Voyage Into the Crystal River Abyss

What comes to mind when I say “Crystal River?” Sounds like a nice place, yes? Sounds like clear waters to me. I imagined sunshine, blue skies, the sound of birds. I was going to see manatees as I kayaked around the area. I was so looking forward to Crystal River. I’ve decided, however, that it might be bewitched.

We knew we’d have a long day the day we headed out to Crystal River. We knew as we headed into the inlet to the marina that it could be quite shallow. Rick had done all the calculations and was sure we’d be able to get in. And we did. (Bet you were expecting something else altogether. Go ahead. You can admit it. You had no faith in us.)

We did get in fine, but we had to go very slowly because it was so shallow. Speed up and the back end drops a little, leaving the possibility of the props touching bottom. We hit the inlet at about 5:00 and estimated it would take about an hour further. The sun was setting and as I have reiterated more than once, we don’t operate in the dark. We had until 6:15 or so before the sun would be down and a little while longer before we’d really hit black.

I checked the map. Our marina was the farthest in from the mouth of the inlet. The buoy lines kept us in a narrow channel and the local boats were zipping around us. We passed several marinas, but none were deep enough for our boat. I felt obligated to remind Rick that the sun was dropping (because he couldn’t possibly know, himself).  In fact, I felt it my duty to do so about every ten minutes. God, he’s a patient man. We were following another boat, but they were quite a bit ahead of us and with the twisting and turning of the waterway, we had no visual most of the time.

It took us until about 6:30 before we saw the marina. We had been assigned a specific slip, but couldn’t read any slip numbers. Our friends stopped at the fuel dock to investigate while we hung back. Finally, they waved us to a pier and grabbed our lines as we slipped in. We grabbed their lines as they moved around the corner from us. They explained our designated slip was just wide enough for us, but there was a piling towards the front of the slip that was angled enough to make it impossible for us to fully enter it. We were on a pier again. There was no one in the office this late, so we parked and figured we talk to them in the morning.

Rick and I went about setting up the boat. Rick retied the lines (as he always does). We hooked up the water line but found we couldn’t use the electric; it wasn’t the right amperage. We decided to use the generator for that night and then see what the office said. I was not pleased about paying for a slip and then having to use the generator.

The next day we learned our designated slip was the only spot available for the electric hook-up we needed. We would stay on the pier. In the meantime, we walked to West Marine to see about an pigtail, but none were in stock. We settled for an adapter that would allow us to plug an extension cord into the available electric socket. We plugged it into a power strip for the fridge, coffeemaker and phone cords. That night, we pulled out our camping lantern, but the batteries were dead. We had no other batteries. We had no candles. We used flashlights and the few lights on the 12-volt system that always work regardless of electricity availability. We went to bed early. The next day we were driving to Orlando for a trip to Universal Studios and once back, we would be leaving. So, it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been. Or so I thought. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Upon our return, the waves were at 4-6 feet offshore, which was more than we wanted to battle. So, we stayed another day. Then, the bottom dropped out. The wind switched to the Northeast and pushed the water out of the basin. We were literally sitting on the bottom in mud. The keel kept our props safe and being tied to the dock kept us upright in just a few feet of water. But here’s the thing. To run the generator AND TO FLUSH THE TOILET, we needed to draw water in. So, no more generator and no toilet flushing until the tide came up. Unfortunately, we realized this the hard way by flushing the toilet and having mud fill the toilet bowl. Sigh. Talking with people from Crystal River, we learned this periodically happened, but that this was the worst they’d ever seen. Lucky us. When the tide did come up, it wasn’t enough to safely navigate out. For six days, we waited for the wind to shift. Six days of waking up and having to walk to the communal bathroom, or wait until the tide rose to “go.” (As an aside, I don’t understand why so many of my posts revolve around bathrooms.)

We did order an adapter that allowed us to plug in and have some power (30 amps instead of 100 amps), giving us the ability to cook, watch TV, and take hot showers. We just couldn’t do everything at once. It took planning. If I wanted to shower at night, I needed to turn on the water heater. To do that, I needed to be done with the oven and wait about a half hour. Argh! It was a pain. Still, we got into a routine.

