Anticipation has been rising as we’ve tooled closer and closer to Florida. We had an exceptionally pleasant overnight at the Wharf Marina in Gulf Shores, AL. Attached to the marina was a mall with restaurants, a putt-putt, a Ferris wheel, and movie theaters. They even had a light show at night down the main drag of the mall. We were in great moods: we’d had an uneventful day and although we weren’t too sure about getting into the slip we had been assigned, we inched in with barely a scrape. While we were headed in I saw people in the outdoor café watching, people in the park watching, people on their boats watching. I overhead a lady say something to the effect that “he’ll never get that big boat in.” The man with her said “he most certainly will” and proceeded to commentate, like a golf announcer, Rick’s every move. I complimented Rick later on about keeping his head with everyone watching. He hadn’t even noticed.
At any rate, we had fun that afternoon and evening, and seriously thought about staying a little longer; but the window of good weather was closing a little tighter every day and we were anxious to make it to the Florida shores.
This run’s goal was Panama City. We had stopped there on a drive between North Carolina and Arizona and wanted to explore it a bit more. It was a farther than we were comfortable with in one day, so we anchored at Joes Bayou. It was a beautiful night, a gorgeous sunset,
and an exceptional sunrise. I slept like a rock straight through, 9-5. We were a bit concerned when the local weather girl said possible fog in the morning, but woke to none. A little over an hour after waking, we were on our way.
The terrain changed dramatically and it felt almost as if we hadn’t left the river system. We made great time for most of the trip. Heading into West Bay, the wind became intense, increasing from the predicted 5-7 mph to almost 20 mph. Our trip was getting rockier the longer we rode. The waves were splashing up; the entire bow of the boat was soaking wet. Good thing Rick fixed the windshield wipers back in Little Rock!
We found the marina and headed in. It’s always a little scary going into a marina for the first time. You aren’t sure if you’ll have high or low docks. You aren’t sure if it will be crowded with less maneuvering room. You aren’t sure if you’ll have to do a tight turn or not. Rick takes it in stride, but for my part, I start to think of what could go wrong. The only way to alleviate it is to sing. I’ve found “Jingle Bell Rock” is the best for some reason. I sing quietly so the looky-loos don’t get the wrong idea.
So as we passed the entrance to the marina, we saw a long pier that was meant for the transients. There were permanent slips on our port side filled with beautiful, expensive sailboats and yachts. Our tie-up was on our starboard. We had to turn around so our electric and water hook-ups were astride the pier. There were two sailboats in the last two slots of the transient pier. Now, I’m going to stop right here and say if I were driving, we would have taken the first slot to stay as far away from the possibility of hitting the other boats as possible. The wind was whipping which makes parking the beast a little more unpredictable. Rick had other ideas. He wanted to be as sheltered as possible, so he wanted the spot right before those sailboats.
As mentioned in previous posts, turning in tight spaces can lead to a great deal of anxiety in the calmest of weather. We were looking at high, unpredictable winds here. I was standing at the rail with a forward line in my hand singing, “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock…jingle bell rhyme and jingle bell time…dancing and prancing in jingle bell square, in the frosty air!” (You just sang it with me, didn’t you?) I have to look to be ready to jump off and/or tie up, but I can’t look too hard or I freak out because I have bad spatial reasoning. I foolishly stopped singing; I started talking to myself. “Why is he going so far in? When is he going to turn? He’s gonna hit that sailboat if doesn’t turn soon.” Thankfully, he started his turn. We were, what seemed like inches, from the other boat. I glanced at the dock. It was pretty low. Great. I’m gonna have to jump. I gathered my soaking wet line and started to throw a leg over the rail. And then…Nautical Dreamer slipped, just like butter, right into place. I threw the line over a piling that was right in front of my face and tightened it onto the clamp at my feet. Rick was out of the cabin with the back end looped on a piling by the time I looked up.
Wait. What? That’s right, folks. I have no horror story today. No sad tale of woe. Nothing to make you say, “Thank God that wasn’t me.” I got nothing for you except an excellent day on the water. Time to rest. All that singing really got to me.
We had planned to leave Gulfport yesterday, but woke to a heavy layer of fog that extended all along our route. The original plan took us to Gulf Shores, Alabama, a full day’s run from Gulfport (90+ miles). When local news reported today would be the same, we went to bed last night with the expectation we’d be staying put yet again today.
With the marine fog advisory lasting until noon, Rick reassessed for a halfway point. Pascagoula had two marinas, but one was too shallow and the other had an entrance prone to shoaling. There were no anchoranges there. Active Captain to the rescue again! We found a spot that will work for a midpoint. We plan to leave around noon for the four hour run. Here is the plan over the next few days:
Friday, January 13: Leave Gulfport to Petit Bois Island, MS, and anchor. This is SSE of Pascogula.
