Thursday, September 27, 2012

Grocery Shopping 101

  The propeller we had ordered for the dinghy outboard had to be special ordered and wouldn't come in until next Thursday, a week away. I told the marina to forget it, and they totally understood. I'm glad I called them to find out the status of the prop that was supposed to come in today.
  I fixed a loose piece of woodwork in our stateroom this morning and cleaned the mold off of the life ring hanging on the flybridge. You can't get to lax around here.
  We were waiting for high tide and after lunch we took the dinghy down a canal to where we now knew the grocery store was located. We docked the dinghy at the end of the canal and tied it up against a concrete sea wall but we put our fenders out. Where we docked was so close to the strip mall where the Save-a-Lot was located, we nearly fell into a dumpster as we climbed out of the dinghy.
  The first place we saw was the Duds and Suds that we were looking for on Monday. If I had lived around here, I would have been able to tell someone exactly how to get to the laundromat via a dinghy. I hope someone asks me before we leave. We also saw a Little Ceasars Pizza, not a fan, but pizza is pizza when you really want it.
  We noticed the Save-a-Lot, but further along the strip mall was the Holy Grail, a West Marine. I had a suspicion that the West Marine was in this strip mall, but one of my apps showed it to be somewhere else. We went to West Marine first and they had a spare prop for our Mercury at the same price as everyone else. Ding Ding Ding. Next, I asked about a collapsible cart that I had considered getting over year ago but didn't get for some reason. They had one in stock and we bought it and some snap covers too. The cart is expensive, but it won't rust and will fold down to a size we can deal with.
  Next it was on to the grocery store and we loaded up our cart. Once we checked out, I unfolded our new cart and we got everything in it, including two 18 packs of Bud Light, but Rosie had to carry two bags back to the dinghy while I rolled the new cart. Nifty.
  Rosie put all our groceries away and then we loaded up the cooler with a few beers, grabbed up Holly, piled all the trash into the dinghy, (a weeks worth) and headed for Pete's Pier to get fuel and dump the trash. The dinghy tank took a whopping 3 gallons of non-ethanol regular and when I went in to pay I bought Rosie a new snorkel and mask, one that would fit her small little face better than the other new one she has.
  We then took a ride over to the Three Sisters Spring to drink the last of our beers and chat it up with some of the people over there. Once the beers were gone it was back to the boat for a dinner of leftovers. We keep our refrigerator very well organized by eating leftovers when we have them. In nearly five months we've only had to throw away one food item, a small bowl of rice.
  We could easily stay here until the weather changes, but we plan on cutting out on Saturday morning. The attraction of seeing what's next is too compelling for us to resist.
  I wish I had some pictures for this blog but I don't, but a new camera is on our list of stuff to get, but so is new fly swatters. I think the new fly swatters will be the first thing we get.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Ho Hum Boating Life

  We're on our fifth day here in Crystal River and are just living the boating life, nothing special, but living aboard isn't going to be exciting everyday, it's just a different way of going through life.
  At times I feel like a blog is a bit narcissistic, and I wonder if I should write about the normal stuff we do, but then I think that some of the things we do to get through a normal day would be of interest to those who are considering attempting this lifestyle someday. Let's see if anything we've done in the last couple of days will blow your skirt up.
  On Monday morning, I checked a couple of apps on the iPad to look for a laundromat and a grocery store. I found one of each, both located right smack on a small bridge that I could see from the boat. I didn't see a laundromat or a grocery store anywhere in sight.
  There were two possible locations for a laundromat, and Rosie wanted to find them before loading up the laundry bag in the dinghy, but I know that if I set out to find a laundromat, then I'm going to sure as heck find one. We loaded up a very full bag of laundry, plus we brought along Holly, and set out to the first and possibly easiest location.
  MapQuest advertised a Duds and Suds 1/10 of a mile from The Port Hotel and Marina, just a short distance from our anchorage, so we headed there first.
  My method of inquiry was to find someone walking around some docks or the bank and we found a girl walking her dog near the hotel. No, she didn't know where a laundromat was because she wasn't from around there. This is quite understandable. There was both a restaurant and a boat rental place on sight, so we parked the dinghy and I walked up to the boat rental place and two fellas came out of the office, one was a very young guy and the other one was about my age. The older one said his wife used to work at the Duds and Suds and he did know where it was at, but it was "about a mile away". I got directions and went to gather up Rosie and Holly and we set off, me carrying the laundry and Rosie carrying the detergent and Holly.
  I carried the bag first on one shoulder, then the other shoulder, then in both arms like a baby, then I was about to just drag it behind me, and we had only gone a block or two. The road where we were supposed to make our turn at the half way point was so far away I could barely make out the cars traveling along it. Rosie was about in the same predicament, at first she had Holly marching alongside her, and then one time I looked back and Holly was cuddled in Rosie's arms, scrunched up beside the bottle of All Detergent.
  About that time a young woman had pulled over in her pickup truck towing a trailer with lawn mowers on it. At first I thought she was taking pity on us and was going to give us a ride when I then could see she was just arriving at her lawn mowing job. I asked her anyway about the Duds and Suds, and she asks me right back, "Isn't that on Kings Bay Drive?"
  I said with the best smile I could muster at the time, "It could be on the friggin' moon for all I know, that's why I'm asking you where it is".
  Her final explanation as to where it was finally convinced me that we were never going to walk the whole distance to the Duds and Suds, so we turned around and walked back to the boat rental place. The two fellas I had first spoke to came out again as we walked up. The guy about my age says, "It was too far of a walk, wasn't it?", as I think he already knew the answer. He got on his phone to ask if wife if another laundromat that was easier to get to in the dinghy was still open, when the younger fella says, "I think I have a better solution, I'll be right back."
  The one guy was still on the phone with his wife, I heard him say, "They don't have a car, they're here by boat" when the younger guy says we could use the coin operated washer and dryer right there on the premises.
  Normally, I would have said something like, "Are you kidding me?" It's not like there was a long line of people wanting to use the laundry facilities in a near empty hotel, or we weren't going to be paying...
  I gathered my senses and asked if the restaurant had seating outside where we could have lunch while the laundry was going, and we were told that they did and taking Holly along would be no problem. While Rosie was doing the first load of washing, I went over to inquire about lunch. There was to be absolutely no pets on the patio for lunch, according to the server I asked. This is totally understandable to me, but someone needed to tell the several squirrels running rampant over the empty table tops, looking for salt for their nuts, apparently. Remember that the next time you are dining outside and you grab that french fry to pop in your mouth that just fell off the edge of your plate.
  Undaunted, I asked for a "to go" menu and after taking it over for Rosie to make a selection, I went back and ordered a couple of sandwiches to go to the tune of $21. They were very good sandwiches.
  We sat on a nice bench and watched boaters come and go and figured it was better than sitting in a hot and sweaty laundromat. At one point, two couples motored in and looked ready to go home. One fella got out of the boat and went to get his truck and backed the trailer in while the other guy drove the boat over and ran it up onto the trailer. The outfit was just a small aluminum boat and outboard, but the big cheese owner didn't see it necessary to use the winch or cable to tie the boat to the trailer and proceeded to get in the truck and start pulling out the rig. I said, "He didn't tie the boat on" just as the boat started sliding off the trailer and the two women started screaming at the driver. He pulls back down the ramp, preventing the boat from eating concrete and then gets out and acts like the other guy did something wrong, when it was obvious the other guy was a guest and didn't know squat. BIg Cheese says he "never ties the boat down", and proceeded to do just that, and then they all drove away. It reminded me of when we used to go down to the local boat ramp on the Meramec River and just watch folks at the public ramp. Talk about a hoot!
  Just about the time all of the laundry was done I talked to the two guys at the boat rental place some more and they both said we were "living the dream". The younger one said he hopes he can do the same some day and the older one wishes he had done it earlier.
  With our laundry done at least for a month or so, we headed back to the boat and had lunch and chilled out some. We took the dinghy back out later in the afternoon because I wanted to find the grocery store in order to stock up before we leave Crystal River. I made the mistake of going at low tide and while we were admiring the crystal clear water in the canal we were traversing, I hit a rock. A big rock.
  I shut the motor down and got out in the very shallow water to survey the damage. There was some scrapes on one ear of the prop, and some paint wore off, but I decided then and there that we needed a spare prop for the Mercury just in case the damage was worse the next time.
  The next day I called one of the local marinas and was told they could order a prop and have it in a couple of days. I made a couple of calls to find out the going price on a 9" by 8" three bladed prop for our Mercury before I called the marina back and ordered it. I know we don't need it but I'd rather have it and not need it. You know the drill.
  Most of the day yesterday was blustery and threatening rain, so we did some cleaning on the boat and I cleaned out our sea strainers and fixed one of the small 12 volt fans in our stateroom that had been rattling. The sun came out in the afternoon, so we took the dingy over to the Three Sisters Spring for just the ride and a look see. We had been there on Sunday, but we didn't get out of the boat.