Then the toilets stopped flushing properly even at high tide. Was the mud clogging it up? Nope. One of the house batteries was almost dead. Rick charged it, but it lost that charge overnight. We weren’t sure if it was the battery or the on-board charger reading it wrong. After much deliberation, we decided we needed to suck it up and buy a new battery. West Marine didn’t stock it. The marina parts store didn’t stock it. Rick found one at Napa Auto Parts.

Friends offered to help remove the old one. This was no easy task. The battery weighed, I’m guessing, about 100 pounds. It was under the floors in the engine room. To gain access, Rick crawled to it and dragged it to the open hatch. He took one side, Joe took the other, and they hoisted it onto a step and then to the floor of the main salon onto a furniture pad. They dragged the pad/battery across the floor to the stair that lead to the aft deck. Again, each took a side and they hoisted it up each step and onto a furniture pad on the aft deck. They dragged it to the door and hoisted it off the boat. When you need low tide it’s not there, so the drop from the deck to the pier gave them pause. Eventually, it was off the boat and on a borrowed dolly. Only a few injuries; Rick cut himself and Joe pulled something in his leg.

It was off to Napa, followed by the reverse to place the new one. I did not witness this, as I went to the laundromat where I was treated to the sights of a barefoot man hauling six jumbo garbage bags of clothes through the place. When I returned, we had a new battery in place and all was right in toilet land (except, of course, for the unresolved low tide issue).

Shortly after that, the communal bathroom ran out of TP. And some jackass missed the toilet bowl. And our refrigerator went out. Dead.  At first, I was a little giddy. I get a new refrigerator! I HATED the old one. It was some off brand. It was tiny. And white. We measured our space. I just had to find one that fit into the space. Sigh. Irritatingly difficult. It would still be an “apartment” size, but I could get a black or stainless one. I found a Fridgidare (name brand—score!). Home Depot’s website said it was in stock (double score!). We hitched a ride with our friends.

Here’s the thing: Home Depot LIES on their website. They didn’t have that refrigerator. They didn’t have ANY refrigerator that fit our space. (This happened once before when I tried to buy a convection oven that was on sale. It may have been on sale, but it wasn’t in stock.). They couldn’t get it in time for us.

We knew in two days we’d have the winds we needed to get out of the hellishness that Crystal River had turned into for us. We weren’t waiting for a delivery on a refrigerator. We’d have one delivered when we got to Ft. Myers. Our friends came to the rescue once again, loaning us several heavy-duty coolers for storage.

We had been checking weather, wind, and tides for days and saw our opportunity open for Wednesday. Tuesday night we double-checked and were disturbed to note the possibility of fog (now that the wind was gone). But we couldn’t leave until nine or so anyway, because it would be normal low tide until then making the channel inaccessible to us. We went to bed, hoping for the best.

Wednesday morning was bright and windless. We were sucking mud, but were hoping to leave on time. We finally left at 10:20, which meant we’d make Shell Island (a very shallow area) in time for high tide and our destination before sunset. Perfect. Things were looking up.


Leaving Crystal River

Our itinerary for this next leg is as follows:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017: Leave Crystal River, FL traveling to anchorage near Tarpon Springs, FL (which is near Clearwater, FL).

Thursday, March 9, 2017: Travel from Tarpon Springs, FL to Long Boat Key, FL (near Sarasota, FL) to anchor overnight.

Friday, March 10, 2017: Leave Long Boat Key to Ft. Myers, FL. Here we plan to stay for about a month to get some work done on the boat.


When You Need Some Food But You Don’t Want to Exercise

I was told today that I have been remiss in keeping up properly with my blog. I have yet to give the gruesome details of our first real bike errand. I’m not an exercising kind of gal. In fact, I go waaaay beyond hatred. It just doesn’t even show up on my radar. So perhaps, writing a story revolving around what is, in essence, exercise disguised as survival (getting food) is merely an extension of that. But we all have our crosses to bear. Besides, my doctors tell me exercise is important. Sigh.

