inverness. Scotti and his wife Sarah are dear old friends of ours from our days living in Costa Rica, where she taught yoga and he was an adventure guide. They have an adorable son Taven, who we have known since he was conceived. Scotti lost his leg above the knee in a motorcycle accident in Costa Rica, and now is trained in building and selling of prosthetics. He works helping other amputees, guiding them through the process. He continues to do various adventure activities through Stump Life and Amp Ventures. Next December he will be representing Switzerland in an International Adaptive Surfing competition. He is an awesome guy, with an inspirational positive attitude, and he has helped guide people through the traumatic process of amputation. He has been very successful in the prosthetics industry and is currently helping the company expand to two new offices in the region.
It was great to catch up with them and we had an excellent time with the Trinler family and their friends. I wish we could have stayed longer, but this morning we discovered there is a hurricane heading our way, so we need to get moving. Sarah made delectable homemade waffles from scratch and we took a tour of Inverness, which looks like a really cool town. They dropped us at the dock and it was sad to say goodbye. Taven waved us off with his new buddy, Dairy the Manatee, a stuffed animal gift Mary had bought him. We fueled up and finally got underway at 2 pm. We weaved down the river and entered the shallow salt marsh again, working our way out the channel. We ran about 3 miles offshore, and it was still only 8-10 feet deep.
As we motored South towards Clearwater, FL, the wind pocked up and conditions deteriorated. We drove around and dodged several squalls. A small craft advisory had been issued, and we moved to get from offshore and into the Intracoastal. The wind was picking up and dark pockets of rain were scattered along the horizon. Once inside the ICW, conditions varied. Some bays bays and sounds are very wide, and also very shallow, so you can get bad conditions, even in the inland waterways. There was a light to moderate chop on the water, and conditions were worsening. We ran south as far as we could, slowing in the numerous no wake/Manatee zones, avoiding most of the rain cells.
About 30 minutes after sunset, as darkness began to set in, we arrived at Magnuson Marina Cove. It was a perfect boutique resort and marina, with a hotel, bar, and a pool. After checking in, we had no sooner sat down at the bar, when it started pouring. I checked the weather, and Hurricane Michael was officially formed. He is headed right towards the Panhandle, also known as the Big Bend or the Nature Coast of Florida. The bullseye is exactly where we just were these past few days. Where we are tonight, near Tampa and St. Pete's, is expected to get some tropical storm conditions and storm surge.
I'm glad we got a hotel and marina, and that we weren't anchored out tonight. We'll need a good nights rest if we are going to run hard to the South and get out of the way of Hurricane Michael.
Cedar Key to Crystal River
05 October 2018 | Crystal River
Clear fresh springs with a chance of Manatee
Underway Day 97:
We had a great nights rest. I only awoke once to check the anchor and things did get weird when the tide switched and ran against the wind, but we held fast. The stars were once again amazing! We got another early start, because the marina we hope to stay at is first come/first serve. We navigated back out into the Gulf, and hardly saw more than ten foot deep water the entire morning. There was some heavy chop, and it wasn't very nice conditions, but it was a short run.
By 10am we were entering the Crystal River. This is such a cool spot. The salty water is displaced by the outflow of numerous high volume, crystal clear, fresh water springs. Some spring headwaters in this area have up to 250' visibility. This place is famous for manatees and scallops. We had missed scalloping season by a few weeks, and there were only a few manatees around this time of year. We hope to drive back in a car next winter, as there are around 500 manatees that cruise through the area each year. It's one of the best and only places in the world where you can snorkel and swim with these fascinating mammals.
We docked at Port Harbor Marina, and Connie returned again for a visit. We had a nice lunch, swam in the pool and went to Hunter Springs. Mary was happy to chit chat, drink, and eat great food with her sister all day. Connie has been a welcome addition to our loop adventure, now for a second time.
Dog Island to Cedar Key
04 October 2018 | Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge
Rough crossing with a chance of dolphin escort
Underway Day 96:
The wind had picked up from calm to 15 knots and changed direction in the night. This caused the waves to refract around the point of the cove and slap and rock our calm anchorage at 0230. I awoke to check that the anchor was holding. The stars were amazing again. When I looked down to check that the chain and bridle were riding well, I noticed that the bioluminescence was so thick that the chain was glowing in the current. Normally, I would never wake a sleeping wife, as usually nothing good comes from poking that bear. In this case, it had to be done.
When I mentioned to Mary that the phosphorescence was the thickest I've seen in about 10 years, she hopped out of bed and went to check it out. She grabbed a boat hook and dragged it through the water. She could write glowing letters, swirls and infinity symbols. It was really a stunning display. With the millions of stars above and millions of glowing plankton below. The tops of the small wind driven waves were licked with blue/green light. I was tempted to do a cannon ball, but the only way to get back in off the ladder is through the back door of the teepee and I didn't want to wet the bed.
It was a fitful nights sleep after that, with the waves slapping and the boat rocking. I'm glad I went to bed early. I awoke groggy about 0630, about 30 minutes before sunrise. We broke camp and readied the boat for open ocean. As we got underway with some cold pre-packaged coffee drinks in us, we briefly cruised close to shore for any signs of Chuck's shipwrecks. It looks like they have been reclaimed by the shifting sand.
Leaving the Inlet into the Gulf, things got interesting. We could barely make 10-12 knots for the first few hours. Seas were a steady 4 foot and were only about 3 seconds. These conditions were only slightly better than the slog across the Lake Huron, our worst weather of the trip. We had 90 miles to go, so we prepared for a long hard day sloshing around and taking spray at sea.
Might as well make the best of it. I took out a 40 meter package of 100 lb test fishing line, crimped on a swivel and clipped in a pre-rigged ballyhoo on a wire leader with a pink/white skirt. This is a cheap and easy trolling system that I've used for 1000's of sea miles. It reliably catches big pelagic fish, for $20, better than any fancy rod and reel setup.
Basically you throw out the line, clip it to a bungee, using an outrigger clip, small cable tie, or friction slip knot. When the fish hits, it stretches the bungee to the point where the clip breaks. When the clip breaks a few feet of line go out, and then it sets hard. When you have a fish on, the bungee bounces around, making noise, and the fish jumps to the surface and gets dragged until you slow the boat and reel him in by hand.
We went like this for a few hours. Then I brought in the line. Most of the ballyhoo was missing, so I baited up a fresh one, this time with a blue/white skirt. We were plowing along, bouncing like crazy with occasional slamming and spray. The tide was going out, against the wind, when we started. As we approached slack tide about 30 miles offshore, the waves subsided to three feet and I was able to make 14 knots. I had just gotten the boat perfectly trimmed and found the ideal RPM's for the conditions, when the bungee started slapping. Fish on!
I throttled back and Mate Mary took the helm. We had to be careful that the fish or the line didn't get caught in the props, but we needed the props turning to make headway, maintain steering, and keep us steady in the washing machine conditions. Mary got the gaff ready, but we didn't need it. I put on gloves, so the wire leader wouldn't cut me, and brought aboard a small Blackfin Tuna by hand. I would say about 12 lbs. it was beautiful and iridescent, but it would also be tonight's dinner. I said a brief word of gratitude to Neptune and the fish gods and got to work.
It was too rough to filet, so I just gutted it, beheaded it, and deboned it, and cut away the blood line. I would filet it later. I put each half in a one gallon ziplock and added some ocean water to brine it and improve the flavor. I then washed all the blood off the boat with a bucket.
Once we about 45 miles offshore, we were able to do 16 knots, in 3 footers. As we were about 30 miles from the West Coast of Florida, the waves started to lay down and we were able to run at 18 knots. Finally, about 20 miles off of Cedar Keys, we were able to make full cruising speed.
We enjoyed the Joe Rogan podcast as we entered into the channel. It's very shallow here, and running at our speed, you just can't miss a marker or your trip is ruined. I was on my toes, as we did some tricky navigation and entered Cedar Keys.
We received a dolphin escort, a mother and her baby, as we approached our anchorage in the wildlife refuge. They stayed with us for about 15 minutes, often just a few feet away. It was like dolphin kindergarten.
We anchored up and took a well needed break for a few hours. I went for a swim, took a shower, and filleted the fish. I didn't like the spot we were in, as much as the one I spotted about half a mile away, so I weighed anchor. We moved Mombo over there with better protection and reset the hook.
For dinner, sautéed half the fish with butter and made some veggie Mac n cheese. The stars were amazing again tonight. It was a long salty day, but our bellies are full and we are one big step closer to home!
Pirates Cove to Dog Island
03 October 2018 | Dog Island
Hot with a chance of shipwrecks
Underway Day 95:
We pulled up to the lift at 0900 at Treasure Island, which was about 300 feet away. Jim and his team were ready and waiting. We hauled the boat out of the water, changed the oil, oil filters, and gear lube, and we were back in the water by 10 AM. This was the fastest and most professional oil change of the trip. If I ever need a NASCAR style pit team for a boat, these guys would be top crew. They were very nice, fun guys, and we had an enjoyable conversation. Good boatside manner.
Mary had walked to town to run errands, so I motored over to the fuel dock, topped up on gas and water, bought an ice cream and paid my haul out tab. I then went back to our slip at Pirates Cove. After lunch there, we got underway and left Panama City in our wake. We passed through White City, and Lake Wimco. This section of waterway is remote, swampy, and primordial. It would be a very tough place to survive without serious Bush skills. It reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books, called A Land Remembered, which is about the early settlers of the Wild South. The history of Florida is, to me, in many ways more interesting than the Wild West. Spanish, English, French, Seminoles, Settlers, Slaves, Shipwrecks, and Pirates make this state very rich in history.
We joined the Jackson River and then the Apalachicola River. Apalachicola was where Dr. John Gorrie invented and patented a machine that made ice in 1830. It was originally made to help yellow fever patients. They are also famous for their Oysters. We passed several Shrimp boats, and cruised through the channel across the bay to Carabelle.
This section looks like a large body of water but tread carefully, especially at 28 knots. Just outside the channel, that wide expanse of water is only one to three feet deep! There were lots of shipwrecks as evidence of this. The picture above represents just a few of the sunken boats we saw in this area. The town of Carabele was very charming, salty dog kind of town. We stopped in to C-Quarters to top up the fuel again, in anticipation of crossing the Gulf Stream in open ocean tomorrow. We got an educated weather report from the lady at the counter. She does a lot of boat deliveries and advised us that it would be a bit rough for Mombo, with winds 10-15 out of the east, against the current, and 2-4' waves. I told her that I had no interest in being a hero, but that we would poke our bow out into the Gulf in the morning and see how it felt. We also bought some pre-rigged frozen Ballyhoo for bait. If it was going to be a slow slog in big waves, we might as well fish.
We headed back out of town and zipped over to Dog Island, which is a long, narrow, sandy spit of land near the inlet. It offers good holding, decent protection, and is a good jumping off or arrival point when coming or going across the Gulf of Mexico.
I took a picture of the beautiful sunset along with our location and posted it on Instagram. When my buddy Chuck Meide, the Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP), saw it, he informed me that on August 1, 1899 a hurricane drove a dozen lumber ships ashore, right where we are anchored in Shipping Bay. He had been here on a job investigating the wrecks, both in 1999 and last year. They've since been retaken by the sand again. It's always nice to have a maritime archeologist on standby whenever you want to know where you are anchoring!
The purple and orange sunset gave way to an unbelievably clear sky, and the most stars I've seen in years. The Milky Way was stunning. It was very calm. We set up the teepee and turned in early. I want to get a good nights rest and an early start tomorrow. It's always best to be fresh before a salty 90 nautical mile open water crossing.
Juana’s Pagoda to Pirate Cove Marina, Panama City, FL
02 October 2018 | Pirates Cove Marina
0% chance of rain, with heavy rain
Underway Day 94:
Juana's was a beautiful anchorage. There was a pleasant breeze all night and we slept well, other than the obligatory anchor checks. We broke down the tent and idled over across the white sand to the dock, 50 feet away. We had breakfast at Juana's, and then got underway. We ran west 90 miles through the open bays and marsh cuts to Panama City. Along the way, we passed by Elgin Air Force base. This military facility is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island! Good to know we have air cover if we need it.
The weather was perfect and the navigational aspect of the day was uneventful and fun. It's shallow, but I just read the charts and use my eyeballs and stay in the channel. We stayed on point and just cruised the winding marsh and bays, listening to Neil Degrasse Tyson drop some knowledge on a podcast.
When we finally arrived at Pirates Cove Marina, we grabbed an open slip, tied off to the cushioned pilings, and checked in. It was hot and sunny without a dark cloud in the sky. I walked next door to Treasure Island and arranged for a haul out tomorrow to change the oil. By the time I returned to the boat 20 minutes later, we got hit with a pop up squall. It was a good thing we were planning to do laundry (free here), because I had left my waterproof bag open and the laundry bag on deck. All my gear got soaking wet in the brief but heavy downpour. So much for good habits of closing up the boat every time I leave. The weather here in the Gulf has two modes, hot and wet. We just got both. It'll often say 0% chance of rain, right before it rains. That's just the way it is here. Hot sun and ~100% humidity can create rain in minutes.
Thankfully my wife is amazing and told me she would do all the laundry. She handed me a cold drink and I jumped in the salt water pool. Other than a mermaid and a pirate skeleton, we had the whole bar to ourselves. The food was amazing and it was a wonderful day. I always feel better after getting caught up on emails and getting our nomad lifestyle a bit more organized.
It was a good day for a wedding anniversary.
Lulu’s to Juana’s Pagoda
01 October 2018 | Juana’s Pagoda
Hot with a chance of drones
Underway Day 93:
As soon as we left the dock this morning, there were dolphins swimming in the channel, leading us in the direction of home. I took this as a good omen. It was good to be back in salt water. A few minutes later, and we were back in Florida.
Cruising through Pensacola for the first time was very cool, and there were plenty of fighter jets in the sky. Pensacola was once an outpost of the Spanish Colony of New Orleans. It was also ruled by the French and later the capital of British West Florida during the American Revolution, when the British had a base here. Legendary Apache chief Geronimo was also confined here for a spell. Now it’s the cradle of naval aviation and official home of the Blue Angels.
We cruised through Perdido Bay, but we weren’t lost, as the name implies. Then we cruised through Santa Rosa Sound. It was good to see the USCG out repairing a few buoys that were off station and putting our tax dollars to good use. The charts made these areas look fairly small, but they are pretty decent sized bodies of water. 15 knots was enough to get some decent sized wind blown chop going, but we sliced right through it over the shallow water.
The autopilot was acting goofy, so I took a moment in one of the no wake zones and recalibrated the gyro compass by swinging the boat in a slow wide circle. I also reset the magnetic deviation, as our latitude has changed quite a bit. It worked flawlessly after that.
I hadn’t really done much trip planning in this section, and wanted to come up with a plan to get us home, so we pulled into Juana’s Pagoda for lunch and decided to hang at the beach bar, planning the trip home and blogging. We then just drove the boat 50 feet away and dropped anchor right off the beach for the night. I met an nice Air Force guy named William Allen on the beach. He was flying a drone, so asked him to take a few shots for us, and we had a beer together.
Dog River to Lulu Buffets Bar
30 September 2018 | Lulu Buffet’s place
Choppy with shrimp boats
Underway Day 92:
After being out until 0300, we woke up hungover, requested a late check out and ordered room service. We took an Uber to the boat and motored across Mobile Bay to Lulu’s. It was an easy run with some light chop but Mombo cuts right through that nonsense without skipping a beat. We dodged a few squalls by driving around them, which is always fun. There were lots of shrimp boats dragging nets.
Once we stopped moving and docked the boat, it became oppressively hot. So we went and sat in the shade at the bar. Lulu is Jimmy Buffet’s sister, and she runs a fun filled bar with excellent food and live music. Albert Simpson, who we were with last night, plays here regularly, so they obviously have good taste in music. Our bartender knows him well, so we took a selfie.
The music this evening was a live acoustic happy hour set set by Ronnie Presley. He was excellent and played several of Mary’s requests. I had checked the weather and it was calling for 0% chance of rain, with nothing on the radar. It was so hot that we decided to book a room for $50 a short walk away. We wanted to sleep in some AC and swim in a pool. As soon as we got out of the pool, intense torrential rains with thunder started. Don’t trust the weather here.
Bobby’s Fish Camp to Turner Marine on Dog River
29 September 2018 | Mobile Alabama
Hot bayou and cool music
Underway Day 91:
At 0830 we pulled off the dock and backed off, releasing around 150 square feet of water hyacinth and logs that the river current had collected between our bows. We called ahead to the Coffeeville Lock and we only had to wait a few minutes before he opened the gates. He let us float in the Chamber which is always easier, but few of the lock masters allow it.
It was another beauty day on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee. As we approached Mobile, Alabama, the water became brackish and we were running through the bayou. It was nice to be in fresh water for so long, but we will be salty dogs again from now on. One of the railway bridges was down and we had to lower all the antennas to pass under the 10 foot clearance. There were quite a few channel marker buoys off station and along the shoreline. I’m not sure if this is due to a lack of maintenance funding, or tow operators struggling to turn their barges around these winding turns. With a little caution and common sense, this didn’t present a problem for us.
Mobile is one of the largest commercial seaports on the Gulf Coast, and we encountered heavy commercial traffic, including oil tankers, tows with barges, cargo ships and the like. There were lots of shrimp boats dragging nets in the harbor channel as well. The highlight of the day was to see the Navy’s newest destroyer being constructed in dry dock on the shore. It is known as an LCS or Littoral Combat ship. Littoral means close to shore. These Trimaran style ships a fast, stealthy, and just mean looking. They can also be networked together to combat a wide variety of threats, including anti-submarine, minesweeping and special operations. They are made of ballistic aluminum. It was really cool to cruise by and check them out up close at 28 knots.
Mobile Bay is very shallow outside the channel. There are many spoil areas, so we stayed in the channel and ran down south of the city, up into Dog River. I gave the boat a nice scrub and shine and did a few small projects. After so many nights sleeping in the tent, we were ready for a nice hotel, and our friend Maggie Smith hooked us up with an awesome discount at the Admiral Hotel downtown. Admiral Newman was very happy about this.
I watched the ND game at the bar, where the Lamb lollipops were amazing. We then hopped in an Uber and headed down to the Belle Fontaine Sand Bar to see our friends Albert Simpson and John Kulinich again. They played to a packed local crowd. The music was excellent, and we had a nice time getting to know the bar owners Michael and Marie. They are planning to do the great loop some day and we were happy to tell them about our trip and celebrate the one year anniversary of their bar opening. It was another fun filled day of dodging logs and massive ships in the in the bayou, with great football, food and music for the finish.
Heflin oxbow to Bobby’s Fish Camp
28 September 2018 | Bobby’s Fish Camp
Barges dancing in the dark
Underway Day 90:
The morning began with an unanticipated hassle. The anchor chain had collected a ridiculous amount of weeds in the links, so it took an excruciatingly long time to clean the chain, as we put all 150’ back in the locker. It was frustrating to clean but at least I won’t have a smelly anchor locker.
The good news is that we held fast in the night. Once back in the river, there was still lots of debris, but with heightened vigilance, we managed. We stopped and topped off the tanks in Demopolis, AL. We then waited for Demopolis lock for an hour, but enjoyed the rest.
We are now joined with the Black Warrior River. It was beautiful and winding with talk sandstone cliffs. There is really nothing out here but birds, and the occasional barge. We eventually arrived at Bobby’s Fish Camp and tied off into the current on their floating dock/barge. After a long day of dodging debris, their home cooked catfish and hamburger steak with gravy and a cold beer was a welcome bit of southern civilization and hospitality.
After dinner, the mosquitos were out in force, so we hoisted the teepee, snapped it, lashed it, and crawled into the mosquito net. A tow and large “six pack” barge came by going upstream in the darkness. It was eerily rumbling up current, lighting up the shoreline with its massive searchlight. Another tow with four barges was coming downstream around the bend but we could see it’s searchlight through the silhouetted tree tops.
Watching them pass each other on this narrow stretch in a river bend was a delicate nautical dance. Two moving fields of steel. Nobody’s tows got smashed. It was better than any episode of Dances with the Stars. I’ll take dancing with the barges and sleeping under the stars any day.
Midway Marina to Heflin Lock Oxbow anchorage
27 September 2018 | Heflin Lock Oxbow
Rainy with a chance of dead heads
Underway Day 89:
Yesterday it rained non-stop so we hunkered down, did some laundry, and I got caught up on some work. Today after breakfast on our new camp stove, we topped off the fuel tanks and followed 3 other boats to Fulton Lock. It was overcast and cool, so we were just happy it wasn’t another scorching hot day. Mary and I listened to the Kavanaugh hearings all day, and respectfully discussed current events.
We cruised the beautiful winding river. We locked down Wilkins, Amory, Aberdeen, Columbus, Bevil, and Howell Heflin Locks. Each was around a 30’ drop. After all the rains, the river was full of debris. The water was no longer clear and fresh, but a muddy brown, like the Colorado River. It was like a game of frogger, dodging giant logs, branches, foam, and dead heads. Not the Grateful Dead kind, but submerged vertical logs that rip the bottom out of your boat. Many of the buoys were off station and some were on shore. It was mostly just us, flotsam, jetsam, and the commercial tows and barges.
At 28 knots, it is scary to know that one submerged object, among many, is enough to ruin your day, or your entire voyage. We bumped a few big sticks, but nothing major.
I decided to stop early for the night to let the river flush out a bit, because the current and debris was so fast and dangerous. After Heflin Lock, I talked to the lock master. He also manages the dam and is responsible for dumping the excess rain water. He told me that he had been dumping heavy water all day and that as long as it didn’t rain anymore, he wasn’t planning to dump much more. I told him we were considering anchoring in a popular spot below the sluiceway in the Oxbow. He said he though it would be a good spot and that he would let us know if they were going to dump more water but to let out extra chain just in case. If he needed to let water go it would raise us 12 feet!
So we anchored in the current of the oxbow with extra chain as he said. Over the next three hours the current subsided from three knots when we set the hook with 150’ of chain. Now it’s only one knot and I can sleep easy.
These lock masters are good people and are your best resource for information when you want to know if a spot is safe for the night. They are like river gods. They can decide when the floods come. They managed the current perfectly. Just enough to keep us well dug in, yet not enough to tear us loose. This is another beautiful anchorage, and we enjoyed the night, sleeping outside on a managed waterway. The river gods are now our friends.
JP Coleman to Midway Marina
25 September 2018 | Midway Marina
Rainy with a chance of dock dogs
Underway Day 88:
It was an overcast day with light rain, but the Tennessee River was glassy and the wind was calm. We motored around and pulled off the river into what is known as the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. The Tenn-Tom connects the Tennessee River at Pickwick Lake with the Tombigbee waterway near Demopolis, Alabama. From there, it connects to the Black Warrior River and leads to Mobile Alabama on the Gulf.
The Tenn-Tom was originally proposed by the French in the late 1700’s as a way of connecting these two navigable rivers, but no effort was made until much later. From 1810 to 1945, various proposals and engineering plans were pitched and submitted. It was finally approved in 1946, but delayed by politics. In 1968, president Johnson approved funds for engineering. In 1971, Nixon appropriated one million to start construction. In 1972 construction began on what became a long series of fits and starts, culminating in 2 billion dollars of expenses and completion in 1985. It was one of the largest and longest engineering projects in American history. More earth was moved than in the construction of the more famous Panama Canal, but few Americans know about or appreciate this engineering marvel. I sure do, and look forward to getting free lockage that the commercial tows pay for. This is a special place, kind of like heart surgery on the arteries of America. It’s also a much better option than the Lower Mississippi, which has heavy barge traffic, high currents and debris, and no services for recreational boats.
Now that we have entered the waterway, we will lock down 341 feet through 12 locks over a distance of 450 miles. All the locks are named for various people and referred to by their last name. In some areas we will be on natural river and in other areas the river has been “canalized.” Either way, we plan to stay in the channel. When they cut down the trees and flooded the area, they left all the stumps and dumped debris. As much as I’d like to explore, I don’t want my running gear to discover any spoils left over off channel.
We ran through the rain and locked down Witten lock, an 84’ drop. We got wet, but it was warm rain with no lightening. We cruised some more, locked down Montgomery Lock at 30’ and then Rankin Lock at around 35’. We had the whole river to ourselves and the lock-masters were friendly southern folk. About 15 minutes before we reached each lock, we would call ahead in the VHF. They would have their gates waiting open for us like a big steel wall embrace.
The weather was getting worse and when we saw lighting in the forecast for the foreseeable future, we decided to call it a day. We pulled in to Midway Marina, got a covered slip, and went to cook dinner on the camp stove. The stove was rusted out and the cheap gas connection was bad. It was shot. So we borrowed the free marina courtesy car, drove to the local Walmart and bought a new $20 camp stove before putting 2 gallons back in the old beater mini van.
We tested out the stove and made a nice meal on the boat. A cute Beagle from a neighboring boat waited patiently while I cooked up our feast, so we shared a bit of our meal with him and made a new friend. We retired early under just the mosquito net. The rumble of a rain storm echoed off the tin roof above us. It put me right to sleep.
Muscle Shoals to JP Coleman State Park
24 September 2018 | JP Coleman State Park
Rainy with a chance of river squall dodging
Underway Day 87:
The past nine days were a combination of fun, happy times with good friends, peppered with periods of sweaty despair and utter frustration. After several very hot, humid, long days of trying to find the bad wiring, I went online and ordered all new cables and backbone connections for the network. I had them sent to the marina. The idea was that this would eliminate any wiring issue and narrow the focus. With everything done that could possibly be done, we decided to take a break and stay in a hotel. Mary and I were tired of the bugs. Our main concern had shifted from mosquitos to these spiders that are everywhere. The bites are horrible.
Gelbuda and Amber came in from Nashville for the night and we had a fun time and some nice meals with them. John Gifford, one of the engineers from Fame Studios joined us. At one point when we went back to the boat, all the systems briefly came up for a minute, which gave me some hope that it could be a failed cable, as I suspected.
After our friends left, I continued to work on the boat for long, hot, 12 hour days. I did discover a faulty Suzuki factory wiring harness plug, and was able to rebuild the plug harness using tiny screwdrivers, getting all the engine instruments working again. I also pulled out lots of old, unused wiring, labeled many wires, and did other projects like cleaning the bilges, repairing electrical connections, getting the windshield wipers working, sanitizing the water tanks, installing the new autopilot rudder indicator, and installing a new macerator pump on the holding tank.
Eric, the Bearded Jaguar Shark, returned for a quick visit. Rodney invited Mary, Eric, and I over to the Florence Area Music Enterprises (FAME) recording studio one evening for a songwriters showcase. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves listening to excellent original acoustic music, in an intimate setting, at the legendary studio. The afterparty at Wildwood Tavern was also fantastic, especially the good company and thin crust pizza. The food there is not only excellent and cheap, but they serve until 0200. I did lose in Skee Ball to Tim, a British transplant who had never played before, so that hurt a bit. Tim is an amazing aerospace engineer, who was high up at Boeing and in charge of aspects of the ISS. He is also a fellow music lover and I enjoyed our conversations.
When the packages arrived the next morning at the marina, I went straight to work. I connected everything up again in short order, and it all worked! I was extremely happy that all our problems had been resolved, and it only cost $400 in materials. I plugged it all together loose to see if it solved the problem, and it did! It then took an entire day just to pull it, snake it, organize, cable tie, and put the boat back together. Then I did a detailed cleaning and waxing of the boat, in the heat, for six hours. I’m pretty sure I sweated out several pounds just doing that.
Now that we were back in action with all systems go, we decided to celebrate by heading up to Nashville for the Pilgrimage Music Festival with Buda, Amber, Eric, and our new friend Tim Fagan. We bought tickets, sat down to enjoy Counting Crows, and 5 minutes later the festival was cancelled and it was pouring rain. This was a pretty big disappointment, but we made the best of it, and had a great weekend just relaxing, laughing, and telling stories with some of our best friends.
The weather forecast had steady rain and thunderstorms in our area for the next week, but we returned to the boat, did some reprogramming of our nav instruments, and waited for a break in the rain. Today we just did a short 40 mile run down the Tennessee River from Muscle Shoals to JP Coleman State Park. We watched the radar and left as soon as the rain passed. It was a quick shakedown cruise down the river. We arrived at the lodge and marina just before the rain started again. I love timing the weather like this!
During the cruise, I did some testing and calibrated all systems, including depth, autopilot, fuel gauges, trim, etc. It was lots of programming after doing some factory resets, but everything is now working better than ever. We are all systems go!
We had a nice relaxing night in a rented room at the State Park lodge. This state park is similar to Barkley Lodge or Joe Wheeler, but without the amenities. The room was clean. The river view was stunning. We had a covered slip. It was cheap. And best of all, we didn’t have to sleep in the rain, covered in spiders, only to wake up and break down a wet tent. Mary puts up with a lot. A nice bed and some AC make for happy wife/ happy life.
Pine Cove Anchorage to Florence Harbor/Muscle Shoals
15 September 2018 | Florence Harbor Marina
Hot and sweaty with a chance of losing all navigational instruments
Underway Day 86:
At 0230, Mary and I had a rude awakening as a bass fishing boat zipped by us doing around 30 knots. He came close and walked us in the narrow cove. He was likely drunk and heading home after a night out with the boys. This is one reason we prefer remote uninhabited coves. After breakfast and breaking camp, I turned on the navionics systems and nothing worked!
At first I thought it was just the keyboard above the display, but further investigation and troubleshooting revealed a complete system failure. We had no GPS, no Autopilot, no Depth, no charts, no weather, no radar, no AIS, no engine information, and with no keyboard, there wasn’t even a way to enter the main computer. Everything was working great the night before. Just like that, we were back in the 19th century. I spent a few hours poking around for an obvious loose cable connection or blown fuse. I tried everything I could think of for the “easy fix.” It was getting hot, so I fired up the engines, called the lock on the radio, and we locked down 94 feet into Wilson Lake. We weren’t going far, and I knew the area from coming through a few days earlier. I used my ears to tune the RPM’s, and my eyes to stay in the channel. A few minutes later, we were back at one of our favorite marinas of the trip, Florence Harbor Marina, at Muscle Shoals. Kyle and Eva, the owners, were very nice, and found us a covered slip in the back, where we could work out of the weather.
There were no marine technicians in this area of Alabama, and I was told by a few guys that I probably knew more about this stuff than the best guy in the region, so I got to work troubleshooting. After getting nowhere, I tried calling Raymarine. They were useless, telling me that I needed a new computer. The nearest guy they had was in New Orleans. Thanks for nothin’. I knew that the computer was the only thing that actually appeared to be working.
Typically in a networked system like this, you would lose one instrument, replace or repair, and you’re back in action. A system wide failure has to be cables, connections, wiring, backbone or network switch. I tore the entire boat apart, with Mary’s patient assistance, and we inspected every network wire, end to end. While I was doing so, I re-spliced any suspect connections with a proper waterproof splice. I used electrical cleaner and dielectric grease on every plug. Since I was in the bowels of the boat, I also did lots of unrelated cleaning and organizing and pulled out hundreds of feet of old wiring from the previous owner that wasn’t connected to anything. It was hot nasty work. I got nowhere. This was not an obvious fix, but the bilge was clean now, everything was organized better, and there were no more mystery wires.
At around 8pm, my friend Rodney called and invited me out for drinks with him and some buddies. I hadn’t eaten all day. I smelled horrible. I was all itchy from fiberglass. My arms were scratched up, and my neck hurt from being in contorted positions all day. Mary, being the awesome wife that she is, basically insisted that I stop working myself ragged, take a shower and go to the bar with the boys.
Days like today are one of the most frustrating parts of boating. Certain problems are harder than others, but they don’t get to be much more of a pain in the ass than to troubleshoot than a system wide electronics failure. An expensive technician would be getting paid to do exactly what I was doing anyways, getting to know, inspect, and label every network wire and connection on the boat.
As I walked up the road to the pub for some much needed food and drink, I saw this quote come across my phone from another sailor and it seemed appropriate:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore – Dream – Discover”
• Mark Twain
I knew that with time, I would “explore” this wiring and “discover” the problem. As long as I work hard, use my brain, and keep a positive attitude, this too will pass. I’ll figure it out one way or another. This loop isn’t going to do itself. Turns out that a change a scenery, some delicious food at Wildwood Tavern, good company, and a few stiff drinks actually gave me some new ideas. The bar break gave me some perspective, and some new things to check on tomorrow.
Honeycomb Creek to Pine Cove Anchorage
14 September 2018 | Residential Anchorage
Mating dragonflies and nibbling minnows
Underway Day 85:
We woke up early, and eased into the morning. I called the Guntersville lock, but I had trouble understanding him. He would often not reply to radio calls and when he did he spoke like he had marbles in his mouth and would half key the mic. For someone who uses a marine radio to communicate every day, this was surprising and frustrating. He told us to come on down, but when we arrived, he was closing the gates on a big tow with barges. We drifted with the engines off for 45 minutes while we waited for him to turn the lock around. It was kind of irritating, because had he communicated better, we could have just stayed at anchor. A few deep breaths at the poor communication and a bit of patience were in order. We locked down 45 feet in the shady side of the lock, as the sun was oppressive.
In an ironic twist, we were headed to Florence, AL during hurricane Florence. I was concerned that any heavy rain, falling hundreds of miles upstream in the Smokey Mountains, could cause the Army Corps of Engineers to drain water and cause large currents, so I was hoping to get as far downstream as possible. Once we locked through, we stopped at a marina off the river and grabbed some ice cream, snacks, and beer for the nights anchorage.
We timed the Norfolk Southern railway bridge again and this guy had great communication. He asked us where we were and was able to have the train dispatcher lift the bridge for us remotely. We hardly had to slow down. Wheeler lock was also an easy lock down of 52 feet, and we stopped, as we often do, to pick up half a dozen plastic bottles and a small tire that were floating in the lock.
We were hoping to spend the night at anchor on Wheeler Lake, and lock down Wilson lock in the morning. It was very hot. We explored a few coves. There was great wind protection, but that meant there was no breeze. The water was stagnant, and I was afraid the mosquitoes would be bad. There also wasn’t a lot of swing room in the first two coves that we tried. So we headed across the river and finally settled on a deep anchorage above Wilson Lock in a residential area called Pine Cove. This was our deepest anchorage of the trip at 45 feet depth. I let out 250 feet of chain, set up the bridle, backed down, and we dug in and held. There was plenty of swing room and a nice gentle breeze.
We jumped in the water, floated on our seat cushions and drank beers in the river. There were dragonflies mating, and at one point I had 5 of them getting it on, on my arm. There were also nibbling minnow fish. At one point, when I held very still on the ladder, I had several hundred of the fish nibbling on me and giving me a spa treatment. We floated like this for hours while listening to music, until the sun set. It was certainly an unconventional spot, and I wouldn’t use it if there was any weather in the forecast, but it was perfect for this night, and we loved it.
Chattanooga to Honeycomb Creek Anchorage
13 September 2018 | Honeycomb Creek Anchorage
Aquatic life with a chance of flying golf balls
Underway Day 84:
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Chattanooga and we hope to come back some day. This town is growing again and really has a lot going for it in terms of culture, food, and vitality. The morning started off very strange. As we left the boat there was a guy dressed in full golf gear, complete with gloves, shoes, and a salmon colored shirt with visor. He was teeing up golf balls to hit into the river, right over our boat, another boat, duck-tour boats, people walking, and a mother with a baby in a stroller. He was dressed like “Chad’s Dad.” If you don’t know what a Chad is, they are similar to “dude-bro’s”, but rank much higher on the dbag scale, typically wear brightly colored collared shirts, with the collar up, and penny loafers without socks. He was filming himself. After he got off the first shot, I laid into him, yelled at him to stop, and told him to go find a golf range. He said, “If I hit your boat, I’ll pay for the damage.” I told him that he wasn’t going to have the chance because he wouldn’t be whacking and dumping any more plastic balls into the river and endangering the people and property on the waterfront. Let’s just say that he moved on. I should have made him go for a swim and retrieve his ball. Dumping of any sort of plastic into any waterway worldwide has been Illegal since MARPOL regulations first began in 1973. It’s actually punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and 5 years in Prison. Threatening the Mombo with a fast moving golf ball at close range is punishable with my foot up your ass and an involuntary swim. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. We threatened to call the cops and he left the area.