  This is the entrance to the springs. All motorboats are prohibited and the poles blocking the entrance insure that only kayaks and canoes will be in the lagoon where the springs are. I left Rosie and Holly in the dinghy to swim back and see if it was worth coming back with our snorkel gear, and I found that it was. You can see how clear the water is in this picture and it's not salt water, but fresh water and one gets the impression you could just gulp a big mouthful of the stuff.
  Today we waited until we were almost at high tide and set out on the dinghy again in search of a landing where we could leave the dinghy and be close to the Save-a-Lot grocery store. We left Holly to guard Swing Set and we took along our snorkeling gear.
  There was lots of water heading down the canal we were in and then we saw our first manatee of this trip. They are pretty innocuous looking creatures and I can see why people get upset about the harm that comes to them, but I don't think I'd go out of my way to see another one.
  We found a good place to tie up the dinghy for the trip to the store which we will probably do tomorrow, it's going to be a very short walk for us. With that behind us we motored back over to the Three Sisters Spring for some snorkeling.

  I'm not sure if Rosie has snorkeled in the last 30 years, but she has brand new equipment and after some remedial instruction, she did fine, and we thoroughly explored the Three Sisters Springs. They aren't as deep as we found them to be advertised, and we only saw some very small fish and no manatees, but the water was a cool 72 degrees and crystal clear. It turned out to be a fun experience for us.
  Once we got done with our swim, we went back to the boat and collected Holly and did some more exploring in the dinghy. I don't know how anyone can travel in a larger type boat and not have a dinghy or kayak to explore the shallower waters. We really enjoy the dinghy and are glad we have it. Sometimes just the ride is fun because we go faster in the dinghy than we do the big boat.
  We are really enjoying our anchorage here in Crystal River but are getting anxious to head on down the coast. The next 70-80 miles will be open water until we hit the Intracoastal Waterway again just south of Tarpon Springs. The gulf is supposed to be flat come the weekend according to my sources, those being the websites I am learning to use. Many people rely on the advice of others before venturing out, but I've decided to make these decisions myself, using multiple tools that are available to us. No one has our best interest in mind better than ourselves.
  Thanks for all the kind comments coming our way, as always. We'll try to live up to the dream.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Crystal River

  The restaurant "right next door" to the River Haven Marina turned out to be Fiddlers, and it was further away than we thought, but a nice fella who noticed Rosie washing the boat in her bikini earlier happened to be waiting for us in his golf cart as we made our way off of the boat dock to head for Fiddlers on foot.
  Don is a local charter boat captain and he was celebrating happy hour in fine fashion with a huge tumbler of whiskey on the rocks. I saw him pour one and I can attest to his intentions. Don invited us to climb into the cart and he took us to the liquor store next to Fiddlers where we replenished our dwindling supply of beer, drove back to the marina, and then back to Fiddlers where he dropped us off and gave us his business card, which was two beer can coozies with his information on it. He said that if we needed anything while in Steinhatchie, we should give him a call. Judging by the weaving he was doing in the golf cart, I was hoping we weren't going to need an ambulance.
  Don didn't want to let us go, well, Rosie anyway, but we bade him farewell and went into Fiddlers and got the last two seats at a crowed bar. We perused the menu and found tourist trap prices, so we each had an appetizer and a couple of beers before we walked back to the boat and rustled up some food for ourselves.
  The next morning at daybreak we got up and topped off our water tank and as we pulled out, there were plenty of fishermen already heading out too. I had checked the wind and wave forecast and by all indications, we were in store for a pleasant cruise down to Crystal River.
  The route that I charted took us right to the northern channel into Cedar Key, just in case the ride was rougher than we expected, plus the route was also the shortest around the most outer islands of Cedar Key in the event that we wanted to keep going.

  The ride was so pleasant we slipped right on past Cedar Key and kept going, although we had some skinny water to negotiate through, as little as five feet in some places. The more we use our Navionics App on the iPad, the more faith I have in it. I feel like it's more accurate than the Garmin unit we also use.
  Once we got past Cedar Key the water cleared up tremendously and I stopped the boat two times to take a dip. We had to skirt a long channel leading to a local nuclear power plant to reach the channel into Crystal River, but we got there with no mishaps after a nine hour trip, staying at our normal 8 miles per hour or so.
  The channel leading in to our intended anchorage in Kings Bay is a circuitous one with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour in the marked channel, and two areas with an idle only limit as this is manatee waters.

  This is a view of Pete's Pier from our anchorage in Kings Bay. We got the hook down and made a quick dinner of hotdogs and pork and beans, a fitting dinner for kings, or just hungry travelers. Pete's Pier is where we'll fill up our water tank while we are here. We don't plan on asking Pete, and we don't want you to tell him either.

  Once we got the boat cleaned up on Saturday morning, using the clear fresh water from the river, we loaded up the dinghy and went exploring. We had a line on some local hangouts and we retraced our path back to near the entrance to the river where a shell beach attracted local boaters. We chatted with some guys in a little center console and they showed us their catch of scallops, and demonstrated how to clean one should I decided to go hunt them before the season ends on Tuesday. I figured that the season for the scallops didn't mean much to me as I didn't intend on having a fishing license anyway, we have to wait another week or so before the six month requirement for residency takes affect.
  We left the shell beach and headed to another hang out and we anchored the dinghy in some crystal clear shallow water near one of the popular manatee viewing areas. There were lots of other boats anchored there too and as soon as we got situated, Holly made the acquaintance of another dog in a neighboring boat and the dog's owners walked over and we visited with them until we were almost out of beer.
  We continued our search for local hangouts and headed for Three Sisters Springs where there were a few boats anchored around the entrance to one of the sources for the Crystal River. The water was cold and clear coming from the springs, but was welcome on a hot day. You have to wade in past the entrance to actually go view down into the springs, and it's best to do with snorkel equipment, something we'll do later this week, as we plan on staying here for at least a week.
  We took Holly back to the boat and got ourselves presentable to visit one of the popular watering holes, Crackers. We tied the dinghy up and got a high top table in the tiki hut, which was full of patrons. No one was at the bar, so we decided to enjoy the view from the deck and just people watch. The menu was a little more suited to our wallet than Fiddlers was, but we weren't in the mood for a heavy dinner. We had a big platter of chicken wings and another basket of Flounder Fingers. The flounder was delicious and the wings were prepared just the way we like them. We're going to visit Crackers again before we leave.

  This picture was taken at sunrise this morning. We are sharing Kings Bay with several other vessels, none of them presently occupied. We could call some of them derelict vessels and we wouldn't be wrong. The sailboat in the picture is one of them, there are lots of birds using this boat as their roost, and subsequently, their toilet.
  What attracts us to this town is the protection of the anchorage and the fact that there is several local boater hangouts if we get antsy for human interaction. There is also a Big Lots for groceries if we need them and also a laundromat that we can reach after a short walk once we park the dinghy. We know the grocery store and laundromat are not too far away, judging from the Mapquest directions, but this morning we are going in search of them in person. We're also going to bring along our laundry bag so we can get a couple of loads done while we are at it.
  We also know that we won't be spending the rest of our lives in fresh water, but since we are here we'll make the most of it. The locals say that the water quality has diminished somewhat over the years, but when the tide is going out, the water is plenty clear to us and is very inviting to dive into. One thing missing is a coastal breeze to spin our wind generators. We've only run our diesel generator for 15 hours in over three weeks, so our wind generators are doing what we expected them to do, but we'll trade a few hours of diesel generator use for the clear, fresh water of our present anchorage. For a few days anyway, until we decide to head for our next stop which we think will be Tarpon Springs unless we hear of another inviting place in the mean time.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Crossed the Gulf Today

  We were up at 6 A.M. and it was pitch black outside but by the time I listened to the weather radio report and looked at the wind and wave predictions, got the anchor up, and got over to the East Pass, we had enough light to see where we were going.
  The photo above is one I took once we got past some larger waves and Rosie had enough nerve to ride on the bow. Riding on the bow is something I enjoy because the engine noise is nothing but a gentle hum and the only thing you hear is the waves on the bow.
  Our nine hour ride over to Steinhatchie was as pleasant as can be. All three electronic devices pointing our way performed flawlessly. I had some tense moments yesterday when I couldn't enter any L/L co-ordinates into our old Raymarine Chartplotter. I had entered them up on the Tennessee River with no problem, but something happened since then, but I didn't know what. I made a mistake and did a hard reset on the chartplotter with no success, figuring that I lunched the unit for certain. Rosie and took the dinghy over to the beach at Dog Island and instead of enjoying the walk, I spent the whole time trying to figure out what went wrong with the chartplotter. It occurred to me that I had entered co-ordinates into the old chartplotter off of the iPad, and the ones I tried to enter with no success were from the new Garmin unit. I had a thought that the format I had set up on the Garmin unit for latitude and longitude was different from the format on the iPad. When I got back to the boat I entered the L/L from the co-ordinates on the iPad and they worked. I then changed the format on the Garmin to match the iPad and we were in business. Tenacity pays off, it's what I do.