Saturday, January 14: Make the balance of the run to Gulf Shores, AL. Here we will stay at the Warf Marina for the night. Weather is iffy and we may stay longer than one night, but the hope is to move on.
Sunday, January 15: Anchor at Ft. Walton Beach, FL.
Monday, January 16: Complete this run at Panama City Marina in Panama City, FL. We plan to spend a few days here.
I have a confession to make. Initially, it shamed me to think about saying this, but in the end it really wasn’t a shameful thing. You see, well, we had to call for help from Boat U.S. There, I said it.
Boat U.S. is a group that helps with many things up to and including rescuing you if you’ve done something lame brained. They will also rescue you if it’s not really your fault, of course. As it turns out, that’s where we lie, but initially we didn’t realize this.
Today was an all-around rugged day. I seem to use that phrase a lot when we are under way, don’t I? We woke at 5 so we could fill our water tanks and go through our checklist. We didn’t push off until 7:30, an abysmal amount of time to get underway. We knew it would be a tough day; there was going to be a lot of traffic and we had two locks to get through. The first fed us back into the Mississippi River (my evil rival); the second, back into the Intracoastal Waterway.
I was feeling almost cocky about the locks. After all we’d logged over a dozen so far. We had this. The locks, however, were like none we’d ever seen. “Normally,” the bollards (tie up spots) moved up or down with your boat. Today’s first lock had static bollards: one high and one low at each area along the wall of the lock. I fumbled while trying to reach the high spot so that we passed it by. We lined up for the next set and I attempted to use “my pole” (as Rick calls it) to place the line on the high spot. Missed it again. Third times a charm. Rick came out and helped and we snagged the high spot (the low spot being too low, Goldilocks). Now, because it doesn’t move with you, you can’t simply tie down the line and wait until the lock does its thing. This lock required we take up slack as we raised up. We did fine with it, however, and had no difficulty getting our line back since we were face-to-face with the bollard by then. We lucked out in that we didn’t have to wait for any commercial traffic and were on our way quickly. We were concerned we’d get stuck at a lock and run late to our anchorage.
We did have to wait for a time at the second lock, though. There was already a barge in the lock when we called, but we were already “in line” as it were, before the next barge wanted in. We were told to hold at the “short dolphin.” Dolphins are a term for what looks like ginormous barrels meant to keep the barges from accidentally crashing into the lock as they enter. They are about 20 feet in diameter. There was one that was shorter than the others on our right at the start to the wall. We were asked to “hang out” on the outside of that wall until the barge cleared out. That side of the wall had a pier of sorts to tie up to while waiting. Although the lock operator said not to tie up, Rick got tired of keeping the boat centered so he brought us to the tie up. I argued against it since the lock master had said not to and the pier was too low for me to jump off. I was right. Although I landed on the pier I managed to jar my arm. Yes, the same arm I injured previously. The pain shot down my arm to my elbow and then my hand, radiating to my thumb. I did get the boat tied off but then I had to climb aboard again, which again was painful. Tying up was helpful, however, since we were stuck there for about an hour.
Once we saw the barge exiting, we had to quickly get past a bridge that was up for us as we headed into the lock. I was outside with my line in hand ready to snag a bollard. Scanning the walls, I didn’t see any. Panic started to rise. Rick shouted to me that I needed my pole as I would have to use it to hand our line up to someone. Turns out the bollards were at the top of the walls, which were too high for us to reach (this time we would be raised to the correct water level). So this little old man with a VERY thick New Orleans accent shows up. He said something incomprehensible while showing me a line. So I thought he was handing down a line to me. I stuck my pole up to snag it. He chuckled, said something, and tied his line to the pole. Just as I was deciding what to do with that line, Rick came out and said I had to hand our line up. Apparently, the little dude wanted me to tie my line to his line and he thought it funny that I didn’t want him to just throw down his line to me. At any rate, he got our line around the bollard and we stood guard to take up slack as we raised up. We felt lucky we were the only ones in the lock. We had heard stories of having to tie to other boats rather than the wall or free flow in the middle of the lock. We did that once and it was harrowing for us both. We exited the lock with no problems and celebrated that the worst of the day was behind us. Or so we thought.
We were headed to an area called Rabbit Island to anchor for the night and thought we’d arrive around 2:00. About a mile from our turn into the Rabbit Island anchorage, the tug we were following significantly slowed. Rick radioed him and asked about going past. He said he was slowing to allow another barge to get around a turn and then he would proceed. So we decided to slow as well, pull to the edge of the channel, and wait for that to happen.
