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.
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.
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, February12, 2017: Leave Panama City, FL for Apalachacola, FL.
Tuesday, February13 – Wednesday, February14, 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, February15, 2017: Cross the Gulf to Steinhatchee, FL.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So I just found out my husband is a liar. When we entered the Intracoastal Waterway, he assured me we had left the Mississippi River permanently behind us. Well, plans change and, as it turns out, we will be heading into that blasted river once again, albeit for a very short time.
He probably didn’t mean to get my hopes up. I’m sure he was just looking out for my mental stability after we almost backed into that barge. We had exited off the Ole Miss into the Atchafalaya River and maneuvered to Morgan City to get fuel. We hadn’t had an opportunity for fuel for about 300 miles. We had been warned there was no fuel and that if you were careful you might have to beg for some off of a barge. We actually did well and weren’t in dire straits. Still we filled up. Our bigger issue was water. We had drinking water, but for some reason ran out of water for dishes and showers. We had tested our water tanks before we left and found we could go 10 days before we ran out. Why we ran out after only four is still a mystery. It was just the two of us and we tolerated each other’s stench fairly well. I wouldn’t waiver, however, on being able to brush my teeth and wash my face twice daily. I went into this life saying I didn’t want it to be like camping and here it was…just like camping. But things happen and if we’ve learned anything, we know we have to be flexible and go with the flow (or lack thereof). It felt great when I finally got to wash my hair again! I need to take a moment to pat myself on the back at the docking for fuel. It was flawless. Mostly due to Rick’s super ability to drive right up to the pier; but I was able to jump off without harming myself (for once) and tied off quickly. I felt like a true sailor that day.
Once we got our fuel and water, we went across the river to Berwick and tied up for the night. This was a free city dock so no electric. But we were able to get a good night sleep and gather our wits. Because this area was so overrun with commercial traffic and the convergence of the river, waterway and other various channels, everybody on the water was required to “check in” and be directed by one source. Sort of an air traffic controller for the water. It was helpful to us because it was a bit nerve-wracking making our way through all those barges. Once we were ready to leave, we had to wait for a train whose tracks were on a bridge that needed to be raised for us. Then we were home free.
We made our way to Houma, LA and their Downtown Marina. Although they have slips, none were big enough for us so our spot was beside a long dock. They had both water and electric hook-ups for a mere $25/night. We sideled up to the pump out area. We’d been getting worried our tanks would be full soon, so were glad to be able to do the pump out. Our tanks are on the port (left) side of the boat. When we pulled in, the pump out station was on our starboard (right) side. We attempted to go over the bow of the boat with the pump out hose but it wouldn’t reach. We had to turn around so we were facing the entrance to the wharf.
Rick was worried the width of the wharf was too narrow for us to turn around. He devised a plan to tie a rope on the starboard side of the bow and tie it to the dock. Then he would use the engines to push the stern (back) out and spin it around so we wouldn’t hit the opposite side of the wharf. I was sure this was a baaaaaaad idea. The bow pulpit would hit against the pilings on the dock for sure, I argued. He insisted it wouldn’t so we gave it a try. It’s not often I get to say this when we have differing opinions, but I was right—it wasn’t going to work. So we regrouped. Rick handed me the hand held radio and we checked communication with each other on channel 68. We could talk with each other without others listening in. He was going to back out of the wharf, around the other docked boat, and back into the waterway. From there he’d basically do a three-point turn and back into the wharf, around the other boat and back into the spot facing out. I had to untie the line, push off, and use the radio as needed for any unforeseen issues.
Of course I was a dork with the hand held radio. I tried holding it as I untied the lines. Didn’t work. I tried using the little tie-loop-thingy to dangle it from my wrist. Nope, I was banging it into everything. I was so frazzled. Finally, I called Rick to tell him the hand held was a pain in my ass. “Well set it down,” says he. Oh. Yeah. Okay. Got him untied. Pushed off. He easily maneuvered around the other boat and was heading out. From the corner of my eye I see a barge converging on him. I broke into a run, waving my arms, SCREAMING at the top of my lungs, “STOP! There’s a barge! STOP!” I realized he couldn’t hear me—the blasted hand held was still on the ground. I began to run in the opposite direction toward the hand held. At this point the kids playing on the nearby playground and their parents were all watching. I’m sure the parents were whispering to the kids to stay away from the crazy lady. I grabbed the hand held. In my panic I couldn’t find the button I needed. I glanced up and saw Rick headed toward me as I saw the barge slip past behind him. He was safe. We weren’t turned around, but he was safe. Phew. The hand held crackled to life as Rick said, “Screw it. I’m in the middle of the channel I’m just going to spin it. Watch to see I don’t hit the pier.” And just like downtown as they say, he spun it around and backed up to the pier where I grabbed it and tied it off.
Once we pumped out we needed to move further down so others could get to the pump out, if needed. It wasn’t far, so we decide to walk it down rather than restarting the engines. For a 50,000-pound boat It moves fairly easily and we had zero problems. The area was lovely. The marina sits in the middle of a park (and they even have swings—yay!). Within walking distance, we had a laundromat, mini-mart, restaurants, and a hospital (just in case). The Intracoastal Waterway, where we almost collided with the barge is busy with tugs pushing their loads around the clock and the park is continually filled with people enjoying it.