  Rosie started making calls to marinas in Steinhatchie on our approach, asking about fuel prices and transient slip prices. We didn't really want to stay at a marina but we wanted to do laundry and the boat would have benefited from a hose down with fresh water. We wound up heading to River Haven Marina, just under the bridge up the Steinhatchie River, because a slip was going to run us $24 and fuel was $1.10 cheaper than the first place you come to in Steinhatchie, Sea Hag Marina.
  We pulled up at River Haven and the proprietor, Tim, came to the boat once we started fueling up and we gave us some valuable tips, one was about a restaurant next door that was "casual only", and the other was about a liquor store across the street. Tim must have a good eye for what people are after.
  After taking on only 70 gallons of diesel, Rosie and I rinsed down the boat and got all the salt off. I am of the belief that if the boat has a good coat of wax on it, the salt will rinse off much easier. Seems to be working so far but the trick is to keep the wax on the boat in between all the beer drinking that seems to be taking place.
  This town of Steinhatchie is an interesting place, but we're only going to spend one night here and then head for Crystal River tomorrow, where I think we will set down some roots for a few days.
  Tonight, we're celebrating our first Gulf of Mexico crossing; done at an average of 8.3 miles per hour. We have the luxury of traveling when conditions are optimum and we plan on taking advantage of it, but knowing full well that it may not always turn out as it did today.
  This is one big milestone that we have achieved and a lot of pressure is off. I think we'll be able to relax from here on out. That last sentence is supposed to be funny.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Apalachicola To Dog Island

  Our route was only about 5 miles from Saul Creek to Apalachicola Marina. We had called and the marina we were going to didn't have a restaurant, but we were told that there was a restaurant right next door, so we had coffee on the flybridge and planned to treat ourselves to a restaurant breakfast after getting fuel.
  Jeff, the harbormaster, was waiting for us when we pulled up to pilings along the waterway; the dockage for fuel is not protected and the tidal current was substantial, but nothing a Mississippi River boater couldn't handle. We topped off the fuel tank in the dinghy and Swing Set only took on 17.5 gallons, as we had filled up in Port St. Joe. I had asked the price of diesel and when I was told it was $3.99 per gallon, I wished we had waited to fill up at Apalachicola Marina instead of Port St. Joe until I found out that the under $4 per gallon price did not include a 7% tax. Some places include the tax, some do not. You must always ask, which puts an undue burden on the customer.
  Jeff brought out the Hooker anchor and the size was about as close as I was going to get, and the price was not the lowest I've seen that anchor online for, but it was a fair price and getting it online would be a bigger hassle than I wanted to go through. I went into the ships store to pay and found a very neat and orderly store, full of most things a boater would need. It was a pleasant change from most "marine supply" stores we have seen, only full of candy bars and Gatorade.
  Rosie joined me and we walked over to Caroline's next door to grab some breakfast. I could see tables dressed with white tablecloths through the window that spelled "high priced breakfast" and when we sat down and viewed the menu and saw $9 biscuits and gravy, I closed the menu and told Rosie that we weren't eating breakfast at Carolines. Rosie agreed that breakfast on Swing Set at the helm heading into the sunrise would be a much better idea.
  We thanked Jeff for his help and we cast off and headed out to St. George's Bay, following a shrimper going out to sea for the day. I followed the shrimper for a while as Rosie was mopping some dirt off the deck and we didn't need to lose her over the side, but once she got done with that I called the shrimp boat to inform him of my intention to pass him in the marked channel and I received no response. I called Lady Thelma II once again and still received no response, so I gave two short blasts on our horn which meant I was going to pass on his port side, and when I gave Swing Set some throttle (we were only going 5 M.P.H. or so), I saw exhaust puff out the smoke stack of the shrimper as he sped up and he moved to his port to block my pass. So apparently I was dealing with a jerk, one of the very few we've encountered in nearly five months. I took solace in the fact that he was going to work, and we were going to play, plus I achieved our goal of speeding up to our normal 8 miles per hour, so we sat back and watched him go out straight to the pass as we soon took a left and headed up the Intracoastal to Dog Island.

  The East Pass into St. George's Bay separates St. George Island and Dog Island. Just inside the pass on the southwest end of Dog Island is a published anchorage with just a narrow strip of sand between the gulf and the calm waters of the bay, just across from the entrance to Carrabelle, FL. Calm, if the wind is coming from anywhere but the north, or northwest. The house in the picture looked abandoned, and another one down the beach was listing toward the gulf, but others looked in good repair but still seemed a bit desolate to us.
  I went to work on modifying our anchor chocks to fit our new anchor and Rosie got out the stainless steel polish and attacked the bow rails. I was going to modify the anchor, but it proved to be too much of a job without a vise and a large hammer, so I capitulated and moved one of the fluke supports over about an inch on the anchor chocks, allowing us to fit a readily available anchor to the chocks should we ever lose the anchor again. I was left with two screw holes that I dressed up with some stainless screws and finish washers, having not the interest at the time to fill them in with putty and gel-coat. I also fitted a neat little bungie cord onto the anchor shank support to allow us to secure the anchor without hunting for something to tie it down with. Overall, I'm pleased with the look and now we have our stern anchor back.
  By the time our work was done it was time for lunch, and since we got up early to head for Apalachicola, after lunch it was time to relax with a book and maybe sneak in a nap. Holly had other ideas about the nap, so I got up and went to work on yesterday's blog and Rosie entertained herself playing with Holly. After that it was time to pop a beer and retire to the cockpit to enjoy our view and think about grilling our dinner.
  Something I will never understand is how you can travel for miles in open water, anchor hundreds of feet off of land, and still be inundated with mosquitoes or flies after a time. I know we didn't bring them with us, and how do they get together to decide to fly all the way out to where the boat is to make an annoyance of themselves? Rosie and I broke two cheap flyswatters attempting to kill the pesky flies until we relented and just sprayed ourselves with fly repellent, with little success.

  We grilled some chicken wings and added a tossed salad, and finished dinner just before sunset. Then we played some dominoes and read our books before falling off to sleep. It wasn't too much later when the wind kicked up, coming from the only quadrant that would affect us the most, and kept us awake off and on for most of the night. I wasn't worried about the anchor as it was stuck very well in the sand and we had over 100 feet of rode deployed, but the thunkity thunk of the water smacking the bow is something that's hard for us to sleep by. The only saving part of it is the fact that we can usually nap the next day if we don't get sufficient sleep on any given night.
  We could have probably set out on our course for Steinhatchie, FL, this morning, but since the gulf was a little unsettled for the last few days, we're giving it a day to "lay down" before we attempt to cross on Friday morning. I think this was some good advice we got from Carl back in Panama City and we plan on heeding it.
  A blog reader from back up in the St. Louis area invited us to go fishing with him and his brother over the weekend, as they both now live near here, but we're taking a pass on the invite because we have a calm forecast until Monday night or Tuesday and we want to get over to the west coast of Florida while we have a chance.
  Today we're going to do some waxing and enjoy our anchorage here. I've plotted a course straight over to Steinhatchie, but we keep considering a straight shot over to Crystal River from here, but in the end, I think it would be too much to tackle in daylight hours, plus I told Rosie that if getting from one place to another as quick as we could was the object, we would get plane tickets and not be traveling on a boat. My buddy Don told me that years ago and it makes sense to me.
  Expect another report some time over the weekend on the first leg of our gulf crossing, or do us a favor and call the Coast Guard. This is as close as I'll get to filing a float plan, and I'm comfortable with it. We have a Spot that we can use to call for help if something happens. One thing for certain, praying is not part of our reaction plan; it's hard to swim while you are praying anyway.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Incommunicado Near Apalachicola