It was longer than we expected. We idled for about a half hour with Rick adjusting as needed since the current and wind were pushing us. We should have just gone for it. Too late now. Once the barged passed the tug we put the boat in gear to head out. All of a sudden, we stopped and everything shifted forward. What the heck? Rick started fiddling with the gears, attempting to move us back, forward, and turning. We met with resistance on all fronts. It was as if some giant sea creature was holding us back while he decided what to do with us.
“What do we do now?” I asked. No reply. More fiddling. When Rick gets quiet like this, I can tell it’s serious. We had spent 90% of our day with houses and boats all around us. Now, there was nothing but water and uninhabited land. I tried to breathe deeply to calm myself. The starboard engine kept dying when we tried to move. Rick would swear, sit there for a while, restart the engine, and try again. We would start to go, then the brakes would slam on, so to speak, the engine would die, and we’d be pulled back where we started. “What do we do now?” I repeated. Rick swore one more time and grabbed his phone. I wasn’t sure what he was doing: calling the next marina? Calling the Coast Guard? Calling Boat U.S.?
You never know, as they say. Better to be safe than sorry, they say. It’s all true. We’d been Boat U.S. members for a long time but hadn’t used the towing or rescue services. We’d read stories people wrote about their misadventures and the need for the service and shake our heads. “How could anyone get into that situation?” we’d wonder. Now it was our turn. I listened intently to Rick’s side of the conversation. “No. No one is injured. No, we aren’t anchored. There’s no point since we can’t move. Two people aboard. Everyone is fine.” He gave our coordinates, approximated our distance to Rabbit Island, and our phone number. (Incidentally, props to Verizon. Best decision we’ve ever made.)
While we waited for our rescue, we contemplated what could be going on. I thought it could be a fishing trap that caught our prop. Rick thought it more likely was a large branch. We silently hoped and prayed it didn’t do damage to the hull or the props. Although the rescue was free as part of our membership, repairs could be costly. We checked the bilge pumps to be sure we hadn’t punched a hole into our hull. I freaked out a little and prayed a little. As we waited I realized the worst case scenario was we’d spend the night here. We were off to the side of the channel, so safe from other vessels. When I mentioned this to Rick, he said that we were in more peril when we got stuck in the fog. I felt better.
We also mused over how, with the sun diminishing, our rescuers were going to be able to tell what was going on and free us. Maybe they have sonar that will help them get a picture of what’s down there? With each fishing boat and tug that went by, we hoped their wake would loosen us and we’d be free. Didn’t happen. The rescue boat arrived about a half hour sooner than expected, but it was already dark. Rick went out to meet them. They circled us then said that on one side the depth was 10 feet (which is what we registered on our depth sounder) and the other side was 1 foot (stupid shoaling). We were just aground. There was really no way for us to have foreseen it.
Rick tied up to their boat and they pulled us loose. Easy-peasy. They followed us to be sure we didn’t have any mechanical issues. Everything was working fine so they headed out. He assured us we could call him direct if we needed anything further.
By now it was completely dark. We had to make our way to the turn off by using the electronics. We made it easily but had a little trouble anchoring. Let me rephrase. Because the anchorage was a cove with an island in the middle and a rocky shore, Rick was apprehensive about drifting. I got situated at the bow and started counting off the anchor chain by 10 foot increments. Suddenly, it reversed. I ran back to the wheel house thinking the mechanics were going crazy. Rick had changed his mind and felt we needed to move a little. He readjusted and we tried again. This time we snagged the bottom. As we sat there to make sure we weren’t drifting, Rick said, “You’re gonna kill me but…” I talked him out of moving again. The winds were in our favor and there was no spot where you wouldn’t potentially run aground if you drifted. The compromise was to stay put but Rick wanted to sleep in the aft deck “just in case.” The balance of the evening and night were uneventful. I slept like a rock until 4 when the lights came on in the cabin. Rick was cold and turned on the generator to warm things up. Apparently when we shut it off the night before, lights had been on. So we had some time to relax before the next adventure. We were headed into salt water for the first time and would be farther from land than ever before. Yikes!
Weather has been wreaking havoc on our plans. We’ve been in Houma, LA (outside of New Orleans) for way too long. There is a window of good weather starting tomorrow so we are on our way! Here is the next leg:
Tuesday, January 3, 2017: Continue on the Intracoastal Waterway to the Lafitte Harbor Marina in Jean Lafitte, LA. It’s a short run but it sets us up to get through the locks the next day.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017: We will need to cross into the Mississippi River for a brief time before heading back into the waterway. Today we will most likely drop anchor since we can’t be sure if we will have to wait to get through the locks.
Thursday, January 5, 2017: The last leg to Gulfport, MS; marina to be determined. Here we will stay for a few days and plan our next leg toward Florida.