We spent the morning at the world class aquarium, before boarding a hop on/hop off bus tour. In addition to seeing the town and learning about all the sights and history, we were able to hop off near the “Incline” and get provisions. The Incline is the steepest railway track in the country and it goes in a straight line right up to the top of Lookout Mountain. Did you know that the Chattanooga cho cho was never actually a working train? It’s literally just a song about a train that never existed. There were trains running to the city, though, and the old train station is now a very popular hotel. Another fun fact is that the 4 bridges across the river are painted a special, patented, color called Chattanooga Blue.
As we got ready to depart, I called the Company that runs the various docks along the river to tell them that we had no water, and we discovered that we’ve been at wrong dock for the past 2 days! Apparently, we were supposed to be a few hundred yards upstream, but it’s the same company so it was ok. I also told them about my encounter with “Chad’s Dad”, and they said that they would call the police immediately if he came back.
This morning, we got back underway, and were happy to have the 1-2 knot current with us. We locked down Nickajack, traveled back downriver, and found a perfect anchorage just before Guntersville Lock, called Honeycomb Creek. The rudder indicator that tells the autopilot how to steer had failed. I chased down the wires, took it apart, and tried to fix it, but the spring was broken, and it failed the ohms test. It was 10 years old, so after several hours of messing with it, I just ordered a new one online and had it shipped to Florence Marina near Muscle Shoals. We had a perfect evening, once I quit working on the rudder indicator, and we snuggled up after sunset, watched Netflix, and fell asleep early in another beautiful private cove.
Raccoon Creek Anchorage to Chattanooga, TN
11 September 2018 | Chattanooga, TN Aquarium
Winding narrow river with a charming city
Underway Day 83:
We had an easy morning today. We weighed anchor, eased back into the river and cruised up to the Nickajack Lock. This was our 140th lock of the trip! I had called ahead on the VHF and the Lockmaster had the doors open and was waiting for us. A bit further upstream, we passed the Raccoon Creek power plant. This is a very interesting “battery” system. During times of excess power supply, water is pumped up to the reservoir at the top of the cliff. During times when more power is needed, water is released into a tunnel, which is filled with hydro generators. As the water is drained from the reservoir, it passes through the generators, making power on its way back to the river.
As we were now nearing the Smokey Mountain’s, the river narrowed. We were surrounded by tall cliffs and beautiful winding river scenery. We arrived into Chattanooga, fueled up, and docked right under the aquarium in the heart of downtown. This city has a beautiful waterfront. We got settled in and went to Local 191 for a few drinks and a delicious meal. After dinner, we set up camp, and it felt special being one of the only boats docked downtown, and certainly the only people sleeping in a teepee tent on the river.
Joe Wheeler to Racoon Creek Private Cove anchorage
10 September 2018 | Racoon Creek Anchorage
Bridge, Lock, and drop the hook
Underway Day 82:
We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the lodge and said a sad goodbye to Eric as he shoved us off the dock into the cold overcast morning. As we eased upstream into the Tennessee River, it was again interesting to note all of the now submerged roads, creek beds, and bridges that we were cruising over on the charts. Sometimes entire towns were mapped underneath us, now flooded by the lock and dam system.
As we approached Guntersville Alabama, the Norfolk Southern Railway Bridge was down over the river, and it has only five feet of vertical clearance. I called the bridge tender on vhf 13 and he opened the bridge for us before the train came. He was very nice. The river was beautiful and we just cruised upstream for hours against the current, listening to podcasts, and enjoying the scenery. As the sun set, we found a little cove, and tentatively navigated our way up into the perfect spot, tucked under some sheer cliffs and out of the wind.
It was a beautiful anchorage. We swam. We read books. We called friends. We made camp, and settled into our aft deck for the night. We love nights like this, when we just pick the most beautiful spot we can find off the river, drop the hook, and make it our home.
Muscle Shoals, AL to Joe Wheeler State Park
09 September 2018 | Joe Wheeler State Park
Torrents or Rain and a Bearded Jaguar Shark Sighting
Underway Day 81:
Mary and I had a fantastic break visiting with her parents and relaxing. I managed to get caught up on some work, do some shopping, and file my taxes, and we really enjoyed just relaxing and spending time with Bonnie and Frank. On the drive back, we stopped in Decatur, Alabama, for the night to see our friend, and touring musician, Albert Simpson, perform at the Brick. I knew we were in his touring territory, so I checked his schedule and we timed our trip to rendezvous with his set at a fun local Alabama bar. A self described “Redneck Hippy” Albert is not only a very talented musician, but he’s just a lovable guy and a wonderful human being. The conversation is never boring and always full of laughter with Albert so we made the effort to hang with him and we had an awesome evening listening to him and John Kulinich perform. We hope to catch up with Albert again, perhaps at Florobama on the AICW in the Gulf.
The next day we had a nice day doing a local pub crawl, chatting, and watching football with Rodney and his lovely girlfriend Emily. After getting dinner to go, we took the boat out for a sunset dinner cruise on the river. Emily is a local realtor. Her and Mary hit it off. We listened to some great music and chatted about life while Emily pointed out some stunning houses on the bluffs and Rodney told us some local history. It was a perfect evening as we glided back into the slip in the darkness. We set up our boat camp and went to bed with smiles on our faces.
The next morning, we were awoken by a bearded Alaskan, complete with Mohawk and Steve Zissou red winter cap. He was holding two hot cups of coffee. Our friend Eric Fouts, aka Bearded Jaguar Shark, aka Rent-a-Vet.com, aka Master Frogman, had showed up. He had flown in from Seattle to Nashville the day before after a full season fishing offshore in Alaska, and he surprised us by following the tracker. We met him many years ago at a music festival and he has become part of our pirate crew. He spends half his year in Costa Rica and the other half in Alaska, but he usually saves sometime for Mary and I in between. Eric is a former Navy CB (Construction Battalion). He served several tours in Afghanistan and then decided to live his life on his terms. When we found him, we just appreciated his inherent goodness. When he met our friends, he fit right into our crew. Our friend Rancho DionDrew, from the Canada blog posts, ended up hiring him to work at his eco resort in Costa Rica and he also lived with us and helped me with some carpentry, tile, and bathroom projects in Florida. Eric has become like family and we were happy to have him surprise us and come aboard.
It had rained in the night, so we took our time drying the tent, and I put Eric to work right away helping me scrub the boat, mostly of spiders. We hate spiders. We pumped out the holding tank, topped off the fuel, called the lock, and got underway as soon as the lock was ready for us. The smell of Team Zissou was in the air. We locked up 95 feet through the Wilson Lock, which is the biggest lift we’ve done. We then cruised across Wilson Lake. It was choppy and the weather was looking more ominous. We were going to meet up with Rodney and his boat to take the kids tubing but it was looking rough. After we locked up through Wheeler Lock, the clouds were getting heavy. Did you know that average cumulous cloud can weigh 1,000,000 pounds? Albert, the musician, told me that. I googled it and it’s actually true.
The lock master suggested we tuck into Joe Wheeler State Park, so we did. This was a lot like Barkley Lodge, a giant log cabin/marina/hotel/restaurant run by the state. We grabbed a slip and went to reception, where we booked a cheap room. After a quick jump in the pool, we moved the boat, made it to our room, and the clouds unleashed a torrential rain storm. It sure looked like a million pounds of water. We hunkered down, laughed and told stories all afternoon and had a rainy day party. Our balcony room was right above the boat, and Mombo received her second wash down of the day. The best part of the adventure is to be in great company. Mission Accomplished for the Bearded Jaguar Shark.
Private waterfall anchorage, MS to Muscle Shoals, AL
05 September 2018 | Muscle Shoals Alabama, Tennessee River
Rainy with a chance of the the lady of the river singing
Underway Day 80:
The white noise from the waterfall provided a restful nights sleep for me, but Mary said she felt like she had to pee all night, which woke me up with a laugh. We took our time eating, drinking coffee, and getting ready to go, mostly because we just loved the waterfall cove. Unfortunately, the remains of Tropical Storm Gordon, which had just hit the Gulf, were now upon us. We were in the outer bands, so there was really relatively little wind, but it had caused the wind to shift constantly throughout the night, backing 180 degrees by the time we awoke. I was happy to have put out the stern anchor, as otherwise we may have hit the cove walls when we swung in the night. The stern anchor, our first use of the trip after carrying the load with us, just paid for itself. At around 10 am the big green blob on the radar was heading our way, so we eased back out in the wide river/lake to give us sea room before it hit, just in case there was some wind on the leading edge of the front.
We were snug and dry inside our recently refurbished canvas and new isinglass enclosure. We cruised upstream, actually enjoying this dreary wet and rainy day. The cloud cover and constant light rain were a welcome relief from the oppressive sun and heat of the past few days. Our main route would have us continue South on the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway towards the Black Warrior River and Mobile Alabama, but we are taking another side trip and heading to explore a bit further up the Tennessee River towards Chattanooga.
Our first stop is Florence/Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We pulled into the Florence Marina, just below the 95 foot lock, which is the biggest lift on the loop. We had lunch at the River Bottom Restaurant before getting picked up by Enterprise and renting a car for a few days.
About two years ago, I spent a week here with Chris Gelbuda while he recorded his album at the legendary Fame Music Studios. If you haven't seen the Netflix documentary about Muscle Shoals and Rick Hall, you should. Johnny Depp is also currently working on producing a TV series about it, focused on Rick's life. It was an amazing fun filled week of fantastic music sessions two years ago. I ended up meeting legends like founder Rick Hall, and watching Buda play with two of the Swampers, Dave Hood and Spooner Oldham. Our friend Jennifer Hartswick popped in for some background vocals, I ate some brownies, and made some friends. During that time, I became friends with John and Spencer, who are engineers at the studio, and Rodney Hall, who owns and manages the entire operation. In addition to being a working recording studio and publishing company, they also give tours twice a day, because this is living history in the making.
When I was here for a week in 2016, my experience revolved around Buda recording his album, so I never got to experience the official tour. I also wanted to show Mary this special place, so I called Rodney and signed us up for the studio tour. We arrived a bit early and got to catch up with Spencer and John, and then Spencer gave us the tour along with the other eager tourists. This is a boating blog, so I won't rant too long, but if you love music and history like I do, you should learn about this place and it's unique role in American musical history. Legends were made here, and some of your favorite songs were recorded here. If you are a musician looking to record an album, you should record it here. The people than run it are friendly, professional, and extremely talented. What I love about it most is that it's a family business, and it's also one of the last great independent studios. Being in the space generates a special vibe, and the original Studio A has a certain acoustic effect, unchanged since 1962, known as the "Muscle Shoals Sound." Check out the Joe Rogan podcast with Steven Tyler to hear him describe the vibe he felt when we recoding here two months ago. It's not just me. This is a special place.
The Cherokees who lived in the northwestern corner of Alabama called the river that flowed through their territory “Unashay” — the “Singing River”. The legend says that there was one Native American girl who will sing here for eternity.
After the tour, we drove four hours to Knoxville to visit with Mary's parents again, and pick up some mail and packages that we had sent to their house and eat all of her mom's delicious pasta sauce.
Pebble Isle, TN to private Waterfall Cove Anchorage, MS
04 September 2018 | Private Waterfall cove anchorage
Big lock lift with a chance of skinny dipping and waterfalls
Underway Day 79:
The morning sun brought the heat earlier than normal, so we were up early. We eased off the dock and out of the protected bay, back into the Tennessee River. Most of the morning we just glided upstream while listening to the live Supreme Court nomination hearings. It was another very hot day, so we try to time our travel to keep the wind on us as much as possible. We had the river all to ourselves again. We actually stopped and skinny dipped in the river at one point. This area is just gorgeous. The river banks have gotten steeper, and are now increasingly lined with towering sandstone bluffs, their geological layers exposed in a stratified rainbow.
As we made way further upstream, the river narrowed, and the current picked up to about two or three knots. I called the Pickwick lockmaster on the radio when we were five nautical miles away. He lowered the massive lock chamber for us. The towering gates were open and the green light was flashing when we arrived. This was the biggest lift that we have done in a while, taking us up 55 feet, nice and easy, tied to a single floating bollard. You could easily fit 100 Mombo’s in this lock, so it does feel kind of strange and lonely when we have such a massive feat of engineering operate for us alone.
Once through the lock, we entered Pickwick Lake, another section of the Tennessee River. The current was now hardly noticeable. It is interesting to note that today we traveled in three states, beginning the day in Tennessee, and now we have Mississippi on our Starboard and Alabama on our Port side. We hugged the Mississippi side, as the bluffs and trees gave us some shade from the hot, but descending, sun. There were dozens of tiny coves along the banks that looked like good anchorages. At river mile 217, we saw a boat pull out of one cove and pulled in closer to shore to investigate. As we rounded the point, we felt like we had discovered paradise. It was a picturesque pirate style cove, with towering tree lined bluffs all around, absolute privacy, and a beautiful waterfall. There was a sandbar to protect us from most wakes, good all around wind protection, and decent holding in 15-20 feet right in the middle. The only problem was having enough room to swing. I put out 100 feet of chain, swam to shore with my danforth stern anchor on a float, and dug it into the sandy peninsula. I then pulled in a bit of chain on the bow, added the bridle, then took up mild tension on the stern. We were perfectly secured for any wind shifts throughout the night.
We pulled a few ice cold Coronas from the fridge, swam, laughed, and read, before setting up boat camp and watching Ozark Season 2 on the iPad. This was our favorite anchorage of the trip so far. Finding a sweet spot like this and having it all to ourselves is what loopers like us live for.
Canon springs Anchorage to Pebble Isle Marina
03 September 2018 | Pebble Isle
Hot with a chance of submerged towns
Underway Day 78:
The anchorage was peaceful and the night time temperature was perfect for sleeping. Unfortunately when we woke up, the boat was covered in May Flies/Ephemeradae bugs again. For bugs that seem very stupid and that die overnight, they sure are prolific. After a nice relaxing breakfast we brought up the anchor and rinsed off the mud it as it came up. It was extremely well dug in to the muddy bottom.
Since we had the raw water hose going, Mary took the helm while I washed away all the bug carcasses. As each handful of dead bugs was pulled from the scuppers and tossed overboard, the carp and catfish boiled to the surface to feed, completing the circle of life. We motored up Lake Barkley/ Cumberland River and then crossed over through a canal onto Kentucky Lake/ Tennessee River. This canal connects the “Land Between The Lakes” as this area is called. It’s one of America’s most under appreciated watery gems. It is sparsely populated and stunning in natural beauty. There are a few ghostly reminders of the land beneath the lakes that existed before the dams and locks were built and this area was flooded. There was an old partially dismantled railway bridge, and a massive four story partially submerged dock that poked out of the lake, serving as a reminder of the old shoreline. The nautical charts here still show old road beds and submerged objects, but there is plenty of water over them. It’s a strange feeling to know that we are boating above the ruins of submerged towns and cities.
We pulled in to Pebble Isle Marina and fueled up. After a nice lunch on the barge restaurant we decided to call it a day and tied up to their transient dock for the night. We relaxed and read, set up the tent, and chatted with some friendly locals. The people in this region of Tennessee and Kentucky have proven to be some of the most kind and friendly people we have encountered since Canada. As with most things in life, being surrounded by good people makes the journey more pleasant.
Nashville to Canon Spring Anchorage
02 September 2018 | Canon Spring Anchorage
Hot with a chance of weekend warriors
Underway Day 77:
After a few days of relaxing at Buda and Amber’s place, Mary and I were ready to be back to our home on the rivers.
The morning after we had arrived, I went to Rock Harbor and performed the oil changes in 75 minutes, which is how it’s supposed to be. After being jerked around by the jokers at Green Turtle, it was nice to see a professional operation in action. I was so impressed by Preston the mechanic, Jennifer on the phone, and Brian the owner that I wrote them a nice review on google and active captain. On Saturday morning, I called to extend our stay another day, just to take a day off. When I called Brian, he thanked me for the review and graciously told me that our extra night was on the house.
This morning we took an Uber to the boat, and eased back downstream, the way we came. It was now Labor Day weekend and the previously lonely water was now full of all manner of boaters enjoying life on the Cumberland River and having a good time.
Downstream of the city, we came upon a massive group of friends all rafted up on the river bank. There was country music blasting, people grilling, women in bikinis, and kids playing catch. The group had even installed an in the water volleyball net. We called it the “Nashville Riviera.”
I called ahead to Cheatum Lock and once again the friendly lockmaster had it turned around and ready to lock us down. After we locked down (the first lock we have done both up and down) we approached Clarksville. The local marine police pulled up to ask if we were really from Florida (federally documented/ no state tags). He was pretty excited to hear we were loopers. He was very kind and offered us an escort through the town as he did his local “no wake zones” patrol.
We had a lot of good options in this area for marinas and anchorages. Each place is more beautiful than the next. We considered a few options but every time we slowed down the lack of breeze made the heat oppressive so we cruised on until near sunset. One anchorage that was supposedly peaceful and perfect on the reviews was full of around 50 holiday weekend party boats when we arrived. Many boats were rafted up into clusters of 5-15 boats. As we pulled in the day sailors were breaking up and beginning the slow pre-sunset “party’s ovaahh” departure. By the time we set the hook, they were leaving in droves.
We jumped into the warm clean water. We grabbed a few floatation devices, and cracked some hard seltzer drinks. Mary any I floated this way in the cove, drinks in hand, for an hour. We discussed our plans and just enjoyed the moment. It was a beautiful sunset. We had some nice appetizers that we had picked up at an organic market in Nashville for dinner. One cluster of about ten giant rafted up houseboats kept the good ole country music blasting, but otherwise the cove had emptied out. The music got faded.
We set up the tent, and the stars came out. The water is glassy. The fish are jumping. I can see the Milky Way reflected off the water. Amen to no light pollution and another peaceful summer anchorage in middle America.
Barkley Lodge to Nashville, TN
29 August 2018 | Nashville TN
Hot with a mermaid boat rescue
Underway Day 76:
Today was a perfect day on the water with some of my favorite people. Julie and Gelbuda joined us for the 125 mile upstream run to Nashville. Having been with us in St. Augustine, the Bahamas, IL River and now Tye Cumberland, this makes Buda officially our “most frequent loop guest crew”. After breakfast at the lodge, I walked down to the marina, got the boat ready and cruised back to the lodge dock, where the crew had cleaned up our room and brought the luggage to the dock.
We got underway on one engine, to limit the break in hours. We would alternate on and off all day between going 6 knots upstream on one engine and 26 knots when on two engines.
It was another hot day. We cruised, chatted, laughed, listened to music, and admired the stunning pristine river banks as they rolled by. We passed several smaller tows with barges but otherwise we had the whole river to ourselves and didn’t see any other pleasure craft. Every time it got too hot, we would do a snack and swim. After one of the swims, about 5 miles downstream of Cheatum Lock and Dam, I called the lockmaster on 14 and he turned the lock around for us. It was waiting open when we arrived. Just as we prepared to enter, we were hailed ashore by a Kentucky bass boat. Apparently when the Army Corps started up the hydro power generator on the dam, it had diverted so much water that the river below the dam had dropped 15 inches in just a few minutes. His boat was high and dry and they couldn’t get it back in the water. I didn’t want to risk getting too close to an unknown rocky shore, so I eased in close, and sent over my heavy lifting mermaids to save the day. Julie and Mary jumped in, swam to shore diagonal across the 2 knot current and helped the local boater drag his boat off the boat ramp and back into the river.
We locked up about 35 feet, and then continued our cruise up the meandering river to Rock Harbor Marina near Nashville. This is a great stop. It’s actually an old rock quarry right off the river. The “quickcrete” factory still operates nearby. In the 1950’s the quarry was breached and became flooded, so they cleared the remaining debris, and created a channel into this now well protected marina. The office was closed but I had called ahead and we tied up to the transient dock.
After a nice quick meal at the floating bar/barge, we packed up and all got in an Uber to Buda’s house about 15 minutes away. We met up with Amber and had a fun evening with great friends. We even got to sleep in a real bed.
Green Turtle to Lake Barkley Lodge
28 August 2018 | Barkley Lodge
Sunny with a chance of drones and flying carp
Underway Day 75:
Green Turtle Bay was a nice marina and resort with a bad service haul out operation. It was disorganized and poorly managed and they weren’t willing to keep our prearranged haul out appointment. All we needed was a hour swinging in the slings so that we could change the engine oil and lower unit oil. We had scheduled the appointment in advance. They could have made it happen and met their commitment, but they didn’t seem to care and wanted us to wait for 5 days. Long story short, we decided to keep a positive attitude and move on, using the port engine most of the way to reduce the hours on the new engine, as it was due for the break in 20 hour service.
Our sister-in-law Julie flew in to Paducaha and joined our crew again. Julie is always great company and we were so happy to have her on board. She brought us some gifts, including amazing tomatoes, salsa, and tomatillo salsa, all from her garden.
We paid our bill and cruised up Lake Barkley, part of the Cumberland River. It was an easy cruise and a very hot day, so we stopped to swim a few times. Our destination was Barkley State Lodge in Kentucky, one of the largest Log Cabins in the country. We arrived, fueled up, pumped out, docked the boat at the resort. We waited in the pool for Chris Gelbuda and Amber, who had come up from Nashville. Chris and his family have been coming here for decades. Chris pointed out the spot where his dad used to sit, and we had a short but moving ceremony to honor his father.
Later in the evening we took a beautiful sunset cruise around the lake. There were deer and fawns drinking along the lakeshore. The carp were jumping like crazy and Amber taught us that if you go at idle speed on one engine and then throttle up, they jump. It was wild. The golden hour was stunning. We had a great hang, went for a swim and enjoyed a beautiful sunset and great company. Buda flew his drone, getting some cool shots of the boat.
Amber had to leave to head back to work, and we are going to take Buda back to Nashville 125 miles by boat tomorrow. After dinner, we went to the game room and had a very intense Air Hockey tournament. Screams, heckling, laughter were scoring on yourself were all in abundance. Mary even somehow managed to get a bruise injury. After the dust had settled, I’m happy to report that I’m the new Lake Barkley Air Hockey Champion.
Mississippi anchorage to Green Turtle Bay
25 August 2018 | Green Turtle Bay
Industrial and pristine with a chance of escort
Underway Day 74:
Last night was one of my favorite anchorages of the trip, especially after such a long rainy day. The clouds cleared, the stars came out over the Mississippi. We were in enough current to hold us straight but not too much to unhook us. We were protected from tow wakes. The temperature was perfect, accompanied by a gentle breeze. I only woke once in the night at 0300, and was happy to see were we’re holding position like a rock.
The morning was sunny. We struck the now dry tent. Then hung numerous items up all over the boat to dry them off in the morning sun. We pulled up the well dug in anchor, and let the current take us over the bar and back into the main stream.
We idled downriver with all out wet gear flying in the breeze, passing many tows and barges.
As we arrived at the junction of the Ohio River, I couldn’t help but think about both Lewis and Clark coming through this spot as well as the indigenous First Nations who built a mound civilization here that was later named Cairo, IL. Both are topics that I’ve read about and it was cool to see the landscape in person and from the river perspective.
When we turned the corner to leave the Mississippi and head upstream on the Ohio River, we immediately lost 5-6 knots. The 2.5-3 knot current was now against us and the strongest we’ve seen outside the St. Lawrence. The water on the Ohio was noticeably cleaner as well. There was a lot of wind driven chop caused by the breeze against the current. We ran upstream at 23 knots, passing about 80 barges both underway and at anchor.
We approached Olmsted Lock and Dam. It is currently under construction, being built to replace the two locks that were there before. Scheduled completion is 2020. We didn’t know what to expect. When we hailed them on the radio they switched us to VHF 20a, where we spoke to the USACE tug Miss Isabella. She escorted us through the open lock gates and across the top of the now submerged old dam. It was a crazy ride. There was about 5-6 knots of current funneled through the area. This was accompanied by the prop wash from Miss Isabella and giant standing waves, which I presumed to be caused by the old wicket dam. It was another Modern Marvel being constructed, and an interesting experience that I wasn’t expecting.
We left our escort behind and turned it up to cruising speed, making 25.5 knots against the current. We next came to lock 52, were instructed it would be awhile, and to anchor up on the Kentucky side of the river alongside another pleasure craft.
We waited for about 4 hours. Mary washed her hair on the back deck, read her book, and got some sun. I worked on detailing and cleaning the electrical cabinet and cleaned the bilge. Once we saw the tow leave the lock, we motored over with the other boat and both of us just floated in the massive lock for the slow 4” lift.
Once through, we spun up the new outboards and cruised up the Ohio River, past Paducah Kentucky and turned off at the junction to the Cumberland river. The Cumberland was even clearer than the Ohio and it got very narrow and scenic. These are the moments I love. Navigating a tight, scenic, winding river , with a well marked channel, at speed, is a special feeling. After about an hour we arrived at the Barkley Lock. We waited for about an hour while the lock master drained it for us. We then locked up 48 feet, with a solo kayaker who had paddled all the way from the head waters of West Virginia. Once through, we pulled in to Green Turtle Bay marina, and met the dock master Bill and a few friendly locals. The restaurant here is awesome. All the walls are covered with the names of boats that have come and gone. We plan to stay here for a few days and haul out the boat on Monday to do the 20 hour service on the new engine.
It was another great day on the loop. We began it on the ole Miss, worked 60 miles up the Ohio and 20 miles up the Cumberland.
It was a nice ride inside the arteries of the Heartland.
Hoppies Barge to Browns Chute Private anchorage
24 August 2018 | Brown’s Chute Private anchorage
Wet on wet with a chance of spray
Underway Day 73:
The rain began at 0300 this morning and didn’t let up until about 5pm. Mary and I stayed warm and dry in the teepee until we got up around 0700. We made coffee and ramen noodles and tried to keep things dry as we put them away, but the rain was pretty relentless. Tony from VC Marine had woken up early and driven back to the boat, because he wanted to double check a water hose connection on the engine. He was genuinely concerned about us, and it’s really nice to know that he cares. We couldn’t really do anything until the rain let up. There was a break at 0900, so we inspected the engine and fortunately all was well.
It looked like it was going to rain all day, but we now have the refurbished isinglass enclosure, so things are more dry underway. We shoved off the barge and floated into the Mississippi in the rain. We passed many tows, some with 25-40 barges, and it never gets old. Some of the wakes are massive. We motored at varying speeds, but mostly went slow, doing about 10-11 knots with the current push. When visibility was good, I would occasionally run at 30 knots, but with so many logs floating around, you have to be very vigilant. We dodged most of them but did manage to kiss a few. It’s virtually unavoidable.
Either way, we made good time with the current on this wet windy day. We didn’t see a single other recreational vessel until about 5 pm, another looper looking for an anchorage. As the day wore on, we began to scout for places to spend the night, and we investigated tucking in behind several wing dams, but they were all shoaled out or exposed to tug wakes. Decent anchorages are virtually non existent in this stretch of the river, and all the ones that were reported to be decent were literally exposed sand bars. The river level is a bit low. Finally at Brown’s Point, about 21 miles upriver from Cairo, IL, we found a perfect spot. At first the area, recommended by a few other travelers on Active Captain, appeared to be shoaled. That was true for the usual spot, but we crept and crabbed in, upstream against the 3 knot current. We found a spot with less current in Brown’s chute. It was only 3-6 feet deep, so most loopers would have to keep searching for deeper water, but it’s no problem for Mombo.
I dropped the hook, let out plenty of scope, added the bridle, and we were set hard into the muddy sand by the current. I cleaned the boat, and we hung out some things to dry before setting up the tent. We are in only about 1.3 knots of current now, and protected by a sand bank from tow wakes. It’s a perfect private spot, and we have the mighty Mississippi all to ourselves.
Alton IL to Hoppies Barge
23 August 2018 | Hoppies Barge
An audible groan with a smooth finish
Underway Day 72:
We didn’t sleep very well. With no teepee tent and just the mosquito net, under the covered slip, we were exposed to some wind. The highway bridge noise, the droning rumble of passing tugs, and loud trains blasting their horns. Then the sun came, but we were ready to rock after a home cooked breakfast at the marina.
Mary returned the F150 to Enterprise and got a ride back, while I broke camp and got the boat ready. When I knew she was coming back, I hailed the lockmaster at Melvin Price Lock #26 on VHF 14. He told me as soon as the big tow left, we were good to go. Mary pulled up just as the big tow rumbled by. We pulled out of the slip and a few miles downriver the giant lock doors were open and waiting for us. This is amazing because this lock has been jammed up for a month.
Earlier in the summer there were several accidents. Some were catastrophic. Combined with some planned maintenance, these barge crashes had shut this pair of locks down. One very large tug crashed into the gates and sent barges loose all over. Then 3 other accidents. The Army Corps had to rebuild these massive steel gates by creating a cofferdam and welding on new plating. It’s like an episode of Modern Marvels.
Some commercial tows had to wait 6-8 days just last week, and now we had the lock to ourselves with no wait. We were breaking in the new engine gently. We chatted with the kind burly lock master. After clearing the lock, 15 miles downriver we next came to Chain of Rocks #27 Lock and Dam. He also had the gates open and waiting. As we approached St. Louis and drove by the arch, we hit heavy barge traffic. Instead of 15 barges, a single tow was now pushing up to 30 or 40 barges. It’s truly a sight to see, and we are always respectful when passing or crossing these big boys. The prop wash and current were intense at times and made for tight navigation between the wing dams. I throttled up at one point to let the new engine rip and it didn’t feel right. As I brought it back down to idle I heard a strange subtle noise. I know these engines now like my heartbeat after 3500 miles. There was wind in my face, a freight train overhead on the bridge, a barge working on the bridge running a generator and a tow passing, waves slapping, etc, but I could hear my new engine didn’t sound and feel quite right under it all. There a faint squeaking/groaning noise of metal.
I shut down and tilted up the new engine. Admiral Newman took the helm, running down the Big Muddy, past the St. Louis Arch, full of commercial traffic, on one engine. I lowered the ladder and hung off the back, while we did 8 knots with the current. I checked the engine, half my body in the river, as the city glided by. There was no line in the prop, and no visible oil. The upper unit sounded perfect,but when I turned the prop by hand, I could feel a slight resistance and some grinding friction. I shut her down. Not taking any chances on a new install!
We cruised on one engine, Mate Mary at the controls. I read online information. I called people. I determined that when I put the prop on that I must have forgotten to replace the thrust washer! The prop was gently and subtly grinding on the new gear housing without this spacer. It’s an easy mistake to make as usually it stays in the gear housing. I called Tony at VC marine. He had the thrust washer from the old engine and a new one. He drove it down to us at a barge/marina called Hoppies on the river. Tony is the man!
He arrived 90 minutes later just as we pulled in. Ray, who runs the barge and fuel dock was aware of my situation by VHF radio and we decided that the best spot was on some soft sand along the bank, so I drove the boat aground, jumped in the chest high water, and pulled the prop. I installed the thrust spacer, put it all back together, and all was well, smooth as silk. Because I heard the noise, there was no damage, just some scraped paint.
I’ll never install a prop again without checking that the thrust washer is in place, that’s for sure. We tied up into the current alongside the barge, and walked along the railroad tracks to Smoky Robinson’s Cajun BBQ in the nearby rural town.
After dinner we came back to the boat, set up camp, drank a few, and I played the live stream of Umphreys McGee and Lettuce at the Lock’n Festival on the iPad. The Mississippi rocked us today on one engine. Now we’ve got two engines and a live stream going to rock her right back.
We’re sitting on our boat in the Mississippi River, tied to a barge. All systems are go. I’m with my wife and being entertained by my friends and favorite bands. All is right in the world again and everything sounds smooth and fantastic!
Alton to Annapolis to Arkansas to Alton
22 August 2018 | Alton, IL
500 HP running, with sails on the horizon
Underway Day 71:
It’s been a very busy two weeks, but I’m happy to report that we are back in action and hope to continue the journey tomorrow down the Mississippi River with two beautiful and shiny new engines!
We rented a car in Alton, near St. Louis and drove to Maryville TN, where we spent several days relaxing and enjoying the company of Mary’s parents, Bonnie and Frank. We dropped of the efoil surfboard in their basement and spent many hours on the phone trying to get a new Suzuki engine. I was mostly concerned about finding a local dealer and a place to haul out, but that proved to be the easy part. Because of the hurricanes taking out so many boats last year and an earthquake in Japan, all new Yamaha and Suzuki outboards are back-ordered for 6 weeks nation wide. After having about 5 dealers searching for a new one to no avail, I managed to find the exact model myself on Craigslist, new in the crate, at a boat dealer in Arkansas.
Once we had a plan in place for the Mombo, it was time to drive to Annapolis, where Mary and I bought our future boat home! Yes, that’s right. As many of you know, I’ve been talking about getting a big worldwide capable, fully off grid, and self sufficient sailing catamaran for the past 6 years. I finally found our dream boat, so we met with the wonderful sellers, Pat and Janet Hayes, and hired a marine surveyor to inspect the boat at Georgetown Yacht Basin near Annapolis. I also flew in an expert from Florida, named Steve Whitbeck, who had highly customized this boat. I could write an entire book about how awesome this boat is. It’s loaded. Lithium battery system, watermaker that converts salt water to fresh water, washing machine, onboard fuel polishing and too many safety gadgets to list. Suffice it to say that once I get a few more projects done, Chapter Two (we are keeping the name) will be the nicest Lagoon 450 ever to sail the seas. We plan to take it across the North Atlantic on what I’m calling the “path of the Vikings”.
After 2 full days looking through and testing every system on Chapter Two, it passed all tests with flying sails! Mary and I then spent several days on the boat, cleaning and organizing all the spares and lining out some upgrades and repairs at the boat yard, namely a Coppercoat bottom paint and adding a furling boom mainsail.
We then drove all the way back to Illinois, swapped out our rental car for a rental pickup truck, and drove another 6 hours to a very small town in the Ozarks in Arkansas to buy the new Suzuki. We did the deal, loaded it up, and drove back to Illinois, stopping in St. Louis for some ribs.
Yesterday Mary drove the outboard to the boatyard and I drove the boat upstream a few miles against the Mississippi current to Bloch Marine. Jim, the owner, was very helpful. We hauled the boat and I did some waxing and other projects, while we waited for Toby and Nick from VC Marine to come by and help with the rigging. They did a fantastic job. We rigged up the boat and bolted it on, connecting all the systems.
Everything ran fine on the earmuffs but I needed to play with my fancy gauges to get them to receive all the live digital data from the engines. We left the boat mostly ready to run and drove the old outboard to Nick’s shop and unloaded it with a forklift.
I was happy to get a decent price from him for the old engine and I hope he can get er running again. I spent most of the night trying to troubleshoot the NMEA2000 interface and got a few ideas.
The next morning, I unplugged the data cable from the stock analog Suzuki harness and plugged it into the SDS port, which the technicians use to plug their computers into. Bam! Full data. My fancy C10 gauges now have live diagnostics, including Idle Air Control, Manifold Pressure, Temp, RPM’s, Ignition Timing, Fuel Flow, Depth, and GPS, plus a bunch of other stuff that is too complicated to explain. I had to reset and reprogram the entire system, which took several hours, but I can now see if the engines are running perfect in 20 different ways and calculate range and fuel burn within 3% accuracy.
Mary and I cleaned and waxed the hulls while the boat swung in the slings and the sealant dried on the transom bolts. We then splashed the 10,000 lb boat back into the Mississippi. She drove the F150 back and I broke in the engine nice and easy running downriver. Everything was great. We spent the rest of the day cleaning, provisioning and getting caught up with work correspondence and bills.
That night, we were in a covered slip, so we just hung the mosquito net from the outriggers and fell asleep on the aft deck.
Mel’s Riverdock to Alton, IL
09 August 2018 | Limping in to Big Muddy
Wounded but under shelter.
Underway Day 70:
We awoke in the fog and dew; tied up to a steel floating dock on the Illinois River. Those stupid ephemeradae or mayflies, or whatever those bugs are called, paid us another visit. All I know is for some reason they like to die all over this boat. We keep most of them alive, grabbing them by their wings, tossing them in the air and watching them regain flight. All the immobile ones eventually end up in the scuppers. Either way, we were ready to go, but we weren’t going anywhere until this fog lifted. Everything was wet with dew, but we were prepared. To Mel’s diner it was. This was going to be a long day.