  I was finishing up my last blog entry while we were still at the home of AGLCA harbor hosts, Carl and Greg Vernon. Greg had been paying attention to my blog posts and knew how much I like fried chicken, so Rosie went up to the house before me and learned that Carl was out getting some take out chicken from Popeye's for us to have that night, and they wouldn't take any payment, no way, no how.
 Before Carl had left to get the chicken, Greg had asked Rosie if she had gotten any rest, and Rosie said that she didn't, but played with Holly instead. When Rosie had said that, they both looked at her kinda strange, and Greg said, "How do you play with Holly?"
  Now, I don't want this to sound unkind, because I don't mean to be, but some people are dog people and some are not. In fact, the only dog I really like is Holly, and Bonnie (Madge's dog), but some people are cat people and others are just people people. Carl and Greg fall into the latter category. Sure, they offered to have us bring Holly into the yard to do her business, and that was generous enough, but I could tell that they weren't pet people.
  Why I'm saying this is so that anyone who has a giant Great Dane, or other large dog that they travel with, doesn't make the mistake of thinking Carl and Greg are gonna get all mushy over their pet.
  When Rosie told me about it later, I thought it was funny. I could imagine Rosie going through the litany of how indeed she does play with Holly, when I would have just said, "How can you not play with Holly?" I'm still chuckling about it.
  After dinner we sat on their deck and Carl told some boating stories. After being reassured all day that with proper planning and forecast checking, our crossing at this time of year should prove to be non-eventful, but each story Carl told was filled with one calamity after another and it became a bit unnerving for me. Telling horror stories about crossing the Gulf to people about to make the jump is like telling boogeyman and axe murderer stories to a child that is about to spend the night in a strange house. I wondered aloud as to why anyone would go through all the trouble of checking weather forecasts if it apparently didn't make a stick of difference in the end? Carl checked himself, and again, reassured us saying that the tales he was telling took place during crossings later in the season when circumstances were different. Later on I realized that there isn't much entertainment value in telling vanilla tales; all the good stories are about mayhem and things gone wrong, but at this point in time, Rosie and I would rather not hear the horror stories.

  Armed with a few new websites for forecasting wave and wind, along with a loose plan for crossing the Gulf, we left Carl and Greg on Sunday morning and exited the Panama City Pass into the Gulf and made way for Crooked Island, we were going to travel on the "outside" to Port St. Joe. It was an hour from their house to the pass, and another two hours down the coast to a cut through to St. Andrews Bay and to Crooked Island. The cut through is not charted but Carl gave us co-ordinates, but things change and my eyesight was the best tool for getting us over the bar, that, and our depth finder. I admit that it felt strange running into a cut when the chart reported land, but I guess it's something I'll have to get used to. It felt weird at first, but like strangling bunnies, it becomes common place over time. Please see the humor.

  You can see Swing Set way in the background where Rosie and I took the dinghy over to the dune separating the Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. We walked some in the pure white sand before heading back to the boat.

  By the time we got the dinghy back on the davits, five sailboats made their way into the harbor and made a nice backdrop for our sunset. We had a nice breeze for our dinner and we were considering staying near Crooked Island for another full day, but I started looking at some of the wind and wave forecasts and it appeared to me that if we didn't get to Port St. Joe by the next afternoon, we may be staying for the rest of the week right where we were.
  The wind was already kicking up when we exited the pass and turned east along the coast to Port St. Joe. The going was a bit rough as we ran along the coast and spray was coating the boat. Worse was the bouncing we were getting, but the waves were pretty much on our bow, or quarter bow, so it wasn't unbearable. I held off making the port turn into St. Joseph Sound because I knew we'd take the wind and waves on our starboard beam when I made the turn, but it was less than an hour before we were inside the sound and made another turn which put us back into the wind, more or less.
  We passed the sailboats on our way to Port St. Joe Marina, as they had left at sunrise, and made it to the entrance to the harbor just as the wind started really kicking up. We fueled up and then I left Rosie with the boat to rinse off the salt spray while I walked over to Bluewater Outfitters to look for an anchor.
  It's a bit of a walk to the Outfitters, but they had an anchor that I thought would fit, but I didn't like the looks of it. It was made in China and I could tell that it was of poor quality, but I bought it anyway and vowed to return it if it wasn't a perfect fit. Once back to the boat I discovered that it wasn't a perfect fit and it wasn't worth modifying any part of the anchor or our chocks on the account of a piece of junk anchor.
  Rosie was finished hosing off Swing Set so we both walked back to Bluewater Outfitters and returned the anchor, knowing that we still had to check out an anchor made by Tie Down Industries; an 18 pound Super Hooker that promised to be a good fit, if I could find one.
  By the time we had gotten back to the marina, the sky had opened up and it started to pour down rain, so we decided to have lunch there at the marina and see if we could get a break in the weather before heading up the canal back to the Intracoastal Waterway.

  It's just a hop over from the Port St. Joe Marina over to the canal that runs for five miles back to the Intracoastal Waterway. Our run outside from Panama City to Port St. Joe was interesting, but we were glad to be back on the inside for our run to Apalachicola.

  The waterway to Apalachicola is twisty and scenic, but the water is brackish and each side of the channel is lined with impenetrable swamps, it says so on the charts and looks it. Carl had told us about an anchorage up Saul Creek and once we crossed the wide and shallow Lake Wimico, we found Saul Creek just about 8 miles shy of Apalachicola. Saul Creek is a narrow waterway and in the midst of a swamp. Our channel forked off and we took a left, as the right leads back to the Apalachicola River and the Intracoastal Waterway. We had 40 and 50 foot depths back up Saul Creek and once we found 14 feet, we dropped the hook. I put out as few feet of rode as I thought we could get away with because I didn't want us to swing into the trees, and whatever might be climbing in them.
  It was peaceful if nothing else in our secluded spot, but there was absolutely no Internet service, or cell service of any kind. We couldn't get calls, or make them. Forget about T.V.

  Rain kept dropping occasionally as we grilled some steaks, using our cast iron skillet set right on the burner of our Magna Grill. Our dinner promised to be one of the best we've had on the hook, better than any meal we've had in a restaurant in quite a while.
  Lightening lit up the sky and rain poured down all night. Swing Set swung around with the little wind we were getting, but mostly with the tidal current. I got up several times to make sure we didn't swing into the trees, and we made it through the night relatively unscathed, but we did find some wet spots in the salon where the heavy rain had leaked in.
  We couldn't get a forecast in the morning with the newfangled tools on the iPad, but I overlooked the best forecasting tool around, the weather band on the VHF, so we pulled up anchor and headed for a spot where I could access the Internet.

  We could see a structure through the trees from our anchorage and we motored up to see what it was and here is the picture. We saw several of these floating cabins along this route. The only way in our out is by boat. No one appeared to be home at this place.
  No sooner did we get back out to the Intracoastal when it started pouring down rain again. I called a marina in Apalachicola thinking we might get a slip, but not only was the price more than I wanted to pay, they had no laundry and that's also one of the things we would have paid to stay at a marina to do. I did ask if they carried anchors and I was told that they had an 18 pound Super Hooker in stock. I promised to be at their marina in the morning to buy it and Rosie and I turned around and headed back up into Saul Creek to spend another night.
  This time we anchored in Saul Creek at the "fork in the road" so we could swing all around without bumping into any trees, but we still had no cell service. All day on Tuesday it rained on and off, but in between rain spells I found some potential spots where we might be getting rain water into the salon and I think I found the culprit. The nuts on our spotlight where a little loose and I suspect that the gasket was not sealing properly. We'll find out during the next rain storm if I'm right. Four months of lots of rainy nights and only one time did we get a leak, so I don't think we have a major roof leaking issue.
  While I was doing my thing, Rosie was in the salon cleaning, or playing with Holly, or both, when she hollered for me to come and get "something in our bedroom". I entered the salon and there was Rosie with a wad of paper towels big enough to pick up a dead rat, saying that Holly found "something green" in a corner. I armed myself with the paper towels and went on the hunt. I picked up the "something green" and marched it outside to release it. The rescue came to late for the captured critter as the little tree frog I held in my fist was dead as a doornail, stiff as a ritz cracker.
  All day long we didn't see one boat, and barely felt a ripple. The night was eerily quiet, I mean not a sound! There were no insect sounds, bird sounds, not even fish jumping. I never not heard anything like it. The temperature had dipped into the 60's and after one of the best nights sleep we've had in several, we woke before the sun came up and made ready to head to the town of Apalachicola.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Destin To Panama City