The Panama City Marina, while close to some things are at a little distance to much more. We took bikes on several errands that were each several miles. Our first ride was all Rick’s fault. Doing some work on the Aft Deck, he stabbed himself with a rusty nail. We’ve been married for going on 25 years and I don’t ever remember him getting a tetanus shot. The nearest doc-in-a-box was about three miles. The few times we had gone out for test run bike rides, Rick had been adjusting my seat afterwards. It just wasn’t comfortable. On the advice of a friend, we had gone to a bike shop and I’d been “fitted” for the correct seat. This is the seat I used for this trek. Incidentally, I always insist we wear helmets. Rick thinks I’m worried about an accident. Really, it’s just because I hate to exercise. I’m hoping he will decide against bikes because he hates the helmet so much. Hasn’t worked yet. Bummer.

Besides, I knew we had to do this. He really did need that shot. I knew there was no such thing as Uber here, the cabs were inconsistent, and the bus route was published nowhere. So off we went. We alternated between sidewalk, bike lane, and hoping not to get hit on the side of the road. The worst was having to cross into a left turn lane. I know people don’t pay attention to motorcycles, I could only imagine what happens to bikes.

I need to stop here for a minute and explain the “Neilson calves.” Rick’s family has the most massive calves on the face of the planet. He is now an old man that rarely exercises, but his legs. His legs look like he works out twice a day. It’s not just smoke and mirrors either. He can pedal that bike, I tell ‘ya.

So, Rick is in the lead because he knows where he’s going. I’m putzing behind, because I don’t exercise and I’m a slow loser. He’s casually pedaling like he’s sauntering through the park. Meanwhile, the music that plays when Mrs. Gulch from the Wizard of Oz rides her bike past Dorothy’s house after she takes Toto away is running through my head and my little legs are pedaling as fast as they can. Rick’s not winded. He gets to rest at each stoplight while he waits for me. Meanwhile, I arrive at the light and it immediately changes, so no rest for me. We do make it and he does get his shot. But my butt. My butt was ON FIRE. I’m in so much pain. I can’t believe I spent that money on the special seat. Or maybe it was the fact that I have no ass. It certainly didn’t help that I felt like I was sliding forward the whole time. At any rate, the thought of getting back on and traveling another three miles was about as inviting as getting liposuction. We stopped a couple times at my insistence so I could rest my butt cheeks. But we did make it back. And yes, that incessant song played in my head the entire way back.

Our next bike excursion was to the Farmer’s Market. Rick installed the saddlebags on the bikes and adjusted my seat to try to make it more comfortable. While the ride was less harrowing with less crowded streets and more sidewalks, I felt like my backside was one giant bruise. I was no longer sliding forward but that didn’t help the butt pain.

Being the handsome, gallant, gentleman that he is, Rick offered to swap seats to see if his seat would work better for me. The time came when we had to grocery shop. While I made the list, Rick swapped seats. I was inside when I heard “LINDA!! LINDA!!”

I made my way to the door. “What?”

“Argh. Forget it. I set the bolt down and it rolled away. It fell in the water.”

My heart leapt. Perhaps we’d have to walk into town for dinner and shop another day. He quickly found another bolt (damn it) and got the seat installed. We did a test run and it seemed better. We started our journey, again dealing with traffic. We hadn’t gotten very far when the seat began to loosen. We stopped to retighten the bolt but found it was bent. Although I have a nonexistent looking ass, it was big enough to bend a big ass bolt. He had luckily brought a second one just in case. The seat did feel better and the adjustment kept the seat tilted so that I wasn’t sliding forward. We ended up stopping to tighten the seat a couple times and Rick told me not to move around much. Well. How do you do that? He also conceded that my old seat (now on his bike) was awful.

We successfully reached the Publix and locked up the bikes. We had a long list. I mean a LONG list. I was doubtful we’d fit it into our saddlebags. But my husband isn’t known as “Master Packer” for nothing. Everything made it into the bags and we even had a backpack to spare. My seat was adjusted again. I had noticed that, although my butt didn’t hurt, the pain had shifted forward. The seat was now angled back too far. (Can I just say that THIS alone is a good reason for my distaste for exercise.)