When we could see the fog was beginning to lift we creeped out into the channel. Sure enough, a few miles downriver, there was a big tug waiting for the fog to lift as well. As I cruised past, he also put it into gear and maneuvered his football field of barges back into the river. We were limping along on one engine at 7.7 knots, so if there was going to be another disaster, at least it would happen in slow motion.
The morning was uneventful. This is a good thing. The river was beautiful and remote. When the Illinois merged with the Mississippi current, we picked up a knot.
The navigational aspect to note now is all about wing dams, and bendway wierdams. They are basically submerged stone walls of various lengths and curvatures from 400 to 1600 feet long. They are angled 20 to 30 degrees into the flow of the river. The purpose is to deflect the river current towards the center of the river, preventing erosion of the river banks and creating a self flushing action that reduces shoaling.
They also can make nice protected anchorages, if you have depth to tuck in behind one and out of the current. The prudent mariner needs to be aware, that in addition the current, water levels, and resulting bridge height and depth variations, these hidden hazards may lurk just below the surface. Water heights can vary between 1-4’ overnight, created by distant rain. Buoys are often off station. There is continuous debris, and large barges. Keep it in the channel there skipper.
We were low on fuel, so we stopped off at Grafton Marina, and threw 50 gallons in the port tank. Then we got back out into the Big Muddy and headed down to Alton Marina. I had arranged a covered slip here and they had a great looper discount. As we approached, Mary and I stripped all the canvas and isinglass off the boat, so we can have it rebuilt good as new. The wind and weather have been hard on our ten year old enclosure.
Once we arrived, Admiral Newman got picked up by Enterprise, who also gives looper discounts, and I washed the boat, locked it down, and packed up our gear. We paid for the slip, loaded up the car and drove to a marine canvas shop three hours away near Peducah, Kentucky. We dropped of the canvas for rebuild. Then we continued on to Mary’s parents house in Maryville, TN.
The blog will return once we’re back underway.
Peoria, IL to Mel’s Riverdock, Hardin, IL
08 August 2018 | Mel’s Illinois Riverdock Diner
Peaceful with a chance of mangled spark plugs
Underway Day 69:
During the night, we were occasional woken by the bright spotlights and churning propeller of large tugs as the idled up the Illinois River in this no wake part of the channel. For the most part, however, we both slept very well. Once we broke camp at anchor on the Illinois River, we headed back down-bound to the Peoria Lock. I radioed them ahead of time, and by the time we arrived, they had it ready for us. The Lockmaster was very friendly and offered to let us float. This saves him some hassle of throwing us lines, and it saves us the hassle of putting out fenders, managing lines, and pushing off the slimy and gritty wall. It was a very easy drop, and we just pulled in, floated in the middle of the massive chamber, dropped about 20 feet and pulled out.
When we left the gates, there was a tug waiting to go up. He began to throttle up, and his prop wash was impressive. Nothing 500HP can’t handle, but it’s a bit of a challenge whenever you get near these wakes. They will certainly make the water churn squirrelly.
Mary took a cat nap while we cruised downstream at 27 knots. For long periods, we had the river entirely to ourselves. It was a beautiful day. The Carp would occasionally jump. Several times, we pulled through an area of cottonwoods, and cotton seeds rained down like snow along the placid river. In another area, I thought I heard a strange noise of grinding metal over the wind. I slowed to listen carefully and realized it was the sound of millions of cicadas screeching along the wooded banks.
At mid afternoon, It appeared that the ignition timing was off, and I could feel one of the cylinders on the V6 periodically failing. I began to worry, and then I found a nice spot on the river bank and gently nosed the boat into shore, grounding it. I got out my tools, pulled the cowling, and checked the spark plugs. One of them was collapsed again, just like the last time up in Canada. This isn’t good. It means the piston, or some other piece of broken metal inside the cylinder, is hitting the plug. I replaced the bad plug, and we got underway again. All seemed well, until 10 minutes later, when the problem recurred, but it sounded worse this time. As I nosed into the bank again, the old starboard engine sputtered to a stop. This time when I checked the plugs, the one I had replaced was fine, but the one next to it was all chewed up! I sensed this was now a catastrophic failure inside my stbd power head.
There was nothing more I could do in the field for this engine. The cylinders and pistons are surely mangled. I backed off the bank, eased into the channel and we limped down the Illinois at 7 knots on one engine. I called 5 different buddies and outboard mechanics that I know and they all agreed with my assessment. The engine was dead. Probably not worth fixing. We were also getting low on fuel and the nearest stop was 40 miles away.
Everything becomes more complicated driving a cat with wide spaced motors on one engine in 2 knots of current. The tugs kept coming. There were several ferries that crossed the river, some carrying semi trucks. The carp really liked the single engine frequency. One jumped in the motor well and threatened to mess up my steering and fuel line. The engine was tilted up to reduce friction and it was tough to evict the slimy stowaway. We had to dodge several large trees submerged below the surface, barely visible in the muddy water. In addition, there are very few safe anchorages in this area where you can be out of the current, and away from the tugs or their large wakes.
What had started out as a perfect day on the water had now turned into a series of unfortunate events. It felt like I was a Carp. One minute I was just swimming along nicely, and out of nowhere, wham, I just got chewed up by a giant tugboat propeller. Mary and I both decided to keep our chins up, maintain a positive attitude, and work through the problem calmly and together. It’s all part of the beautiful struggle inherent in this adventure, and in life.
We limped downriver for three hours to Mel’s Riverfront, a floating steel dock on the river in Hamlin IL. We tied up, had some comfort food at the restaurant, and paid $25 on our restaurant bill to tie up for the night. We were both tired and a little bummed out, so we set up camp and called it an early night. Tomorrow is a new day, and we’ll make a plan to get through this.
“Sometimes you’re the electric barrier and sometimes you’re the carp.” -KC
Gelbuda House to Peoria
07 August 2018 | Peoria Riverfront Amphitheater
Live music with a chance of flying Carp
Underway Day 68:
We eased into the day, loaded up the boat and were not underway until around 11 am. We passed through Starved Rock Lock in short order and enjoyed a nice relaxing cruise down the river. Other than a handful of bass boats and a few massive barges, it felt like we had the river to ourselves. As we’ve come further south, the barges are getting much larger. Most tows we see now are pushing barges 3 wide by 5 long! My hat goes off to these captains. It’s not easy to push around a football field of 15 barges in this current. We stay well clear, and pass them slowly after a courtesy call on the radio.
This area is a combination of seemingly pristine greenery and nature with regularly interspersed sections of industrial waterfront with barge loading machinery, sewage treatment, coal fired power plants and the like. You never know what’s around the next bend. The AIS receiver on my navigation screen proved very useful here, as I could tap on the icon and see the tow speed, direction and dimensions of any commercial ships.
The Asian Carp in this area were crazy. One minute, all is well, and the next minute, the water would explode with jumping fish. It seems like certain frequencies or vibrations of the prop rotation cause them to go bonkers. I had been told about this, as it can actually be dangerous if you get hit with a high speed flying 10-15 pound fish! I discounted some of the rumors, but man was I wrong. These Carp are a serious issue and a sight to see. When they were thick, I would occasionally feel one of the fish get chewed up in the props or hitting the hull between the sponsons. Supposedly, the IL government offers large cash rewards to anyone with a commercial license to catch and kill as many as possible. They are apparently good eating and there is high demand for them in Asian fish markets.
At one point near lake Peoria, I moved to the edge of the narrow channel to give room to an up bound tow and 15 barges, and we bumped into the mud a bit. When we were passing through Chillicothe, IL, it reminded me of my friend Ian Goldberg, who has been the promoter of the Summer Camp Music Festival near this area for the past 20 years. I assumed he wouldn’t be in town, but I sent him a quick text to let him know we were thinking of him. We proceeded downriver, through Peoria and hailed the Peoria lock. They were filling it up the lock for us and about to open the gates when Ian texted back. His father had a show on the Peoria Riverfront tonight and that he was driving down to help out. He invited us to stop in. Ian comes from a family business of music promotion, and he’s always good company, so we decided to turn around.
We made some quick arrangements and called the lock master to apologize, letting him know that we would be coming through tomorrow instead. He was very kind and understanding about it. This also gave us the opportunity to stop at Kuchie’s, a semi-famous waterfront restaurant. We stopped in for a quick meal, nothing to blog about, and headed back upstream to the Peoria waterfront. There was plenty of room at the free city docks, so we tied up. As I was adjusting the dock lines, Ian hailed “Ahoy” from the rail behind backstage. The venue was right on the water, so it was perfect. I had the e-foil on board, and was glad that I could watch the boat and the concert at the same time!
Ian came and hung out for a few minutes and was kind enough to have put us on the guest list. I was actually hoping to pay for tickets to support the family business. After a nice chat, Ian had to get back to work, so Mary and I drank a quick beer from the cooler and headed up to watch the show. The band was called Highly Suspect, and they put on a great show. I think it’s fantastic that Peoria uses their waterfront Amphitheater on such a regular basis, and apparently so do the locals, because the place was packed.
As the show was winding down, Mary and I decided to head back to the boat. Security near the docks was tight but the staff escorted us through. Ian, his brother Arlan, and some of their friends came by for a backstage boat party, and we had a nice hang on the boat. When they left around midnight, Mary and I motored out into the river and dropped the anchor tucked in behind the bridge. This kept us a bit further away from the noise. We set up the teepee in no time and slept out of the channel on the Illinois River.
Gelbuda House to Starved Rock and back
06 August 2018 | Buffalo Rock and Starved Rock
Peaceful with a chance of black water bath
Underway Day 67:
Today was a nice relaxing day on the water with the Gelbuda Family. We went out for a nice breakfast at a local diner, fueled up the boat, and pumped out the holding tank. There was a bit of a mishap when I went to take the cap off the holding tank. The tank was full and the contents were under pressure. Unfortunately, my legs, hands, and lower body got sprayed with "black water." Yeah, I know, pretty freakin' gross! I cleaned up with soap and water as best I could and changed.
We went down river a few miles and picked up Mary Beth, her husband Mark, and their two adorable and well behaved kids Foster and Daisy. It was a nice afternoon cruising the river. We anchored under beautiful bluff called Buffalo Rock, where we went swimming, and had a few laughs. Mary Beth is a very talented musician, writer, TV producer, and mother. Her husband Mark is a professional photographer. I was flattered to hear that he is also a big fan of this blog. It was great to get to know them and spend time with their kids. Foster, aka "Captain Underpants" is about seven years old and he was very excited to drive the boat. I normally don't allow two captains on the boat, but he's so sweet that I had to let him take the helm. He even successfully dodged a log that I had somehow not spotted.
After our stop at the bluff, we cruised down to Starved Rock and had lunch at a waterfront restaurant. They are famous for their pounded schnitzel burgers, and I have to say it was pretty good. Starved Rock State Park is one of the most beautiful camping spots in Illinois. I came here many times to go camping and jumping off waterfalls from childhood through high school. It was really unique for me to see it from the perspective of the river.
The park derives its name from a Native American legend. In the 1760s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe, was attending a tribal council meeting. At this council of the Illinois and the Pottawatomie, an Illinois-Peoria brave stabbed Chief Pontiac. Vengeance arose in Pontiac's followers. A great battle started. The Illinois, fearing death, took refuge on the great rock. After many days, the remaining Illinois died of starvation giving this historic park its name - Starved Rock.
After lunch we dropped off Mary Beth and her family and returned the boat to the marina. I gave Mombo a much needed bath, and the water was stained black from the coal dust the day before. We then spent a nice relaxing evening with the Gelbuda family. I'm not sure how much we really helped with their grieving process, but I'd like to think that we provided a healthy distraction and someone to talk to. Sometimes after suffering such a tragic loss, just being able to feel normal and get your mind off of the tragedy for a few hours can be helpful. Having lost both of my parents too young, I know how hard this can be, and my heart goes out to Queenie and her family.
New Buffalo, MI to Chicago to Ottawa, IL
05 August 2018 | Gelbuda House
Short chop, skyscrapers, industrial activity and electric barriers
Underway Day 66:
While we were in New Buffalo, we received word that Chris Gelbuda’s father had passed away unexpectedly. For those who have read the blog from the beginning, you’ll recall “Buda” from the Bahamas posts. Mary and I rented a car and drove the few hours to Ottawa, IL to support our dear friend and attend the wake and funeral. We met the Gelbuda family and promised to return with the boat in a few days. Ottawa is right on the Illinois river and on the loop route. I know that when my parents passed on that I found some solace being out on the water, and I hoped I could offer them a similar experience in their time of mourning.
We drove back to Michigan and spent a lovely Saturday with the Schick/Carrigan family, during their annual family get together that has come to be known as “Schickapalooza.” I had promised my nephew Conor and some of the kids that they could ride the efoil. We spent the day doing just that, charging it up 3 times and riding it for 3 hours. Everyone who wanted to received their turn, and it was amazing. I was so happy to see that people of all skill levels and ages were able to ride, fly the foil, and learn so easily. Once you get up on foil, it really does feel like you are flying, with the friction of the water reduced to virtually zero while you glide at 15-25 knots a few feet above the waves. Julie had also brought their ski boat out, and we were able to get some great pictures and video of the foil while everyone went tubing and water skiing.
The next morning we were up at 0630 and headed to the Mombo with our lake crossing crew. Tom Schick, his grandson Thomas Walker, and my nephew Conor joined our crew. The teenagers and I got the boat ready in New Buffalo, while Mary and Tom dropped Tom’s car and the rental car in Michigan City about 10 miles South of New Buffalo. This way, when we dropped them at the South Shore train station in downtown Chicago, they could take the train right back to their car. Conor, Thomas, and I eased out of the New Buffalo break-wall, and I could tell right away that this crossing would be uncomfortable but safely doable. We ran down the coast and picked up Mary and Tom inside the break-wall in Michigan City, Indiana.
Once we headed out into the lake, the conditions were just below the threshold at which I would have considered aborting the crossing. I respect the power of the weather and the deadly effects they can create on such a large cold lake. These wind driven, 3-4’ lake waves are nothing to mess around with. They are literally stacked on top of one another. A four foot ocean wave might have a period of seven to ten seconds. These waves have a period of around one second. They get stacked up into a nasty short chop, and the windy weather can change very fast. Fortunately the wind was from the South and we were headed Southwest, so we were able to quarter the waves. In order to reduce the spray and slamming I dialed the boat back to a plowing profile, and we cruised across the 38nm passage at 19 knots. It took about 2.5 hours to cross the lake, as opposed to our 70 minute crossing a few days earlier. As we neared the city and it’s looming architectural skyline, the waves had less open water to build up on, and we were able to get back to full cruising speed.
As we approached the city, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous and intimidated. I had read about cruising through the Chicago lock and river, but I just didn’t know what to expect. This lock and section has some of the most fascinating maritime engineering history of our entire trip. In the 1800’s the Chicago river was the first river in the world where the flow of the river was reversed by humans! The blue stripes on the Chicago flag represent this reversal of the river. It was considered an engineering marvel at the time and still is. Going through this lock also means that we officially pass into to the inland waterway system of the United States! The US Inland Waterways run through 41 states, covering 25,000 miles of navigable rivers and canals. The federal government manages 12,000 of these miles as commercial waterways. From Chicago to Mobile, we will traverse over 1300 miles, not including side trips we have planned. When heading south, we will have the current with us for 1000 miles and against us for 280, until we reach the Gulf of Mexico in Mobile, Alabama.
These rivers receive waters from an enormous watershed of thousands of square miles. The natural fall of the water is controlled by a complex system of locks and dams. The first one is the Chicago Harbor Lock, and we had finally arrived!
In 1833, construction and improvements to Chicago’s Harbor began. It now has 12,500 feet of outer break walls, protecting a nearly 1000 acre outer basin. Interior break walls of 6500 feet protect the 224 acre inner basin. The Chicago Harbor Lock is 600 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 22’ deep. It is the gateway to one of the busiest commercial and recreational waterways in the USA. Over 50,000 vessels, 900,000 passengers, and 200,000 tons of cargo pass through this lock annually. It was constructed to prevent the Chicago river from draining into Lake Michigan, as well as to help maintain the level of the river from the lake. It is called the “Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.” As the name implies, it allows ship traffic to head south, along with any sanitary waste from the city. This is the main reason they wanted to reverse the flow of the river. While this keeps Lake Michigan pristine, any pollution will flow south along the Illinois River and Mississippi, eventually ending up in the gulf. Immediately as you enter the lock, the water changes from a crystal clear turquoise color to a dark green, and then to an industrial brown.
Once we passed through this lock, we entered an area of heavy commercial traffic. Currents can get fast, especially after heavy rains. All mannner of navigational hazards floating in these current are possible, from broken docks to giant trees. River levels on the Illinois and Mississippi can change rapidly, caused by rain hundreds of miles away. The US Army Corps of Engineers works 24 hours a day to monitor, maintain, and manage the nine foot controlling depth of the channel. They do this by strategically releasing water. This can affect the currents in a big way. At this time of year, it should be less of a problem, but we will need to be on guard.
We passed through the lock, wearing our life jackets as required, and were now cruising through the heart of downtown Chicago. The city looked glorious. There were ferries, water taxis, tour boats, kayakers and paddle boards everywhere. We docked the boat at City Winery, directly across from Marina City, an apartment Buikding with a marina underneath the skyscraper. Tom, Thomas, and Conor hopped off and walked to the nearby train. My brother Chris and his buddy Kurt hopped on to join us for the ride through the city and it’s southern industrial sector.
Once our new crew was aboard, we cruised under many bridges, and took a right to head off course, as I wanted to briefly explore the North Branch of the Chicago River. We motored up and around to the top of Goose Island. Chris and Kurt jumped off at a rusted and rickety abandoned industrial dock. They returned a few minutes later with coffee and breakfast sandwiches that really hit the spot.
We backtracked down the North Branch and cruised under 40 bridges in 5 miles! It was truly amazing and one of the highlights of the trip for me so far.
Once we were south of the downtown area, the river passed through a very rundown riverfront industrial area. There were barges full of coal, rock, sand, bunker fuel, natural gas, along with refineries, smelters, sewage treatment runoffs, and coal fired power plants. There were even several barges that upon closer inspection were mounted with mortar tubes. These must be the ones that they use to launch fireworks, which I thought was interesting. It was hard to identify the smells, but they were strong and industrial. It seemed like a mix of smelting slag, tar, coal dust and ethanol. Chris called it the “Erin Brokovich Boat Tour.”
The bridge height restriction on this section is 17 feet, so we made it through most bridges without having to stop. One of the railway bridges was down, with a clearance of only five feet. Once the train passed, the massive steel bridge sounded its horn and lifted for us. We had a large local cruiser that was following us most of the day. We were both cruising down the river at 26 knots when there were no other boats or no wake zones. At one point, I heard a strange noise coming from the old starboard engine, and stopped to investigate and check the prop. I made the mistake of letting the cruiser pass. He was throwing a five foot wake. In the narrow channel between the barges and concrete bulkheads, his wake resonated off the walls and created a nasty and interesting phenomenon. The waves actually formed into four foot rounded pyramids. It’s looked just like a double diamond mogul run. We got sloshed around in this washing machine environment with waves coming from all sides. I’ve never seen anything like it. After we backed off about a mile it became more manageable.
Our next challenge was the electrified carp barrier. Asian carp is an invasive species that has taken over the river system. In an effort to prevent them from reaching the Great Lakes, the US Army Corps of Engineers built an electrified barrier in this section of the river. It is conveniently located by the General Electric coal fired power plant. They pass high voltage DC electrical current through the water for a half mile section of the river. Like an electrified dog fence, the fish either turn around when they feel the shock, or die as they get closer to the full force of the electrified area. You are required to wear life jackets, and no one on board should touch the water in any way.
This was a windy day, and as we passed by mountains of coal dust and silica sand waiting to be loaded onto barges, the top of the pile would get blown off and we would have to drive through the clouds of dust. Add in a few barges coming at us, which seriously reduces the width of the channel, and this became a very challenging day for navigational hazards. Despite all these challenges, we were in Joliet by 3 pm and dropped off Chris and Kurt by the casino, where they caught an Uber back to the city.
We still had plenty of daylight left and I didn’t really want to anchor here or tie up to a barge, which are basically the only options, so we pressed on, called Buda, and decided to try to make it all the way to Ottawa, IL. We had decent timing and were able to pass through 4 more massive locks. Sometimes the wait can be several hours if the timing is wrong, but our longest time to lock through was only about an hour.
We arrived in Ottawa about 30 minuted before sunset and met Buda and his local buddies at the Dockside bar. After having a drink there, we cruised down the river at dusk and pulled onto the fuel dock at Heritage Harbor, a nice modern marina. I had a reservation but no slip assignment, so we unloaded our gear, closed the boat and left it there out of the way by the fuel dock. We had a nice evening with Buda, eating at a local pizza joint and doing a bit a bar hopping. He seemed to know everyone in town and nobody would let us pay for drinks. We then relaxed on the couch at his family home and talked about life, death, and music until 0200.
Kenosha WI to New Buffalo MI via Chicago, IL
30 July 2018 | Rich and Julie’s Lake House
It’s raining mylar balloons
Underway Day 65:
We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, walked to the boat, paid for our slip on my phone using the dockwa app, and got underway towards Chicago. It was calm, beautiful and sunny. Rich, John, and Mary all enjoyed the ride and the music. We took a direct rhumb line which took us about five miles offshore. It seemed like every few miles we stopped to pick up mylar balloons, a total of 5 on that leg. Mylar balloons should be outlawed and replaced with a biodegradable material. Don’t get me started about how stupid these are. Happy Birthday ya little nose pickin’ litterbug!
As we approached the city, the beautiful architecture of the skyline came into view. We hugged the shore of Wilmette, and admired the Baha’i Temple. As we passed by my hometown of Evanston, it was nice to see the kids all playing, sailing, and skiing at Aquatics Camp. This summer day camp is where I first learned to sail and fell in love with water sports as a child.
We cruised along the shoreline of the city and stopped along the seawall by the Shedd Aquarium. Seven family members hopped aboard for a quick harbor tour. Rich’s wife Julie brought everyone lunch and we had a nice picnic cruise and a swim. Having grown up in this area my whole childhood, there was something special about the different perspective looking at the city from the water. I felt a sense of dislocation and regret. I wish I had known this experience existed while I lived here all those years. I had to wonder and ask myself why I had never seriously explored my “birth port” by water until now.
After we dropped the family back off, we ran across the lake 38 nm to New Buffalo, MI, where Rich has a summer house. On the way there, we stopped and picked up more balloons, and then, believe it or not, we picked up a giant Party City bag with 8 balloons inside. This is a new record at 15 balloons in one day! Chicago needs to tighten the F up on it’s balloon game. That’s just ridiculous.
We reached New Buffalo and my brother Chris was there with his kids to meet us at the dock. He took John and Rich to the train station, where they could ride back to the city. I cleaned the boat and Mary played with the kids at the marina pool. The six of us went out for a nice meal at the local BBQ brew pub and then settled in at the lake house.
I had a lot of work correspondence to get caught up on and then I stayed up late unwrapping and setting up my new toy, the Lift E-foil. It’s a lithium battery powered hydrofoil surfboard. I ordered it 18 months ago, and received one of the first ones off the production line. It had finally arrived! I’m pretty sure it’s the first one in this region and the first one on Lake Michigan. The boys and I marveled as we unboxed it and set it up. This appears to be very solid, and well made with quality materials. Tomorrow we’ll find out if chubby ninja’s like me can fly on a wing over the water.
Sheboygan to Kenosha, WI
29 July 2018 | Kenosha Irish Pub
Choppy with a scratched cowling
Underway Day 64:
Since I last wrote, Mary and I drove to Colorado, stopping at Frank Lloyd Wright Taleisin Fellowship site in Wisconsin. We spent the night at a wacky hotel, on a bed made out of a sailboat hull. The next day we toured House on the Rock, a very strange and eclectic site full of weird wacky collections. It is where the Gods meet up in the book and tv show American Gods. As we drove west, we stopped near Adair, IA, at the site of the first train robbery ever by Jesse James and his crew. We also stopped in Omaha and had the world famous Whiskey Ribeye at Drovers steakhouse.
We spent the night at my buddy Ray’s house in Denver. Ray was good company and a gracious host, and it was great to catch up with him. The next morning, we picked our daughter Maggie up at the airport and drove through the beautiful Rocky Mountains up to Gransby, Colorado, near Estes Park. We spent a lovely week with dozens of family members at the YMCA Snow Mountain Lodge.
Some of the highlights from the Family Reunion included family olympics, in which I lost at spud and got put through the spanking machine. There was music around the campfire, a waterfall hike, tubing down the hillside, riding electrically assisted Fat Tire mountain bike all around the trails, archery, and fly fishing on Colorado River.
We the took another scenic drive to my brother Chris’s new house in Boulder, and went sliding down the rock slide waterfalls of Boulder Creek with the kids. On the way back East to Chicago, we Stopped at Council Bluffs to check out the Lewis and Clark site, and visited the home of Antique Archeology from the TV show American Pickers. After another family party in Chicago, we drove to Sheboygan with my brother Rich and John Schick, now famous from his previous mentions in this blog in Annapolis and Washington DC.
Once at the boat, I had to meet up with the sailboat owner next to me. He had wind drifted into my new outboard and scratched it. Fortunately there was no serious damage, and he offered to have both engine cowlings repainted for me.
We got underway and once offshore, we went for a quick swim into the beautiful, clear, turquoise water of Lake Michigan. We ran 75 nm south to Kenosha, WI, another charming Wisconsin town of the water. We fueled up and headed over for a nice meal at the Irish Pub. Once at our hotel, we got in the hot tub and went to bed early. Some of us had been up late the previous night, and as the real Mombo used to say, we were “over served.”
Meldrum Bay, Canada to Sheboygan, WI
18 July 2018 | Sheboygan Wisconsin
Sunrise to sunset, going the distance, fudge and horse shit
Underway Day 63:
We woke up at 0530 on the cold dark boat, which was soaked with dew. As I opened my eyes I was greeted by a dozen mosquitoes a few inches from my face. Thankfully they were on the other side of the net, just waiting to suck on my face.
We drank cold pressed coffee and eased out of Meldrum bay into the rising sun. Lake Huron was choppy but we were able to glide over it without spilling the coffee at 27 knots. By 0700 we were back in American waters. At 0830 we idled into Macinac Island and tied up to a hotel dock for breakfast. The island is a throwback in time. No automobiles are allowed so everyone gets around on bicycles and horse drawn carriages. We went to what claims to be the oldest supermarket in America (1882) and got some provisions. We then took a brief stroll around town, checking out the many numerous fudge shops and the streets covered in manure.
Macinac is famous for an annual sailing race, 333 miles from Macinac to Chicago. The town was very busy preparing as the race starts in 3 days. We are doing own own race against time to get to a family reunion, so we hopped back aboard and got underway. Leaving the harbor, we were surrounded by 8-10 fast ferries, throwing six foot wakes. We handled it well but I felt bad for the small sail boats. It’s just rude. As far as I know these guys are responsible for their wake as well, but I guess it will take them swamping and drowning someone before they are ordered to be civilized navigators.
We powered down the East coast of Lake Michigan to Frankfort and bought fuel. I checked the oil, and took down the Canadian flag. The weather was fairly calm, and is predicted to start building in the next 48 hours, so we decided to keep charging it. Similar to our short stay in NY harbor, I grew up in this region, so I don’t feel too bad zipping through it. I’d rather git while the gittin’ is good. I have too much respect for Mother Nature to risk crossing the lake during bad weather.
We cut across the lake 80 nm in 3 hours, all the way to Sheboygan Wisconsin. We will leave the boat for the next 10 days while we drive to Colorado for a large family reunion. There was a looper discount of one free night per paid night, so it was only $304 for 11 nights! Did I mention it’s one of the nicest marinas in the Midwest? Hot tub, pool, awesome lounge, great security, and excellent weather protection. Sold!
Getting to the WI side will make the drive across America shorter, and I’m hoping maybe some of my Chicago friends will be available to help us bring the boat from here to Chicago when we get back.
This was our longest day of the trip at 270 nm in 12 hours. I love the fact that this boat can wake up in Canada, cross two foot chop, stop in Michigan for breakfast and end up in Southern Wisconsin by sundown. It was a long one, but nothing a little Tikka Massala and a few strong drinks at the Duke of Devon English Pub can’t handle.
Little Current to Meldrum Bay, ON
17 July 2018 | Meldrum Bay
Nasty short chop with a chance of safe harbor
Underway Day 62:
We woke up early and had a nice full breakfast at the Shaftesbury Inn. As we were checking out, I bumped into the couple from the stranded sail boat who happened to be staying at the same place. They had a courtesy car from Kevin’s marina and they gave us a ride back to the Mombo.
We motored out of the break wall at Harbor Vue Marina and the weather appeared to be sunny and glassy.
I logged on the US Customs app on my iPad while we still had signal and cleared into customs on the ROAM App. I put in the boat info, our personal info and our estimated arrival into the US in 3 hours. One minute later, a customs agent called my cell and we were cleared in to the USA!
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t hold. We had about 100 nm to make it to De Port, Michigan. About half way there, the wind picked up and built nasty conditions. We had to plow bow high at 8 knots, directly into the wind, and short stacked 3-4 footers. The wind blown wave period was only like 1 second. It was safe, but very uncomfortable, and we were taking lots of spray. Mary was dry and said she didn’t care if we kept going. I was cold and wet. After several hours of struggling and bashing up wind, I decided that we had had enough. Tomorrow would be calm. We could make up the distance in 1 hour instead of 4.
I looked on the chart and found a protected, secluded anchorage. It was and tiny town off my port beam, called Meldrum Bay, population 41. As soon as we cleared the headland, and were in the lee, conditions were calm. I instantly began to warm up in the sun. The mountains blocked the wind as well. Once I felt better, I called the marina on the radio, told them we were getting hammered by headwinds, and they said they had a space for us. I guess Canada didn’t want to let us go just yet.
We docked the boat, assisted by the helping hands of Rick, the marina owner. I paid him $40US, went to the store, and bought some provisions. Next door, two local girls were grilling homemade sausages, trying to raise money for college. So I bought one, and caught up on work and paying bills, sitting on a lawn chair in the sun, drinking cold coronas. I also became friends with a local puppy who loved to catch the frisbee and get scratched behind the ears.
At 5:30 we sat down for a delicious meal of Smoked Trout Fettuccini Alfredo and Trout Almandine at the Meldrum Bay Inn. I was tired, so I went to bed at 9pm. Sometimes Old Neptune has different plans than we do. Sometimes Canada doesn’t want you to leave her just yet. Sometimes you are cleared into two countries at the same time. Sometimes you gotta know when to fold ‘em. And sometimes you discover another beautiful Canadian Village that happens to be a safe harbor with first class dining. Pura Vida Canada! Until next time.
Killarney to Littke Current, ON
16 July 2018 | Harbor Vue Marina, Little Current ON
Fresh Oil with a chance of double Kevin’s
Underway Day 61:
We had breakfast a quaint local diner and then walked across town in search of elusive motor oil that meets my engine specs. I’ve been calling around in every place we visit for the past few days trying to find 10w30, synthetic blend. Everyone around here seems to have inboards or outboards that take a heavier weight 25w40, so it’s been hard to find. Big Wiily had offered to drive me 90 minutes each way to get some at a place that had it, but that just seemed to far, and I didn’t want to put him out.
Today I finally got lucky at Franks Automotive, a nondescript tiny repair shop. Old Frank had a case of 17 liters in the back of his shop, the exact amount I needed. He said, “I’ve had this for a while but I knew someone would buy it some day.” That someone was me, and today was the day. It felt like it was meant to be. Frank is an old wizard and we got to talking about outboards we like and don’t like. He even had one of his mechanics drive Mary and I back to the boat so we didn’t have to walk all the way back with 8 gallons of oil! Man, I love small Canadian towns.
With the oil onboard, we cruised 20 miles to the town of Little Current. Harbor Vue Marina had a 50 ton haul out, and they could haul me after lunch at 1pm. Another win! We arrived right before lunch, bought fuel, made sandwiches, and by the time I had my tools and filters organized, they were ready to go. I had to look through every nook of the boat for a missing oil filter. I always buy them in pairs and was sure that I had 2. Very strange to be one short. Being my lucky day, Harbor Vue had exactly the oil filters that I needed so I bought 5 more. Now I have 4 spares.
Anyways, 90 minutes later I had changed the lower unit oil, engine oil and oil filters. Mary was a big help passing me things and helping in general. I enjoyed doing the work myself, plus it saved me money by not hiring a mechanic.
As I was finishing up the marina owner, Kevin Rose, came and said hello. He mentioned there were squalls coming across Lake Huron’s North Bay, and offered us a free slip for the night. We graciously accepted his kind offer. Once the boat was splashed, we backed into a well protected slip, and Mary found us a Bed and Breakfast so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the storm.
The town was about a 3km walk so I grabbed a cold beer from our 12v fridge, and we started walking with our day packs. As we went up the road, Kevin saw us and waved us over to his house. He was grilling on his back porch. He told us that he would give us a ride if we could wait while he finished grilling up chicken and bacon wrapped shrimp. He also gave Mary a glass of wine. The appetizers were delicious and hit the spot after all the work!
Kevin dropped us at our room and waited in his pickup for a while we checked in. We then drove to The Trough for dinner. It’s a really nice local brewery in an old silo, with an outdoor bar and some of the best food we’ve had in a while. The cheese steak poutine was amazing.
We ate and chatted with Kevin for a few hours and learned about his life. He’s a First Nation member of the Ojibwa tribe, marina owner, father, business consultant, hunter, fisherman, and Chairman of the Canadian Economic Council. He is also obviously very kind, generous, and helpful to strangers and marina guests. The day we were there, he had towed in a sailboat with engine problems, and tomorrow after the storm, he’s taking his boat to haul a different stranded boat off the rocks. Talk about a stand up guy!
The bartender Vic is also friends with Big Willy, and we were once again treated like royalty by all these kind people. As the evening came to an end, Kevin drove us back to the hotel and we were a little sad to say goodbye to another new friend.
Some days on this trip have been difficult, but days like today, when everything just falls into place, make me feel grateful and lucky. We’re at the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
Party Sound to Killarney, Ontario
15 July 2018 | Killarney Eh!
Foggy with a chance of Big Willy
Underway Day 60:
We snuck out of Chris and Sarah’s house at 0800. We walked into town and tried to go to the local breakfast diner, but it doesn’t open until 10am, which seems a bit late for a breakfast place, but I’m not their consultant.
Striking out, we walked to the boat, and grabbed complimentary coffee at the marina. Once underway, we were again weaving through the rocky small craft channel at 26 knots. It was really exciting, beautiful and adventurous.
Then heavy fog set in, sometimes so thick we could hardly see the bow of the boat. My glasses fogged up as well. Now things were getting interesting. We would tread very slow and carefully when it was thick. Heading straight from marker to marker. Sometimes we wouldn’t be able to see the marker until it was 20 feet ahead, having to dodge it and avoid colliding. At least we knew we were on course! At times it would open up a bit to 1/4 mile visibility, and we could run. Then it would close in on us again. We did this for hours. Eventually the small craft channel ended, the sun came out, and we headed about 10 miles offshore into Lake Huron, taking the rhumb line direct to Killarney under blue skies. Along the way, I noticed that we have now exceeded the 2500 nm since we left St. Augustine on May 2.
As we approached Killarney, we could see a large number of float planes landing in the channel. This is a really cool town, and it reminds me of Ketchikan Alaska. We tied up at Roque’s marina, did some laundry, took showers, cleaned the boat, and had a nice meal at the Sportsman Inn next door. After dinner, we stumbled upon Big Willy’s Bait Shop. We had a few drinks, ate some amazing oysters and talked with Big Willy for hours. He has an amazing life story, having been a punk rock star, a professional athlete and motorbike racer, and now a feature film producer, father, and part time oyster shucker. We swapped stories, getting pretty deep into things. Willy became an instant friend.
As I fell asleep on the back deck of the Mombo, snuggled up under the mosquito net, I reflected on my conversation with Big Willy and the life knowledge he dropped on us. Meeting wonderful human beings like him is one of the best part about doing this trip. I hope our paths meet again some day.
Swift Rapids to Parry Sound
14 July 2018 | Parry Sound
Rocky with a chance of Big Chute!