  Thursday morning in Destin Harbor the sky was threatening rain but we had things to do and we secretly wouldn't have minded any rain as we figured it would help wash the salt off the boat from our trip from Orange Beach.
  The first order of business was to get our new air filters installed, but like everything else, nothing is simple or straightforward and usually includes a detour or two. Preying on my mind was an issue of the Walker Airseps installed on the Caterpillars were done in such a fashion that the air filters were rubbing against engine components and holes had been trying to wear through the filter elements.
  I had initially intended to pop rivet some guards on the Airsep housings that would protect the elements from damage when I installed the new ones but once I took the old air filters off I could see an easier, and better, solution. It was a simple matter of pulling each Airsep housing up with some heavy duty cable ties, up and away from the engines. When I then installed the new filters, they didn't come in contact with the engines anywhere.
  Once that chore was done I called around for diesel fuel prices and found the best price at the place I wanted to go to anyway and it was the Fisherman's Co-op where I wanted to pick up two fuel filters, the secondaries that mount right on the engines. We went over and topped off our fuel tanks and our water tanks and headed out for a test drive.
  Prior to the new air filters, I couldn't get Swing Set to run over 12 miles per hour, and both Cats were smoking horribly. Now you have to be patient with these 3116s as the throttle response is abysmal, but I kept nudging up the throttles until Swing Set was cooking along at nearly 29 miles per hour, and that's with full water and fuel, plus all the other junk we have on board. I never was able to get more than 34 out of her with hardly any weight aboard, so I called installing the new air filters a success and we headed for the barn.
  Rosie and I dropped anchor in practically the same spot in Destin Harbor that we had already been setting, in between two of the six or so derelict boats scattered around in there. We grabbed Holly and set out in the dinghy for some sight seeing. We cruised the canals and looked at houses and didn't happen to see anything we wanted to plunk down some cash on, so it was back to the boat we went.
  We chilled out for a while until cocktail hour and then we took a couple of Busch Lights to the bow and watched the tour boats go by and let Holly bark away at them. Someone cruised by in a pontoon boat and tossed us a tennis ball and we promptly made a gift of it to the dog.
Holly had never seen a ball before and things were going well until she first saw it bounce. Every time I would bounce it on the deck, Holly woud bark and cower in Rosie's lap. It was pretty funny to watch and after a couple of beers it apparently had us entertained.

  Towards sunset we left Holly in charge of the boat and took the dinghy over to AJ's Oyster House. You can see Swing Set in the upper middle of the above photo that I took from the deck at AJ's. We went to AJ's for old time sake; we hadn't been there in years. As an indication just how long it had been since we last visited, oysters were $1 per dozen. Yes, I said one dollar. We don't know what they are now, and we don't care cause we don't like them, but there isn't any fresh ones to get anyway.
  I got tired of the tourist trap that AJ's had become and we motored over to a place more suited to us, a very seedy place right on the water. We met some nice folks there and had a couple more beers and decided to call it a night.
  By sunrise on Friday morning we were leaving Destin Harbor, headed for Panama City. It's a long run inside through Choctawatchee Bay, nearly as big as Mobile Bay. At the eastern end of that is a narrow canal the locals call the Grand Canyon.

  The Grand Canyon is mostly straight and boring. We thought that we'd see a gator or two, but no such luck. We did see a few dolphins though, but nothing else. In fact during the whole trip through Choctawatchee and the canal, we only saw one other boat.
  We were headed to the home of Greg and Carl Vernon who live in Panama City and are AGLCA Harbor Hosts. Greg had emailed us and said that her and her husband Carl would be happy for us to stop by on our way through and help us re-provision and we took her up on it. We called them once we entered West Bay, still nearly three hours away and said we were coming. We got good directions to their home on Watson Bayou and found it really easily after entering the co-ordinates to their home into our chart plotter.

  You pass the Mercury testing facility on your way to Greg and Carl's, and that's as specific as I'll get as to where their home is. If they want you to stop by, they'll let you know, but it's a fool who doesn't take them up on an invitation to visit them, as we would find out.
  Greg and Carl met us on the dock as we pulled in and gave us a warm welcome. Once we got settled in, they invited us to dinner and gave us some time to take showers and rest up after 8 hours of travel.
  We walked up to their nice home at the appointed time of 5 P.M. and all we took with us was a plastic bag of cold Busch Lights. Greg was already cooking up something that smelled wonderful and by 7P.M. we sat down to dinner. I had sworn to keep quiet about it, but on the way to the table, the pan of lasagna got a little too hot for Greg to handle and she dropped it. Now, she didn't just drop it, she gave it a flip and a spin, a bit reminiscent of the summer Olympics, and that pan of lasagna did a somersault on the way to the floor and barely spilled a drop of red sauce on the hardwood. No harm, no foul, they say...and after asking us if we would still eat it after the mishap, I just gave her a "you gotta be kidding" look and said to bring that pan right on over so we could dig in. I know Greg was mortified, but I also knew she'd be telling this story for years and for that alone, the accident was worth it.
  We talked and traded boating stories until 10 o'clock, late for us on such a long, day and we then headed for the boat.
  Today we got up and gave Swing Set a much needed bath after the trip through mostly coffee colored salt water. While Rosie finished drying the boat I went up to see if Carl would give me some tips on getting across the gulf, and he certainly did. I planned a route and entered it on our Navionics app and will also put the co-ordinates on the Garmin as well. I feel a whole lot better about our plan even thought it may change depending on the weather.
   Once we got through with that, Rosie went with Greg to get groceries and I went with Carl in search of an anchor. Rosie and Greg fared better in their expedition, but Carl and I came up empty handed, but I now have some leads on what brand of anchor to focus on. They say progress is made in baby steps, so that being the case, we made progress.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Orange Beach To Destin, Florida

  I called Nancy over at Sportsman Marina on Monday morning and got the bad news that the air filters were not ordered last Tuesday, but Middleton Marina fouled up and didn't order them until Thursday. Middleton Marina is a local Walker Airsep dealer and the filters had to be ordered through them. UPS tracking had them scheduled to arrive early the next morning, so all we could do is spend another night in Orange Beach.
  There is a lesson to be learned here; it was a lesson already known by me but I didn't follow my own rules. The lesson is to order anything yourself: don't rely on anyone else to do it. In the future we will follow our rules and order items and have them shipped somewhere we are going to be later on. The trick is to find someone to accept the items and that is not a hard trick. The other thing is that we can track the shipment that way and also know what the item is going to cost going in. More on that later.

  There was not a whole lot of wind on Monday so we took a run offshore, past the three mile limit. Once we got past the dirtier river water coming out with the tide, the water was a deep blue and very clear. I jumped in for a picture but the look on my face said, "Quit fussing with the camera and take the damn picture already!", so I'm not posting it. It's a look I commonly have on my face when Rosie is operating the camera.

  We went back in through Perdido Pass and anchored back near Robinson Island. This big catamaran pulled up and all the tourists got out and paddled around in kayaks and stand up paddle boards. You could just tell that the tour boat operator just wanted to get the whole thing over with. But these are things that tourists do. We refuse to be labeled as tourists and will attempt to avoid the tourist traps, but we failed at that on Monday night.