We still want to spend some time in New Orleans and we would like to land in a working marina to have the water tank checked. So, as I said previously, our plans, they are a changin’. You’ll know when I know.
“I’m going back out and down the river to find a place to anchor.”
“Why? We need to be in the cove,” I argued.
“I CAN’T SEE THROUGH THE FOG. I AM TOTALLY TURNED AROUND FROM THE EDDYS AND THE NAVIGATION SYSTEM SAYS WE’RE ON LAND. I DIDN’T WANT TO WORRY YOU, BUT THIS CHANNEL IS TOO NARROW TO DO BLIND.’
I’ve always admired the way Rick goes about things. He learns all he can and then just does it. Nothing fazes the man. Total opposite of me. When he shouted these things to me, I was stunned. He was totally shaken. Where does this leave us?
As we headed down river, the tension inside the aft deck was as thick as the fog surrounding us. You literally could not see a yard in front of us. Thank God I let Rick talk me into the AIS (Automatic Identification System). I like to exaggerate a bit in my writing, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that system and Rick saved our lives. Now, Rick will tell you he was just worried about smashing the boat or running aground, not anything life threatening. But I’m here to tell you, if he hadn’t done what he did through our whole cruise yesterday, we could have had a real tragedy. He’s my hero. (Cue sappy music here.)
Let me start at the beginning. The day began with high hopes. We were 35 miles from our departure point to leave the Mississippi (yay!). It was partly cloudy with chance of rain in the forecast until noon. With thunderstorms on the radar for tomorrow, we decided to risk a little rain now to get to our next stop early. The anchor came up easily and by 6:45 a.m. we were underway.
Light to moderate rain began about 9:00 am. No big deal, we have windshield wipers. Fog started developing along the banks. Possibly a result of the rain and river water temperatures. Who knows? It wasn’t too bad. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. We should have taken a cue from the barges upriver who were all along the bank waiting. We didn’t connect why until later. For now, we were glad we didn’t have anyone in our way. Rain became a little heavier about 9:30 a.m. and the fog seemed to be dissipating. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. By 10:00 a.m., visibility was down to less than a half mile. The AIS showed a multitude of barges near us and we were relying on the navigation software to stay in the channel.
By 10:30 we were at the Old River entrance. It was a sharp turn into a narrow channel, then a short distance to our destination. Using the navigation and radar, Rick attempted to make the turn and keep in the channel center. Our draft is 4-1/2 feet and we had been told we needed to stay in the center or risk running aground. Were we in the center? The navigation system had us on land. The current was swift and an eddy swirled us around. Where were we? Rick could not see the shoreline to get his bearings. At one point the fog cleared just enough to show we were headed directly for the shore about 100 yards away. We kept getting swung around; it appeared momentarily that Rick had lost control. Instinct told him to advance the throttles so our heading would properly register on the navigation display; we had been going too slowly for the nav system.
That’s when I learned what was really happening and we had the above discussion. Rick successfully edged us out of the channel and back onto the Mississippi. We went about a mile downriver. In good conditions, its not easy to find a suitable stopping point along this river and these weren’t good conditions. Relying on the nav system again, he maneuvered just inside the red buoy line and we dropped the anchor. Every commercial tow we could see on our AIS was doing the same thing, so we felt safe for now.
But mother nature wasn’t finished with us yet. While we waited, the sun set. Now we were in the dark and fog. Thunderstorms were on the way by 9:00 p.m. We unplugged all our electronic things—TVs, computer and the like. We couldn’t turn off the nav system though or the radio—we needed to know when (if) commercial traffic started to move. If we couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see us. The tugs got anxious and began moving. So Rick set his alarm for every 30 minutes in case we fell asleep. We sat vigil. He was able to track the movement of those tugs. When they headed our way, he contacted them to give our location, then he’d watch for them. Or more accurately, wait to hear them—we couldn’t see them. News of our location spread rapidly on the radio and all the tugs were great about giving a wide berth.
Rick sent me to bed around 11 (he insisted there was no point to us both staying up), but I couldn’t sleep. I just laid there listening to the crackle of the radio and his calls to the tugs. I also compulsively checked the Weather Channel radar for those thunderstorms. The predictions changed as rapidly as I checked them. The thunderstorms were cropping up around us but not traveling over us. I was glad, but it really just delayed the inevitable, since the prediction would just be pushed back a few hours.
By morning, we groggily peered out into the vast fog. It hadn’t changed. I felt a little less vulnerable since we had the light of day, but that was really an illusion since those commercial boats couldn’t see us any better than at night. The thunderstorms were still looming but had not hit us yet.
At several points things were clearing up. We hesitated to move yet since we could see our turn off was still shrouded in fog. Ten minutes later we were in white out conditions again and were glad we hadn’t pulled anchor. Finally, we took a chance and headed out. We were being watched over. We made the turn, got through the channel into the lake, and dropped anchor just before the thunderstorms hit.
This cove is protected basically on all sides (besides the narrow entrance). We feel safe enough to shut off the electronics and go to bed tonight. I’m grateful. Tomorrow we enter onto our final river. The Intracoastal Waterway isn’t far behind.