Underway Day 59:
It rained on and off through the night. It was hard to get out of bed. We did the best we could to get the water off the tents, bagged them up, made coffee, croissant breakfast sandwiches, and got underway. This area is shallow and full of rocks and stumps, so Speed was kept to a leisurely coffee cruise through the sunning scenery.
Before we knew it, we were at The Big Chute, another engineering marvel, and as far as I know, the only such marine transport system in the world. Basically, you pull your boat onto a massive platform which is embedded with a multitude of hydraulically operated slings. The slings can be customized to fit virtually any size or shaped boat. In our case, they just put us right on the deck as the World Cat has no problem sitting flat on its own bottom. The entire platform then lifts out of the water on railroad type tracks, articulates to compensate for the hillside, and is pulled up and over a small hill on a cable driven rail system, and then down the other side into a lagoon.
The whole operation only took about 5 minutes. It was truly amazing and certainly a highlight of the trip so far. The videos just don’t do the experience justice. Once safely back in the water, we simply drove off in 10 feet of water.
A few miles up the river, we stopped to fuel up, pump out, and top off the water at Gloucester Port Marina, just before Port Severn. The owner here was incredibly friendly and informative and had ethanol free gas. He said that recently a group of four guys passed through doing the loop on giant Sea Doos. Apparently they were all geared up with tactical vests full of safety, communication, and navigational gear.
Once at Port Severn, we passed through our final lock until we reach Chicago. I added up all the locks we’ve transited since leaving home. From the first lock we did at Dismal Swamp until the final lock at Port Severn, we have now done 120 locks!
Leaving Severn and navigating the small craft channel was tricky. It’s practically a maze of boulders and rocks. Some areas are so dangerous they aren’t even charted. I’ve had numerous people tell me not to get even 20 feet out of the channel here or you’re done for!
It was scary but beautiful. Visibility was less than 1/4 mile. I had to stop a few times to get my bearings, find the next marker, and plan the next few turns. After a while, I got comfortable with the risk and how the area was marked. Then the sun came out and I could clearly see the hazards. It was exhilarating to be weaving in, out, and around boulders at 26 knots!
Mary and Space Cat kept a solid lookout and we called out the markers as we went through the rock system and into the fjord like entrance towards Parry Sound. This was a day of navigation I’ll never forget.
We arrived safely and tied up at Big Sound Marina. I gave Mombo a good scrub down and we dried out the tents in the sun and gentle breeze. The three of us hopped in a taxi. Space Cat’s friends, Chris and Sarah, had generously offered to put us up at their beautiful house for the night. Chris is a musician, artist, carpenter, and a glass blower and the house had a lot of character. It was Space Cat’s birthday, so Mary and I took her for a celebratory dinner. We then walked back to the house, exploring the town on Parry Sound along the way. It was a wonderful evening with new friends who treated us like family. We drank and laughed and told stories; it was a treat to sleep in a real bed. We had made it through one of the most dangerous sections of the trip and I had smiles for miles.
Lock #37 to Orillia to Swift Rapid Falls
13 July 2018 | Swift Rapid Falls
Rocky with a chance of Space Cat
Underway Day 58:
I snuck out of the tent at 0700 without waking my slumber buddies, Drew and Tessa. I made coffee and fried up a basic bacon breakfast for my crew. We broke down the boat camp and base camp and were underway and in the lock at 0900. It was a beautiful, sunny, calm morning with my favorite people. Sometimes you just wish days like these could last forever. We cruised through four locks along narrow hand cut canals. We were locking down and passing through the granite of the Canadian Shield, hand cut over 100 years ago.
Once we reached the open water of Lake Simco, I ordered the crew to hang onto their hats and pushed down the throttles and cranked up the tunes. We zipped across this large inland lake at 26 kts during beautiful weather. Sometimes the waves can get to be eight feet in here, but not today. We made the crossing in 30 minutes and entered the Port of Orillia. The swing bridge opened right up for us. We passed into a clear Caribbean like sandy bottom of aquamarine. It was hot, so I put in in neutral, and Drew and I jumped off the boat for a two minute swim.
I hailed the Port of Orillia marina on 68, and was assigned a free slip slip on the town wall. We tidied up the boat and walked into the local pub, Brewery Bay. It was a bittersweet farewell brunch feast, complete with deliciously spicy Bloody Caesar's. As we were finishing the meal, our friend Space Cat showed up, who had hitched a ride from Toronto to join us. She had bought a heavy load of supplies and a case of local brews from a local brewery that her friend owns. We introduced our new crew member to our departing crew strolled back to the boat.
Tessa's mom came to take her and Drew back to Toronto, and Connie arranged for a shuttle to the airport. It was sad to see our beloved crew depart, but we were excited to have Space Cat, aka Wolfie, aka H-Bomb, aka Hillary on board.
We cruised up Lake Orillia at speed and cranked the tunes, making good time through the rocks and locks. The lock at Couchichiing was notable for the friendly lock hands and funny name.
As we passed through another famous canal dig, the McDonald cut, Mary commented that this is the most beautiful part of the trio so far. It seems like she says that every day, and I can't really disagree with her. It seems like around each bend we are struck by more natural beauty. It just keeps getting better!
At Swift Rapid Falls, we locked down through a modern lock and a big drop in elevation. The campsite on the bottom was beautiful and perfect, so we tied up and decided to spend the night. We set up the teepee, pitched a tent for Space Cat, swam, and grilled up some ribs and kebabs. We caught up with Hillary about her work and personal life and shared stories.
The girls went for a walk and found a large mystery carcass, and then dragged me up to identify the mule deer. This is one of the few areas of Canada with poisonous rattlesnakes, which sometimes don't have rattles.
When the bugs got bad, we went into Space Cat's tent and had a tent party before heading off to bed in the cool night air.
Fenelon Falls to Lock #37
12 July 2018 | Fantastic Campsite with great company
Lift Locking down in high spirits
Underway Day 57:
I slept very well on the 3” thick Green River camping air mattress. It was the perfect temperature. I had the whole giant tent to myself, but at least there were no bugs. I actually slept too well and didn’t get up until around 0900. I was happy to see that my awesome sister crew were up early, and that they had already broken down the boat campsite. As soon as I had my tent bagged up, they arrived with coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Now that’s a great crew!
We took it easy through the narrow rock channels. There are lots of stumps and rocks in this area and it’s only 5-6’ deep. I can’t imagine the amount of labor of the mostly Irish and French immigrant laborers had to endure creating this section of the waterway in 1905. They hand cut through the solid granite of the Canadian Shield, using only hand saws, pick axes and shovels! Along the way, I was texting my friends who were inbound to rendezvous with the boat, and they were following us on my tracking device.
The timing worked out perfectly. We arrived at the Kirkfield Lift Lock shortly before Drew and Tessa showed up. Drew and I are jungle brothers from Costa Rica. We have had many bromantic, amazing adventures over the past 12 years, and he is one of my favorite people in the world. He is a man of many talents. He runs an eco resort near Uvita, called Rancho DiAndrew, where he does everything from surf and yoga retreats to guided waterfall tours. His jungle sir”thrival” skills are second to none. He’s also an excellent chef, fisherman, father, and all around guy you want to spend time with as much as possible.
Fortunately, Drew and his adventurous girlfriend happened to be returning from Europe via Toronto, and they managed to carve out some time on their layover to join us on part of our journey. Drew needs to get back to manage his resort, and Tessa needs to get up to North Bay, where she works as a Production Coordinator for a funny Canadian TV show called Letterkenny. Needless to say, I was super happy that they made such an effort to come meet us in the middle of nowhere.
Once they hopped on board, we descended down the Kirkfield Lift Lock. This one is even more thrilling that the Peterborough Lift Lock. The structure is not enclosed, so you feel like you are really hanging out there, suspended five stories in the air before dropping. We cruised, laughed, played music, went fishing, stopped for a swim, and transited down 2 more locks. Going through Hole in the Wall Bridge was unique, and we had all the swing bridges open for us without even having to put the boat in neutral.
In the early afternoon we stopped at lock 38, near Talbot. It was a secluded area on a small lake and narrow canal. The campsite was perfect, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We set up the tents, made drinks, and caught around 7 fish. Drew cooked up a first class meal. We played some music, and laughed into the night. Not even the mosquitos could slow down our good time. It was Pura Vida indeed.
Mary and Connie were in the teepee, so I slept in the big tent with Drew and Tessa. It was like a big kids slumber party. It’s been so nice to have family and friends join us these past few days. Like my Dad used to say, “There’s no point in having it, if you can’t share it with people you love.”
Burleigh Falls to Fenelon Falls
11 July 2018 | The Jewel of the Kawarthas
Blog Post 56:
Underway Day 56:
The mosquitos were kept away a bit by the smoldering fire, but I ended up sleeping under my trusty wool blanket from survival school. It wasn't too bad, but the sun did wake me earlier than I would have liked. We broke camp and were ready in time for the first lock opening. We met a nice couple from Florida and chatted with them as we went through 3 more locks.
The area opened up into some big lakes, and we were finally able to run again with the wind in our hair. We have some more special guests planned for tomorrow, so we made it a short day to help the timing work. The Mombo docked at Fenelon Falls, and tied up to the free wall near a nice park. This area has been inhabited by paleo Indians for 10,000 years. In 1615, explorer Samuel de Champlain travelled via the river system. Huron and Ojibway Indians inhabited the area. Fenelon Falls is referred to as the "Jewel of the Kawarthas." The Kawartha's lakes are coming up next. "Kawartha" is an Ojibwa word meaning "shining waters".
The sisters and I then went across the water to Murphy's Lockside Pub and enjoyed the afternoon chatting and watching the World Cup game. I also managed to get some much needed email, banking, and phone correspondence done, since Connie brought us our mail.
Tonight I did setup the big 12 person tent on land, right in the park next to the boat and lock #34. This has been a very special section of our journey. It seems as though there is more stunning beauty around every curve in the waterway, and each town and lock we have randomly arrived at has been fantastic. The Trent Severn Waterway is a truly unique system. This area lives up to its name: it is truly a gem with clear shining waters.
Peterborough to Burleigh Falls:
10 July 2018 | Burleigh Falls
Boats in bathtubs, going up!
Underway Day 55:
Last night we picked up a very special crew member! Mary’s sister Connie flew in from Florida to join us for the next 4 days. She has become like a sister to me as well. We have had many adventures together and have travelled together in Ireland, so I know we’ll make a good team.
After breakfast we got underway and headed to the Lift Lock. Peterborough lift lock is an engineering marvel and is the highest lift lock in the world. It was completed in 1904. You pull your boat into one of the dual lifting chambers. They are like big steel pools or bath tubs. Each one weighs 1300 tons! One side fills with water, balancing out the system, and then one extra foot of water is added, lifting the other side up 65 feet! It does not matter how many boats are in the pan, as a boat displaces its own weight in water. It was something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time and it did not disappoint.
The excruciatingly slow locks that followed were a bit frustrating. We’ve been spoiled by having so many locks to ourselves lately. Today we were with 4 other boats for most of the day, which wouldn’t normally be a problem, but one of the boat drivers was very slow and incompetent. He just didn’t know how to drive his boat or basic techniques. It would take him up to 4 attempts to tie off, sometimes getting totally sideways, despite his excessive use of his bow thruster. Combined with his slow pace and the yelling at his elderly feeble wife, it became more frustrating with each lock. Thankfully no boats were damaged and we all made it through safely.
After we finally got out of the last lock, we stopped to pump out the holding tank, top off the water, and the sisters went to The Beer Store nearby. Back underway, we passed through some of the most beautiful scenery of the whole trip in Stony Lake. Its beauty was tough to take in because it is also very shallow and full of stumps and giant rocks. Fortunately, the only rocks we discovered were the ones above the waterline.
At then end of the day, we found one of the best camp sites yet at Burleigh Falls. We tied off to a lock wall in the shade, complete with picnic table and fire pit. The lockmaster sold us some firewood and we took a stroll over to the waterfalls and bought some fresh fruit and butter tarts.
After setting up camp, Mary got a beautiful fire started. Another boat was nearby and he came to ask me if I knew anything about marine electrical systems. He was a new boater and his power was completely out. I looked through his electrical panel, fuses, and battery connections and explained to him some basics about battery systems and how to maintain them. It took me a few minutes asking him some questions, but I was able to troubleshoot the problem, get his engine stared, throw some selector switches, and get his batteries charging up off the alternator and running again in about 10 minutes. As I prepared the coals to start grilling, he and his wife came back and gifted us a nice bottle of wine, thanking us profusely for saving their romantic weekend getaway. It felt nice to help out a new boater.
It took some patience on the part of my hungry crew, but the Grill Sargent didn’t bend. Good things come to those who wait for perfect coals. I grilled up some pork kebabs, chicken kebabs, chicken wings and bratwurst. Mary and Connie had bought some macaroni salad and potato salad as sides. It was a delectable meal of smoky grilled protein. The girls retired to the teepee tent. An hour later when I went to inflate my new narrow air mattress, I realized it was too wide to fit in the center walkway like I had planned, doh! I was too tired to set up the tent, so I just went back by the fire, and slept out under the stars.
Hastings to Peterborough, Ontario
08 July 2018 | C Dock!
Good times with a chance of night riding
Underway Day 54:
We got underway early and had a nice easy run across Rice Lake. Once off the lake and into the Otanabee River, we stopped and dropped anchor at what looked like a perfect spot to fish. It was mid day, and I think the water was too warm.
It was a very crowded Sunday and we would have to start and stop repeatedly for various small boats, kayaks, cables, etc. This was a beautiful river, and we enjoyed the scenery. Some sections were very windy and deep and it was exhilarating to zip through at speed. Others sections had beautiful summer homes, boat garages, sea planes, and families out enjoying the beautiful Sunday weather.
We arrived in Peterborough, fueled up, and pulled into a slip on C Dock at the marina. The bar was lively but it was hot and crowded. We explored the quaint town and had a nice lunch. When we returned back to the boat, there was a party going on C Dock.
They insisted that we join them and shoved cold beers and warm moonshine at us. This was a very fun loving local community, many of them live aboard their boats during the summer months. The guys enjoyed watching me set up the teepee tent and all approved. At around 11 pm, the only sober guy took us out for a night ride around the massive, illuminated Peterborough fountain up the dark river under the stars. It was a very special local experience, and we had a fireman, ex-cop, tool foreman, hotel manager, nurse, and boat captain with us.
Lock #8 to Hastings, Ontario
07 July 2018 | Hastings Free Wall
Sunny with a chance of classic cars
Underway Day 53:
It was a chilly night on the aft deck. Sometimes the best way to warm up is to enjoy the sunrise, so I crept out of bed and rigged up my fishing pole, casting into the smoky calm water. Having no luck while some big Muskie teased me, I warmed up a bit more by boiling water on the camp stove and put some coffee in the stainless French press. It was peaceful, quiet and remote. It was the kind of morning where you can hear the other fisherman talking across the water.
Once the lock opened, we locked up alone. We continued to lock and move a few miles at a time. They were all big lifts, 25 vertical feet or thereabouts. After going up 50 feet at the flight locks and swing bridge in Campbellford lock 12, we noticed increasing amounts of people.
Beautiful classic cars were lined up into the horizon along the canal. We had just stumbled upon an annual tradition, Chrome on the Canal.
As far as the eye could see along the canal were classic cars, bikes, snowmobiles, airplanes, go carts, food vendors and tent shops. We pulled over immediately and tied up the the free wall. A little boy, about five, was trying to get away from his parents at the car show to come look at our boat. Boat, mommy, boat! We were literally the only boat at the car show! Mary and I had kept a tiny toy boat, given to us as a trinket gift a few days before, so we gave it to the boy. He was so happy, and so were we.
The various vehicles were lined up for 1.1 miles along the canal between the lock and the town. We walked and gawked our way to lunch. My favorites were the Indian Bike, the Bronco, The Scooby Doo Van, the A-Team Van, and a few of the old pickups. The El Camino was another standout. We are talking hundreds of classic vehicles, so they were all amazing, but I do love the weird ones that you never see or discovering a low production brand I’ve never heard of.
We had a nice lunch in town, walked back another mile through the show, and then boated slowly along the show a third time. It’s fun to notice the things you miss the first few times.
The rest of the day was straightforward. Another six locks and some beautiful houses and open lakes. Mary drove while I washed the boat down with the raw water pump. It drains better this way, and this water is very fresh and clean.
We arrived in Hastings. 40 people were fishing off the lock wall, where it is illegal. This is a big pet peeve of mine. It’s illegal for a reason, because the broken lines in this confined space can get caught in boater’s running gear. Last time I had monofilament caught in my transmission it cost me $3000 to rebuild it. There are plenty of legal places to fish only a few hundred feet away. I asked the lock master, and he says it’s a big problem. He kicks them out but they come back in droves and will actually fish while standing on the “no fishing signs” painted on the wall. I emailed the head of Parks Canada about this and he called me back to assure me that he is heading there tomorrow to implement stricter enforcement of these no fishing zones.
We settled in to our free spot on the wall, near a park above the lock, and away from most of the fisherman. There was a live acoustic show a short distance away and we enjoyed the music while we set up for the night and watched the sunset. We then walked around the corner to McGilliCaffey’s Pub for drinks and dinner.
Mary turned in early, so I got caught up on some work and writing. The entire time, I listened to an awesome acoustic set coming from the Hastings House Bar across from the street from where I sat on the boat. The musician played excellent covers and inspiring lyrical originals.
He played a moving original song called “The Best That I Can Be.” I was so inspired that I walked right into the bar. The song finished. There were only a few people there, and all eyes were on the new guy, so I walked right up to the stage, told him that I’d been listening from my boat for the past few hours and handed him a $20 bill out of gratitude for the inspiring entertainment.
Sheldon Renouf is his name. After his set, I bought him a few drinks and we got to know each other a bit. He has an album coming out in December and I’m looking forward to buying it. At 0200, it was time to sneak quietly into the teepee.
Lost and Found!
06 July 2018 | Trent Severn Waterway Lock #8
2’ visibility with a chance of finding a bolt
Underway Day 52:
Yesterday was Mary’s birthday, so we took the day off. I got caught up on some work, while Mary enjoyed various spa treatments in town. We then went to see a great movie, called Adrift, and went for pizza.
Today was finally much cooler, but sunny and quite windy. We departed from Trenton at elevation of 243 feet and began working our way up. We will go through 33 locks until we reach an elevation of 840 feet above sea level. From that point we will lock down 12 times and come out in Georgian Bay on Lake Huron at 576’ above seal level.
We stopped at lock 6 and ate some leftovers and did some trip planning. I bought a fishing license last night, so we decided to go a few more locks and slowly troll along the way. I tried various lures while we trolled on one engine at 2 knots for 4 hours. This gave me an opportunity to think through possible causes of a new problem I’ve been having with the old engine. There has been a rough idle and strange vibration on the starboard engine, so while we were trolling with just the port engine, I sprayed some carb cleaner into the idle control valve, and replaced the fuel filter on starboard and added some ring free additive as a filter primer in a shock treatment. Once the fuel was primed, we trolled with the stbd engine to see if the fuel treatment would help free up something that might be clogged in the injection system. I then also replaced the port fuel filter while underway with the misfiring stbd engine. I was concerned that it could be the lower unit that was rebuilt 2 years ago, but felt confident I could rule that out as the cause of the vibration. I couldn’t feel any vibration coming from the lower unit. The problem seemed to be in the power head, and bad ignition timing. I’ve always been an inboard marine diesel guy, so these big gas outboards are relatively new to me. I’ve only been working on them for a few years, but I’m starting to feel like I understand them better and trolling and fishing have me time to think about how to fix it.
We arrived fishless at the bottom of lock 8 at sunset. It was calm and empty. I became convinced that the likely cause was the spark plugs. I dug out my spares, and Mary helped pass me tools while I hung off the back of the boat, undoing the bolts, electrical connectors, pulling the plugs, putting in new ones, etc.
Murphy’s law apparently dictates that immediately after you politely tell your wife that we need to be careful, move slow, and be methodical, you drop a critical bolt in the water. Without this bolt, there’s no way to keep the boot connected to the spark plug. Losing this could be a show stopper!
I kept my cool, remained calm, grabbed my mask, got in my underwear and prayed I could find it in the next 10 minutes, ie, before dark.
It was 12 feet deep, 2 foot visibility, and a silty bottom covered in sea grass! Shit! This was going to be a tough mission. On my first few dives, I confirmed that the odds were against me of finding this bolt in a weed stack. I had to back away from the props and ladder, dive down forward, let out my air to descend, do the bottom search without stirring up the silt, and then gently ascend backwards without stirring up the bottom or cutting my head open on the prop.
Two gentle recon dives confirmed I wouldn’t find it, or I would kill the visibility, and maybe hurt myself, if I didn’t come up with a better plan. I decided to narrow the search area and gain snorkel buoyancy control by dropping my stern anchor gently right between the props and the dive platform, exactly where the bolt fell. I tied off the anchor. I then grabbed my underwater dive light because it was getting dark.
I took a breath, descended the chain, and looked. Visibility was not yet disturbed but only 2 feet. Sure enough, the bolt was 2” away from the anchor! The anchor had also flattened the grass! The light shined and reflected off the stainless steel. I smiled to myself through my snorkel, and gave an underwater woohoo! I ascended with my treasure in hand after the first dive!
I was pretty pleased with myself, but Mary was underwhelmed. She was itching to make camp because she was itching with mosquito bites. She was a great helper though, and she Lot a Vito ella candle and mosquito coil to help us tough it out in the clouds of bugs.
20 minutes later, as darkness set in, all 6 new spark plugs were installed, the engine fired, and she purred like a kitten. The vibration was now gone! The 4th plug I pulled had a noticeable lack of gap, and I’m pretty sure that’s all it was, one misfiring cylinder.
I hustled to get the teepee tent and mosquito net up in a new record time of 5 minutes. I suffering a bit with the bug bites, but I didn’t care. I felt like a champion out here today in the remote canals of Canada.
Kingston to Trenton:
04 July 2018 | Trent Port
Sunny with a chance of amphibious weed scooping machines
Underway Day 51:
Happy America Day!
We enjoyed a nice free breakfast at the hotel, walked around town, and bought some more camping gear and things for the boat. One of the young women at the checkout gave us a laugh when she said, “Isn’t this your Independence Day?” Then she wished us a “Happy America Day!” We explained that we just call it The Fourth of July, ya know, like Cinco De Mayo, without the tacos. We couldn’t stop laughing all day, and would periodically wish each other Happy America Day.
We did some cleaning and wiped the boat with 303 aerospace protectant while we chatted with our friends who were docked next door.
Once underway, it was fairly straightforward navigation from Kingston to Trenton. We covered the ~60 nautical miles in a little over 2 hours. The fresh breeze felt great in the 95 degree heat.
Once we arrived at Trent Port Marina, we met some guys working on their boat, so I loaned them some tools and made them a Vodka Soda Lime using my .01 micron filter in the head sink, and the Soda Stream. Why buy cans of soda and plastic water bottles, when we can make better quality water onboard from the tanks, and carbonize it much cheaper?
We are about to enter the Trent Severn Waterway, which I’ve been looking forward to for the past 9 months. It connects Lake Ontario to Lake Huron, bypassing Lake Erie.
Native people had been using this area as a waterway by portaging from one lake and river system to another from time immemorial. In 1780, the construction of a lock system was first proposed, but the first lock wasn’t built until 1833 at Bobcaygeon. The Trent Severn Waterway took nearly 90 years to complete, with bits and pieces of construction spurred on by military, economic and political forces. That first lock had many problems and wasn’t built at the correct height. It was also built on porous rock and was too small. It was abandoned for a period and then rebuilt in 1838. Even then it was considered too small and was mostly used to move logs. Over the intervening years between 1837 to 1920, more locks and dams were gradually constructed, with the dual purpose of both moving goods and providing large amounts of hydroelectric power for the region. This system has 3 extremely unique locks, but I’ll describe those later when we get to them. In total there are 42 locks, 2 Lift Locks, and one Marine Railway!
Trent Port is an awesome marina; very well run by the city of Qunite West. They even had little amphibious skimmer boats driving around. They would scoop up the prolific weeds and grass, and then drive them up onto land and into a waiting pickup with trailer, before heading back out to clean up more weeds. I would love to see something like this working the river mouths and harbors around the world to scoop up plastic before it gets washed out to Sea.
Upper Brewers to Kingston:
03 July 2018 | Kingston, Ontario
Hot with Air Conditioning
Underway Day 50:
Today was another day of lots and lots of locks. We officially finished the Rideau Canal, as we passed through lock 47. We fueled up at Kingston Marina, and I made a run to The Beer Store to buy some Canadian Moosetrack Lager. We then went around the corner and docked at Confederation Basin, right in the heart of town. There was a nice hotel nearby, so we booked a room, as we’ve been living outside in this oppressive heat for a while now. We both bought some made in Canada Tilly sun hats, and some camping gear. Next door, we shared a nice meal at Che Piggy. Further up the road, we found a small local cinema and enjoyed a film, before heading back to the Air Conditioned hotel room.
Chaffeys to Upper Brewers Locks:
02 July 2018 | Upper Brewers Lock
Hot with a chance of sore left nipple
Underway Day 49:
This morning we woke up and had a nice breakfast at the Opinicon Resort, a short walk from the boat. We then spent quite a while cleaning off all the pine needles that had fallen into the boat. It took several hot hours to get through the flight of 4 step locks at Jones Falls, which we did with 6 other boats. I periodically took showers on the back deck as we locked down.
We considered stopping at Shangri La Marina and Resort for the night with some new friends we met, but after they charged us $50 to pump out the half empty holding tank, we decided to leave and tie up for free somewhere down the waterway.
Next stop, we took a detour into Seeley’s Bay, and tied up at the municipal marina for free for a few hours. It was almost 100 degrees, so we stopped for ice cream and went shopping at the local market for snacks and provisions.
We went through another swing bridge that was opened for us by hand pushing, and then tied up for the night at Upper Brewers lock, where we went for another swim. Mary said that the little fish were nibbling at her feet. I thought nothing of it, but as soon as I jumped in, one of those Sunfish bit me hard, right on the nipple! It stung quite a bit, and was a rough introduction to breastfeeding.
After taking showers, we got the charcoal grill going and hung out with two lovely Canadian families and their kids. It was nice to be with people eating family style at their picnic table, laughing, eating grilling and getting local knowledge about out next stop, Kingston, which is their home port.
At around 9:30, they all snuck off and ran for cover. It took us a few days to notice but we’ve now realized that you’ll never see a Canadian in the wild between the hours of 9:15-10:30 PM. We had to jump in the tent, and into our mosquito refuge. They come out looking to suck our blood so we call it a night.
Happy Canada Day!
01 July 2018 | Chaffey’s Lock
Hot with no chance of mosquitoes
Underway Day 48:
Last night we were mobbed by mosquitoes. The teepee tent, with all tiny gaps spayed with deet, was a solid first line of defense, but enough of them got in to be a major nuisance. Add to this the fact that it had been 95 degrees all day, and the night wasn’t much cooler. Mosquitos are attracted to CO2 and body heat, and I was sweating just laying in bed. Fortunately, I had planned ahead for this problem and purchased a mosquito/no-see-um net off of amazon. I was able to mount it to the underside of the teepee top stainless eye bolt, using a zip tie that has a screw mount hole. It fit perfectly over the bolt, creating a loop to hang it from. Add a small carabiner and some para cord, and the height is adjustable. The net hangs perfectly over the bed and gets tucked in to various spots on the gunwake and under the mattress. It worked like a charm. It’s an uncanny perfect fit, almost like I engineered it that way! I opened the netted vents on the tent, and took a few Benadryl. Then I slept soundly like a big, bug free baby the rest of the night.
Happy Canada Day, Eh! That’s right, today is a major holiday in Canada and it was 95 degrees and sunny. Mary and I walked a few hot minutes up the road and discovered a nice breakfast diner called “The Roosterant.” After that we walked a bit further to the local Walmart and bought some food, provisions, and some mosquito repellent, citronella candles, and coils.
Once back underway, we noticed that everyone and their grandma was out on the water. There was a 45 foot charter/canal house boat group in the first lock with us.
You can tell you’re in for some entertainment when the entire boat has permanently installed large rubber rub rail crash bumpers at every spot surrounding the boat, in a grid pattern from the waterline to the gunwale. This boat was born to crash.
I insisted he go first. I’m glad I did. As he entered the lock, he made a nice approach before things went haywire. Even with a bow thruster, he somehow managed to get cattywompus, make a 90 degree right turn and crash bow first into the wall! That’s actually harder to do than you think.
We glided in, and tied up behind him. Mary politely asked how many locks he would be going through. Oftentimes, you can be locking thru with the same boats multiple times for the better part of the day, and we didn’t want to be anywhere near this guy.
As he departed, one of his crew was not instructed to untie the stern line, but he put in in gear anyways while tied off firmly to the wall. That was certainly not going to get him very far, but it acted nicely as a spring line and the crash bumpers got their second durability test vs the solid granite walls.
After he pulled out, the lock master, a mind reader, said, “Don’t worry, eh, once you get out of the narrow cut ahead, it opens up into a big lake and you can let er rip. They put governors on those charter boats. I expect those twin V8 250’s won’t have any trouble beating him to the next lock. I’ll let them know you’re coming and they’ll have it ready for you.” I really do love these lock masters. Mary and I are going to get more cold drinks to pass out to them, as they really appreciate it in this heat.
Out on the lake, at speed, we got mobbed by another group of Jet Ski’s, like Dennis Hopper’s tanker crew from Waterworld.
I’ve decided that rather than get frustrated by them jumping the wake, (which is totally illegal in FL, by the way) that I should get some entertainment out of it as well. I led them to a safe open water spot, with a wide channel, and away from other boats. I dialed it back to 3600 rpm’s, and tilted up the engines, throwing a massive 4-5’ wake. They got launched, over and over again. It was fun. One sea doo was a couple and they were having a good time but playing it safe, but getting fully airborne. The other single guys were going for it. One of the guys on a stand up ski got some major air, and smartly bailed out at about 12-15 feet in the air. He landed safely but his ski submarined and came back up, upside down. I slowed. We saw him give his friends the OK signal. He couldn’t start his ski. We confirmed that he was going to be ok, and his buddies stopped to assist. Then continued on our way across the huge open lake to the next lock.
This was a hot day. Mary and I stopped to swim at least 5 times. You could feel the heat coming off your body in the water. We idled through narrow cuts in the rock between lakes, listening to the stand up comedy channels on Sirius. It was nice to see families and groups of friends camping, grilling, floating around on rafts, etc. We would wave, and almost every group said something nice to us.
Lots of people like Mombo. There isn’t another boat like her anywhere in this area, and we get lots of compliments and questions.
We passed the highest point in the system. We now start going back down, and the red and green channel markers switched sides. We made if safety to Chaffey’s lock, named after a guy who had a wood mill here in the 1820’s. He tried to stop the British from building the waterway. Eminent domain of the crown, and a well armed engineering crew managed to blast their way through the granite bedrock on his land, and about 200 years later, we locked down without incident.
This is a popular spot on Canada day and it was full, but the lockmaster was friendly and he let us tie up on the blue wall, normally reserved for boats waiting to lock up, for the night. We went for a quick swim, made quicker by a swimming snake nearby. We grilled chicken and rib eyes at the campsite area a few feet away from the boat. We had hoped to go to town for the celebrations, but the main power station was down, and the Opinicon Resort had closed down due to no hydro power.
The mosquitos came again, but this time we were prepared with candles, coils, and “double hulled” netting. Humans are winning tonight. Suck on that mosquitos!
Secluded anchorage to Smith’s Falls
30 June 2018 | Rideau Canal
Historical with a touch of modernity
Underway Day 47:
Just when you thought life couldn’t get any better, it does. This canal system is amazing!
The Rideau Canal was built by the British between 1826 and 1832 to assist the defense of Canada after the war of 1812. It is the oldest continuously operated canal in N. America. It is 125 miles long, of which 12 miles are man made locks and canal cuts. It connects Ottawa to Kingston. There are 45 locks in 23 lock stations. It rises 166.2 feet and then defends 275 feet. Most of the back breaking heavy manual labor was done by Irish and French Immigrants. Most of the locks are still operated by hand, using the same mechanisms. The quality of the masonry and machinery, and its durability through so many summers and winters in an aquatic environment, is phenomenal. It is living history, and in 2007 was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a slack water canal, which makes it virtually current free.
Today we woke up at our anchorage and continued our trip starting at locks 13-15. We did 17 locks today, a new record! Not a single other boat with us at any of them. We watched amazing pristine nature as we cruised by, and felt like we had the whole world to ourselves. We passed plenty of beautiful summer homes and a handful of kayakers and tubers. Another good boat name we saw was “Haggis McBagpipe.” One of the many large swing bridges was even hand operated. One minute trucks are going over it. The next minute, two young female lock attendants push it, by hand, and swing it out of our way. It weighs tons, but was perfectly balanced. I love simple, old, and effective engineering.
Mary and I are getting pretty good at this and are becoming a great team, a well oiled lock machine. I’m getting extremely good and maneuvering this vessel up and into some tight quarters and avoiding slimy walls. While pulling into one lock, my hydraulic steering developed an air leak while the helm was turned hard over. This caused minor embarrassment at exactly the wrong time, but I was going slow and managed to correct the problem with Mary’s help and a spring line. Once through the lock, I tied up, tightened the fitting, and topped off the steering fluid. We were back underway in minutes. How did I know where the problem was? I zip tie wrap each hydraulic fitting in tiny pieces oil absorbent rags to trace any leaks, so that I can diagnose and repair these typical issues quickly.
We ended the day at Smith’s Falls, lock 29C. The C stands for combined, as it is one of the only modern locks. In 1974, they combined three 1832 locks into one big lock. The old abandoned locks are cool to see, because nature has already begun to take them back. I hope they hold though, because we are tied to a free city wall 50 feet away and 35 feet above! That would be a navigational challenge I don’t even want to contemplate!
High step locks and Low Bridges
29 June 2018 | Rideau Canal Locks 13-15
Tiny Bridges, Big LeBoatSki
Underway Day 46:
We woke up, cleaned the boat, and were at the Ottawa step locks #’s 1-8 by 0900 so that we could be in the first group to go up. We met some nice people on the other 5 boats while we spent 2 hours going up a series of 8 “step” locks, one after the other. It’s really interesting to head right through the heart of the city and under the parliament building. It was hot, and the waterway was packed as everyone is descending on the city by boat for the upcoming Canada day. We are ascending, and getting out of here to avoid the crowds. There were large crowds of onlookers watching us go through, and people were surprised that our little Mombo has come all the way from Florida.
Once in the heart of downtown Ottawa, we googled the nearest coffee shop and I parked the boat on the city wall 500 feet away. Mary went to get some coffee while I ordered a new VHF remote mic on Amazon. I cleaned the connections and applied dialectic grease. I can get it to work but the plug is going bad. I have 2 backup handhelds but I want my primary reliable, and the new gadget has more features.
Our loooper friends came up in the second group. We met up with them in Dow’s Lake, topped off the gas tanks and had a nice lunch at the Irish pub with Mike and Cindy from Wine Speed.
After lunch we cruised up the river at our new speed limit for the Rideau Canal 10 km/hr or 5.5kts. One of the lift bridges was only ~10’ in the down position. It was rush hour, so rather than inconvenience the city, we lowered all our antennas, outriggers and flag pole and crept under with 8” to spare. At the next lock, we met long term resident “Bob” the giant snapping turtle, who is apparently a female that has lived there for years. Chatting with the friendly lockmaster, we were were told the next lift bridge was broken and only 9’6” clearance.
Upon arrival at the broken bridge, I talked the bridge master into letting me try to creep under, agreeing I would be fully responsible if I damaged my radar. If not able to fit, we would be stuck there for several hours baking in the sun, and likely overnight. We slipped by at a snails pace, Mary and the bridge tender keeping a sharp eye, and had almost 4” to spare. I was sweating a bit, and not just from the heat.
At one point upstream, one of the many kayakers didn’t hear me behind him and kept zigzagging in front of me in the channel every time I maneuvered to pass him. I went to give him a friendly beep on the horn and it wasn’t working. I still have a secondary, much louder, horn as part of my hailer, so I decided to fix it later.