  If anyone recognizes Flora Bama Package and Liqour, here's Rosie posing inside under another sticker, just above her and to the right. We figured since we had to stay over another night that we would go there to see what all the fuss is about and thought they might have a good crowd for Monday Night Football.
  We had avoided going to Flora Bama earlier because the route there by water was iffy for Swing Set and after our near beaching of our boat previously, we didn't feel comfortable leaving it on the hook and taking the dinghy. I noticed on the chart that Flora Bama was accessible from the east end of Ono Island so we went all the way around and approached Flora Bama from that direction. I had called Happy Harbor, a marina of sorts, just across the street from Flora Bama, and got permission to park our boat there to visit the bar. We tied the boat to the end of a pier and walked across the street and noticed quite a few cars in one of the many parking lots and thought there may indeed be a few patrons out on a Monday night.
  Well, if they had a big crowd, you wouldn't have known it because the place is so huge, any customers in there were all spread out and every nook and cranny had a smattering of folks nursing a beer or two. We had two beers and an order of chicken wings and decided that we'd have more fun on the boat.
  On our way back across the street we popped into a package liquor store and bought a case of good old Busch Beer and stowed it in the fridge when we got back to the boat and proceeded to put a dent in it.
  The sun was heading down when we pulled out of Happy Harbor and I decided to go directly back west on the Old River instead of going all the way around Ono Island, back the way we had come. We inched along real slowly with a keen eye on the depth gauge. I had obtained some local knowledge of how to navigate this section of the river but still my Navionics App on the iPad came through with flying colors. The clearance of the bridge we had to go under was another questionable issue, but our chart advertised 24 feet vertical and the tide was going out. After we went through, Rosie claimed that we had "about another 15 feet" before we ran out of room. Folks, please believe me when I tell you that I had little faith in that particular tidbit of information.
  We got safely back in Terry Cove and anchored near Sportsman Marina for an early visit on Tuesday morning. We were out of the tidal current and we settled in for some T.V. and then a quiet night.
  I called Nancy at Sportsman again on Tuesday morning after waiting a fair amount of time for her to get her day started. Our filters were in and she was just waiting for an invoice to be faxed from Middleton Marina, so we headed over to the fuel dock. When I got to Nancy's office she was still waiting for the fax so she called Middleton. While we waited together we talked a bit until we heard the beep boop beep beep boop of the fax machine. I got a look at the invoice and saw a total price that about knocked my socks off had I been wearing any. I quickly noticed the price per filter and it was about 50% higher than what I knew the list price to be of those filters. Add the shipping and the 10% sales tax that the nice folks in Orange Beach charge everybody and the result was a gouging I had not experienced in a long time.
  I mentioned the cost per filter to Nancy and she said she questioned it too, but was told that it was "what they cost". I determined her to be not entirely at fault, but if you remember, I did ask her to find out a cost before ordering anything, but she didn't. Note my opening statement, your honor.
  I zipped my lip and thanked her for all her help and made my way back to the boat, just seething. As soon as I got aboard I called Middleton Marina and was connected to Sam, who was in charge of ordering our filters. I won't give you a play by play of the conversation, but once Sam found out that I knew the list price of the filters and was satisfied with paying that, what were we going to do about the extra 50% charge? Sam admitted to not ordering from Walker Airsep in California, but from Racor in Virginia. I allowed him an escape by suggesting that Racor gouged Middleton, so what were we going to do about it? Well, Sam said he would deal with Racor in Virginia and he lowered our price to something resembling a fair price and we closed the deal. He then emailed a new invoice and showed the credit on our VISA card. The ace in the hole is the VISA card. Always pay for something like this with a credit card so you have someone backing you up if you are overcharged.
  I tried to give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt, but never again will this happen. It keeps everyone honest if you question all the details, whether they like it or not. I called Nancy back and let her know what had transpired; letting her know that Sam over at Middleton treated us fairly in the end. She appreciated the call and I think we left Orange Beach on good terms with everyone.
  We headed east on the GIWW into a pretty stiff easterly wind. When we first entered Santa Rosa Sound we were bucking two foot waves, but once we passed Pensacola Beach the wind had died down and the going got easier. We were looking at our Waterway Guide for an anchorage but there was nothing promising for many more miles, so we just pointed our bow to the south and pulled off the channel and tossed an anchor in near the sand dunes that comprise Santa Rosa Island.

  Look how pretty our sunset was as we grilled some chicken breasts on our Magma Grill! The wind had all but died down and we were looking forward to a quiet night.

  I had to throw this last sunset picture in. This is actually the first "big water" sunset since our trip began over four months ago.
  Our tranquility lasted until almost midnight when the wind kicked up again, and in a big way. I had enough scope out and I knew we had a good bite on the sand bottom, but Swing Set was bucking like a Hobby Horse. Yes, I said Hobby Horse, and we both wound up sleeping in the salon where it was quieter and the bow couldn't be felt rising and falling so much. Did I mention previously that I now understand the attraction of an aft cabin?
  We managed to get a significant amount of sleep if not an adequate amount, but after bouncing around during morning coffee, we yanked up the anchor and headed east again.
  It was an overcast and uncomfortable ride towards Fort Walton Beach and then on to Destin. We passed a westbound vessel, a beautiful Grand Banks trawler, and the captain stepped out of his pilot house and gave us a salute! Made my whole day, that did.
  Once into Destin Harbor we checked a couple of places for a replacement stern anchor but came up with nothing. We were tired from lack of sleep and a nearly four hour stint at the helm, so after finding a good spot in a crowded Destin Harbor, we settled in with our books, hoping a nap would slip in there too. It was still overcast and breezy, so the nap did come, for a few minutes at least, but Holly had other ideas.
  After getting woke up from a nice afternoon nap by our resident monster barking at passing vessels, we uncoiled the water hose and gave Swing Set a rinse down. While Rosie mopped up the rinse water, I got out our new air filters and gave them a coating of filter oil so they would be dry tomorrow. I'll put them on once the engines are nice and cool and see if they don't help our performance.
  I'm not getting into detail on our engine performance here because I don't want advice from armchair mechanics. While we're at it, don't send any suggestions for places to visit here in Destin unless you want to supply your credit card number too. If we are still here tomorrow afternoon, we'll go to AJ's for old time sake and then head to Panama City on Friday.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Still In Orange Beach

  Last Friday we pulled up stakes in Ingram Bayou and went in search of a relatively shallow spot in order to clean the waterline stain on Swing Set and throw some wax on it. I could have picked a better spot due to the amount of passing traffic, but the bottom was sandy and had little slope, so I could walk around the whole boat without drowning myself.
  Nancy over at Sportsman's Marina called and said that the end caps for our rub rail were in, but the air filters weren't in yet. I told her that either way, we'd pick up the end caps at the gas dock the next morning, at least, and would check back on Monday on the filters. At a minimum, we will be in the area for a week waiting to get these small purchases delivered. This type of effort will certainly reduce impulse buying on our part. How many people just "go shopping" to buy stuff they already have or don't need? Lots.
  By late afternoon we went over to Pirates Cove and although they have a nice long dock out front, the wind was really kicking up and I didn't want to be sitting broadside against the pilings, getting the boat bashed in the process. We made our way through the narrow cut into a small bayou just north of the small marina that comprises Pirates Cove. There was a spot at an end dock that had just enough room for us to squeeze into right in front of a sailboat so we slid Swing Set in and tied up.

  It was 3 P.M. when we entered the covered deck and grabbed a small high top table, and there were just a few patrons around, some outside near us on the deck, and some on the small beach. We sat for a while waiting for someone to take our order, and we would be waiting still, until we figured out that ordering drinks and food was done at the bar inside. I liked it better already because then we could order drinks at our own pace rather that have a pushy bartender shoving them at us every time our beers got down to the last few ounces.

  After getting our first round of beers, the next order of business was to mount another sticker in a prominent location. We are getting better at remembering to bring along stickers when we leave the boat. We also are adding Swing Set and the date to each sticker so anyone passing through in the future will know that Kilroy Was Here. The sticker in this picture is right above Rosie's head, a little to the left.
  As you can tell, Pirates Cove is dog friendly. There had to be at least ten dogs sauntering around, getting a hand out wherever possible. Holly nearly wore out her barker and we nearly wore out ours telling her to shut hers.

  I put another sticker right behind where the band plays, if there is a band, which we soon found out there wasn't going to be one that evening. We didn't let that little detail ruin our fun, however.

  I'm including this picture that Rosie insisted upon taking of me. I want full disclosure here on my choice of clothing when the need arises; some of you may notice that I wear this particular shirt a lot. This is true. When this shirt rots off my back, I'll choose another one to wear. This will be our little secret. The folks at each restaurant or bar don't have to know. It does get an occasional rinsing out, Rosie manages this process.
  The inside bartender noticed me putting up the third RiverBills sticker and later came out to ask us what "Swing Set" meant, and to find out if I was River Bill as she knew a River Bill too. I answered the question about Swing Set to her satisfaction and allowed as to how everywhere we go, there is either a Captain Bill or River Bill. We know several of each. We are still looking for a Leiutenant Dan.
  Soon after, a local couple came in. Their names were Andy and Bailey and Bailey just fell in love with Holly. Again, note to self, keep the dog. We obtained a lot of local information from these two and they were fun to talk to. We learned a lot from them and only wish we could have retained some of the valuable tidbits they were giving us.