We had to get all these groceries into our saddlebags. Oh no!
We had to get all these groceries into our saddlebags. Oh no!
Mission Accomplished!
Mission Accomplished!











It was a little squirrely when we started riding back with all that weight in the bags. Once we both got used to it and adjusted ourselves, it was fine. When we reached the road leading to the marina, a feeling of exhilaration hit me. We were back. I had made it. I was still alive. ALIVE! And this trip seemed easier than the last one. Rick said it was because I’m getting in shape. I’m not so sure about that. At any rate, I was more proud of the accomplishment than I had a right to be. And maybe exercise isn’t so crappy after all.

*FOOTNOTE: We got a proper bolt for my seat (formerly Rick’s seat) and it is now adjusted properly. My old seat was donated to charity and Rick got himself a new seat. Our asses are thankful.



Can We Please Cool It On the Country Music??

The most frustrating thing about our lives is the waiting. Because we aren’t stupid and we aren’t in a hurry and we are novices, we wait out any and all bad weather unless it’s absolutely impossible to do so.

So when we glided into the low docks at the Sea Hag Marina on Monday afternoon amid a brewing storm, we knew we’d be waiting awhile for fairer conditions. (Incidentally, at dinner the other night we bantered around our best guess of the term “sea hag” but didn’t get very far. I finally looked it up today and I’m just as confused as I was at dinner. Apparently a “sea hag” can be defined alternately as: a fictional witch character created for King Features Syndicate; a specific type of women with bleached blond hair and blue/green eye shadow you see on the California beaches; an American rock band; and something from Dungeons & Dragons that made me leery. So I don’t know.)

At any rate, today is Thursday. So this is our fourth day in Steinhatchee, Florida. It’s a nice enough town, but the little marina Tiki Bar plays country music via a local radio station. They apparently have a dozen CDs in their collection and several obnoxious DJs. Now I admit I dislike country music. I grew up on big band and swing from my parents, 60s music from my sisters, and what is now deemed “classic rock.” I also loved jazz growing up and beach music (the Beach Boys!). I particularly enjoy blues nowadays. In other words, I pride myself on being able to listen to just about anything for a significant amount of time, even that which I have little knowledge. Hard rock? No biggie. Classical? Sure, why not? Hip Hop? It gets old because its so repetitive, but okay. I admit opera grates on me, but even that I can tune out for awhile. There is something about country, though, that just bores into my skull the minute it starts. I despise it. I loathe it. I’ve walked out of places playing county and refused to return. But here I was. Stuck on the dock. It started every morning at around 10 and ran until dinner. I swear it was the same damned song over and over again. I mentioned this to Rick who assured me there were different song playing but that, yes, there were repeats throughout the day. I think there were about five songs in heavy rotation and that’s about it.

But I digress. Today is Thursday, which means we leave at 6 a.m. tomorrow. We are headed for Crystal River, Florida where we will visit with the manatees and then rent a car to go see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So excited! I have been re-reading the books so I can get the most from my experience. I bought the tickets today on-line. Yippee! I’m making the most of it since I was informed today it is, apparently, my birthday present.

For those of you who are following, here is our itinerary for this next leg:

Friday, February 24: Leave Steinhatchee, FL and travel about 70 miles to Crystal River, Florida. We are still traveling with two other boats. During the week, we will visit Harry, leaving the boat in the capable hands of the Crystal River marina.

Friday, March 3: Leave Crystal River, FL and travel to Clearwater, FL.

Sunday, March 5: Travel from Clearwater, FL, anchoring out near Sarasota, FL.

Monday, March 6: Continuing to Ft. Myers, FL. We plan to stay in Ft. Myers to work on some boat projects we’ve started but not completed.

As always, this schedule is “weather permitting.”


Updated Itinerary

So we are leaving out of Apalachicola, FL this morning. We had thought we’d be gone already but the folks we are traveling with during the open water had engine trouble. They arrived yesterday instead of Wednesday, worked on the engine this morning but are still having problems. So they are moving on one engine today.