After several more locks, we entered a no wake zone and a stand up jet skier (not a sea douche) asked if he could jump our wake. He was polite about it, and looked good, so I went into plow position, throwing a big 5’ wake for him and he launched about 10 feet in the air and 20 feet across. This guy had talent. There were lots of slalom skiers in this section, and they were all excellent, throwing big walls of spray. My favorite boat name of the trip passed us, “Big LeBoatSki”
We weren’t in a hurry, as the next triple locks were closing. We found a perfect little cove half a mile from the next locks, so we dropped the hook, rather than tie up to the free wall. We ate our to go dinner, which we purchased during lunch at the Irish pub. We went for a swim, made a vodka soda with the soda stream, and watched a perfect sunset.
I found a bad connection on the horn, done poorly by the previous owner. I repaired it properly in 10 minutes with a heat shrink butt connection and it’s now ready to honk again.
Bugs galore and a big lift
28 June 2018 | Ottawa City
Bugs with a chance of more bugs
Underway Day 45:
When we arrived back at the boat this morning it was covered in literally thousands of dead bugs. They appeared to be some sort of dragonfly nymphs. They are called epheradies. They only live for a day. I think it was because we docked under a streetlight on the quayside. They were everywhere. In every crack. They were all dead, but wet from the rain. I could see that they might dry out, get stuck and possibly leave bug stains on my freshly waxed boat.
We spent the next hour using the raw water pump and hose sprayer, brushing and cleaning every last one. I've never seen anything like it. Fortunately the full enclosure was down, so we only had to do the forward and aft cockpits. Only a handful made it inside. It was crazy. I was scooping them from the scupper drains by the handful. The fish liked it every time I threw a few hundred into the water.
We ran upstream on the Ottawa River at 26 knots. We passed our flotilla of new friends (making 7 knots) on the way, even though we departed 2.5 hours after they did. It was a hurry up and wait day. We beat everyone to the lock, but the timing was off. We read and did some trip planning while we waited for an hour. This is a huge lift at 20m (66ft), so it takes an hour. By the time we got the green light, all 6 trawlers were there and the lockmaster packed us in like sardines. I made a GoPro time-lapse.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We passed well astern of a few more of those weird cable driven ferries, but mostly had the river to ourselves.
We arrived in Ottawa and tied up to a dock near the Museum of History, which has many exhibits dedicated to indigenous cultures.
Mary went for a walk in the plant sculpture garden and I went to the pub to write and had an amazing burger made with beef, bacon, and duck confit.
When we went to inflate the air mattress, the 12v plug adapter we were using shorted and blew a fuse. I was able to diagnose the problem quickly. I pulled a fuse from the spares I carry and we were in bed 5 minutes later. We had a nice quiet night in the teepee, sleeping soundly.
Montreal to St Anne De Bellevieu
27 June 2018 | St. Anne Lock
Going up with a chance of demons.
Underway Day 44:
Montreal was a great Island city. I wish we had more than 3 days to get to know it, but I know we’ll be back. We took an open air double decker bus tour and learned about the history and architecture. It’s a very cosmopolitan, diverse, bilingual city with a large gay village, China Town, Latin Quarter, music sector, underground city, etc. They have the largest jazz fest in the world with about 3000 performances over 10 days! During prohibition, the red light district was full of speakeasies. Now it’s the music district. They still turn on the red lights, but it now means there is live music inside. Montreal also has the largest underground city in the world, with 2000 shops, and it’s 19 miles long, all underground. The Molson brewery claims to be the oldest brewery in the world, and you can smell it from miles around. The gay village has 180,000 colored balls hanging over the streets to make the largest rainbow flag in the world.
We got off at the Museum of Modern art and met up with my friend Carolane Vyvyen, who Is an costume artist and marine archeologist that I worked with on the shipwrecks in St. Augustine. She was always one of my favorite crew members over 2 dive seasons. We met up at the Churchill Pub and had a nice hang while watching the World Cup. I was supposed to take her for a boat ride in exchange for maple syrup from her family farm, but she recently got married and bought a new house. That trade will have to wait until we return next summer on the big boat we plan to buy, and our next ocean going voyage, the path of the Vikings.
On the last morning as we passed by the park near the Notre Dame Basilica. There was a fountain with 4 bronze figures, which we had been admiring and googling the evening before. There were bronze figures of a native warrior, a city founder, a woman and a trapper. We noticed a commotion and a whole city crew working on the statue. Apparently someone had thrown red paint all over it the night before, as some sort of protest against the founders of the city and the perceived cultural insensitivity towards the First Nations. I don’t care what your point is, defacing beautiful bronze art is not a way to endear your position to the masses. I would probably be sympathetic to their views, but totally disagree with this style of activist tactic. Judging people who lived 350 years ago during the colonization period and clash of civilizations with our modern viewpoints is short sighted. Our modern take on history is certainly different, but history should be viewed from all sides, with an open mind, and debated freely without trashing the memorial art. If the people of Montreal decide the statue is now considered irrelevant or inappropriate, it should be removed and put in a museum, but it shouldn’t be desecrated. The bronze work of the Iroquois warrior was beautiful, as was the work depicting the man Closse, who brought war to them before he was killed. History is history, right or wrong, and we better learn it if we don’t want it to repeat itself. Throwing paint on it in the middle of the night is cowardly. Stand up, make your point. Be heard. Articulate your argument. Advocate for change. Vote to have it taken down. Whatever you decide, covering it in red paint is counterproductive.
Anyways... back to boating.
We settled up at the marina, bought some propane for the stove and marine toilet paper, pumped out the holding tank, and motored out of the breakwater and downstream with the 6 knot swirling current. At one point, we were doing 36 knots! We stopped at a fuel dock, topped off and motored into the ship canal, past some massive tankers towards the Lambert lock. We waited for about 45 minutes for a ship to pass through. It’s amazing to watch, mostly because the ships are literally just a few inches narrower than the lock. It’s a tight fit! All of the 15 big ships we saw that day had hull top sides that were severely scraped from stem to stern. We paid $30 at the kiosk, as these locks aren’t part of the park system. We had the whole massive lock to ourselves. Same deal again at St Catherine’s lock. This one was even more massive, and we went up about 45 feet. The walls make strange noises like demons are trapped inside the lock walls. It’s spooky, especially with the echo chamber effect. We felt trapped and lonely. Then we could finally see the faces of the guys who had dropped lines to us from high above, perfectly tossing them right onto our heads. Thankfully they were clean and dry.
Once through, we motored upriver in the cut, and back out into the extremely wide St Lawrence Seaway. We took a turn through some marked shallows and toward the lovely town of St. Anne de Belleview. The docks were packed with boats, and a dozen restaurants lined the waterfront. There was some weather on the horizon and on my chart plotter with the Sirius Weather overlay. Basically just like what you see on your iPhone radar, but overlaid on my charts. We decided to call it a day after we passed this lock, which was only like a 1 foot lift around the rapids.
The lock master was friendly and she told us we could tie up on the wall upstream for the night. She recommended the Thai restaurant, so we went there.
During dinner, we noticed there were 3 looper boats, Wine Speed, Magic, and Band Wagon. I recognized the names from the AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association) forum. After dinner we shouted ahoy at their docktail party. They invited us aboard Wine Speed, so we bought another bottle of Montepulchiano and hopped aboard. Mike and Cindy were great hosts, and it was an honor to finally meet “Captain Crusty”. I’ve been enjoying his writing on the forum for about a year. Joe from Band Wagon is a music teacher/band leader. Dorothy and Rhonda were also very kind.
Since we can’t outrun them in the Rideau Canal, where the speed limit is 5.5 kts or 10km/hr, I’m pretty sure we just made new friends.
Chambly to Montreal vía Saint Ours Lock/ Richelieu Rivière
25 June 2018 | Mont Royal
Fast current with a chance of Poutine
Underway Day 43:
It was a cold and rainy summer night in Canada. We kept each other warm in the teepee, me in my survival wool blanket and Mary in her nano polymer modified down “sea to summit” sleeping bag. By sunrise the weather had cleared. We unsnapped and untied the teepee, and hoisted it up the outriggers to hang and dry in the morning sun. We then walked up alongside the locks in search of breakfast, bumping into Crows Nest once again. They were locking down the step locks into the lake and we hailed bon voyage.
Google helped us find a perfect spot, where we did our best to order cafe au lait and Dejunee at the mostly French speaking diner. Breakfast was some sort of green smoothie, eggs and an assortment of meats over potatoes au gratin, accompanied by a buttered baguette. Just what the doctor ordered.
Once back at the boat, our gear was dry, and the dew had lifted. We untied the lines into a sunny but brisk 15 knot breeze, enough to cause baby white caps on the lake. Mombo cut through the chop without issue and we zoomed up the Richelieu River for 30 nautical miles, occasionally slowing down for various small boats, paddle boarders, kayaks and marinas.
A few hours later we reached the Saint Ours Lock, and the two young women tied off our lines to a floating dock inside the lock. This was great, because we no longer had to fend off the boat from slimy lock walls or tend lines as we drop. It was almost too easy. We were fixed to the dock and the dock dropped.
The rest of the 50 mile run up the river and into the St. Lawrence Seaway was uneventful. The current was between 4-6 knots and going against us, so our speed over ground was reduced to 20 knots. Other than a massive cargo ship and a few sea doos jumping our wake, there was little traffic. The wind was up, and the current against us, but we glided over the rough waters and made decent progress. Once again, while this open boat makes some sacrifices in comfort, being able to run up current like this is a major win. Many of the trawlers that do this trip at 5-7 knots would find themselves making little headway or even going backwards in some of these currents.
The VHF chatter was all in French, which I can only half understand, but the Quebec Coast Guard makes announcements in both languages. As we approached downtown Montreal, the current was ripping and the swirling back eddies were very powerful. Fortunately, the Montreal Yacht Club has a breakwater and is tucked into a cove. We backed into our tight slip perfectly and the college aged dock hands gave me a “tre bien” as they tied us off.
Mary worked her internet magic and found us an awesome last minute deal on a small privately owned condo run by Westin, right in the heart of old town, for only $100/night!
We locked up the boat, grabbed our packs, and walked 1.5 miles along the beautiful old city waterfront, past the Notre Dame Basilica and settled into our comfy home for the next few nights.
Nothing against living outside and sleeping on an air mattress, but we’re looking forward to a good nights sleep in a real bed, and most importantly, culture, history, and POUTINE!
Chambly Canal, Locks 9 through 1
24 June 2018 | Chambly
Happy Cranking Lock Masters
Underway Day 42:
At 0900, we broke down a rain soaked teepee and spoke to the new friendly bridge tender, Antoine. I don't know what they're feeding these Canadians bridge and lock tenders, but they are all just so incredibly friendly and kind, which can seriously make all the difference between having a good day or a bad day on the water. It takes some of the stress away. Antoine was ready to raise the bridge for our little flotilla.
As we were preparing to leave John from Crows Nest told me that during the night, at around 3 am, the boat in front of him woke to find a young man courting a young woman, sitting on the bow of their boat chatting and making out in chairs he had left out! Apparently the young man had told the girl that it was his boat, and that pickup line went well.... that is until the real owners came up from below to kick them out! That had us laughing all morning.
We followed Crows Nest through the drawbridge and motored up to Lock 9. We said hi to David, now lock-master, and paid our fees, receiving our window stickers. The fees cover all the locks for the system we will be in for the next 25 days or so. We will go though around 130 locks in Montreal, the Ottawa River, Rideau Canal and Trent Severn waterway. The fees also cover a mooring pass, which gives us free docking along all the quaint city walls, campgrounds, and mooring balls in the expansive Canadian Parks system.
The Chambly Canal opened in 1843 and played a major role in Quebec's forestry industry, facilitating exports to the US. It is a testament to old school engineering and the lock gates and sluiceways are are still operated manually by a system of hand cranks and gears. The masonry work is outstanding and the wood is in a remarkable state of preservation. Today was just a taste of what's to come, and I have to admit that it is the most amazing navigation system I've ever done in 20 years of worldwide boating.
We passed through beautiful scenery on this calm, sunny day. It was narrow channels, a dozen swing bridges, and 9 slimy lock walls, all with biking paths alongside. Friendly people walking, jogging, and riding bikes waved. The bridges and locks were all waiting for us with green lights. We often had a crowd watching and it was nice to get some compliments on my locking/docking skills from strangers. I usually reply with something like, "Thanks. It's my first time." The final 3 locks at Chambly are all stacked on top of each other, one of the only step lock systems in the world. It was a tight fit with 3 of us in the narrow locks, but we made it down 30 feet without incident.
After about 5 hours, we passed the final lock out into a lake, tied off for free on the floating lock wall, and set up the wet tent to dry out in the sun. Mary jumped in for a swim while I made a time lapse video. Quite a few friendly strangers commented on our Florida registry and the tent. It gave us a chance to practice some French.
We then walked into town, and ate at Tre Colori, an amazing Italian restaurant where mostly French Québécois was spoken. The wood oven margherita pizza and spaghetti bolognese were delicious. We had a few drinks and watched the World Cup games. It felt like we were in Europe; not just an hour away from VT/NY.
By the time we got back to the boat it was raining, a bit windy, and cold. It's been like that all afternoon. The local French Canadian lads don't care and they're jumping in the frigid water under rainy grey skies like it's hot and sunny, even though it's 55 and rainy with the water temp in the 60's.
We weren't expecting this, and didn't batten all the hatches. Fortunately, only a few minor items got wet. We'll be more vigilant in checking the rapidly changing weather going forward, and get into a better habit of always closing up the isinglass windows.
C'est La Vie!
Burlington, VT to Saint Jean sur Richelieu, Canada
23 June 2018 | Saint Jean
Baptism by Fireworks, and loud music
Underway Day 41:
We started the day by heading to a nearby laundromat, and did laundry while we went to breakfast. We got underway by noon and said a regrettable goodbye to Burlington. We would have like to stay longer, but this 7000 mile loop isn’t going to do itself.
Lake Champlain was a bit choppy. It was 65 degrees and overcast, which made us appreciate the perfect calm sunny weather for our dive the day before. The navigation was straightforward and we made good time at 26 kts up to the Canadian border. As we cruised by the US border post, it was interesting to note that it was basically just a mobile truck and a patrol boat.
Once in the waters of “no mans land”, I ziptied the yellow quarantine flag on the port antenna, which indicates to the authorities that we haven’t yet been cleared in. We eased up the the Canadian customs and immigration dock, presented our passports and federal documentation for the boat, answered a few questions, and we were back on the water 10 minutes later. I spent hours researching, thinking about, and preparing for this event, so it was a bit anticlimactic. Both Canadian agents, one male and one female, were very attractive and could seriously have been models. I asked the woman, “so that’s it?” She jokingly replied, “We can come search your boat and interrogate you for a few hours if you want.” I happily declined the offer.
Back on the Mombo, I cut the quarantine flag zip ties and zip tied on the Canadian
Courtesy flag on the starboard antenna next to the US flag, a sign of respect as a visiting yacht.
We took our time getting up the Richelieu River, eating snacks. We were going to stop at an island to visit a small old stone fort from the war of 1812, but the dock was undergoing repairs and no mooring was allowed. We proceeded on, sometimes at speed, other times slowing down for the local fisherman in small boats. By 3:30, we were tied up alongside the public docks at Saint Jean Sur Richelieu, the gateway to the Chambly Canal and lock system, lock number 9.
John and Kara from Crows Nest were there. There is normally at .95c/ft fee for overnight docking so I went to talk to the Bridge-master.
I walked up the steps to the little house that controls the draw bridge and knocked on the door. A friendly Canadian man named David introduced himself and asked me to wait a second while he shut off the street/ pedestrian traffic and opened the drawbridge so a few boats could pass through. I’ve been through many hundreds of these bridges but never been in the control room. It was really tempting to ask if I could push the buttons, but my inner child kept quiet and I just watched him turn the knobs and press the buttons.
He told me how often people and cars try to sneak by as the gates are closing, and how he feels bad, because occasionally they will get hit by the descending guard arm or damage their cars crashing into the opening bridge. David is also a sailor. We talked for about 30 minutes about his trip on his 28’ sloop to Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida last year. When he heard that I used to live on a 1983 Corbin 39’ pilothouse, which I sailed all around the Caribbean and Central and South America, he got very excited. Only 225 were made, all in Quebec. He was buddies with some of the guys who built them. They were all owner finished, and I gave him the specs and modifications that John Carnett and I had done to the boat. It was fun for both of us to talk about boats we both love, and I was excited to be so close to the place where Fabled Past was first launched in 1983.
He also gave me some Canal info brochures and explained how this beautiful, very old, hand cranked, lock system works. He allowed me to tie up for free for the night, since I was buying a season lock and mooring permit. Tomorrow he was going to be upriver as the lockmaster at the first lock, #9. We agreed to request a bridge opening at 0900 so I could buy the passes from him and lock through while he was working.
Mary and I set up our Mombo camp, and then went over to Crows Nest, moored off our bow, for some “docktails”. The four of us went out for dinner at the local brewery, and drank excellent blonde beer and ate poutine with cheese curds.
After dinner, we went back to their boat for a nightcap, and we began trying to fall asleep by 10:30. It was a beautiful Saturday night and the town and waterfront were humming with activity. Saint Jean was celebrating the festival of St. John the Baptist. Even a light rain at around midnight didn’t slow down the party. Fireworks, loud music, laughing, singing in the streets and all manner of sleep disturbances continued until about 0300. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep well, but we were happy to be in Canada.
Wreck of the OJ Walker
22 June 2018 | Cold, Dark Shipwreck
Good visibility and deep dark cold water
Underway Day 40:
Yesterday, we had a wonderful day exploring Burlington, VT, which is an exceedingly friendly town. As far as boat related activities, I replaced some snaps on the teepee tent using sail repair tape to reinforce the thin tent fabric, and I replaced the old halogen spreader light with a new LED version, which required minor fiberglas repair.
This morning, we went to breakfast, broke down our mobile campsite, untied the lines and motored around the corner to a commercial slip that John, from Waterfront Dive Center, was kind enough to let us use while we loaded our gear. We had a fun time talking with Shelagh and "Ski" from the dive shop. They were very friendly, informative and helpful. It's always fun to talk to people who love diving wrecks as much as I do. We had a nice chat, and told them about our journey while they helped us get suited up in 7mm full farmer john wetsuits with hood, gloves, boots, BCD's, regulators, tanks, etc. I already had mask, fins, knife, underwater light and a GoPro. To finish the ensemble, I purchased two LED glow-sticks to mount on our tanks. This was going to be a cold dark dive at 65 feet, and although the water temp was 60 degrees on the surface, it would be about 45 degrees on the bottom. They told us about the layout of the wreck, and we reviewed cold water dive safety procedures. We also registered with the local Underwater Preserve so that they get data on how many people are diving the various local wrecks on the lake. For both of us, it only cost $150, including the glow sticks. It was a real bargain, and I highly recommend using this company if you are ever in Burlington. They also do guided dives on the wrecks if you don't have your own boat.
We loaded up the gear in their dive truck, drove down to the docks, and got underway on the Mombo towards the wreck of the OJ Walker. It is less than a mile outside of town off the north breakwater. The Lake Champlain Underwater Preserve maintains a series of dive buoys, so we tied off and got geared up. Mary splashed. As I was getting ready to go in, I knocked my mask in the water. It promptly sank to the bottom! I spent about 20 minutes in my wetsuit searching the boat in vain for a 3rd mask, which I couldn't remember if I brought or not.
Not finding it, I called the dive shop, untied from the mooring and Casey from the dive shop came down to the docks and threw me a new mask, which made my mistake much less of a hassle.
10 minutes later, we were back on site, divers in the water. Mary was a real badass today, and although she had trouble equalizing, she took her time and we made it to the chilly bottom.
The dive was nearly perfect. As she came down the line slowly equalizing, I did a figure 8/ circle search on the seafloor in all directions away from the wreck, searching for my lost mask in 15-20' visibility. This mask was has sentimental value and is special to me. My father bought it for me in Turkey, when we went snorkeling while he was still suffering from ALS.
By the time Mary got to the bottom, I had circled back, not finding the mask. I had burned through some air looking for it. As we followed the guideline from the buoy to the wreck, there it was! I scooped it up and we got back to the main dive mission.
The OJ Walker is a schooner rigged sailing canal boat. It was built in 1862 and had a working career of 33 years, hauling heavy loads up and down the canals. A man named Captain Weatherfax (pretty cool name) lived aboard with his family for 9 years. After his tenure, it was captained by Shell Parkhurst, who died while sailing, and at 75 was the oldest boatman on the lake. His daughter took over and became the only female captain running the canal between NY and Burlington.
It sank on May 11, 1895 in heavy weather while hauling a load of brick and tiles. All crew were saved in a rowboat and it rested perfectly on its bottom for all to enjoy. It has now become encrusted in zebra mussels, an invasive species, but the visible stout tight grained wood and rudder are in a remarkable state of preservation. It was certainly one of the best wreck dives I've ever done. I'm grateful to Chuck Meide, the director of our St. Augustine Lighthouse Maritime Archeological Program, for tracking my position and letting me know that I was so close to such a lost treasure.
The wetsuits kept us relatively warm, but after 10 minutes on the bottom, Mary gave me the chilly signal, so we headed back up the buoy line and did a 3 minute safety stop at 15 feet.
Once back on the surface, we dried out the gear and relaxed in the sun, warming up and bobbing peacefully in flat calm conditions. When we returned the dive gear, the dive shop staff gave us both free T-shirts because they said they thought what we were doing was cool. I'm happy to have our first sponsor!
We were both tired and a little dehydrated, so we went to a juice bar. We pumped out the holding tank at the ferry dock nearby, and when I asked how much, they said it was free, because they remembered me from a few days earlier and thought our trip was cool. Our second sponsor!
I docked the boat back at the Boathouse marina, and was happy to see that the mail I had forwarded from FL had arrived. We ate carry-out Turkish street food for dinner. We finished it off with dessert of Creemees, a famous local ice cream place that uses real local maple syrup in their ice cream.
We watched a movie on the iPad in the teepee and went to bed, with 10-15 knot winds and gentle rain, but teepee tent don't care.
Private Champlain Cove to Burlington, VT
20 June 2018 | Burlington Boathouse
Waxy boat and no yak
Underway Day 39:
We eased into the day. While drinking coffee, I had to make some phone calls, and do some work emails. It was a peaceful anchorage with the occasional freight train rolling along the shore.
We raised and rinsed the hook, and cruised north up a glassy Lake Champlain. En route, we passed Crows Nest, hailed the on the VHF, and arranged to meet them in Burlington at the Boathouse. We arrived without incident, fueled up, had a nice lunch, and docked the boat. Mary went off to explore this cute town and get provisions. I spent the afternoon scrubbing, waxing, detailing, and doing preventative maintenance boat projects. We are docked right in the heart of town, and everyone we meet is extremely kind. I haven’t even seen so much as a jaywalker.
When Mary returned, she shared all the cool spots she discovered, and we decided to walk up the hill to a Tibetan Restaurant. I once spent 6 weeks hitch hiking across Tibet, and she knows I love Yak meat when I can get it. They were were out of Yak, but the Lamb was excellent.
We hosted Crows Nest and the crew from a refurbished 1967 yacht on our boat. The teepee tent was the talk of the marina, and we feel right at home here on our tiny open boat.
Fort Ticonderoga to Port Henry Cove
19 June 2018 | Port Henry Cove
Windy with a chance of musket fire
Underway Day 38:
Shortly after midnight our faithful teepee tent was put through a serious test. As I mentioned in our previous post, we had anchored on the north side of Fort Ticonderoga point to get protection from the south wind. Unfortunately, sometime around midnight a low pressure storm system came through to the north of us. The winds clocked around 180 degrees and we found ourselves completely exposed to 30-40 knots of wind from the north, accompanied by 2 foot wind driven chop and lashing rain. It was like a baby microburst! The blowing rain and nasty waves only lasted about 30 minutes before settling down to 15-20 knots from the north. From 1100 to 0100, I was up checking the anchor and adjusting the tent tie downs. The flapping was incessant. I furled our US flag and that reduced my stress a bit. We were now being blown onto the rocky lee shore, and couldn’t be in a worse spot. Because we swung around, we were now much closer to shore and had shifted from 10 feet of water to 4.5 feet. I have 250 feet of chain on this boat on a windlass, and I had put out my standard 10/1 scope, or 100’ of chain on a mantus bridle clip. The bridle eliminates strain on the windlass, and lowers the point of pull to about 5 feet below the water level. I felt safe knowing that we now essentially had 40/1 scope. The anchor held like a rock. It was scary for a minute, but I had several backup plans going in my head in case things started to turn ugly, including moving during the blow in pitch darkness and driving rain, which is never fun, especially with a teepee flapping on the back deck.
Once the low passed through, the winds subsided a bit, the rain stopped, and the boat stopped bouncing. Mary and I both slept soundly from 0100 to 0600. I got up, checked that all was well, and we slept some more. Our new friends on Crows Nest, anchored next door, were in the same predicament, and they were also holding position.
At 0900, it was sunny and breezy, with 1’ wind blown chop. We raised anchor, which was indeed very well dug in. It came up with a lawnmower full of grass, covered in mud. I used the raw water wash down pump to clean the chain as it went back into the locker. If you don’t rinse your chain, you’ll add a disgusting project to your list... cleaning out a rancid anchor locker.
We creeped up to the public boat ramp docks by the ferry landing and tied off to the public floating dock. The ferry itself was very interesting and something I’d never seen before. It was a car ferry that goes across Lake Champlain from the VT side to the NY side. What is unique about this one is that it has a tiny tugboat on one side, assisted by 2 cables that pull the boat across. The cables come all the way through the ferry by a pulling mechanism well above the surface. When crossing the ferry, it becomes a navigational hazard, especially if you were to cross in front, as your boat would hit the massive steel cables under tow tension. We crossed behind it by about 200 meters. At that distance the cable catenary is back on the bottom.
We had a nice 1.5 mike walk along the trail leading up the hill to the old historic fort.
Fort Ticonderoga has an amazing and complicated history. It is in a pivotal strategic geographical position, and was once considered the “key to the continent.” The area has been settled by humans for at least 10,000 years. Ticonderoga means “the land between the waters.”
There have been many decisive battles here, from Samuel de Champlain battling native warriors in 1609, to the first fortifications constructed in 1755 by the French. The British and the French passed it back and forth in bloody battles. Then it became pivotal during the revolutionary war, when a small group of 50 men, led by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, along with Benedict Arnold, captured the fort in a surprise night attack, despite being heavily outnumbered. It was the first victory of the American Revolution, and a big morale booster for the fledgling nation. They then hauled the captured artillery overland and used it to relieve the British siege of Boston.
The British took it back again later in the war. This area is considered the birthplace of the United States first Navy, as the first tiny fleet was built here to hold back the British.
I’m not an expert on forts, but this one didn’t seem too effective. Seems to me that almost every time it was attacked, the people trying to hold it, lost it.
Today it has been reconstructed, and it’s well worth a visit. Every day they do musket fire, canon fire and other demonstrations. The people who work there use traditional methods to sew their own clothes, make their own shoes, build handcrafted wooden ships, etc. It was cool to watch them work, and see the methods they use to keep tradition alive.
We walked back to the boat through the Kings Garden, and motored up the lake to a small island on the eastern shore, where our friend EV has an adorable shack on the water where she makes hand crafted jewelry. We crept slowly into 3 feet of water, anchored up, and waded in to spend the afternoon with her. She was a wonderful host, presenting us with local craft beers, ciders, home made bread and local cheeses. We had an excellent afternoon chatting with her about life and learning about the area. We enjoyed her company, and the views of Mombo on the lake, with the Adirondack mountains in the distance.
Before sunset, we swam out to the boat, and got underway. Knowing that we needed a good nights rest, I checked the weather and studied the charts. We went about 5 miles north and carefully crept in to a well protected cove near Port Henry.
It was a perfect spot. The water was glassy. The fish were jumping. The sun set, red at night, sailors delight. It was cold at 50 degrees, but we shut the boat up to reduce the breeze, snuggled up, and slept like babies.
Champlain Canal to Fort Ticonderoga
18 June 2018 | Fort Ticonderoga
Sunny with a chance of Muscrat
Underway Day 37:
Mary and I had an awesome quick 3 day getaway to Chicago for the weekend. We got to see my little brother’s new beach house, and had a family reunion with all my brothers and nieces and nephews. Then on Saturday, we went downtown and enjoyed seeing all of our music family at Taste of Randolph, a fantastic street festival with various local food vendors and awesome music. We got to share time with some of my best friends. Michael Berg and his team at Silver Wrapper were the promoters, and they always book fantastic music and take good care of us. About 20 of our favorite people (our other Chicago Family) were there to watch Nick Cassarino (Nth Power) and Jen Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band) play a beautiful duet set. Jen and Nick are both incredibly talented, and they are wonderful human beings and good friend. Mary and I often go out of our way to spend time with them, so even though we tried to surprise them, they actually weren’t surprised, ha! They were followed by Natalie Cressman Band (also Trey Band), and she delivered, with some amazing vocals and horns. Mary and I went for a nice romantic meal, and then headed back to the fest to see Allen Stone, before walking over to the after party. We met up with some more friends and thoroughly enjoyed an intimate set of old school Umphreys McGee tunes and great covers, performed by Brendan Bayliss and Joel Cummins. I love both of these guys. We’ve been friends with since college. Jen Hartswick sat in for a strong finish. Umphreys has gotten to be so successful that I just love it when I can catch a smaller show like this, and I felt like my smile was a mile wide.
Although Mary and I left town pretty exhausted the next day, it was totally worth the effort to be with family and loved ones all weekend, and we’re grateful to Bump for buying our flights to make it happen.
We landed in Albany and we’re back on the boat by 6pm. All was well. We set up the teepee, and caught up on some work and logistical planning. We had planned to have dinner 50 feet away at the bar, but they closed early, so we just ate some healthy snacks from the boat provisions and went to bed early.
Neither of us slept well because we were basically under a bridge, which was quiet during the day, but at night it’s apparently used by big rigs, and we were both woken up repeatedly with nightmares of being driven over by a Mack Truck. I thought about getting underway at 0600, but managed to fall back asleep for a few good hours. By 0900 we had full Yeti cups of coffee and were underway. Carnett was hoping to join us for the day up the river, but his container just arrived and he was busy cutting it in half to make a swimming pool.
We navigated through the Champlain Canal at a leisurely 8 knots all day, passing through 7 locks and the last beautiful remnants of the upper Hudson River. We had all of the locks to ourselves, which was nice, and Mary becomes a better deck mate with each lock. The water here is less forgiving, because now we have giant logs and unforgiving rocks to avoid. We tread carefully and have to keep a better lookout and ensure that we stay in the channel. We are now in waters I’ve never been in before, and the surrounding terrain is more mountainous.
General Electric had 2 plants in this area starting in the 70’s and dumped literally tons of hazardous waste like PCB’s into the river. After a long and expensive legal battle with NY State, they finally lost and were forced to do the right thing. They are finally dredging the river bottom and “cleaning” up the mess they made, but the water was thick like coffee, and we stoped to pick up some plastic trash when we could along the way.
One of the highlights of the day was watching a muskrat catch a fish and swim around us with it flipping in his mouth. I’ve never seen that before.
Lunch was PB&J with Doritos. We had a few light rain showers, but otherwise the day was very hot and sunny. We left the final lock and entered into Lake Champlain. The water was immediately much cleaner. We cruised to Fort Ticonderoga at 25 knots through the narrows of Lake Champlain, which was a beautiful stretch. We anchored under the North side of the old Fort, getting excellent protection from the S winds. There was another looper boat here, Crow’s Nest. They invited us over for drinks on their trawler, so we rafted up to them, swapped salty sea dog stories and had a few drinks.
At sunset we headed back to our corner of the cove, anchored up, went for a quick swim, made some Mac and Cheese with veggies, and put up the teepee just before the rain started.
Tomorrow we will storm the fort and lay siege to some history.
Shady Harbor to Champlain Canal:
12 June 2018 | Carnett Compound
Tiny Houses, Big Dog
Underway Day 36:
We cast off and worked our way upriver at a leisurely 10 knots, while we drank coffee and listened to the news. I did some quick navigation trip planning and realized that to get to Carnett's compound we would travel 44 nautical miles and go through 5 locks, namely Troy Lock and Champlain Canal locks 1-4. Unlike some navigators who plan every waypoint and try to time everything, I generally get the broad strokes and then navigate on the fly. I learned a long time ago, that it's critical to keep the boat in tip top shape, bring spares, provision correctly with gear, safely equipment and provisions, etc., but that over planning the navigation aspect becomes a waste of time after a certain point. You can't sail on a schedule on a trip like this. Weather, breakdowns, bridge and lock schedules, lunch stops, and even marinas and anchorages are all things better dealt with on the day. If I get to an area where I'm unsure about hazards, or which way to go, I slow down and plan the next few turns or miles.
Out of the 5 locks, we only had to wait for 2. In general, we would just show up, call the lock master on vhf 13, and they tell us the deal.
All of the lock masters were nice and they would radio ahead for us, and to let the guys at the next lock know we were coming. At Lock 3, we had to wait 30 minutes for a tug and barge to come through. I guess that means it's time to make lunch. We try to let the flow of the adventure tell us what to do next, and that's an important mindset to have if you want to have a fun and successful trip. Setting deadlines and expectations, is a recipe for disappointment. In reality, the locks are relatively easy and straight forward. You could spend hours planning each lock, or trying to figure it out ahead of time, but really the best way is to just show up and see what the status is. Put out your fenders and dock lines, tie on to the wall, wait for the rush of water and go up/down 8-40 feet.
We cruised past Albany and Troy, and Mechanicsville. We headed straight rather than take a left to the Erie Canal. We weaved our way up the Hudson river to Schuyler Marina. We met the owner Jason, and docked the boat. Clark's Steakhouse is on site, so we bellied up to the bar and had some amazing prime rib and French onion soup. We got the boat all tidied up and organized and packed up for our weekend excursion.
Carnett and his wife Danielle picked us up and we had dinner with their two boys. He gave us a tour of his compound, and I was like kid in a candy store, checking out all the cool projects he is building, all the latest building tech, tools, and his "mad scientist modern" building style.
One of the other advantages to having a flexible schedule is that we can seize opportunities like this when they come along. The stars aligned. We get a few days with Carnett, and then Bump gifted us miles to fly with him to Chicago to be with him and my family, friends and loved ones. We have a great family reunion planned and some excellent music.
We'll be back on the water and underway on Monday.
Esopus Creek to Shady Harbor
11 June 2018 | Shady Harbor
Beating the heat
Underway Day 35:
It was a fairly cold night at 60 degrees, but I wasn't complaining. One of the things I'm loving about this trip so far is that every time I feel like it's just getting too hot for me, we move 100 miles further north. Today was an easy day and short run of just 25nm. We took our time up the river, with a push from the tide as the stunningly scenery of the Upper Hudson River rolled by.
We arrived at Brian Donavan's Shady Harbor Marina, and were greeted by two helpful dockhands. We topped up with fuel, and pumped out the holding tank, enjoying the chance to chat with the owner Brian Donovan. We then moved over to our slip and went to check in at the office. Our reservation for 2 nights and a haul-out had been bungled, and none of the materials I requested a week before had been ordered, but we managed to work it out the next day.
My dear old buddy John Carnett was waiting for us at the docks. John and I lived on our boats near each other in NYC, and have remained close friends for the past 18 years. He is a boat captain, entrepreneur, and was the only staff photographer at Popular Science Magazine for 24 years. A wide range of pilots have let him take the con on occasion on everything from experimental aircraft to helicopters and sea planes. So far, he’s only managed to survive 2 crashes and one hard landing, so he’s got 6 lives left. As a result of all the cool stories he photographed, he is basically a mad scientist and badass creative engineer. Whenever there exists a tricky engineering problem that most engineers can't solve, John is the guy to call. I could write a book just about his life stories alone. He is the one who got me involved in the Martin Jetpack project. He currently runs Cubist Engineering, and they work on building tiny and large prefab houses of the future. Solar, Wind, Micro hydro, waste to energy, robotics, off grid living, anything nautical, engineering or energy related, in addition to being a welder, carpenter and fabricator... John can do it all. He's currently cutting a shipping container horizontally in half, adding 1.5" glass panel windows and converting it into a portable swimming pool. It's always nice when your heroes and role models become your friends. John has been a huge inspiration in my life.
We had a great lunch with him, and my mind was almost blown, but it just expanded instead. Sadly, it was only for a few hours, as fatherly duties called, but we made plans to meet and stay with him in a few days when we got upriver and closer to his compound.