  We were starting to feel like this dog looked, so we ordered some chicken wings to munch on. You order your food at the bar, but someone in the kitchen brings it out to your table when it's cooked. A girl who brought out the five chicken wings we ordered dropped one and said she would make another, and then a few minutes later arrived at our table with not one wing, but another five, I guess to repay us for the wait. Very nice of her, we thought.
  It got dark on us so we went inside to gather around the bar and meet some more folks. Holly laid right on the bar and was quite at home there. She kept getting petted from any woman that would walk by. I swear that had we not kept a close eye on her, someone would have surely snuck off with her. This may also have applied to Rosie as well.
  We ordered a pizza to go as it was close to 10 P.M. Lucia the bartender said that we were in someones dock space, but they weren't due back until Sunday and that we were welcome to stay in it until then. We thought this was great as I didn't really feel up to finding another anchorage in the dark. We were happy to be able to just go back to the boat, eat some delicious pizza, (Lucia's Special; pineapple, mozzarella, feta, and pepperoni) and fall asleep.
  We woke up at sunrise to rain. We took our trash to the dumpster and filled up our water tank and set out. By the time we made our way over to Sportsmans Marina, they were open and I was able to pick up the end caps for our rub rail, and the sky cleared up and was promising to be a delightful day.
  After leaving Sportsman's, we took the boat over to anchor in the no wake zone just west of Robinson Island, a popular beach spot for the locals. We got a good hook set on the second try as the tide was going out and there was a substantial current running. Once we got a good hook, we had a great breakfast and then I set to install our missing end cap.
  I was glad I ordered a starboard cap, and a port cap, as I had forgotten which one I had used where when I installed them the first time. I had a hunch that I had installed a starboard cap upside down on the port side and I was right. I measured the fit about ten times before I took my coping saw to the precious end cap and cut it. I applied a generous amount of 3M 4200 quick dry adhesive and tapped the cap into the holes from the old cap. Fit like a glove. Now we can show ourselves in public once again.

  While Rosie was doing some odds and ends, I took the dinghy out in search of another stern anchor and went to two marinas and struck out. I did get a good tip from the dock master at Sanroc Cay and when I got back to the boat I called Orange Beach Auto and Marine and asked if they had any small Danforth type anchors. "What are those?" is the response I got.
  I said, "You know, a fluke anchor." My hopes were dashed when the answer again was "What is a fluke anchor?" I got real basic with the fella and mentioned an anchor "with them pointy things that stick in the sand", and folks... we had a winner! I even managed to get a measurement but understandably I am not too confident on the quality of the information that I had obtained by it. Orange Beach Auto and Marine is close to West Marine and will require another hike from a tied up dinghy. I think in this case I'll take a pass on what is sure to be a fruitless endeavor. Where do these businesses find employees these days?
  Swing Set had not moved for hours; the tide was still going out and the wind was steady from the north. I felt confident in leaving Swing Set for Rosie and I to take a dinghy ride and look around. We took Holly too and went to check out an anchorage for us to visit Flora Bama later on.
  Not 40 minutes later we got back to the boat and my heart sank. Swing Set had turned into what was now a westerly wind and the stern was up against the beach. When we pulled up the dinghy I found the swim ladder dug into the sand and the props were also stuck nearly up to the hubs. Now, I've been asked as to why I wear a watch when I'm retired. Here is one reason: I knew the tide was going out until 2 P.M. I looked at my watch to see if the tide was still going out or coming in and learned that it was indeed still going out which meant that time was of the essence. I put the dinghy on the beach along with Rosie and Holly and went to the helm to attempt to kedge the boat off the steep beach by reeling in the anchor windlass. I was having no luck with that approach so I got behind the boat again and was about to enlist some help from some fellas nearby when another guy came over and offered some much appreciated assistance. Like I had said, the beach was steep where the boat was making contact, so even though the props were in the sand, there wasn't much sand standing in the way ahead of the props, so with little effort, and the help of the wake from a passing boat, Swing Set drifted free, however there was no way I was going to get it off on my own. The helpful boater ran away before I could kiss him.
  Rosie brought the dinghy back over to the boat after I moved away from the beach and set the hook again. My mistake had been leaving out too much scope, a mistake that I won't make again if I can help it.
  We naturally celebrated by popping a few cold ones. Did you expect anything different? Later on, two women from one of the boats on the beach swam out to visit and we learned of some more restaurants and bars to go to. This blog should perhaps be about bar hopping as opposed to cruising and living aboard a boat. Robin and Beverly were very nice but it was evident that they had themselves visited a few bars already that day and I watched carefully when they decided to swim back to the beach. Beverly made us promise to call her on Monday so she could drive us "anywhere we wanted to go" as she was lonely and needed something to do. I told her that if she behaved herself, we just might let her help us out.
  A front started rolling in from the northwest and the wind was kicking up. Although we didn't really like our food the other day from Tacky Jack's, we decided to motor over there as we could see the dock from where we were and I could see that it was empty out where I would park. By the time we got over there, a steady rain was falling. We took our time tying up and putting on some clothes before climbing up the steps to the restaurant and got two quick seats at the bar.
  We met some great folks sitting next to us that lived in Mobile and had a weekend condo here in Orange Beach. They were in a group and we all shared some funny stories. They knew of Bobby's Fish Camp and really got a kick out of the story about Harry and Linda coming to visit, the part about asking a police detainee the directions to Bobby's.
  Things were going well until Rosie decided that she wanted to try a Bushwhacker, a popular drink here in the south. A Bushwhacker is mostly 151 rum with a splash of ice cream in it. As the saying goes, if baby wants her bush whacked, baby gets her bush whacked. Here is a good place to tell about the time we were at Lake of the Ozarks years ago and Rosie ordered a drink called a "Mind Eraser". Someone later asked her how it was and she just said, "It works". Well, the Bushwhacker worked too and I soon learned that, "Mike, I have to go to the boat." This was just after we had ordered a monstrous order of nachos, called Mexican Trash nachos. It's enough to feed 5 or 6 people and we took most of it back to the boat with us. We know that nachos don't travel well, but if my dad taught me anything is was to not waste food.
  Rosie "took a nap" while Holly and I sat in the cockpit and watched the Mizzou/Georgia football game on the big screen at the bar. Even though I couldn't hear it, and could barely see it, I could tell that Mizzou was getting their lunch handed to them. Welcome to the SEC.
  We stayed at the dock for the night since no one was around to say we couldn't. I woke just before sunrise and prepared to cast off. Rosie got up and helped and we idled over to Robinson's Island and set our hook. The sun was a big red ball just coming over the horizon as we had a good breakfast of Spam and eggs on a welcome cool morning.
  I had been contemplating the tie down system on the dinghy since our brief trip out into the rough water of the Gulf of Mexico and decided to change it. Instead of running straps down from the dinghy, I changed it to where a strap at the outside rear corner runs down around the bottom on the dinghy forward and then up to the davit. The same strap we used to use on the bow of the dinghy runs toward the back and also up to the davit, which when tight, pulls the dinghy up on the starboard side of the dinghy to where it gets pulled snug against the davit. I placed the fenders from the dinghy between the davits and the dinghy to prevent the davit from rubbing the dinghy and also it puts the dinghy in a more level, but not entirely level, position. We'll try this out for a while. So far, we think we'll like it because it frees up the space under the dinghy and we can use the swim ladder and platform easier now. I am also going to quit using the stand-off rods that attach to the dinghy by clipping on to two glued on mounts on the side of the dinghy. The mounts keep wanting to come unglued and the rods are in the way when accessing the area between the dinghy and the boat. Once I determine the success of this change I'll probably go ahead and take the rods off the boat and the mounts off of the dinghy. Why is all this of interest to anyone I'm wondering? The point I want to make is that I've been strapping down the dinghy the same way for two years but this doesn't mean it's been the right way to do it. Sometimes change is necessary and I've never been comfortable with the phrase, "Yes, but we've been doing it this way for years".