So the plan is to head over to Carrabelle, FL today (about 30 miles) where there is a bevy of mechanics who can get that engine running again. Then we are supposed to hit some bad weather. Best guess is we will be heading to Steinhatchee, FL on Tuesday, but that may change.

The next leg will be to go to Crystal River, FL and on to Tamp, FL. Once we know what the weather is doing, I will update on dates.

Moving On

We’ve been in Panama City so long that we know our way around town. So, it’s time to move on. Here’s the plan:

Monday, February 12, 2017: Leave Panama City, FL for Apalachacola, FL.

Tuesday, February 13Wednesday, February 14, 2017: Stay in Apalachacola while we wait to meet up with a couple we’ve met in Panama City. The next leg of our trip will require open water which we haven’t attempted yet. The couple we are going to travel with have done the trek before and, in fact, he is a Coast Guard Certified Master Captain. Makes us feel a little better about the open water.

Thursday, February 15, 2017: Cross the Gulf to Steinhatchee, FL.

More to come.

The Wind, She Is A Blowin’

We ducked into the Panama City Marina just as the sky was blackening. The wind had already picked up and we quickly tied up before it got unmanageable. The anticipated storm was supposed to bring high winds and torrential downpours. We noticed in our haste we had centered ourselves so that we took up two places on the dock. Our electric and water would reach and there were plenty of spaces, but still we felt we should move.

Normally, we would untie and walk it to where we wanted it to be. Rick would pull and I would take the back end pushing as needed to keep the boat from hitting the dock. With the wind blowing against us, we struggled to get the boat to go anywhere. We decided we’d leave it where it was until the next day with calmer weather. It was only then that we realized in our haste, we had forgotten to untie the middle line. No wonder it wouldn’t move! Well, good. At least we know it’s not because we’re weaklings.

Following, we had several beautiful days and spent the time sightseeing, enjoying every last bit of it. We rented a car and got some needed errands done, but that allowed us to use the car to visit the beach and enjoy the sunshine.

Bird strolling on the beach in Panama City Beach area.
Bird strolling on the beach in Panama City Beach area.

We planned to stay until the storm front passed and were second guessing ourselves, with the beautiful weather showing itself.

But soon we got what we’d expected with overcast days heavy with rain. The wind was high and reports were saying it would only get worse. The seas were fairly high and expected to become more violent. There was a tornado watch (although the skies didn’t look ripe for it and the temperature wasn’t right). We decided a movie might be a good distraction and called for a cab (we’d already given up the rental). The cab showed up much faster than anticipated and we raced around, grabbing necessities before flying out the door. As we reached the marina gate, Rick looked back and commented on the battering our bimini (a canvas type of awning over the fly bridge) was receiving from the winds. I hesitated for just a minute, about to suggest sending the cab away and securing it from the wind, but climbed into the cab instead.

Driving along the shoreline, we could see the waves increasing. We passed a sailboat at anchor that was rocking wildly and wondered if it would hold. Our cabbie regaled us with tales from her childhood of “things in the sea so big you’d never get ME in that water.”

We reached the theaters in record time. We were early so we had to stand in the wind for about 15 minutes, with no car to shelter us. As we were waiting for the movie to start in the virtually empty theater, Rick’s phone vibrated. There was a tornado warning in the area until noon (right when the movie would start). We left the theater to check the sky, himmed and hawed, and decided to stay put. (We learned later from our neighbors they spotted a twister about a mile the other side of the marina. They were sitting outside pushing against the dock with their feet to keep their sailboat from getting banged up. Glad I didn’t know that until later.)

Leaving the theater, we walked into sunny skies but still a brisk wind. Rick called for the cab; there was no answer. Terrific. Earlier, we had already tried and failed to find a bus schedule, so we decide to walk back. Thank goodness we had our all-weather coats to block against the wind. For five miles we battled the wind along with missing sidewalks and racing cars. I was freezing and dreaming of some hot cocoa. When we passed the anchored sailboat again, it was flopping around rail to rail.

Beautiful sunset, but the sailboat would lose its mast by the end of the storm.
Beautiful sunset, but the sailboat would lose its mast by the end of the storm.