Shady Harbor had a free pig roast that day, with live music. We had a good time and I met some nice people, including a nice local boater docked near us named PJ, an Army Vet who served in Afghanistan. Lots of other "loopers" were there, and we received compliments regarding the teepee tent.
The next day was projects day. We borrowed the marina "duelly" pickup and drove south to pick up some engine oil, gear lube, and oil filters at the local Suzuki dealer. I wanted to get some fresh oil in the outboards before we get up into Canada. We also did some shopping. After we returned, we managed to haul out, wax the hull, and get all the maintenance done. Mary was a big help. This included physicality separating and plugging the black water overboard discharge hose, a requirement for being in Canadian waters.
Mombo was all lubed up, cleaned and waxed, back in the water after a short haul and ready to continue the adventure.
Manhattan to Esopus Creek:
10 June 2018 | Esopus Creek, Saugerties, Hudson River
Suns Out, Guns out
Underway Day 34:
I woke up at Bump’s apartment in TriBeCa, and wandered out for a farewell NYC breakfast, Halal street cart food. The most delicious lamb and chicken on rice is served right there on Canal St. We got in an Uber to the Boat Basin up at 79th st, and met up with Bump, Hugh, and his superhuman wife Debra.
It was a lovely calm morning on the Hudson, and I was with great friends. There was a local motorcycle gang that decided to become a jet ski gang on the weekends. Some had matching uniforms, all with their logo, etc. They were passing us by, accompanied by 8-10 police boats, who pulled them over at random. I’ve never seen anything like that, at least not since the movie Waterworld. I also saw a paddle boarder in the lower Hudson River, which seems like a suicide mission to me. I would not want to be on a paddle board, over frigid water with +/- 2 knots of current, when one of those nasty, white capped, ferry boat wakes arrives!
They are doing a massive construction project on the Tappan Zee Bridge, which was some cool engineering to see, all the gigantic bridge sections were pulled down and put onto barges. We stopped periodically to listen to our Hudson River tour guide, Bump. He has built seven different places on the river, and grew up in the area. We passed West Point, Bill Murray’s house, the place Chelsea Clinton got married, the Google retreat compound, and various old mansions, castles, ice plants, etc. Much of the West bank of the Hudson was once owned by the Rockefeller family and has been preserved in it’s undeveloped and pristine condition. We cruised by the Rockefeller Estate, where Hugh and Debra had their wedding reception.
The scenery was gorgeous. The Hudson River is certainly at the top of the list of most beautiful rivers in America, but I’m biased, so I’ll reserve judgement until we finish exploring the next 6000 miles of N. America’s inland waterways. We met Debra’s father, Bob, at the Boat House restaurant near Croton Bay. We had a lovely meal, swapping stories, and getting local knowledge. Debra’s brother, Mike, is the harbormaster at West Point. We had met as fellow groomsman at their wedding. It was reassuring when he offered to lend us a hand if we had any problems going up the river. We said goodbye to Hugh and Debra, wishing we had more time.
The rest of the day was just perfect. We continued to marvel at natural beauty of the Hudson, racing the trains along the riverside. Bump would point out all the cute towns and celebrity houses as we went. One of them was his, and we stopped briefly to chat with his neighbor. It was getting late in the day when we dropped Bump at his parents’ house near Kingston. We had been here several times, one of them for Bump’s wedding. I’ll never forget my first time here by boat. It was on a cold windy February day back in 2001, on Fabled Past. I learned a valuable lesson as a young skipper about anchoring in a “wind against current” on that bitter cold, stressful, sleepless night. Looking back, sometimes it’s those challenging times make one a better captain. Bump’s Dad, Papa Bump, came at chatted with us on the dock, while he playfully heckled his son, who was trying unsuccessfully to catch a fish.
Dusk was fast approaching, so Mary and I shoved off, and ran upriver a few miles, past a beautiful historic lighthouse and into Esopus Creek. We scoped out our placid creek anchorage for the night, and then docked at the Steamboat Company for a delicious meal. After dinner, we crept back out into the creek in the darkness, and a few minutes later we were on the hook, and snuggled up in the teepee.
Hudson River, Harlem River, and East River: Full Loop of Manhattan
09 June 2018 | Hudson River
A wild ride with a chance of graffiti
Underway Day 33:
The evening before, after the explorers club, we met up with one of my oldest and best friends, former business partner, and honorary Carrigan Brother, Jacob “Pokamos” Bump. He was born in Papúa Niuguini, and pokamos means fearsome warrior. We just all call him Bump. We stayed at his apartment in TriBeCa. Actually, he insisted we take his bed, so he could sleep on the couch. A Swiss friend of Bump’s, named Stefan, was in the other room, passing through town also.
Bump is not only a high end custom home builder in the Hudson Valley for A-list clientele. He is one of the most adventurous and well traveled humans I’ve ever met. He’s a first round draft pick for me, if we’re jumping in a life raft. He’s an all around badass, great father; calm, soft spoken, and highly intelligent guy. I’ve looked to him for guidance and friendship for 22 years, and he’s never let me down, in good times or bad.
After doing some laundry and enjoying a nice breakfast with Mary, Bump and I went down to his boat. My old mate from my days in Belfast, Hugh McGrory, met us on the Pier. Hugh was my acting teacher in Dublin, along with Colin Farrel and Chris Gausselin. The first five 16mm films I ever worked on were with him as director. He was a big influence on my life. We’ve remained close over the past 20 years and I was a groomsmen in his wedding. He has worked on projects at Yale and MIT, among others. Hugh and his wife Debra have developed a mind blowing VR related software program. I’m not sure how else to explain it, other than to say that some of the largest tech firms on the planet are consulting with them on ways to integrate their platform into our every day lives.
Back to the boating, we readied Bump’s big ass boat, untied the morning and Bump let me drive his baby across the Hudson. When we were young, we used to do this trip all the time in my 9’6” roll up inflatable dinghy with an 8HP outboard. Yes, it was insane but totally legal, relatively safe, and awesome. Now, we are on this beautiful yacht. He knows that I know the entry, and how to play “frogger” with the ferries, sailboats, jetskis, etc, when crossing the Hudson. It took me a minute to get the rpms and trim right on bumps boat, but once I got her dialed in, she rode through the Hudson slop like gravy. When we arrive at my old home across the river at liberty landing, Bump took the helm to dock the boat at the fuel dock. I’m pretty sure he did his next trick just to blow my mind. His 3x300HP outboards were controlled by this freakin’ joystick to literally walk the boat sideways without a bow thruster. He parallel parked the boat. I’m pretty sure that’s cheating.
Not many people are around from the old days, when I used to bartender here on a 1908 Lightship during the early 2000’s. It was also a Tiki Barge and Grill, next to the lightship. It’s long gone now, replaced by much fancier high priced restaurants. It was a dive Barge, but it had character and we had a good crowd of regulars that I loved to tend bar for.
Just when I felt like a stranger coming back in my own home, my old friend Kwame was there on the fuel dock. We recognized each other from a distance, and hailed greetings. It was cool to get off of the boat, and give big bear hugs to a dear old friend. It really made my day to catch up with him, and feel like even though I’ve been gone for 15 years, there still a few people around who were witnesses to what happened way back when. Someone remembered that I used to live there, in such a transient place.
After fueling and helping Bump wash the boat, we went up the Hudson. The plan was to do a lap around Manhattan. We would go up the Hudson River, go across the Harlem River, past Hell Gate, and into the East River, where we would try to find a place in Brooklyn to drop off Hugh. It was an amazing experience, and one of the highlights of the trip so far. There’s just such a cool feeling being on the water near The City. But cruising along the Harlem River, Bronx on the left, Harlem on the right, is an experience I will never forget.
We dropped Hugh off, and picked up Mary, Bump’s wife Robin, and several of their friends and their adorable kids. We had a lovely cruise up the Hudson, went fishing, and had a nice meal on the waterfront.
After dark, Bump, Mary and I turned on the nav lights and took a night cruise down a glassy tranquil Hudson River. Bump let me take the helm, and the city lights rolled by reflected on the water. We eased the Bumpmobile back to TriBeCa. Mary and I got off at the floating dock, while bump grabbed the mooring. There is a small dinghy there for mooring customers, so I splashed it into the water, and fired up the tiny outboard. After I picked up Jake and we motored across back to land, I couldn’t help but think that it was just like the old days, two big kids in a tiny roll up inflatable boat, running across the Hudson in the dark.
It felt good to be close to my old home, on the Hudson River.
Atlantic City to New York, NY
08 June 2018 | New Amsterdam
Large Ferry Wakes with a chance of gelcoat scuffs
Underway Day 32:
The sailboat next to us was shoving off at daybreak. He was solo and stealthy but it was enough to wake me. Fortunately I fell back asleep and had a bit of a lie in. It was a calm morning, and we eased into the day, breaking camp slowly while we got some coffee in us.
We eased out of Atlantic City and the Absecon Inlet and into The Ocean without issue. The Atlantic was a different animal today. No white caps, and easy interval 2-4 foot swells. We went offshore to 60 feet of water and ran the 3nm demarcation line, and for the most part it was smooth sailing at 26-28 knots. We stopped to pick up a Mylar helium balloon from some kids birthday party. Happy birthday little buddy, you just killed a sea turtle. Don’t get me started on the stupidity of releasing helium balloons. I’ve picked up 6 in the ocean this year. I’m kind of ok with degradable sky lanterns though.
Moving on, we passed Sandy Hook, where I would often sail out with a fleet of boat friends and anchor up for a weekend back in the day. I hadn’t captained a boat in NYC since I sailed out after 9/11 and it was cathartic and healing for me to be back in familiar waters, my proving grounds as a sailor. Between Sandy Hook and the Verrazano Bridge we got caught in a tidal convergence zone, and I had to plow for a bit through the confused high chop. After the the bridge we passed your standard NYC heavy industrial traffic at 25 knots and the Staten Island Ferry, world famous for its giant wakes, and “no fucks given” navigation.
We popped into my old residence (yes, it was on my NJ drivers license), Liberty Landing State Park, and took the obligatory photo of this wonderful gift from France.
This is one of my favorite poems. It sits at the base of The Statue of Liberty. It is worth reading again, and always:
by Emma Lazarus, Nov 2, 1883.:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We were hungry, and a bit tired, but not poor or meek. Definitely yearning to breathe free. We could be considered wretched refuse from a teeming shore, if coming from NJ counts. I’m pretty sure I’ve been tempest tossed, but Mary is unscathed. With just the two of us, we weren’t a huddled mass, but we immigrated successfully up the river nonetheless. This was a trip up Hudson memory lane for me, having spent 3 winters living on a sailboat in Jersey City, at the foot of our lady of liberty, and just across the river from the Twin Towers. It was good to be back.
Liberty Landing Marina was my home for many years, while it was under construction, and I could write about those days in many ways. I’m glad lady liberty left the light on for me. We received a warm welcome to my old home. Because this is a new adventure, we decided to try something new and got a slip at 79th St. Boat Basin, a great location, with poor protection from the river wakes and currents. I docked the boat, a massive wake came, and things went haywire. Not a scratch in 1300 miles so far, and we just got 3. I told the dockmaster to move me or I’m gone. He was nice and found a more protected spot, where I might sit in the mud for a bit at low tide, but Mombo was better protected with more space.
We settled in to a much safer spot. All was well, so we rushed through some tasks, and then jumped in an Uber across town. We were going to the the NYC Headquarters of the Explorers Club. We had been invited, last minute, to come over by text when we were running 28 knots offshore. I didn’t want to pass on such an amazing opportunity.
The explorers club is an organization that I’ve been fascinated with for a long time and I aspire to join it. Since its inception in 1904, the Club has served as a meeting point and unifying force for explorers and scientists worldwide. It has included many household names and everyone from polar explorers to astronauts to explorers of the deep.
My friend Dave Hodge is a member and he opened my eyes to the possibility of joining. Dave and I have been buddies for several years. He is an explorer, entrepreneur, musician, activist, and produces TV commercial soundtracks. We became close on a 12 day non-stop delivery sail of a 36’ sailboat from Ft. Lauderdale to Sint Maarten. You get to know a guy pretty well on a tiny boat, keeping watch through the night, and we explore well together. Mary and him get along great as well. He introduced me to Idee, who is a board member, engineer, photographer, explorer, and diver from Florida. Sam Patel (from the Space X blog) and I met with her a few months ago to discuss membership possibilities and we had an informal interview. Both of us are applying to join. I need to get my application going, and this was a kick in the rear to do it.
This day was part of their Oceans Week program, and Dave hosted Mary and I to come to HQ, take a tour, have a drink, and listen to lectures, slideshows, and displays. What a special surprise! Looks like we rolled into town on the right day.
Some of my personal heroes and the biggest names in environmental protection, especially the ocean, were speaking before my eyes. Sylvia Earle and Paul Watson, aka The Sea Shepherd, are just a sample of the kind of crew assembled there. Many other great minds and leaders in their fields discussed plastification of the ocean, pollution, piracy, poaching, bycatch, etc. New approaches with enforcement, technology and cultural changes that need to take place are happening.
We thought about it as we walked across town via Central Park at sunset, en route to joining our friends Bump and Robin for dinner.
People can make a difference just by paying attention, and understanding the issues. Did you know that 1/3 of the fish caught worldwide is used to feed animals, livestock and pets? Just something to think about next time you buy Cat food. The way the ocean is harvested is not sustainable, and we are exterminating some critical marine species to keep other more prolific terrestrial species alive.
I won’t get into a huge rant here, but these are topics that all sea loving people should consider important and work to educate ourselves. Just a change in our buying habits and behavior can cast a vote with our wallets. Do you really need that plastic straw, disposable bags, that water bottle, or that helium balloon for your kids birthday? The marina at Kammerman’s had biodegradable plates and utensils made from sugar cane that break down in a few weeks. It doesn’t even cost that much more. Sea what I’m sayin?
Baby steps turn into adult steps....
Chesapeake City, MD to Atlantic City, NJ
07 June 2018 | Kammerman’s Marina, Borgata Casino
Drink is empty but chip tray full of 5’s
Underway Day 31:
We woke up early and well rested, dusted the rain off the teepee, made coffee and got underway. Once again we had perfect timing with the tide and current. We made great time through the C&D Canal and down the Delaware Bay. This can be a nasty stretch of water when the wind is up and against the current. Last time I was here, it was December. I had 8” icicles hanging off the lifelines in 6’ chop, heading into freezing wind. With the current pushing us and low morning wind, we felt virtually sucked out towards the Atlantic, and were into Cape May in a few hours.
Once out near The Ocean, the winds picked up. We cut the corner of Cape May, avoiding unnecessary long miles of open ocean and shifting shoals off the cape. We went via the canal, bridge and harbor, which gave me flashbacks to 2003 when I had a hair raising experience bringing a 48’ tall mast through the 50’ tall bridge at low tide in December.
Some jerk on a multi million fancy sport fisher came right up my stern, and threw a 5 foot wake at us in the narrow canal from only 10 feet away. Fortunately, Mombo and I were paying attention and we handled it, but I was soooo put off by his lack of etiquette that I blasted him on vhf 16; so all could hear within 25 miles. “Elisa May, Elisa May, eastbound in Cape May Canal, thanks for the 5 foot wake from 10 feet away. Real Classy Captain! Money doesn’t buy class, but the coast guard teaches basic safety classes for free, and they are right around the corner if you want a lesson.” He didn’t reply, but I did see him throttle back in the distance. The USCG did listen, and gave a “securitee” message to remind all vessels that they are responsible for their own wakes. As we fast idled past the large USCG station 15 minutes later, we got a friendly wave from the patrol boat.
We poked our bow out into the Cape May Inlet, and I had reservations about the swirlin’ water before we even got out through the breakwater. Neptune was quite squirrelly, appearing to construct building winds and current. I plowed offshore, pointed up wind, bow high, into 5 foot swells. Mombo nosed out calmly through the frantic seas, now 1/2 mile offshore. I then pointed north on a simulated heading towards Atlantic City to get an idea what the next few hours would be like. It was a bit too bouncy, with uncomfortable spray and building windy conditions. It occurred to me that to avoid mutiny, I shouldn’t put my wife through a few hours of Neptune’s salty smacks and kisses.
The decision made itself. Once turned tail and back in the inlet, I began a quick planning session and a switcharoo to the ever present, plan B.
Welcome to the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway. Most people avoid this area, because of un-maintained shifting shoals, navigational hazards out the wazoo, and the local practice of fishing in small boat packs in the middle of the navigational channel. A few quick calculations and my plan B research told me that (A) we were on a building high tide and (B) it was a week day, so the yahoo boater faction was elsewhere. To any voyagers out there, never attempt this at low tide, and avoid weekends and holidays.
I’m glad we did it. This was a beautiful stretch of cruising. Yes, there were a few sea-Douche on sea-doos buzzing around, jumping wakes. Yes, fishermen anchor in the middle of the channel, and act like you are the one making things difficult. (They know there is only 1 foot of water and no fish anywhere else). Yes, there are shoals, half submerged industrial hazards, and the hulks of sunken boats and rotten pilings all over. Even with 4’ of tide, I saw some areas with only 6 feet of water. Nonetheless, it was a great run. I ran full throttle through the marsh, zigging and zagging through the channel and the narrow marsh like a pro. Sometimes it got hairy, but I’m a prudent mariner and a calculated risk taker. I had a tool belt of electronic sensors, active captain hazards mind marked, some trip planning research, and eyeballs. Any time I saw less than 9’, I had mind alarms ring. If it the depth started to taper down, indicating I was out of channel, or if there was another boater, I would slow down to fast idle. Unlike Elisa May, I don’t feel like ruining someone’s relaxing afternoon with my wake.
The most notable thing about this stretch of water, other than being ignored, bypassed or forgotten by 95% or boats that transit the area, is the fact that you are in New Jersey and it appears to be environmentally pristine. Not only that, but in 3 hours, we passed dozens of high end building projects. Some were right next to bygone industrial waterfront shacks, collapsing into the water over broken and rotted pilings. The economic trend was evident here. At least 6 companies are working marine construction barges. I’m assuming some is still cleanup from Hurricane Sandy, and some is a booming economy, but we witnessed 10’s of millions of dollars of maritime construction. They were driving sheet pile, pouring bulkheads, building docks, and hammering away at beautiful houses, large and small. Most were actually quaint and well designed. Dock after dock, boat garages, lifts, and floating docks. People with bbq’s and water toys, enjoying a beautiful spring weekday in America.
These are someone’s real dream houses, all packed in like sardines, and then, bam, you are out into uninhabitable marsh for miles, with lots of marine life, sea birds, jumping fish, etc. One minute you are alone in the world, then it was quite a world of contrast. It seems to be a win-win at first glance and there were no visible plastics, industry or pollution, like what I used to see when I lived in Jersey City on the water. I’m glad we “called an audible” and went the inside route. Mombo and her shallow draft give us that option. It was a lovely ride, both overdeveloped, yet pristine, if that makes sense.
We came in the back door through the river into Atlantic City, past several towering, multi megawatt generating, wind mills, and right beside all the casinos. We tied up and Kammerman’s Marina.
I had been in Atlantic City, by water, a few times, and even purchased Fabled Past here from John Carnett at the City Marina next to the casino in 2000. It was fine, but when I found out there was a highly reviewed family run operation across the way, I felt like giving my money to them, and I was rewarded.
Great discounts at the fuel dock for quality fuel, much lower rates, excellent protection, and we got to meet the owners and their wonderful staff. We fueled up, put the boat into the slip, and went to the newly opened Siren’s Waterfront Bar for a trip planning session and docktails. We chatted for hours with the marina owners and discussed their expansion plans and remodeling efforts, relatively complicated marine engineering projects. It’s a wonderful location with a lot of potential. I’ve always wanted to build a marina, and have worked at several. I love marine construction, and I shared with them some ideas about the latest tech and new methods. Having been on the water all over the world for a large part of my adult life and tens of thousands of ocean miles, I love to observe how different countries, islands and cultures regulate and implement marine construction. From the countless ancient stone walls of far flung legendary cities like Rome, Alexandria, and Istanbul, to grass huts on pilings in modern Cambodia or ancient Ireland. Florida, the Caribbean, the Chesapeake, Alaska, in the modern age, all do it different. I even appreciate the temporary and seasonal pvc lake boat dock construction in landlocked places like Wisconsin or Orlando. I just love to see how humankind has engineered living near the water over the millennia.
The Kammerman’s have had the marina in the family since 1948, and the latest generation of owners, Chris and Stacey, have been trying to simplify, upgrade and modernize their facility. It’s cool to see the next generation getting ready to rebuild for the future and I wanted to help if I could.
I decided to become an activist on this issue (among others) of dock construction after my house and dock in St. Augustine went through 2 direct hits, back to back years, in hurricanes Matthew and Irma. Many of the industrial docks in the area were built with concrete over styrofoam blocks for floatation. When the ocean won the war, the styrofoam broke up into millions of micro bead particles and floated all through the wetlands, creating a secondary disaster. Over seventy massive floating styrofoam “dock bergs” were creating navigation hazards and causing environmental damage after the hurricane in St. Augustine. Then they broke up into millions of pieces the size of quinoa and floated through the marsh, where sea and air life thinks they might be food. Ay my stretch of waterfront alone, I filled 10 contractor trash bags with plastic and styrofoam dock debris. I talked to my friend Josh Underwood, the local County Marine Sheriff, and spoke at the Ports and Waterways committee, to explain the problem. They were receptive and awarded funds, on the spot, to have Chip Yelton Marine Construction, the largest company in the area, tow the numerous styrofoam docks away, no small job.
My friend, the intrepid reporter, Jessica Clark, NBC First Coast News anchor, came over and did a story about it for the regional news. Chip and several of the other major local dock builders, as well as the major marinas in town that needed to rebuild, all agreed to skip the 80’s styrofoam technology and build smarter, cheaper, faster, and better docks for the future. It’s better for both the bottom line and the ecology.
Fortunately, our dock was well engineered, and that’s the reason I bought it. About 60-80% of the docks in our area suffered complete destruction or massive damage. We survived both hurricanes with minor damage and it wasn’t just luck if you know our location. It was math, science, and engineering. In addition to a single concrete piling design, which reduces torque and resistance to dynamic flow, I made some modifications like shipping in modular floating dock cubes, and replacing the lift with thru flow decking. After Matthew, we constructed an upland retaining wall. It was built upland to have no environmental impact and to let nature add primary hurricane protection. Combined with the 30,000 oysters I’ve grown, the sea grass, and the black mangroves that I grow and protect (so they protect me), the new seawall helped avert flooding in our neighborhood during Irma. Our house, btw, was well high and dry for both hurricanes. Having hurricane tested and witnessed dock products, as well as spent tons of time researching online over the years, I gave the Kammerman’s some advice and sent them info. They were receptive and I promised to return some day to see what they build. Either way, if you are ever coming through the area, Kammerman’s is the place to dock.
After a nice whole food meal at Sirens, we washed the boat, and jumped in an Uber to the Borgata Casino for a few hours. I wrote this blog for a bit, and Mary payed hold ‘em. She came back down $100, a rarity. She is usually the one to hustle some cash at hold ‘em, and has covered our costs on more than a few trips to Vegas. Don’t be afraid of sharks, be afraid of Mary at the card table! Ask anyone in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica, and they will tell you they would rather cash it in than sit on her right. This was not her night though. I told her to give it another shot, put down my blogging, and got a seat with a serious 1-2 no limit table.
I bought in for $150. Big stacks all around me. I played for 45 minutes total. During that time, I mostly folded. I paid a few blinds, folded a few flops that the pros made too expensive; and really only played 2 hands all the way to the river in the entire session. A set of pocket jacks boosted me, when I went all in and got called. A few hands later I had A5 and two 5’s came in the flop. Went all in again on my trip 5’s, two callers. Bam! I was at $600. Played one dumb hand where I got bluffed, lost a stack. Finished my drink, cashed in a $500 tray, and we left, up $350 for the 2 hour excursion. We got back at 0100, put up the teepee tent. I would bet heavily that we were the only ones who slept out on the waters of Atlantic City in a teepee that night.
Annapolis to Chesapeake City, MD
06 June 2018 | C&D Canal Engineers Cove
Good music with rainy tranquility
Underway Day 30:
We had a nice brunch, said goodbye to the wedding crew and drove back to Annapolis to meet up with Mary's best girlfriends, and their men, for a Mexican meal. It was great to see Kevin and Leslie, who just got engaged. Tony, Julie, Tim and Stephanie rounded out the reunion. After dinner, we went to the Rams Head Tavern. It is one of the oldest bars in America, founded in the early 1700's. We were seated at the very table where Mary and I were first set up by our Turkish friend, Aylin, 15 years ago. During the meal, our friend Tim Atkinson, a local musician and old friend, mentioned that he was playing the Ram's Head On Stage venue upstairs the next day. It was for a benefit concert for local musicians, sponsored by AM/FM, the Annapolis Musicians Fund for Musicians. AMFM is a unique and excellent non-profit cause that provides "gig insurance" and other benefits to help artists get through any rough patches and bumps in the road while building their music careers. They provide temporary financial relief to professional Annapolis area musicians who cannot work due to sickness, injury, or any other circumstance leaving them unable to perform. This fund acts also as an emergency relief fund for lost income. It provides scholarship funds to further educate young Annapolis area musicians. That night they presented a young musician with a $5000 scholarship. I love being entertained while being able to donate to a noble cause.
We had been planning to leave in the morning, but I love Tim's Music, and we couldn't pass up the chance to see 12 of Annapolis's best bands play in one spot on the same night. Each band would do one Bob Marley cover in their style and one original song, so the sets were only 15-20 minutes. In between acts, the MC would read out really interesting history and obscure facts about the fascinating life of Bob "Tuff Gong" Marley. His childhood years were fascinating to learn about.
Tim and his band played 4th, and I was proud to see that the vibe he sent out with "stir it up" immediately lit up and energized the room. It was no surprise to me when he totally nailed it and stole the show. After that, the crowd was a different animal, and all of the acts were great. I’ve always been a fan of Jimmy, from Jimmy's Chicken Shack, and haven’t seen him in a long time. He played better than ever. The Bumpin' Uglies were also great and rising in the Spotify charts. I "discovered" one of my new favorite acts, Joey Harkum, who did a fantastic acoustic rendition of "One Cup of Coffee" and his original "ghosts" not yet released, gave me the chills.
After the show we hung out in the green room and next door with all the bands for a few hours and had a great time. I was able to introduce several of them to Owen and Heather from DC City Winery, and it felt good to feel like a scout, to and help our friends book gigs and hopefully fill the new venue.
The next morning we finally got back underway. We dodged one of the wooden minesweepers doing maneuvers in the harbor and ran up the bay at 28kts. We had timed the push of the current perfectly. The trip was relatively uneventful and we saw Dolphins as we gilded into the C&D canal, which connects the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. We tied up at the free city dock in Engineers Cove at Chesapeake City, and had a delicious lunch of Neapolitan pizza, with the crispy thin crust at Chesapeake Inn. We then untied and motored back into the cove to anchor up. This is one of my favorite anchorages. I had come here on Fabled Past in December of 2003, and we were hit with an ice storm and a foot of snow. The whole cove froze up and I had to wait 3 days before we could push our way out through the ice and back into the canal. It was peaceful then, and it was peaceful this night, just a bit warmer.
We did get some rain, but the teepee tent kept us dry.
Annapolis to Amelia Court House, VA
05 June 2018 | Glendale Estate
Love with no chance of failure
Landlocked with underwater archeologists Day 29:
Before we get back underway, I am obligated to explain our land lubbering, but sea lovin’ related, activities.
We rented a car and drove to the wedding of our dear friends Cap’n Brendan Burke and Dr. Lillian Azevedo. We had a few adventures in DC traffic getting there, including having to investigate the smoking engine compartment of the rental car during DC traffic. Fortunately, I stopped and checked. Immediately I noticed the oil cap had not been replaced, oil all over the engine, and found the cap on the radiator, left there the day before in an oil change. The level was still in range on the dipstick so I screwed in the cap and we resumed our road trip through the beautiful back woods of Virginia. Glad we didn’t get stuck in the sticks and miss the festivities!
Lilli has a doctorate in Maritime Archeology and works at SEARCH, one of the best Archeological companies in America. Brendan is a man of many talents, and a Maritime Historian. He currently works with the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP), as the head Captain and Associate Director of Archeology. He also lectures along the eastern seaboard and at Archeological conferences. I volunteer with LAMP as a secondary captain and scientific diver, so it was great to see the whole lighthouse underwater archeology crew! We do Maritime Archeological work on local Florida Spanish and Civil War wrecks. Chuck Meide, the program director, and another dear friend, was also there with his charming wife Brenna. They too were staying in a teepee, but this theirs was huge with AC and a full bath. I wasn’t expecting to know too many people but everywhere I looked I could find a familiar face of someone I liked and respected. Andrew, Olivia, Allyson, Star, Shannon, Capn Sean McCarthy, and many other friends and volunteers from St. Aug associated with the lighthouse. So basically, my favorite underwater crew came to the rural woods of VA for this wedding. Rounding out the amazing cast of characters was Mike Arbuthnot and his beautiful wife Serena, with newborn baby Ainsley. Mike has been to the Titanic 4 times with James Cameron, and has been on and hosted numerous programs on History Channel as well as VP of SEARCH. Everyone new that we met was equally amazing. Brendan’s parents Helen and Pat were excellent hosts. We met legendary shipwrights, like John Lubbehusen, and Breckin Brubaker and her multi talented husband Perry from Eureka CA. It’s a small world, as they are close with a boat delivery captain that I sailed the Pacific Coast with for 8 days from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. It was my kind of party! Intelligent conversation with kind people, who are experts in their fields. Most people were involved in the ocean in one way or another. Historians, Captains, Archeologists, Wooden Vessel Shipwrights, Navy Veterans. I could build an armada in the apocalypse easily with this crew and be able to document everything for the new world, ha!
It was a lovely, classy, wedding and we had a great time celebrating our friends nuptials and meeting the wonderful people they surround themselves with.
Annapolis Day Trip to Cantlers Crab Shack
31 May 2018 | Crabs and Bee Keepers
When crabby family swarms together
Underway Day 28:
Today was a fun family day. It was slightly overcast, so not to hot, but there was no rain or wind either. It was comfortable. Plus, we had the fine company of the “out-laws.” Basically, my brother’s in law’s, John and Joan Schick, who have been Carrigan family royalty for over 25 years. They were staying in Silver Spring, MD and decided to come visit us, so we took them for a nautical tour of Annapolis and the Naval Academy and then around the point to Mill Creek, the home of legendary Cantler’s Crab shack. I was first here in 2004 with my buddy John Carnett, and things haven’t changed much at all. The docks were once again difficult, but we managed to get in just right. I was a little nervous with so many people watching, but was heartened to hear the dockhand tell me, without prompting, that I got an A+! He then mentioned some of the horrible docking jobs they usually get, and was very friendly, even giving us a quick tour of the inner workings of the “crab lab”. They have literally tons of crabs in tanks and he showed us how they feed them, separate them, and wait for them to molt and become “peelers”, aka soft shell crabs. During this period, which usually lasts a few days, the crabs shed their hard shells and are defenseless until the new shells come in. They also do not feed or breed during that period. It was strange to pick one up and see how soft and floppy the claws are, and it’s a feat of nature that the new shells can form and harden so quickly.
We had a nice lunch and got caught up. Joan and John are retired, and they had just gotten back from 10 weeks exploring in Chile and Argentina and a trip to South Africa, so we got to hear some of their adventure stories.
We returned to the tricky slip at city marina, a little easier this time with 3 crew, and then jumped in the mini van to go pick up their grandkids from school.
We had a wonderful evening with the the rest of the outlaws, Justin and Amy Kenney, and their adorable well behaved children. Their wedding in 2005 was the first wedding Mary and I went to together. Amy is my sister in law’s sister, and we became close when she crewed on Fabled Past with me for 6 weeks in the Virgin Islands. In addition to bring a great mom, she has done amazing high profile environmental work for her whole career, including working in Russia, protecting the Chesapeake watershed, and the Pew Oceans Commission, where she prepared a massive report on the health of the worlds oceans for the Bush Administration. That study helped lead to creating the largest marine preserve in the world near Hawaii. She now works to study, prepare, and implement the creation of new Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries. It was interesting when she told us that the WWI ship graveyard in Mallows Bay that we went to is about to receive protected status.
Justin is also an Environmental Expert. As the former Communications Director for NOAA, he was a regular visitor to the Obama White House. He now works with the Walton Family Foundation, to help them implement large scale environmental change. Justin and Amy are on the front lines, making a difference, and helping make the worlds environment more healthy, sustainable, and safe. It’s always a pleasure to see them, and play with their wonderful children.
They raise bees at their house, have a beautiful garden, and their neighbors raise organic livestock, so we got out some amazing cuts of sustainably raised pork sausage, rib eyes and sirloin, and I fired up the grill. It was a great evening with intelligent conversation, and lots of laughs.
Tilghman Island to Annapolis, MD
30 May 2018 | Annapolis MD
A drinking town with a sailing problem
Underway Day 27:
We woke up early in our quiet cove, made coffee on the camp stove, broke down the glamp site and eased back out towards the Tilghman Island Cut. The crabbers were out working their trot lines and it was educational to observe them scoop the crabs into baskets as the line rolled by.
We did another cruise through the cut that divides Tilghman Island and eased our way back into the bay. Conditions were choppy but we made good time and arrived in Annapolis, the sailing capital of the Eastern Seaboard, by lunch.
I used to crew on the Woodwind, a 70’ schooner that does harbor tours, so I told Mary whatever I could remember. Horn Point shoal marker is in the appropriate location where George Washington once ran aground on approach to Annapolis, and he spent the night during a rain storm on a leaky boat there on the shoal until the tide came up. By the Severn Bridge, across from the Naval Academy itself is the Naval tasting facility where the silent submarine propeller was developed. Nearby is a fleet of large wooden hulled mine sweepers that the navy still maintains and uses for training the midshipman. Further out towards the point are 3 tall towers used to communicate with submarines at sea.
Mary grew up here, and I met her here 15 years ago when I came to sell my cutter rigged sloop, a Corbin 39, Fabled Past. We spent a bit less than 3 years living in Annapolis and we both still love the town and have lots of friends here. It’s a fairly small town. In fact, Mary knew either the owners, bartender, wait staff, or chef in every place we went, and people would come up to her on the streets or in bars to give her hugs. It was like being with a local celebrity. She even knows the new mayor, Gavin Buckley.
Our first stop was the obligatory cruise up Ego Alley, a one way cut of water that goes into the heart of the historic district. I had my boat docked here for a few months one winter and became friends with the harbormaster. We then cruised under the Eastport bridge into Spa Creek. We passed by Petrini Shipyard, where I also worked buikding the docks and repairing boats in 2004. It had been sold and merged with a marina next door and they are fixing it up again. We then motored to the very back of the creek, where I once lived at anchor for 3 months after I had first made landfall from Key West. I really loved that anchorage, and it brought back memories of fixing up the boat to sell and good times. There was a couple with a young child anchored in the exact spot on a sailboat and they loved it too.
Next stop was Annapolis City Marina. We topped up the fuel and water, pumped out and then tied up into a very tight and tricky 4 point piling tie. Even in the calm conditions it was a challenge with no room for error, but we took it slow, used the widely spaced engines wisely and docked without incident.
Mary made some phone calls and I gave Mombo a thorough wash down, before applying my new favorite wax, which uses nano technology to provide a hydrophobic barrier and UV protection. Mary helped polish the metal, and treated the vinyl and isinglass with 303 Aerospace UV protectant. The sun was hot and I let myself get a little too crispy and dehydrated, so we called it done for now and walked across the street to have a few drinks and a meal at The Boatyard with Mary’s friend Rachel and her daughter Rebecca. After dinner, we managed to negotiate a great last minute deal at a nearby B&B, walked 5 minutes to check in and then over to back creek and one of my favorite sailor dive bars, Davis Pub. The Capitals were winning the playoff game and the bar was fun and lively. It was great to be back in Nap Town.
