06 March 2013 | Orange Beach, AL
March 5, 2013
We are finally on the move again. I can’t believe its March and we’re still not in Key West. And I invited friends to meet us in Key West for Christmas. Oh well, I guess it will have to be next Christmas.
We left Mandeville last Friday with our lovely new mizzen sail, our new “stackpack” or sail pack and our fabulous Dodger/Bimini that I talked about in the last blog. But instead of a Dodger/Bimini, we got this amazing enclosure that adds a whole extra room onto the boat…a place to go to be alone when we really need it (I’ve enclosed the picture of our pimped up Mariah). It also protects us from the wind and boy, did we need that this last weekend.
So, we left Mandeville at 7am and made our way across the northern end of Lake Ponchatrain to the Rigolets (locally known as The Rigglies), where we wound our way through canals and bridges until we got out to Lake Borgne. We had the choice to stop at Rabbit Island for the night, but it was only 2pm and it seemed like a waste of a good day to stop so soon. Off we went to the next possible stopping point, Cat Island (I never did learn what’s with all the animal islands). The wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph from the NW, so we put up our mainsail to keep the rolling and pitching at bay as we motored along the ICW, which at this point, is more like a huge lake…mostly open water. With the wind blowing that hard, the waves were quite choppy and without the main, we would have been really uncomfortable. With the sailpack, the main went up so easily that John now likes to take it up and down anytime he feels like it. It is an amazing improvement as the sail just drops into this “sack” and you don’t have to stand on the foredeck trying to corral it and tie it up while the wind is howling down your neck.
Because the wind was at our backs, the usual anchorages at Cat Island were unacceptable as we would be at the effect of both the wind and the waves all night long. So, we determined that we had to go around the back side of the island, an extra two hours. As it turned out, the sun set (and a lovely sunset it was, green flash and all) and we raced for the back side of the island in the pitch black of night with only our GPS to show the way. Not the ideal way to enter unknown waters. Of course, after all that work and time, the wind changed while we were sleeping so that we had a horridly bumpy night…even worse than the Isthmus at Catalina Island in California. Oh well, we took off on Saturday in the same kind of weather, and made our way to Dauphine Island, just before the entrance to Mobile Bay. We had to go around the back side of the island again, but this time it was done in the daylight and the wind did not change, so we had a very pleasant night at anchor in 20 mph winds.
Day 3, we set out early again with the intention of getting to Pensacola by nightfall. We were crossing Mobile Bay with “small craft warnings” being announced by the Coast Guard. Well, we had been in them for two days already, so we figured it wouldn’t be any different. And it really wasn’t, except that halfway across Mobile Bay, our engine quit. Dang! How could this happen after spending five weeks in New Orleans and lots of money getting it fixed? We were able to start it again and motored for awhile before it quit again and then overheated. Yikes! Same problem as before, no water coming out of the outtake valve. Jeez! Fortunately, we are in a sailboat and the wind was at our backs…and we have a sailpack…so out of the enclosure John went and raised the mainsail and set the jib/Genoa (the sail on the very front of the boat). We were sailing! Whoo hoo! This is what Mariah was made to do. 20 mph winds? No problem, 3 foot seas? No problem. And it’s so nice and quiet. Wonderful. We sailed thus across the rest of Mobile Bay and right on into the ICW. That’s the canal that’s about 200 feet wide with barges often coming the other way. Well, what the heck? What choice did we have? We entered the ICW on sails only and cruised quite nicely for about 3 miles when the wind died. We were still moving with the two mph current in the ICW, but knew that we couldn’t continue that way because there were some curves up ahead. Checking the map, we saw that there was a marina up ahead with a restaurant called Lulu’s. Turns out Lulu’s is a tourist destination as it is owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister, Lucy. It is a bit “Disneylandish”, but great fun, good food, and once again, a great place to get stuck.
That was Sunday, and no repair yards were open, so we went to the bar and had a good stiff drink…a Margarita, of course. I mean, it is Jimmy Buffet land as we were reminded by his music playing ALL THE TIME. No complaints though, it was a fun venue. On Monday, we called our wonderful mechanic back in New Orleans who gave us a couple of clues. As it turns out, the problems were easy to fix:
1. Our engine “Kill Switch” had backed itself out and had “killed” the engine. We will need to put a spring on the back of it so that it prefers to stay shut instead of open. In the meantime, when we shut the engine off, John has to go down into the engine room and manually shut it. Lucky him, eh?
2. Apparently, according to the mechanic, when a sailboat is in heavy seas, the sea strainer (which was the cause of the problem in the beginning) can get an air bubble in it. One just needs to prime it, get the air bubble out, and it’s all fixed.
When all this was tested by running the engine at high speed while sitting at the dock (you have to trust your dock lines for that), we decided that we could resume our trek towards Pensacola. So, this morning, we took 3 hours off work (because the wind prediction for this afternoon is for 30 mph winds) and motored down the ICW to a lovely marina called Bear Point Marina. It is very funky with old docks and pilings. The entrance was narrow and the docking quite hair-raising with the winds now up to 20 mph. It was a bit like Captain Ron, for those who’ve seen the movie. Run the boat down a channel and slide it into the slip, except the “slip” is really just a space between two sets of pilings. No worries, I only hit one of them, but only with the fender board. Whew!
We are only about 300 yards from the Florida border. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it is quite momentous for several reasons. First, it means that I can try fishing with my Florida fishing license. Wish me luck. I’ve never fished in my life and I can tell by John’s reaction, that I have very high expectations of the fun factor involved. Second, the water should start turning blue again. Hard to believe, but we have not seen blue water since we left San Diego. All water anywhere near the Mississippi River is mud-brown. I never put it together, but names like Brownsville are not surnames around here. Some of the barges are called Brown Water and the like. And of course, you can’t see anything in the water. I’m surprised that the fish and dolphin can even see their way around. And third, just being in Florida seems so much closer to Key West than Alabama even though it’s only 300 yards difference. Go figure.
We will stay here to wait out the crazy winds, about 2 days, then make our way to Pensacola. We have great weekend weather coming and we want to get to Panama City by Sunday night where we will spend the workweek. This trip requires going out to sea because the bridges between Pensacola and Panama City are not high enough for our 60 foot mast to go under. So, good weather is critical…no small craft warnings allowed on this part of the trip.