The waves had gotten worse. By the next day, the sailboat had lost its mast and the following day it was gone completely, presumably being pulled out for repair.

Heading into the marina, we could see a section of our bimini flapping violently. No cocoa for me until we got that thing stowed. Approaching, we realized the first thing we needed to do was adjust the bumpers as the boat had shifted in all that wind. It was a struggle. Rick pushed with all his might against the boat to make room between it and the pilings. I untied the bumpers, readjusted them and attempted to shove them in place. The wind was so high at this point that it took both of us with all our strength to complete such a simple task.

Next, we went up to the fly bridge. We had to get the canvas off its metal framing, fold the framing, and secure it. Rick gathered up the loose section and asked me to hold tight to it and the section of frame where it belonged while he started unzipping. We hadn’t ever done anything with this bimini yet. It was just there keeping us shaded. So we weren’t sure what to expect. The wind was coming in bursts of higher and higher velocity. My fingers were numb from grasping so tightly. Starting at the back, he unzipped the first section. Chunks of dirt dropped down while other bits got caught up in the swirl of wind. The mud dobbers (I think that’s the name of these wasp like things) had done a good job of nesting in there. Disgusting but no time to think about it now.

Rick struggled more each time he unzipped a section. With the wind getting worse, he needed me to hold on to more than one section for fear if I didn’t, it would tear beyond repair. So I had a firm grip with my left hand on my original section; I had to reach across the width to hold onto the other section while he unzipped the final section at the very front of the frame. But it was stuck. He tugged and a section of the frame clattered to the ground. He started to explain, I grew impatient and snapped, “I won’t be able to hold it much longer. Hurry up!” which didn’t help the situation at all. He went downstairs to get pliers and tried again, breaking off the zip tab used to actually unzip. He cursed (always helpful). Using the pliers around the metal that holds the teeth together, he muscled the zipper open. We quickly pulled the bimini off its frame and shoved it down the hole into the aft deck. We folded the frame as best we could and clumsily tied it together.

Once we were inside, we checked the weather again and saw that there was another tornado watch. TV reception was spotty, so I went down to the office to find the weather radio. What I found was running water into and between the shelves. We pulled everything out (including our printer). Using beach towels, we dried everything and set up a system to catch the water. In checking the rest of the boat, we discovered water coming in under the doors and drips around several windows. We staid the flow of water there as well and waited out the storm.

But we had to figure out where the water was coming from. Rick had already caulked everywhere on the fly bridge. It became apparent over the next few days that we needed to remove the headliner in the aft deck to see how the water was traveling and where it was originating. It looked as if it was a new headliner and we weren’t sure we could save it, which was a pity.

Look what we found under the headliner while searching for the water path.
Look what we found under the headliner while searching for the water path.

After removing the edging, it was obvious there was no way to reattach the headliner once we removed it—it had been trimmed to closely. So we decided to go old timey and make the ceiling wood. I’m excited to see the outcome over the next week or so. We’ve decided to stay in Panama City to get the work completed. We shall see how THAT goes.

ADDED BONUS: I took a lot of pictures on our tour of Panama City and the beaches. Here are a few.

The city of Panama Beach: IMG_3709 IMG_3711 IMG_3712








The state park and beaches: IMG_3707 IMG_3705 IMG_3703

Bird strolling on the beach in Panama City Beach area.
Bird strolling on the beach in Panama City Beach area.
Just strolling past the hubster.

IMG_3688 IMG_3684 IMG_3683 IMG_3682 IMG_1529































The Panama City Marina: IMG_1500 IMG_1508




And That’s How It’s Done

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.

The Wharf Marina.
The Wharf Marina.

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,

Sunset at Joes Bayou.
Sunset at Joes Bayou.

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. IMG_3678We 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.


So Long, Gulfport

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.

Stay tuned for updates.


I Have a Confession to Make

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.

The sun was setting as we waited for our rescue.
The sun was setting as we waited for our rescue.

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.

Here we are getting towed off the shoaling. Thanks, Conrad!

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!

Our first fishing boat sighting in salt water.
Our first fishing boat sighting in salt water.