Solomon’s Island to Tilghman Island Private Cove
29 May 2018 | Dun Cove, Tilghman Island
Underway Day 26:
Today was a wonderful day on the Chesapeake Bay. As we said goodbye to Solomon’s Island and got out into the bay, the skies were overcast but the bay was flat calm. We decided to glide north to Chesapeake Beach, MD, and go to the Rod and Reel Restaurant. This was a place Mary used to love to go as a child, and she really wanted me to try their famous Crab Soup, and Rockfish Stuffed with Crab. It did not disappoint. After a nice relaxing and delicious meal, we shoved off and headed back to the Eastern Shore over to Tilghman Island. This is another one of those amazing Islands built by watermen along the Eastern Shore. It’s a picture perfect Chesapeake Bay town, and it was a really beautiful cruise along the working waterfront.
We cruised out into the remote back side of the island and found a perfect anchorage in Dun Cove. The holding was good, and we enjoyed watching the Osprey hunt fish and rabbits. It was a calm and peaceful night and once again, we really enjoyed glamping out.
Colonial Beach to Solomons Island
28 May 2018 | Solomon’s Island
Sloppy and Wet Spray
Underway Day 25:
Today was probably the worst day we’ve had yet on the water, but as they say, any day on the water is a good day! It was grey, drizzly, fairly cold at 25 knots, and a bit too wet for me, but Mary stayed dry. We kept it short. We ran the mouth of the Potomac down to Coles Point shipyard, another cool find, and fueled up, pumped out, and topped off the water. We bashed our way out of the Potomac against the wind and current, taking lots of spray and some slamming, and rounded up the Chesapeake. Once we had the weather on our quarter, things calmed down and we entered one of my favorite protected spots, Solomons Island. It was only 4 hours, but the weather was back again and we were happy to find another convenient stop and safe harbor. We tied up, washed down, checked in at Beacon Marina, and went to the Anglers Pub to get warmed up while we did some laundry.
DC to Colonial Beach
27 May 2018 | Nightingale Colonial Beach
Dark and Stormy
Underway Day 24:
We slept in after a long, but worth it, last night in the city with Justin and Kirsten. After grabbing some breakfast sandwiches and planning to the weather, we got underway in grey skies and relatively calm water. The weather window worked, and the trip down river was relatively uneventful. We passed Mt. Vernon which was beautiful. Being a Sunday, the boys at Quantico and Dahlgren Range weren’t flying drones and shooting live rounds, so we ran the gauntlet without incident. Most of the storm debris was gone as well.
After 3 hours, we could see the weather changing, so we changed our plans for an anchorage or a longer run to Smith Island. We made some calls and ducked in to a cool spot on the Potomac called Colonial Beach. It’s a cute little town, birthplace of George Washington, with a cool, vibrant, beach and boat community. It is a quaint and lively town, and most importantly, a protected anchorage. Jan, at the Nightingale Marina, offered us a B&B room and a slip for $105. Her husband has a cool collection of classic cars and boats, and they run a nice simple operation. It worked out perfect for being off the cuff and last minute. We walked through the town and found an amazing little Chinese Restaurant. A few dumplings and some green tea warmed us up after a cold run. We walked home along the beach, checked on the boat, and snuggled up in the hotel room while the storm passed. I woke at 0230 to check on the boat again, and was back asleep relatively quickly. This is why I love being flexible, and finding such great affordable places like this. I love it when you get the slip and the inn together. It’s another great advantage to having a small fast boat rather than a traditional looper trawler. We can get there fast, dodge weather, and they can usually find a spot for us.
DC to 3 Sisters vía Georgetown
26 May 2018 | Three Sisters Islands
Looming Clouds and Gettin’ Nauti
Underway Day 23:
Today we brought some of our local friends out for a river tour. The crew included Owen, Heather, Anna, Andrew and Mary. We were planning to take out a few others but weather and traffic prevented that. It was a great afternoon, cruising up the Potomac to Georgetown. We were planning to stop for lunch, but the waterfront at Georgetown was full, so we anchored at Three Sisters Islands. We went for a swim and had some snacks on the boat. The weather was iffy, with scattered thunderstorms coming in. We managed to avoid them, and just as we were getting hungry #getnauti rolled up out of nowhere. Get Nauti is a boat food truck, basically a food truck on a pontoon boat. It felt like it was meant to be. We had a nice lunch, cruised around past all the landmarks, and in general had a lovely local cruise with our friends, taking in the sights of DC from the water was special.
Private Cove to Washington DC
24 May 2018 | Washington DC
Sunny with a chance of gunfire
Underway Day 22:
We woke up early, brokedown the boat campsite and got underway. It was a beautiful, calm, sunny day. It was one of the best days of boating that we’ve had so far. I’ve been wanting to go up the Potomac River since 2004 when I first moved to Annapolis. I always said that “someday” I would take a boat to DC, and “someday” was today!
The river was full of flotsam and jetsam, runoff from the large Potomac watershed after the recent heavy rains. For those who don’t know the difference, flotsam is natural and jetsam is manmade. So basically tons of logs, sticks, and a variety of plastic was floating down the river. Some of the logs were big enough to be show stoppers. I could usually dodge them, like a slalom skier, but occasionally I would have to slow down and push slowly through a thick wrack line.
As we made our way to the first bridge near Dahlgren Point, I heard something over the radio. By the time I got the hand mic to my ear, all I could hear over the engines, wind, and music was the end of the call. When they called again, “north bound power vessel, approaching Dahlgren Range, this is the US Coast Guard” I looked around, and didn’t see any other boats hauling ass up the Potomac. It took me a second to confirm my position on the charts, being new to the area in the last 5 minutes, and then I throttled down so as to hear, and said, “this is the north bound power vessel Mombo, approaching Dahlgren.”
The reply came, “Hey Cap, switch and answer Two Two Alpha.” I switched channels to 22A. “This is Mombo, go ahead Coast Guard.” The reply, “Mombo, we got a hot range going, and we are shooting live rounds up and down river, what are your intentions?”
It took me a moment to reply, mostly because my brain was wondering why they would be shooting both up AND down the river. Live rounds! Hot Range! What caliber are we talking? How close am I? There goes my relaxing morning.
Back now at idle speed, I replied, “This is my first time up the Potomac, my destination is Washington DC. I’d like to head north, whenever the range is clear.”
“No problem, Mombo, do you see me?” “I can just barely make out your orange hull in the distance”, I replied.
“Had you clocked at 25 knots. We can work with that. Throttle back up, head towards me and marker red 30. We’ll hold fire until you’re clear”
A few minutes later and I was North of the “Middle Danger Zone” marked on the charts, and into the Upper Danger Zone.
“This is Dahlgren Range, have a nice day Mombo”. “Thanks for not shooting at us, and happy hunting Dahlgren Range, Mombo standing by One Six” was my reply. As we cruised up the river, we could hear the live fire resume. 20 minutes further upriver, the things seemed calmer and the debris was to thick to run at speed. We took a break, ate some crackers and curry chicken salad, pimento cheese, and other snacks we picked up at Whole Foods. After our break, Mary worked on her skills at the helm and we did a simulated Man Overboard drill. Once back up to speed, we approached Quantico, VA. I knew of an area near here where dozens of WWI ships were sunk. I scanned the charts in detail for a long time, searched google earth, and then I saw what I was looking for in Mallows Bay. “Foul Area, Burnt Hulks” is what the chart said. The rusty hulks of 100 year old war ships were lined up by the dozen, burnt hulks indeed, with many just a few inches above the water. A serious navigational hazard. Some have even grown trees. Why they didn’t scuttle these in deep water or create an artificial reef offshore, rather than ruin good old Mallows Bay forever, is beyond my pay grade. We got as close as we dared but it wasn’t as cool from up close, in the muddy water, as it was from Google Earth, see screenshot and zoom in.
Then came our next visitor, as we idled back out of the fouled shallows and into the river channel. I assume it was the Marines now, based across the river at Quantico. They flew a big ass quadrocopter drone, about 1m square, about 200 yards off my bow and at eye level. I’m pretty sure they weren’t taking memento photos of our voyage. After I gave them a wave and a smile, I throttled up to full speed, and they ran away, very high and far out of sight. Next encounter with anything of interest besides giant tree trunks to avoid, was a parked USCG vessel, which made no contact.
As we approached Alexandria VA, just south of DC, we went under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which is the moist stout bridge construction I’ve ever seen. The coolest thing about entering DC by water, other than virtually no traffic besides security vessels, is to have the planes landing and helicopters flying all around you. They all seem to use the river as a flight path, and it’s cool to watch. The Washington monument, pentagon, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, Regan National, and many other landmarks are all visible from the water. It’s a special experience. I had to wonder if the pentagon has a secret tunnel leading from the basement to a dry dock on the river bottom.
We docked right downtown at the Wharf Market Docks, just a block from the national Mall and a short walking distance to all of the major sights. We got a sweet last minute deal on a slip at the just opening marina, and a room at the Hyatt waterfront for only $100/ night! The marina was full of debris, and about 5% was plastic. I tipped the dock hand $20, and asked him to fill the large trash bin with me, which we did with his net. After passing so much trash that day, it felt nice to stop a small portion of plastic from washing down river.
I washed the boat down while Mary did some neighborhood recon. Marine 1 flew overhead, like only 200’ above us about every 20 minutes. When our friend Lucas Samaras, a cyber security consultant , visited us a few days later, he explained that they were shuttling VIP’s between CIA headquarters at Langley to the Pentagon. It seemed to me like the North Korea situation that day may have played a role in such frequent trips.
We checked into the fancy hotel, out of place with our scurvy demeanor, and our waterproof duffels on our backs. Once we cleaned up, we headed to the stunning rooftop bar, and rendezvoused with our old friends Owen Grey and Justin Park Yanovich, and our new friend Heather Otto. We had a great night catching up with old friends. Justin and Mary have been great friends since high school and he then became my good buddy in Annapolis when Mary and I started dating. He has worked as a very high end caterer for events in DC, but specifically at the Naval Observatory and Vice Presidents Mansion, for the past 13 years. He has served Cheney, Biden, and now Pence. Most importantly, though, he is a dear friend and we had an awesome weekend with him, catching up and creating new memories. Owen is running marketing at the newest City Winery DC, along with the GM Heather Otto, and we had a wonderful weekend with them as well. They are creating and just launching an awesome space for great food, wine, and music. It’s always inspiring to see people being entrepreneurial and building something new.
We went out for the best meal of the trip so far at 2 Amy’s, a Napolitano feast. Justin’s girlfriend Kirsten works there, and we were treated like royalty to the point of food coma. What a great night!
The next day, we hung out with Lucas, went to the fully stocked fish market, the to the Smithsonian Native American Museum. We met with Heather and Owen and went to a cool hipster speak easy, a beer pub, and got a tour of the City Winery. The first 2 floors were open and the upper 2 floors were still under construction but are opening soon. They treated us to a wonderful meal and night of live music. We had a good hang with the sommelier Justin (plays hoops with Obama) and the beverage manager Vanessa after the show. I hope to hook them up with some music friends to play the venue, so that we have an excuse to go back!
Yorktown to Tangier to St. Mary’s river
23 May 2018 | St Mary’s river Cove
A step back in time
Underway Day 21:
It rained on and off all night until about 0400 in Yorktown, and occasionally it blew up to 20 knots. I’m happy to report that we were both well rested and dry when we awoke at sunrise. We saw an actual sunrise for the first time in 10 days, so we stowed the tent and air mattress, made some coffee in the stainless steel French press, pumped out our holding tank, topped of the water and got underway.
The ride was fairly calm at first, but as we motored out into the middle of the Chesapeake and out of sight of land, the flooding tide against a strengthening north wind built up 2-3 foot short waves. Mombo and her vectroflow hull made quick work of the sea state, but I did throttle back to 22 knots for comfort, and to enjoy the music.
Our trip to Tangier Island coincided perfectly with a 2 hour teaser setlist for the Hulaween music festival lineup on Sirius Jam On. It’s our favorite music festival of the year and the replays made for great wind in your hair/cruising music.
We navigated carefully into the shallow shifting shoals of Tangier Island. First “discovered” by Cap’n John Smith in 1608, the island has lost a significant amount of land to erosion over the years, and has a fascinating history. It was used by the British as a naval base during the war of 1812 to burn Washington DC and lay siege to Baltimore. The people still speak with a unique accent, and the place almost feels frozen in time in many regards. It was mostly settled by 4 families, whose descendants still live on the island today, population 523, down from a peak of 1000. They have mostly made a living as watermen, harvesting crabs and oysters. Many residents have spent their entire lives without ever leaving the island. The island was featured in National Geographic in 1973.
As you enter the town area, quaint stilt houses and crab shacks are all around, built over the water on pilings. It’s best to enter at slack tide as the currents get very strong. There is no cell service, but I have a cell signal booster on the boat, and was able to get a spotty signal, but there was nobody I needed to call. Upon arrival, we contacted Mr. Parks by hailing him verbally, since he didn’t answer the vhf radio. He is 85, and has run the Parks Marina for 60 years. When I asked him if he was Mr. Parks, he joked, “lucky guess, you could ask anyone on the island that question and you would be right 25% of the time.” There are daily ferry services, that bring tourists in the summer. There is a daily mail boat, and Amazon prime even delivers. They also have a small airstrip, 3 restaurants, 2 ice cream shops, 2 B&B’s and 1 grocery store. Occasionally they get iced in for weeks at a time in the winter and flooding has become more common in recent decades. The island is “dry” and there are no bars or alcohol sold anywhere. There is only 1 policeman and a volunteer fire department. There is a quaint town museum, complete with hand written descriptions, and some gift shops. We took a tour of the island with a friendly local lady in her golf cart. We had a nice lunch at Lorraine’s Cafe. The Crabby Fries are amazing, french fries covered in crab dip and old bay. After the museum and a walk around the town, we grabbed some Ice Cream at Spanky’s Place. Spanky was a teacher at the local school for 35 years. It is K-12, with 100 students. He retired to start his ice cream shop.
The wind was laying down and the afternoon looked to be setting up for perfect weather. I wasn’t particularly excited about doing another 4 piling tie up for the night, and felt like we wouldn’t have much privacy. I also wanted to get a little closer to our next destination, Washington DC. So in the late afternoon, we said a pleasant goodbye to Mr. Parks, paid him $10 and zipped across the Chesapeake Bay with only one footers. We pulled into a beautiful cove and took on fuel at Point Lookout Marina, before heading back out into the Potomac around the headland and up to St. Mary’s River.
We found a perfect little private cove with a beach, anchored up close to shore, and went for a clothing optional swim. We explored the shore, took a shower, ate some nice snacks, had a few cold ones from the fridge and setup the teepee tent, all while watching a beautiful sunset. The fish are jumping. A flock of geese just flew over the decaying floating duck hunting blind a few hundred yards away.
Portsmouth to Yorktown
22 May 2018 | Yorktown
Underway Day 20:
We had a nice road trip, and the timing on the weather worked out well. The whole region was inundated with rain. We spent a night in Ocean City, MD on the way, and after 5” of rain the town was flooded the next day as we drove north to PA. I had washed down the Mombo but a little extra freshwater rinse while we are away is never unwelcome. We had a nice weekend with our daughter Maggie and celebrated her graduation with all 6 of her grandparents. After packing her car up on Sunday for her big life transition, Mary and I drove to Gettysburg and had a nice afternoon getting a better understanding of the civil war and the never ending fight for freedom and equality for all human beings.
Things were much more complicated at the time of the civil war than I had realized. It wasn’t just about abolishing slavery. There were issues of uncertainty and maintaining unity for a new nation, economic and political considerations and a whole host of complicating factors that I came to understand more fully at the wonderful museum and self guided auto tour of the battlegrounds. Seeing the long aftermath transition that has to lasted more than a century and the continued marginalization, segregation, and civil rights movement, put things in a wider perspective for me. This is a sailing blog, however, so all I will say is that although the civil war is over, there remains injustice and inequality in the world and we need to work on our nation in the never ending quest for liberty.
We drove a few hours south, stopped at a restaurant which served delectable dishes from Ghana, and the Goat Soup with Fufu was amazing. There was actually Ghanaian wedding party going on next door.
The next day, I came down with a head cold with fever, and it was still rainy, so we did a few projects on the boat, and hung around Portsmouth. I had been planning to go up the James River to Jamestown, yes, that one, like the one with the pilgrims. It was founded in 1610, 45 years after St Augustine and the real first thanksgiving, btw. I had worked in Ja es town about 14 years ago for 3 weeks. I dressed up as a 17th century sailor, and was an extra on the movie The New World. Colin Farrell is an old friend of mine from my days in Dublin, and he got me the job. It was fun to meet awesome people and see old friends. I felt like going back for some history, but it was not to be. Between the weather, some bad reviews on the anchorage and water access, being 60 nm out of the way, and my self imposed timeline, I decided not to go. We checked into the Mermaid House Airbnb near the marina and after meeting the friendly owner, she suggested Yorktown, site of the last great battle of the Revolutionary War. It was on the way, and is a cool town with some great history.
We got underway at 0930 with a slack current, glassy seas, and grey overcast skies. The weather made passing dozens of Destroyers, Aircraft Carriers and their security details seem appropriate. Our boat is painted Awlgrip Kingston Grey, which made us fit right in with all the gigantic grey boats on this glassy grey morning. After clearing the most powerful Armada on earth, I throttled up to 26 kts, and we entered my old stomping grounds, the Chesapeake Bay. As we rounded up north, nearly out of sight from land, we got buzzed by 4 aircraft. They appeared to be the new F35, $100 million dollar a piece, stealth fighters. They flew right over us, one after the other. The overcast clouds were only about 1000’ up and these guys were Low. Then we entered the York River, and we cruised that waterfront while the largest double swing bridge in the US (2nd largest in the world) opened up to let a tug and barge with crane through. This bridge is a massive feat of engineering. It took 10 minutes just to open. A modern marvel.
We cruised across the York River, had lunch, did some minor boat projects, and motored back to the Yorktown docks. We had a nice long walk along the beautiful riverside waterfront, past the Waterman’s Museum to the Revolutionary War Museum. At this site, the French Armada, combined with General Washington’s forces, compelled General Cornwallis to surrender. It was a decisive defeat and the beginning of the end of British Rule in the Colonies. The tour of the working farm, and re-enactment military campground, complete with actor/guides, was very interesting. It was well worth the stop to remember how we got our liberty. Men died here for our freedom from tyranny.
We strolled back down the waterfront to the other end of town and had a nice happy hour and delicious seafood at the Yorktown Pub. The rain started again, so we motored back across the river, and tied up the boat. Tonight we test the teepee tent in the rain. As long as there is not crazy winds, we should be dry.
Great Dismal Swamp To Portsmouth, VA
16 May 2018 | Norfolk, VA
Rainy with battleship grey skies
Underway Day 19
The sounds of wildlife all around us stirred me. The woods were waking up. So was I, if I didn’t want to miss the 0830 South Mills Lock opening. I had a look around and despite the heavy dew, we were all dry inside. This was dew (sea what I did there) in large part thanks to the dri-deck flooring that I custom fit before starting archeological dive ops with the St. Aug Lighthouse crew. Not only does it protect my non skid from Scuba tanks, but it keeps everything on the deck dry. Combined with the isinglass and canvas enclosure, and our teepee tent, we are well protected from the elements, better than I expected actually. We idled within visual of the lock and called him on VHF Ch. 13. After the green light, we threw a wrap around some bollards on the port side and locked up 8 feet. Mary hadn’t been through a lock before, but she’s a quick learner and is getting better every day as a First Mate. We exited into the Great Dismal Swamp’s Turner Cut without incident. Two bigger trawlers untied from the free dock wall and fell in behind us, no doubt hoping I would be the first one to bump something. Right away there were more snags and the controlling depth set by the Army Corps is only 6 feet. The guys behind me had a few bumps, but overall it was a magical morning. It was peaceful, primeval and surreal, just cruising at 5 knots. This is one of America’s treasures and only 2000 people a year enter these locks. Most choose, like I did 15 years earlier, to do Waterway Rt1, aka the Virginia Cut, with it’s12’ controlling depth, faster speeds and only 1 easy lock. Having now done both routes, the Dismal Swamp is the clear winner if your vessel fits the specs.
After some gentle rain, we came to the Deep Creek Lock, waited for two southbound sailboats to lock through for an hour and pulled in to the lock. “Ya’ll doing the loop in this?” said the lockmaster, both excited and surprised. “When you said Cat, I pictured a whole different animal.” I let him know a few details about the capabilities on board, and he was converted and happy for us. A friendly lock master can make all the difference in transit.
I understand the confusion about our choice of boat. At first glance, there is a perceived lack of amenities. I’m not sure some traditional loopers understand the beauty of simplicity. This is not a normal, or even ideal, boat to do the loop in, but it’s ours and we’re doing it. Sometimes that’s all that matters. It’s safe, comfortable, capable and fast. But sometimes the slow days are the best! Some of the scenery looks the same going 5 knots or 25 knots. Most of the good times happen with the people we meet along the way. Boat people are my kind of people. It’s them you need to throttle back to spend time with.
We The People are America’s greatest treasure, and many of us live on the water, protected by the most powerful navy on earth. And the Mombo just navigated through the heart of it, the Norfolk VA area, the largest naval complex on earth. This is where ships are born! To see a gigantic naval ships being built and maintained in dry dock is truly a sight to see. Here is some of the finest nautical engineering in the planet. This area is a maritime industrial complex the likes of which the world has never known. Keep your distance from the big grey boats, or you might get to experience the sight of a deck mounted 50 cal up close, operated by a 19 year old.
We tied up at Tidewater in Portsmouth. We enjoyed happy hour at Fish and Slips, and are now going to take a break. We will rent a car tomorrow to go and be with family. It’s time to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Road trip.
Oriental, NC to Dismal Swamp
15 May 2018 | Great Dismal Swamp
Beautiful with a chance of skeeters.
Underway Day 18
After a wonderful evening and a good nights rest, we were up early. The Neuse River and bay can get nasty. It’s shallow and can build up a fierce short chop, especially with wind against current, so we grabbed some coffee and bagels, cast off the lines and organized the boat for max speed while we motored out at idle. I wanted to zip across the bay before the calm morning whether developed into anything more. It was a great run. The Alligator River and Pungo Canal were calm and beautiful. Once we got to the Albermarle Sound, the wind had picked up and we had 15 kts with wind driven 3 footers on the port quarter. It wasn’t exactly comfortable but the world cat hull sliced through them while we passed some sail boats and weeble wabbling trawlers. Making time in adverse conditions is one of the benefits of this choice of vessel.
As we made it up to Elizabeth City, famous for its hospitality to transients, things calmed down. We struggled more than necessary, but without incident, to back into an 18’ wide 4 point tie, piling slip. We’ll pick a narrower one next time. We had a nice lunch, got to know a kind waitress, and planned the afternoon. Sometimes on Tuesday’s they throw parties and play movies on giant projectors for boaters, that you can watch right from your boat in the free transient slips, but that doesn’t start until June (:. The waitress said that the best we could hope for would be to hang out a few more days for the potato festival, and bear witness to the crowning of Little Miss Tater Tott! As fun as that sounds, we decided to push on and beat the weather.
We got back underway, had the bridge open for us (on demand) and moseyed up the Elizabeth River to Lambs Marina. To access, you tuck in through the trees in a narrow wooded canal. Once on the other side, there is a substantial operation hidden back in here; marina, fuel, grocery, restaurant, parts, etc. We topped of the tanks, heard some great jokes from the 75 year old fuel operator, and grabbed some snacks.
Sunset was 3 hours away and the first lock opening wasn’t until 0830 so we meandered through the Great Dismal Swamp Cana, Rt 2 on the ICW. Much of the land we are about to travel was once owned by George Washington. After trying a few anchorages for sundown, we ended up finding a perfect spot, close to the South Mills Lock. Since the canal is closed to night navigation, you are permitted to anchor in the channel.
It was a wild primeval place. We saw 3 swimming snakes, lots of turtles, and evidence of bear and bobcat. Fish were jumping. I went for a swim, checked the engines, and dried off in the sun. The waters are the color of black coffee, deeply stained by the tannins from the cypress, juniper and other trees. They are the cause of the ICW mustache, a brown stain that forms on the bow of boats transiting this area. The natural antibiotic from the leaves breaking down, made these tea stained waters the favorite for sailors of old looking for a fresh water stop. Some said drinking tannin water was the secret to a long life. They would load their casks with these waters when they could be found, and the water would store well without bacterial growth. I’m sure my Suzuki’s liked the way they tasted too. Duckweed can be a problem for raw water strainers in their area, but it wasn’t today.
After dusk, we had a brief mosquito attack. We sprayed the teepee tent with deet and climbed in, leaving the screens closed but the rain fly open. I fell asleep to a cacophony of wild sounds and songs that I haven’t heard since we lived in the jungle. It was amazing. Apparently it was mating night for dozens of species because there was some crazy sounds going on. I could only recognize a few. A few skeeters snuck in but we managed to sleep aboard, relatively bug free with a nice breeze and without any hassle. We were in the great dismal swamp and it felt like jungle and aquatic life had become one, here in some relatively unknown backwater on America’s forgotten waterway.
Beaufort to Oriental, NC
14 May 2018 | Pirates Home Port
Sunny with a chance of plunder
Underway Day 17:
I woke to a sound of a man shouting and the unmistakable groan of a sport fishing bow thruster. It sounded close. I un-snuggled myself from the comfort of the heavy survival school wool blanket to have a peek. The current was ripping in my direction in a tight fairway, but the captain knew what he was doing and cleared us safely. I went back to snuggle my wife, and fell back asleep for a well needed 90 minutes until 0730.
My gigantic head of unkempt hair and I then meandered to the showers at the quayside, a little embarrassed near the tourists, who were otherwise enjoying the morning view of the city's bay front.
Upon return to the vessel, I realized I should call Sinbad. We had a busy day planned and I wanted to make sure he was part of it. I forgot I had the phone on silent, but as I went to pick it up, it was ringing silent and it was the ole' pyrate himself!
We made plans for breakfast. I hadn't seen him in 15 years, but he was a big influence on my life when I was 24 years old and I think of him as my maritime mentor. He is one of the most interesting people I've ever had the pleasure to know. It's hard to know where to begin to tell his story. For starters, here is a link to his webpage: https://pirate-privateer.com/biography/
I had come through Beaufort on my old Corbin 39 sailboat in 2004. Despite having lived aboard for a few years at that point, I was still a green water sailor and "wet behind the ears" as they say. He had offered me some wok at the Jarret Bay shipyard and he welcomed me into his life. He provided a mooring for me while I went snowboarding that year, and provided advice before I headed offshore to Bermuda that January. That is a whole story in itself about surviving a subtropical cyclone 600nm offshore in January. It was my baptism by Neptune's fury and was published in Blue Water Sailing magazine at the time.
Back to the point, Sinbad is a real life pirate. He has a commission from President Regan (see photo) and legally changed his name to Horatio Sinbad. He custom mounts his 8 fully functional cannons on the Meka II. He carves his own wooden blocks and pulleys, splices his lines, and fabricates almost everything. He sews his own sails, and has built his brigantine in mostly traditional, old school ways. It has been his home since he ran away from Detroit in 1967. He has the highest rated ATF licence available and buys all types of charges and gunpowder in wooden barrels, 50 lbs at a time. He helped start the NC Maritime Museum, and he teaches people the history and ways of the freedom loving seafarers of old. He also does shows, complete with cannons, deck fights and all sorts of re-enactment high seas drama. I could go on, but, in short, Long John Silver has nothing on Sinbad.
We went to the local diner, the only one in town, for breakfast. It was a lovely conversation. It didn't take long to realize that despite my fears, this 75 year old man was still a badass. 15 years have gone by, but he hasn't slowed a bit. He mentioned that he needed to do some work aloft in the bosuns chair for about 5 hours later in the day. We went back to my boat for the tour, and I gave him the rundown on all the latest tech and gadgets on the Mombo. He still refuses to get a smart phone, and that's what I love about him. We both love and respect each other regardless of whether the nautical tech is modern or ancient, and I do think he appreciates the relative simplicity of the craft we've chosen for the loop. It certainly isn't normal. In fact, no one has ever done the loop in a World Cat. In many ways it has advantage.
He went back to the Brigantine to get started on his day. Mary and I prepped to get underway. We motored around the point, stopped to get fuel, and negotiated with Tom Bullock, aka Bull, another old time resident, and owner of Bulls Props. It's hard to haggle with a pro, but we made a trade for my two mismatched spare props and I walked out with a matching set of 3x16x18.5 props.
We then motored over to say goodbye to Sinbad across the harbor.
He was ready to go aloft.
Lieutenant Terry Brown, Sinbad's equally amazing wife of 38 years, gave Mary and I a nice tour of the legendary Meka II, and I fawned over all the cool fully functional nautical gear, handcrafted in traditional ways. A guy walked down the dock in modern clothes but an unmistakable braided beard. He hailed to Sinbad and looked at me and said, "who's the new crew?" Sinbad looked at me and said, "that's Blackbeard." I knew it! There is no such thing as a reenactor off duty. If my wits had been quicker, I would have told him my new nickname, Captain Greybeard.
Sinbad prepped the halyard by carefully scampering up the ratlines, off belay, like a man 50 years younger. Then he descended and mounted his bosun's chair, basically a wooden plank, like a swing set bench, nothin' too fancy. It would be his dangerously uncomfortable seat, 50 feet off the deck, for the the next 4 hours, at the top of the mast, in 10-15kt winds. I tailed the line while Lt. Terry ran the winch, and we had him up to the top in no time.
Once we hoisted him aloft, this was no time for hugs. We walked down the dock to Mombo, which was parked next to him, and shouted our goodbyes. It seemed appropriate to yell, "be safe, I love you" to a 75 year old pirate while he hung 60 feet above me on the mast head, in the noon day sun. As we pulled away into the current, I had a better idea. I switched on the new loud hailer that I installed a few weeks ago. I turned it to full blast so all of Beaufort could hear, and in my most Pirate'ye voice yelled, "Long live the Pirate"
They reply came a resounding reply across the bay. "Yaaaar!"
The incoming trawler honked his horn, and we motored to our own job for the day, the 20 hour engine service. We arrived for our appointment at Jarrett Bay, where I worked with Sinbad all those years ago. We waited a bit, and hauled the boat out. We drove it a long way in the slings, about 20 minutes down a road to the mechanic shop. A few hours later we had changed the oil, filters, lower unit oil, zinks, installed a skeg guard and the new props.
We got back in the water at 5, broke in the props and headed 15 miles north to a tiny town called Oriental NC. We considered options and almost anchored, but we decided to take a good offer for a slip and a bed at the Oriental Marina and Inn. We backed her in, dropped our bags, had a docktail, washed the boat, ate dinner and wrote this blog. If you go, try the bacon and pimento cheese burger.
Wrightsville Beach to Beaufort
13 May 2018 | Beaufort City Docks
Sunny with a chance of Dolphins
Underway Day 16:
Mary and I slept in later than expected but we needed the rest. After breakfast with the Hipp family, we edited a time lapse I had recorded from 1000 photos the day before, and tried to make a plan for the day. It was Mother's Day, aka Mombo Day. I had been hoping to get permission to spend the night at Frying Pan Tower, an old Coast Guard Lighthouse 39 miles off the coast of Cape Fear. It was purchased and turned into a vacation rental. I called the owner to make a last minute reservation but never heard back. I should have planned that ahead of time. The marina called and kindly told us to beat it or pay for another night, so Ryan dropped us back at the Mombo.
The yahoos were back on the water, now assembled at full strength on Mother's Day to wreck havoc on the Intracoastal Waterway and all nautical etiquette. We just took it easy at 7 knots, and did some trip planning, trying to decide whether to anchor out in some private cove or run to Beaufort, NC. We decided to push on, as I have some things planned in Beaufort and I don't have much time here if I want to get back on my arbitrary schedule.
I'm going to sell my used spare 3x16x20 props tomorrow and swap them for some 16x18.5's. The last number, prop pitch, refers to the number of inches the prop would move forward in one full rotation through a gelatinous substance, like water. Since the boat is fully loaded, and the rpms don't reach their full speed at wide open throttle, I want to improve the hole shot capability of the boat and reduce any excess load on the new engine. Changing the pitch by 1.5" will increase the rpms by about 300 and should do the trick. I'm also getting the boat hauled out for the 20 hour service required for the new engine. I made an arrangement with Jarrett Boat works to haul me out for a "swing in the sling" and we will just change the gear oil, motor oil, filters and props real quick while hanging in the lift straps.
I had worked at Jarrett Boatyard for a few weeks in 2003, helping to needlegun and shotblast during the refit of a salvage ship. I had the honor to be hired and work along side alongside one of my best maritime mentors, the legendary local pirate and unofficial Mayor of Beaufort, Captain Horatio Sinbad, pirate/privateer. But that story will have to wait until tomorrow, after we will reunite.
For now, we are tied up at the Beaufort city docks. We had a great meal at La Perla in honor of Mombo, watched a beautiful sunset, and the teepee tent is in full effect on the quayside.
Life is good and I feel like Mary and I are getting dialed in to life onboard this unconventional loop boat.
Charleston to Wrightsville Beach
12 May 2018 | Bridge Tender Marina
Wrath of the Sea Douche
Underway Day 15:
We woke up groggy at Wyatt's Isle of Songs compound, made some coffee, and borrowed Wyatt's golf cart. It was pretty fun to just electric glide right up to the boat and get underway. The morning was glassy and beautiful. There were dolphins and seabirds hunting everywhere. Once again weaving through the marshes at high speed is something I'll never forget. The Waccamaw National Forest was possibly the most beautiful section of the ICW so far, and we could see that the wetland foliage is changing as we move north. Once we left there, it became a bit of a nightmare. Children with no nautical knowledge zipping around willy nilly like Sea Doooche. It was like the jet ski scene from the movie waterworld, mayhem and anarchy. Tiny fleets of angry buzzing Sea Douche, jumping wakes and not paying attention to their surroundings in a tight channel. Add in some half drunken boaters by the hundreds disobeying the Rules of Road. This is all in narrow channels with active shoaling, at high speeds in unofficial "courtesy" no wake zones, of course. It was a madhouse. It was stressful and unpredictable, and nautical life doesn't have to be like that. I'm starting to change my "personal responsibility" mindset in favor of people being required to learn basic navigation and boater safety. It was like playing Atari's frogger on the water, no joke.
Anyways, we stopped for a nice lunch at Barefoot Landing marina, ran the redneck Rivera gauntlet some more, and arrived safely in Wrightsville Beach, near Wilmington NC, a run of 129nm. We met the nice owners of Bridge Tender Marina. They put us right next to a treasure hunting ship complete with blowers. A blower (see pic gallery) is a destructive overburden removal tool that redirects prop wash to blast a hole in the sea floor and uncover shipwrecks. Maritime Archeologist's like the people I work with don't usually use them, because they can be destructive to the treasure we look for, which is knowledge. Treasure hunters, on the other hand, tend to just want the yellow shiny stuff, with any historical archeological significance coming secondary. From what I heard, they have been pulling up some serious gold coin off the seabed on our neighbors Zissou style boat.
As we fueled up, my old friend from Costa Rica, Ryan Hipp, walked down the gangway. We hadn't seen each other in a decade, but we have kept in touch, and we picked up our (wife friendly) bromance right where we left off. Back around 2006, we had some fun adventures in the jungles of Uvita, CR with Ryan and his wife Karin. Ryan is an entrepreneur and man of many talents. He is an ex cop from Jacksonville, who was a realtor for a while, and he now runs a very successful power washing company. He also builds custom RV's from Sprinter Vans. They have two beautiful, funny, well behaved and athletic young boys, and it was great to see such good friends evolve into great parents. The boys nick named me "Captain Greybeard." I've been called worse.
Because their baby sitter flaked out, we decide just to swim in the pool and order pizzas at their awesome house. It ended up being a near perfect evening. We had a wonderful conversation, got all caught up with them, had some laughs, and then around 11pm, despite being exhausted, Mary and I jumped in an Uber to go to the Calico Room in downtown Wilmington. We wanted to see the last show of this years Nth Power Tour. A few red bulls later and we were having a great time. Nikki Glaspie, Nate Edgar and Nicholas Cassarino are just such incredibly talented and hard working musicians, and I love watching them work. Nick was sweet and gave Mary and I a shoutout on stage. We had a nice hang after the show and it was exciting to hear about all the new collaborations and music projects they have planned. It's great to be a witness over the years and to watch artists work so hard, face the struggle head on, and succeed.