  After a little waxing on the boat, Rosie and I took Holly in the dinghy over to the beach for a walk, keeping a close eye on the boat. Mostly keeping a close eye on the boat, because there were a few bikini sitings that required thorough examination.
  Once we returned to the boat we just people watched for the rest of the afternoon, taking a dip once in a while. We had two guys in a boat come up to ask about our obvious travels as they saw our AGLCA burgee. We also had another young man swim over to ask if we had jumper cables for his 26 year old wave runner, a wave runner that we earlier had watched him and his friends tow over to the beach with their boat. We gave away our device for performing such work back on Kentucky Lake so we couldn't help the guy. He left with the others in the boat and the last time I saw the Wave Runner it was up on the beach. At 2:30 A.M. it was gone. I hope he came back to get it and the tide didn't take it.
  The beach started clearing out and we fired up the generator to bake the leftover nachos from Tacky Jacks, first removing any sour cream or guacamole. The tortilla chips got nice and crispy and they were as good as the night before, maybe better.
  We watched 60 minutes and some Sunday Night Football. It was nice to see Peyton Manning on the field again. We both fell asleep but woke up when the inverter kicked out and the T.V. went off. We went to bed and with a nice breeze blowing, the wind generators were making power and the T.V. came back on at about 2:30 in the morning and again woke us up, like when the T.V. comes on for no reason in one of the those low budget horror movies. I checked our position again and confirmed that we had not drifted any and it was back to bed.
  With the hatches open and a cool breeze blowing in, we are now needing covers, as the temperatures at night have been in the 60's. Nice, very nice indeed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Orange Beach, Alabama

  It has rained pretty steadily since we arrived in Orange Beach two days ago. A "remnant" of Hurricane Isaac is hanging around just off the gulf coast and is not only giving us lots of rain, it's threatening to develop into a tropical storm.

  This is our view from our anchorage in Ingram Bayou looking to the south, to Gulf Shores and the coast, which is over the key. On our first night in here a nice breeze blew the whole time and we didn't turn on the air conditioning. The wind generators were validating themselves and we were making power. The land is flat here and the wind isn't blocked by trees, but if we wanted a little more wind protection for some reason, this bayou winds back some to the north.
  I spent the first part of the day on Tuesday arranging the shipment of new end caps for our swim platform rub rail. I'm getting two so I have a spare as there are four of them on the boat. I called Morgan at Marine Max at Lake of the Ozarks and he found the caps for me in Miami. He offered to have them shipped to us but I still didn't have an address to have them sent to. This could be made into a long story, but not too interesting, so let me just give you a synopsis: After spending a couple of hours on the phone to several different marinas, etc., Sportsman's Marina in Orange Beach ordered the end caps for us from the Marine Max in Miami, and also ordered two new air filters for our Walker Airseps. Nancy is the parts manager at Sportsman's and she has been very helpful in facilitating everything.
  Once all that was settled, I got an email from a blog reader in Panama City, offering any assistance we may need when we pass through that area. Had it been just a few hours earlier, we could have had our parts shipped there and we wouldn't have to wait here until the parts come, either on Friday or even Monday. That's how things go sometimes.
  The fella in Panama City is an AGLCA harbor host and offered the use of their dock and transportation to get "beer and bread". I know he's been reading the blog because he knows what we run out of most. The offer is much appreciated and we'll take him up on it.
  The breeze died on us on Tuesday evening so we had to fire up the generator and turn on the air conditioning. We get several T.V. stations here and after watching the news we turned on America's Got Talent. After watching the show nearly to the end, I am not so sure what America has, but the talent isn't on that show.
  It rained hard all night, but hardly no wind came with it. I got up early and started looking around at what was in the area as far as marine supplies as I still need to find another anchor. A West Marine is just south of our anchorage and in close enough to walk to once we get to a place to dock. I called them when they opened and found out that they carried a 13 pound "traditional anchor", one I believed would fit our chocks on the deck.
  After breakfast we pulled up the bow anchor with some difficulty as the muck here on the bottom gives a good hold. (We'll appreciate that if Isaac does something rash in a couple of days.) We took Swing Set over to dock near the West Marine, but as I had suspected, the water is too shallow for the big boat, so we anchored and dropped the dinghy. Rosie stayed behind to keep an eye in things and I motored over to some condo docks just  few hundred yards away and tied up the dinghy. The West Marine was very close by and I bought an anchor and a couple of other things. I told the sales person that I was pretty sure the anchor would fit our chocks, but I would return the anchor if it didn't fit. He said it would be OK as long as we didn't put the anchor in the water. I admitted that there was little need to do that as I was pretty sure the anchor would sink, I just wanted to fit it to the chocks on our deck.
  I met a condo resident on my way back to the boat and we had a nice chat. He gave me some local knowledge and told me if we needed to tie up again, to just tell anyone who questioned us "that Bill said it was OK". I don't need much more referral than that.
   When I got back to the boat, Rosie grabbed the painter for the dinghy and tied it up as I stepped out and headed directly for the bow. The anchor did not fit, in spite of me having measured both the chocks and the anchor. I gave myself too much wiggle room in the measurement and I ran out of wiggle. Back to West Marine I went and returned the anchor. I won't do that again. I'll find an anchor somewhere that I can walk out to the boat and fit it right there before I buy it. Count on it.
  We wanted to explore a little and do some reconnaissance, so we headed toward Perdido Bay and made a right, just skirting the Florida border.

  Here we're headed for Perdido Pass to go out into the Gulf of Mexico, but as you near the bridge, we made another right and headed up a channel to Sportsman's Marina and Orange Beach Marina. Sportsman's is a gigantic place, not just a little hole in the wall, but we didn't stop in. We made our way through another small channel to Orange Beach Marina and considered eating at one of the two restaurants they advertise. I must say the boats at Orange Beach were impressive. There are mostly covered slips and most of the boats were in pristine condition. I spied a couple of Hinckley's, and several Viking Sportfishermen that were just plain beautiful. The restaurant there that we could see from the harbor was Calico Joes and even though it was after 12:30, we could only see one pair of diners, plus someone was running a circular saw and the only view is of the harbor, so we kept on.
  I checked "Waterfront Dining" on my Navionics app and found a Tacky Jack's right around the corner. The chart advertised very shallow water but there is a marina next to it, so I figured the water there had to be deep at their docks and it was.

  Tacky Jacks had a full lunch crowd but we got a high top at the railing and had a view of Bayou St. John and Swing Set. Rosie ordered shrimp tacos and I got fish tacos. They were OK, but nothing to rave about, especially at $11 bucks for three tacos and a pile of underdone tortilla chips. At least the Bud Light was cold.

  Rosie took this when she went back to the boat to get a sticker. That's me in the blue BMW motorcycle t-shirt. By the way, we don't buy t-shirts at tourist traps; t-shirts are something you get for free, and we have enough of them to last a lifetime.

  By the time we got ready to leave the place was thinning out. We learned later that happy hour runs from 2-6. Had we known, we may have went later. Above our heads is the sticker. We hope lots of our friends stopping at Tacky Jacks will remember us when they see the sticker.
  We decided to head out into the Gulf of Mexico and see how it was. Well, there were some large swells rolling in from the southwest and I still have too much fuel and water weight to get Swing Set riding higher on the waves. After "ringing the bell" a couple of times, we headed back in. One thing we'll have to do before making a gulf crossing is secure the dinghy better. I didn't like how it was bobbing around on the davits.
  After passing back under the bridge we made another right turn and checked out the route to Flora Bama to see if we could get Swing Set under the bridge on the "Old River" that runs on the back side of Perdido Key and past the Flora Bama. I don't think we can fit under it, plus the water there gets pretty skinny. We may anchor in the Bayou and take the dinghy in when we go there, probably over the weekend.
  We also checked out the Pirates Cove restaurant on our way back to our anchorage in Ingram Bayou. It looked very interesting and we are planning on going there on Friday. We'll go later in the day, perhaps at happy hour, and we can take Holly too. It looks like a real laid back place with sand all around it right close to the water.
  Rosie and I agree that the best meals we've had on this trip are the ones we have made on the boat and we are generally disappointed when we visit restaurants, but going out to eat is part of the fun and we can meet people, which is also part of the fun. So we do it, but we hope our friends don't get disappointed when we don't visit every restaurant or bar that they recommend.
  I just have one question: Who is the old fart standing next to Rosie in the above picture?