We got in another Uber to head back to Ryan's house, and, just like on the water, we had very dangerous run in's with aggressive drunk drivers, one of whom almost hit the Uber driver and then got very aggressive and wanted to fight the Uber driver. I guess it's a college town, but it was weird and scary to see 3 obviously drink drivers in less than 10 minutes. We were tired. Fast asleep by 0230.
Charleston to Isle of Songs
11 May 2018 | Wyatt’s Isle of Songs
The weather was delicious
Blog Post 14:
Underway Day 14
After waking up in the teepee tent, we walked to a nearby diner, and then took the free marina shuttle to explore Charleston and tour the Nathaniel Russell Mansion.
I borrowed the dock masters computer and was able to get the tracking device updated and working. Live tracking can be viewed here:
Today's trip was only 10 miles and took under an hour.
We left the city docks and moved north to Isle of Palms marina. We fueled up, topped up on water and pumped out the holding tank at the Isle of Palms Marina. The staff there was great. Our friend Wyatt Durrette lives right near the marina and he met us. You may remember him from his appearance in the blog during the Bahamas sections. Wyatt and Kelly have a beautiful new baby named River, and they are wonderful human beings and amazing hosts. The house is like a giant zen garden. It is serene, peaceful and tastefully decorated. They invited us to stay in the guest house, complete with a music studio called Isle of Songs, where songwriters can come and get creative in the retreat like environment. Wyatt is in the process of starting up what is sure to be the best new restaurant in the area, Papi's Tacos, and he has been working with his old buddy Rusty Hamlin, a world famous executive chef and restraunteur, getting the place ready to open. Rusty was the star of the show "Rusty's Rock Feast" and came in 2nd place on the food networks show "Next Food Network Star." Needless to say the meal was amazing, with veggies and sauces and meat so tender it melts in your mouth. Rounding out our dinner party were our new friends Marty, a builder and boat captain, and his lovely wife Alysha. They own a vodka company called Chilled Dills Pickle Flavored Vodka, and we are looking foreword to making some delicious Bloody Mary's with the bottle they gifted us.
We laughed and talked and swapped stories until 0200. One of the highlights of the evening was bearing witness to 5 of Rusty's 32 marine animal impressions. The manatee and barnacle had me in stitches. If Rusty ever gets tired of being a badass chef, he would no problem making a living as a comedian.
We went to bed wishing we had more time to spend in such fine company, but we'll be back for tacos as soon as we can.
Savannah Splash to Chucktown
10 May 2018 | Isle of Songs
Sunny and Wyatt’s warmer weather
Blog Post 13:
Mary and I made good use of our time exploring Savannah and working on various projects. We rented a nice Airbnb cottage near Forsyth Park, went to the farmers market, cooked some yummy meals, explored the city's parks and squares, ate pizza at Vinny Van Gogo's, got a haircut, and enjoyed a fantastic self guided pub crawl. Savannah is a great town, full of history and kind people. We had an opportunity to spend some time with our old friends from Costa Rica, Chuck and Mercedes Chastain and their kids. They were in town visiting family, and it was great to spend some quality time with them.
Underway Day 13:
As far as the Mombo, things went better than expected. The Suzuki mechanic Phil Dolan was great to work with and fair on pricing. He was able to get the exact engine we needed in record time. We also installed 2 new Suzuki engine gauges, which are amazing and modernize the engine diagnostics. We splashed the boat Wednesday, fueled up, and were underway on Thursday morning. The first few hours, I was breaking in the engine gently. The spring weather was beautiful and we took a detour to explore the Savannah riverfront and check out America's 4th busiest port.
I especially liked the old tunnel that leads to the Pirate House from the river. In was used to smuggle booze underground from the river to the pirate house during both the colonial period and prohibition. Under the British, they Shanghai'd and "impressed into service" over 1000 unlucky sailors at this spot. Basically one minute you were drinking in a pub, and then after being either "over served" or drugged, you would wake up on a ship at sea. You are now part of the Royal Navy! If you didn't like it, you were flogged until your morale improved.
As we worked our way North to Charleston, I was able to throttle up, and we were once again weaving through beautiful marsh lowlands at low planing speed of 25 knots. It's really fun to cruise through some of the narrow cuts, navigating on the fly. We saw too many dolphins to count. The wetlands in N Georgia and S Carolina are extremely healthy and teeming with birds and sea life. We stopped for lunch at Dufusky Island, where Mary worked for 2 summers while we were building the house in CR. After lunch, we had smooth running all the way to Charleston. The boat just felt great, like a barking dog about to pull a sled, she just wanted to run.
It was a long day, but we powered through rather than getting an anchorage and arrived in Charleston to a beautiful sunset. Then we found out our friends The Nth Power had a show that night at the Charleston Pour House. We met up with Ben Fagan, my 1st mate from the Gulf Stream crossing, and his girlfriend Laura. We had a lovely sushi dinner. Then we enjoyed a wonderful night of music, and had fun surprising our friends in the band. After a family style hang post-show we went back to the boat, a bit too late at 0200. The teepee tent was up in minutes and we fell fast asleep.
St. Aug to Stuck in Savannah
04 May 2018 | Savanah Georgia
Weather is calm an leaking oil
Underway Days 10, 11, and 12
St. Aug to Stuck in Savanna
After months of preparations getting our house ready to receive short term renters, we finally left at 0730 with just a waterproof north face duffel bag for each of us. Since all the storage on the boat is loaded up with supplies, tools and equipment, Mary and I will be living out of these bags, riding an open boat, approximately 6000 miles around the eastern half of America, exploring its waterways.
We pulled away from the dock, remembering to take the keys to the lift with us, and started gently. I wanted to break in the new hub on the old propeller. The same one we spun in the Gulf Stream when we had to turn back. I also wanted to double check the engines after replacing the thermostats, thermostat housings, starter, stator, CPK, neutral sensors and flywheel. We headed north, I throttled up. We left our home waters and won't return until we complete the loop.
The ride was beautiful and fairly uneventful. Lots of birds and dolphins, sunshine and good music. The engines sounded great.
We ran past Jacksonville, Amelia Island, San Ferdinanda, Cumberland Island, Jeckyl Island and arrived at St. Simons Island Georgia at about 1:30.
After we fueled up and we're headed to our slip, I heard something wasn't just quite right with the port engine. I know how intimately how it sounds, like a baby calf and its mother, and something was different. As I backed into the slip, the dock master said, "you make it look easy" I replied, "thanks man, that means a lot. It's my first time" and we laughed. That is, until I popped the cowling and saw the engine. I had meticulously detailed it the day before, and it was now covered in oil. Dipstick was just barely registering oil. There were no engine codes, no overheating, no water in the oil, no blowby, fuel and air flow are good, water flow is good, so I got that going for me.
I started to mess with it, but then Mary and I decided that I was tired and hungry, it was hot, and we should take a break. We went to the bar and had a meal and a few drinks and asked around about things. The people there were super nice and I was able to get some contact info for a local Suzuki mechanic.
I made come calls, talked to the all knowing Chris Anderson back home, and then went back to get in my work clothes, tear down the engine and do some troubleshooting.
I spent the next several hours cleaning, running it, adding oil, looking for leaks, running it, drinking beer, looking for leaks. I had a nice chat with my supervisors, Mary and our friend Jason, who is a St. Simons local BBQ master, music lover, and just an all around wonderful guy to be around.
Despite running the engine, none of us could find the leak. Maybe it wasn't that bad. Sounds fine. Where did the oil come from? Could be an easy fix? We decided we had done all we could, perhaps we should go do something besides talk about outboards. We should wait to see if the local mechanic could help us in the morning. We then proceeded to get a first class tour of the best spots in St. Simons Island. Everywhere we went, Jason was well loved and we were treated like old friends by strangers. We met some wonderful people, and got to check out the 1975 pickup truck Jason is restoring after it caught fire. It was a great night, despite losing at darts. It was great hanging out in a family bar with the same decor it had 50 years ago.
Mary and I went back to the boat a bit too late, checked the dew point, inflated the air mattress on the back deck and slept in the open under the stars. We both slept well.
Underway Day 11:
After sunrise we got out the camping stove, made coffee, and I called the mechanic. As I feared and suspected, he took one look at it and declared it to be the crank seal. He was a master mechanic, but it was too big a job for him to do, given how busy he was. As the dock we were on was under construction, we were informed that we would soon be cut off from land. That sealed the deal, and we decided we would have better luck in Savannah, 80 miles north. At 11:30, we packed our gear away, topped up the oil, got underway, dodged the shifting shoals from the hurricanes and ripped up the ICW through the stunningly beautiful marshes and pristine barrier islands and wetlands of southern Georgia.
Zipping through the marsh at 27 knots in some of those narrow channels is a special experience. I wish I could have done it without the engine anxiety (no music), but everything went well. It was fun to navigate on the fly through some tricky, shifting, tight channels. I stopped and checked the engines several times, but we made it without issue. It was a good run.
We landed at thunderbolt marine in Savannah at 2:30, which happened to be the same time as a ~90 year old man was crashing his trawler into the dock and bumped a few boats. Since the busy dock master wasn't near the phone or the vhf, I got the instructions verbally by performing a dock drive-by at the scene of the trawler crime. We gently backed into the assigned dock and tied up.
Over a late lunch at Tubbys Restaurant down the street, the hunt began. We needed a haul out and a Suzuki mechanic. Unfortunately the "full service" shipyard at thunderbolt doesn't work on outboards, and they don't really seem interested in doing business unless you are a mega yacht. The people were nice, sympathetic even, but not helpful. Fortunately our friend from Costa Rica, Chuck Chastain was in town, and between me, him and Mary, calling locals and googling things, we slowly worked through the problem. We exhausted all options. We were almost defeated. It was getting to the point that we would have to run the boat 100+ miles north to Charleston to find a solution. We drank some beers with Chuck and his brother on the boat, had a wonderful evening of chit chat, and then Mary and I snuggled up on the air mattress. This time, we put up my custom teepee tent for the first time. We both slept well.
Underway Day 12:
The tent kept the bugs away, blocked the nights breeze, and caught the morning dew. I woke up refreshed and happy that sleeping on this boat could be done so simply and comfortably.
It was a new day. We needed a plan. I was researching how to do the job myself when we caught a break. I got a call back at 0800 from Phil Dolan, a Suzuki dealer at Landings Harbor Marina. He didn't think they could haul a power cat like ours the day before, but then he came through. He had found a way to get our boat lifted out with a forklift and brought to his shop. After canceling the rest of our reservation where we were, we packed up at 10:30 and ran for 30 minutes down the river. We tied up and met Phil and Rory, the marina director. They were wonderful and we found the perfect fit cradle for the boat. It was a big stroke of luck and kindness. It took a few attempts to line everything up but we soon had her out of the water and parked next to the shop.
After 20 years of dreaming and months of preparing, the prospect of the delays in our plan was disheartening and expensive, but I was mentally prepared for this. I didn't think we would have engine problems the first day, doh. That's why we did the shakedown cruise to the Bahamas. All in, life could be worse and this issue could have come at a worse time or place on the voyage.
Just like the setback on the Gulf Stream fail post, I have look at this as an opportunity and a challenge. The most expeditiously reasonable proposal was to put a new outboard on. Replacing the seal involves basically removing the entire power head. I'll spare you the details. It's an involved process, best not done in a rush. A new outboard provides its obvious benefits and gives me piece of mind that I'll have one new engine port side and one 10 year old engine with 1100 hours on stbd. It also gives me the opportunity to have the old engine rebuilt properly. I'm going to take the new one out of the crate, bolt it on the transom, and put the old one in the crate and ship it to Chris Anderson in Florida. He'll have it running like new. If I need a part, he can take it off and send it to me. When I'm done with the loop, we'll sell it and recoup 35% of the cost of the new engine. This option provides good insurance and piece of mind for the journey. We'll see what happens.
Plus, now we get to know Savannah. So far, I'm pretty happy to get stuck here. We found a great Airbnb deal on a cute little cottage near Forsyth Park, and we'll start by checking out the farmers market in the morning. Pura Vida
30 April 2018 | Dolphin Dock House
Preparations have been underway for many months, and even after the successful shakedown cruise, there was still much to be done.
Life has been maddeningly busy but also satisfying to knock so many lingering items from my to do list. From Mary leaving work, to changing addresses to a mail forwarding service, doing taxes, moving all of our earthly possessions into the garage and attic. I did hundreds of small projects to get the house “idiot proof”, labeling everything, painting, new grill, electronic keypad door locks, spares, and just too many small projects to list.
On the Mombo, I replaced the hailer and anchor light, repaired the nav lights, camera, and applied heat shrink and dialectic grease to many electrical connections, and uploaded new nautical charts for all of the US and Canada. Since I couldn’t get anyone at World Cat or their distributors to even reply to an email, I was forced to improvise, and customize many things. Most items are now more bulletproof than the factory standard. On the UV damaged vinyl cushions, I removed half of them and used the SEM system, a 3 part marine vinyl restoration technique that I’m curious to see how it goes. So far, the new light grey cushions look great. I’m not a seamstress, so the stiching is more functional than fashionable.
The boat was waxed up with a new product called Nano Extract, which cleans, polishes, and puts a nanoscopic hydrophobic barrier on the gel coat. So far, the results are very impressive.
There are many other details of little projects and preventive maintenance things I did to minimize the chances of something going wrong. I thought things were going great. All systems were inspected and ready to go, and all of our gear for the next 6000-7000 miles was stowed and organized in a rational manner.
Just one last job, turn the boat around and replace the stbd propeller, which was 1.5 degree different pitch from the Gulf Steam Incident. I waited a while to do it because there was just so many things to do at the house, getting it ready for short term rentals.
Last week, I went to start the engines, which performed perfectly on the way back from the Bahamas, and the port engine wouldn’t start, and threw a code 4-2, ie neutral safety switch. No biggie, as this is a $20 part and an easy sensor to replace on the motor.
I overnighted the part. When my mechanic Chris and I went to install it, we noticed other problems. Namely, there were hidden areas of the engine that looked like a freaking salt mine. Where was is coming from? Turns out that the thermostat housing had a pinhole leak, despite flushing with fresh water every time I use the engine. It had sprayed salt water all over the power head! Now we need to order a new stator, new starter, refurbish the flywheel, a new neutral safety sensor, new crank position sensor, 4 thermostats and 4 thermostat housings. The engine has also been cleaned and desalted, and will be all sprayed down again with the magical Corrosion Block spray, which saved the damage from being worse.
Hopefully the parts will arrive today and we will be back in action in time to depart on May 2. We have our first renters arriving on May 4, so it’s going to be close.
Fingers crossed, but at least we caught the problem early and hopefully will fix it here with my amazing mechanic, rather than trying to do it in an unknown port of call.
Mary just got back from hiking in Utah, and I’ll be honest. I’m really tired of preparing to go. I’m ready to go. I just want t untie the lines and get making way. At this point, if I overlooked some detail, we’ll just have to deal with it and improvise. Hopefully we can still untie the lines and go on Wednesday morning. Then we’ve got thousands of miles to explore before crossing our wake again.
Day 9: Shakedown Cruise Complete!
19 February 2018 | Ponce inlet and St. Augustine
Calm and Dewey
I was sleeping like the dead until a drop of morning dew fell from the outriggers above me and landed on my forehead. It was 0630 and the Anchorage was calm and glassy. The sunrise was glorious. The sailboat anchored nearby was starting to move. The whole boat and my sleeping bag was covered in dew. If I hadn't been so tired, I would have set up the teepee tent and zipped up the canvas enclosure to avoid this situation, but I didn't care. I knew that as soon as the sun rose a bit more and 25 knots of wind hit everything underway, that everything would dry out in no time. The salty morning air was delightful, and the fish were jumping. I boiled some water on my camp stove, and made french press Costa Rican coffee and some ramen noodles.
I headed over to the fuel dock and took on 220 gallons of gas. I had roughly 15 gallons remaining is each tank, which is nice to know, but I don't want to get that close to empty again. The fuel guy was also a musician, and he asked lots of questions about the trip and we had a nice chat. He said I could have tied up last night if I'd wanted too, but I'm glad I didn't. The anchorage was awesome, and it was the first time I'd slept out on this boat, which was one of the goals of the trip.
Overall, the trip was a great success. All major systems performed flawlessly. I got to test the boat in extreme conditions and learn more about how she handles. Although we broke a few things like the shower, nav lights, hailer, and spun a hub, those are all relatively minor, easy fixes. I was surprised we didn't break more, and I'm happy that this boat is so solid. That's the whole point of the shakedown cruise after all. I'll fix all that stuff and make it more bulletproof, and I've come up with a few more modifications and spares that I'd like to have for the Great Circle Loop.
I cruised home the last 50 miles, and it was uneventful, other than a few dolphins and some seagulls that rode inches above the water in my ground effect. It was cool to feel like the auspices were leading me home. The music was cranked up and the wind blew my crazy ass hair.
As I approached the St. Augustine Bridge of Lions around 11:30, I saw the Marine Sheriff and Fire in their big beautiful boat and hailed them over. Josh and Chris are great guys to have around and they are friends of mine. I try to help them hunt down local pirates, and they caught one while I was away. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes about the trip, and it just felt good to be back in familiar waters.
Mary was waiting for me at the dock. I tossed her the lift keys with their new Space X, Remove Before Launch, keychain, and we put Mombo back on her thru flow, no profile, lift platform. I had just made some modifications to the lift and she fit like a glove. Mary had my favorite breakfast waiting for me, a traditional Irish breakfast, complete with black and white pudding, actual rashers, and Heinz baked beans. We spent the rest of the day getting caught up on work, laundry, and cleaning and re-organizing the boat.
This will be the last blog for a while, until WE start the Great Loop. That's right, my 1st Mate is looking to make some life changes and she's coming with me. Send me a text or PM if we are coming your way and you want to join the crew for a few hours or days. We want to share this experience with people we love all over the US and Canada. The more the Mary-er. Sea what I did there?
Day 8: Alone Across the Stream
18 February 2018 | Elbow Cay to Ponce Inlet
Calm seas and a 2.5 knot push from the stream
Waking up at 0600 after only 5 hours of sleep was not easy, but I caught a burst of energy as I looked out to the East from the golf cart to the open Atlantic. I saw, that for the first time all week, the normally 6 foot crashing waves on the Windward side of the island were nearly completely calm. I had really hoped to stay longer, but there was a great weather window, and the seas would be starting to build later in the day and into the next week. I considered flying home and coming back for the boat later, but decided to seize the day. I double checked all systems, and got underway, alone, by 0700.
The boat seemed happy as I zoomed north over the glassy Sea of Abaco at 29-30 knots, constantly checking all systems were go. The tide was high, so I didn’t even have to slow down for Don’t Rock Passage. I made it to Spanish Cay by 0830, topped of the fuel, grabbed a cup of coffee, and was underway again by 0900. I set the auto pilot, cranked some tunes, listened to the news, ate some snacks. It was so calm I didn’t even spill my coffee at 30 knots. I was making great time.
Once I got to the edge of Lilly bank, and off the shelf into deep water, I had 2 options. Head back to Justin’s dock in Stuart, or cut the corner NW to make cape Canaveral. I got off the shelf, and it was still calm. I went for the Cape. About halfway across, I did some rough calculations or range, fuel, average speed, etc, and decided there was now a 3rd option. It would be close, but I might be able to shave another half day off the return trip if I could make Ponce Inlet by sundown. I turned the helm 15 degrees north and went for it.
There were a few strange things that happened weather wise in the stream, but that’s normal, and I’ll spare you the details. I slowed down as I approached for best fuel economy/ speed ratio. By 5:30 pm, as the sun was starting to set, I knew I would make it, but the fuel was going to be tight. At that point, I didn’t care, as I have towing insurance and I was now within easy towing range. I tried to get a marina, but by the time I was 15 miles offshore and in range, the offices were closed.
I glided in the Ponce Inlet, known for its shifting shoals, behind a charter fishing boat. I passed the Inlet Harbor Marina, and saw a cruising sailboat anchored up, tucked just inside the intersection between the ICW and the channel going to the inlet. I gave him a few hundred yards for privacy, and dropped the hook with my all chain remote windlass. Looking at my fuel gauge, it read 0 fuel remaining. I took a quick shower on the aft deck, blew up my queen air mattress, cracked my last beer, turned on the anchor lights, snuggled up in the Sea to Summit sleeping bag, and sent a bunch of texts to let people know I made it safely. The sound of live music from a nearby bar put me right to sleep by 8 pm. I slept with a smile, proud to have made it 300 miles in a single day, by myself, across the Gulf Stream, in ideal conditions.
Day 7: Swimming Pigs and Grabbers
17 February 2018 | Marsh Harbor, Elbow Cay, No Name Cay, Great Guana Cay
Calm perfect weather
Mary, Ben and I woke up at 10, fired up the engines, and picked up Wyatt at Firefly, before heading across the Sea of Abaco to Marsh Harbor. We fueled up the boat, and had a nice breakfast with his kind, lovely wife Kelly, who had just arrived by airplane. We the headed back to Firefly to pick up Gelbuda and Amber, before making the 40 minute run north to No Name Cay.
We anchored up in 3 feet of water and Amber, the pig whisperer, was off like a shot to go see her babies. These feral island pigs were imported to this uninhabited Cay, where they forage and feed on whatever nature, the local caretakers and the tourists feed them. Based on the number of newborn pigs, it’s looks like they have been breeding quite prolifically. Apparently they like coconuts as well, because there was a mountain of them. It was a pretty cool sensation to take a slice of apple and feed it right into their cute little sandy snouts. Nobody was bitten, which is always nice.
After the pigs had had their fill, we leisurely crossed back south to a quaint beach bar called Grabbers on Great Guana Cay. We anchored up out front and waded into the bar. We met up with some friends there on another boat, had some appetizers and flew the drone as the sun set. It was a perfect boat day, with a great crew, and we finished it off with some more fine live acoustic entertainment that night.
Day 6: Boat Pub Crawl and Warmer Weather
15 February 2018 | Pete’s Pub and Harbors Edge
Mary and I felt much better today, having slept from 0300 to 10:30. We left the treehouse on the golf cart and cruised along the beach to the Abaco Inn, where the Lobster Benedict did not disappoint. A few coffees and Bloody Mary's later, and we had assembled a fine crew of thirsty music lovers for the 30 minute trip south to Pete's Pub, in Little Harbor, which is about the furthest south one can go in the Abacos. Having been a deep draft sailor most of my life, I'm still getting used to going 28 knots over 5 feet of water, but my preparation of reading the guide books, studying the charts, and talking to people with local knowledge paid off. We made it there without incident, and everyone was all smiles as we glided into the sun bleached dock, and rendezvoused with our other friends from the festival.
Crew List, 11 Souls on Board:
1st Mate and 1st wife Mary Newman
Pirate Master Ben Fagan from the Holy City Hooligans
Mark Bryant from Hootie and the Blowfish
Sarah, Mark's awesome girlfriend
Wyatt Durrette, songwriter for Zac Brown Band
The talented Nashville songwriter Lauren Jenkins
The soulful singer Kylie Rae Harris from Texas
Event photographer Brooke Stevens
Pig whisperer/yoga with goats instructor Amber Worrick
My favorite musician and friend Chris Gelbuda.
It was just one of those wonderful beach bar days like you would see in the brochure. Hanging out with new friends. Eating coconut cracked conch. Playing ring toss. Sipping cold drinks in the hot sun. Laughing, playing music and carrying on intelligent conversation with new friends and interesting people.
As the day waned, we cut back across the clear sandy water at magic hour, and dropped the artists at the Firefly to get ready for the show. Mary, Ben and I slipped the boat back in it's slip, cleaned and rinsed her off, and golf carted back to the treehouse to get ready. We met up with the group in a golf cart caravan and made it to the beautiful seaside bar, Harbor's Edge, for the nights entertainment. The show was amazing as always, but it was extra special for me because Buda played a song I requested called Waiting For Me By The Shore, which was well received, and then Wyatt dedicated a song he wrote, called Colder Weather, to me and Mary. He even included a 3rd verse which was cut from the studio version.
That song was my anthem for a while in 2015. It had deep meaning to me from a cold lonely time in my life, after my parents had died. I was in Montana on a contract job, working 12 hour days for the better part of 5 months, on a nuclear, chemical, biological, EMP protected, 12,000 sf apocalypse bunker for a billionaire. I was lonely, and I missed my wife. I really missed my parents. My bank account was getting full but I felt empty inside. That song spoke to me at a hard time in my life, and I would sing along with it as I drove around the Montana countryside home through the snow. It was such a great feeling to have the writer himself dedicate it to us. The irony was not lost on me as I sang along with him in a totally opposite state of mind and location. I was smiling, with my wife, on a boat named after my mom, harmonizing with country star James Otto, while standing along a dock and leaning on a piling, in the freaking Bahamas. We are definitely in warmer weather now. Life is funny that way. The weather changes sometimes with our state of mind and the company we keep.
We finished off the night, and the morning, with another strong family jam session. There was lots of laughter and even a few tears as we all sang along in harmony to some beautiful songs performed by Channing Wilson, James Otto, Johnny Bulford, Buda, and Ben Fagan, among others.
Like the ocean, and the weather, music is a powerful force. For better or worse, however you choose to expose yourself to it can change your experience with it.
Day 5: Rum Punch in the head
14 February 2018 | Marsh Harbor and Sea Spray Marina
Calm Weather but a rough head
This day started out rough, and I'm not talking about the weather. The festivities from the night before had taken their toll and I had a screaming headache and little sleep. Maybe that's why the call it rum punch, because I felt like I'd been beaten the night before. I managed to rouse myself, take the golf cart over to Sea Spray Marina, and get underway slowly by myself. I cruised over to pick up an equally groggy Gelbuda at the Firefly docks, and we then crossed the short passage across the Sea of Abaco to Abaco Beach Resort where we found our imported women fresh off the plane, giggling, and drinking some very strong rum punch. Mary and Amber were excited to be in paradise, but thankfully they were tired from a long work week and travel day, so we zipped back across the crystal turquoise water and returned the boat to it's slip. Mary and I relaxed in our solar treehouse for the rest of the day.
That evening we got treated to another great round of music at Sea Spray Marina. Channing Wilson, Johnny Bulford, and Matt Warren all have diverse skill sets and different deliveries, but by the end of each song they played, I found myself singing along with their lyrics and relating to each song in my own way. The night got interesting when Mike Mills (REM), who had been living on a boat nearby for many months, was invited to sit in with Mark Bryan, who wrote most of the songs and played them with Hootie and the Blowfish. After the performances were over, most of the musicians and their guest were all graciously invited over to a well appointed mega yacht called Sweetwater, where the artists passed around a guitar on the flybrige, and everyone sang along campfire style. The combined level of skill and talent on that vessel was a sight to see and a joy to hear. I'd only known these people for about 30 hours, but as we all smiled and sang along together, it felt like family. These are the kind of hangs we live for.
Day 4: Crossing to Paradise
13 February 2018 | Gulf Stream, Sea of Abaco, Firefly Resort
Nasty and and confused seas turning to beautiful and calm
Feb 13, Day 4
Ben and I woke up at 0500 and were underway from Justin's dock at 0530.
As I powered up the vessel I noticed the nav lights weren't working. They had been the day before. Fortunately, sunrise was only an hour or so away and there was a fishing boat heading out, so we followed him out the Stuart inlet. Conditions were not much better than the previous day. We couldn't cruise at more than 12 knots, because the 4-6' seas were very confused. I tried virtually every combination quartering the waves, and various RPM's on the twin Suzuki 250's. The waves were just coming from what seemed like every direction. We slammed quite a lot and took constant spray. I was soaking wet and getting cold, but the rising sun inspired me to tough it out. Ben got creative and stuck his head through a trash bag, which made me laugh as his outfit slapped in the wind.
The trip was slow and steady. We were very uncomfortable but safe. It took 5 hours, rather than 2, to cross the Gulf Stream to the Lilly Bank in these conditions, but we reassured ourselves that the payoff would be worth it. It was! Once we reached the Bahama Bank, the ~2000 foot deep cobalt blue water changed to turquoise as the shelf rose 20 feet of water. It was a beautiful sight, akin to passing through the gates of salty hell into heavenly waters! The waves settled to 2' chop, which the catamaran hull just glided over as I increased speed to 28 knots.
Ben somehow actually managed to take a nap, while I piloted us past Great Sale Cay en route to Spanish Cay. We reached Spanish at 2 pm, cleared customs with a smile, topped off the gas, and by 3pm we were underway, dodging reefs and zipping over shallow water at full speed. We got lucky again at Don't Rock passage, which can be very tricky to navigate with shifting sands and various prop destroying hazards at only 3-6 foot depths. We followed a local boat right through, rather than having to feel the way through ourselves. We made it to Elbow Cay and tied up at Sea Spray marina by 4:45. We washed the boat, ate some nachos at Gaffers Pub, poured a stiff drink, and grabbed the golf cart I had reserved. We bounced along the stunningly beautiful ocean side with all of Ben's musical equipment and navigated on the left side of the road to our solar powered treehouse Airbnb. After a quick splash of water on our salty faces, we dropped the bags and golf carted over to meet our new musical family at Firefly Resort.
Despite a long and exhausting day of endurance and adventure, we caught a second wind as soon as we felt the warm embrace and booming voice of the legend himself, Mr. Chris Gelbuda. I knew that we were about to meet some wonderful and talented people, and all I can say is, it was worth it and my high expectations were blown out of the water by the assembled team of Songwriters in Paradise. This music event was started 6 years ago by Patrick Davis. He brings together an A team of some of the best songwriters in the country. Grammy award wining, multi platinum kind of people. Most importantly they are kind. And real. Nobody puts on airs or acts too cool for school, despite some legendary musical accomplishments. You've all probably heard their songs, but you probably associate them with the A list performers rather that the songwriters, who tend to live behind the scenes.
As we walked down the hill towards dozens of masts anchored out front and the setting sun over the Sea of Abaco, I just felt happy inside. Firefly Beach resort has a great vibe, a nice dock, pools, a quaint beach, some of the best food in all of the Bahamas, and most importantly a really fun bar. Then the music started. Each of the performers performed 2 songs, as an introduction night. I wasn't sure what to expect, but as soon as I heard the first few songs, I knew we came to the right place. You see, while I have eclectic tastes in music, I'm a sucker for a good, lyrical, acoustic ballad. It's my favorite kind of music. It was fun to hear Buda sit in with other artists and perform songs that they co-wrote together.
It was a beautiful evening all around that led into the wee hours of the morning as we had those kind of "get to know you" conversations. But these people were different, and interesting, and super talented and witty. My intuition told me that not only were we in for some great music all week, but that I was going to make some new awesome friends. I might have even recruited some crew members for the Great Loop, as we are headed to places like Charleston, Nashville and Muscle Shoals along the way.
When Wyatt Durrette, who has a ridiculously impressive 14, #1 hits, (Zac Brown Band) sang the lyrics to a particular song, I teared up as I sang along. "Maybe I'm crazy, maybe you are too, but I'd walk the desert, swim the seven oceans just to be here with you." It felt like the story of the past 4 days of my life getting here, and it moved me, which is the highest compliment I can give a song.
Mombo had made it to Hope Town. Now hurry up and slow down. Ho o o o o o oh. O o o o hopetown.
Gulf Stream Fail! Lemons to lemonade
12 February 2018 | 30 nm offshore to the middle of the Gulf Stream and back
A bit stacked up but improving conditions
Ben and I woke up at 0600, made coffee, and were underway towards the open ocean by 0630. My new crewmenber is Ben Fagan. He is a multi platinum songwriter, 1st place winner of the CBS reality TV show Pirate Master, and has been voted #1 male vocalist, musician, and band by the community of Charleston for several years. Him and I are friends from Costa Rica and own property near each other there. We've had some fun in the jungle doing ATV, waterfall, and musical adventures and have sailed in the BVI together. We make a good 2 man team. I'm so excited that he made the time to come with me in between gigs in Charleston and a tour of Costa Rica that he begins in 10 days.
As we left the inlet, the seas were about 3-5' with the wind from the SE. They were stacked up pretty tight. I plowed up with the bow high, just below planing speeed and we cruised along at 15 knots, occasionally slamming, and only slightly off course to properly quarter the waves. All was going well. We were cranking tunes, and every time we got deeper the wave period increased, along with our speed. We had been cruising at 23 knots, 30 miles offshore, halfway to the Bahama Bank, and while not ideal, we were looking good. In the middle of the Gulf Stream.
Then zzZzZzZzZz! The revs kicked up on the Port engine to redline. I throttled back and after investigating the situation, in the 5 foot swells, quickly determined that the problem was likely the Starboard lower unit. This part of the engine is like the transmission in a car. It's a series of gears that bring engine power to the propeller. Mine had been rebuilt 2 years ago after taking in some water into the oil. It's a complicated job so this was likely the obvious culprit. We had lost propulsion in one engine. After some debate, we decided to head back rather than try to fix it in the Bahamas. After about 5 minutes with my head down reading, and working the problem, while sloshing around in the waves, I became seasick. I haven't been seasick in a decade, and it's a rare thing for me. I'm usually Iron Stomach, but not today.
Puking over the side, turning around in failure, with a hangover, I felt like crawling up into a ball on the floor and pouting like a baby. I was debilitated by the sickness. Where was a tree when you need one? My big crossing day that I had been planning for a long time was falling apart. But I kept my mind state practical and tried to stay positive. I was still in command of a small boat offshore and needed to keep my wits about me.
As we limped back to land on one engine at 6-7 knots for 4 hours, in a following sea, my condition improved. Having Ben and his positive attitude around was nice. As we approached land, my seasickness began to abate. I held down some food and water, and I turned on the cell phone signal booster and had Justin, Scott, Mary, and my friend Conrad in the keys all making calls to find me a trailer/place to haul out, and a new lower unit. They lit a fire under me, and I determined I was going to bust my ass and hustle to get back on the water ASAP.
I had Mary look at flights just in case. They weren’t cheap.
We made it to Justin's dock house at 1pm, got in his car, found a used lower unit for half price and talked a grumpy travelift operator named Jack into hauling us out and keeping us in the slings until we swapped out the $2000 used lower unit. We had to be done by 5pm or grumpy Jack would be mean. We went back to Justin’s. He went to get Lulu from school. I took the boat to Jack’s lift. I had graciously thanked him in the office and told him I appreciated his kindness. He said don’t tell anybody that he was nice. I said, yeah, I wouldn’t want to ruin your reputation. He cracked a smile.
As he hauled the boat out of the water at 3:30 and it floated down the road in the slings, I said, “hey jack, if you weren’t so ugly, I’d kiss you right now.” This time I got a full smile. Now we’re getting somewhere.
As I watched the boat move, a thought occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t a damaged lower unit, but maybe a spun hub. I never really diagnosed the problem at sea. I just assumed it was the whole lower unit. As soon as the boat stopped, I jumped on, put both engines in gear, checked the lower unit gear oil, and it was clean, no metal on the magnetic plug. I was right! I knew at that moment that it could get done.
We went back to the mechanic, where they were prepping the $2000 (plus rush install fees) unit. We cancelled that order and bought a used propeller, sent the old one to be re-hubbed, and ordered a spare for the port side. We went back to the boat. 9 year old Lulu supervised and gave Ben the inquisition, while Justin put on the prop nut, and I topped off the gear lube. 5 minutes later, we were heading back up the road and swingin’ in the slings. Ben had grabbed some burgers to go. We had not eaten much all day, were getting some sunburn, dehydrated, hungover, and recovering from seasickness, but I felt great as the boat splashed down at 4:35. We topped off the fuel, parked, ate burgers, jumped in pool, and cracked beers. I wish they had been margaritas, because we turned lemons to lemonade.
Total cost: $300 for the used prop. $200 for the haul! Someone else can have the expensive unit they prepped! Mine appears fine. I tipped the mechanics, and the haul out guys too. I’m so grateful it turned out to be relatively cheap and easy, despite the hassle. Everyone’s a winner.
As I sit here about to go to bed early, so we can get underway at 0330, I’m realized once again why I love doing shit like this. The salty grit, and sunny determination, combined with endurance and adventure. I could do with a bit less seasickness though. Meeting a challenge that seemed impossible and winning. Making Grumpy Jack smile. It looks like Neptune is going to smile on us too. The seas are continuing to lie down, and so will I.
Tomorrow, we will try again.