The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Weather...or NOT!

As I mentioned in my last post, we have only a little less than 100 miles more to move on inland waterways in the panhandle of Florida (down to Carrabelle or Apalachicola) before we hop across the northeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico to Clearwater, Florida.  The gulf crossing is the largest single stretch of “big water” most Loopers will make on the Loop.  Although it is only 150 or so miles (across the north east corner of the gulf), it is fairly intimidating, as conditions on the Gulf of Mexico in winter seem to change on the weather gods’ whim.
We holed up in Panama City waiting for the weather to break and for sea conditions to calm (way) down.  Monday the seas were 5-7 feet and building, as the winds Tuesday peaked (seas were reportedly 11 feet!) following the weather front that just passed over Sunday night and Monday morning.  It rained fairly consistently for those two days.  We (and every Looper around this corner of the gulf) are looking ahead for good sea conditions three or four days out, so we can move down into position and be ready to cross the minute things are calm…because they don’t stay calm for long.
Planning for the crossing is interesting.  Daylight right now lasts from about 6:00 AM to 4:40 PM (approx. 10-1/2 hours).  Boats that can only go say 10 knots will take 15 hours, so they must leave in the dark, and time their cruise to arrive mid-afternoon.  Once Around likes to cruise at that speed, and probably will if conditions are excellent (big IF), but is very capable of doing 15 or 16 knots, shortening or eliminating nighttime exposure.   Being beaten up by rough seas is not fun in the daytime, and I imagine it would be much worse if you couldn’t see the waves coming!  That decision will probably be made at the last moment, or even as we go.
Our good friends on Jolly Tolly showed up at Bay Point Tuesday afternoon in 30 knot winds.  We were listening on the VHF as they approached and heard Ron ask if he could get a pump out.  He was told yes, but he had better check out the wind conditions first and make his choice:  pump out dock or his slip.  Now you will recall his wife Jan is “The Pump-out Queen”, so Carrie and I were 99% sure they would stop at that dock first.  We ran over to that side of the marina just in time to see that they were headed directly for their slip, where we had just come from.  Shows how bad conditions were for Jan to pass on a pump out!  We ran back and Ron brought Jolly Tolly expertly into the slip.  Even though there were whitecaps in the marina, I still am amazed Jan passed that pump-out dock.
Jan on the bow of Jolly Tolly as Ron pulls her in
We had a great evening with them and the rest of the Loopers from Grianan, Boreas and Brandy IV.  Much of the talk was about…what else…the weather.  We are all rather obsessed with it right now.
At 6:30 the next morning we learned several boats were leaving Carrabelle to make their crossing.  We pray for their safety, as conditions are not ideal.  We decided to move a little further down the panhandle to Port St. Joe.  It was a beautiful day to cruise, if a bit nippy. 
Following Jolly Tolly on the ICW

Jolly Tolly turning into Port St. Joe Harbor
The dolphins provided quite a show.  We had a couple dolphin cruise along with us for nearly a half hour.  I think the Admiral got some better shots this time.  Captain Ron told her on the radio that he had heard that if you sing to them, the dolphin will stick around.  Carrie bought that, hook, line and sinker.  It was kind of fun to hear her singing loudly at the dolphin.  But, do you think they appreciated “God Bless America”?  It was a priceless moment!
We’re going to hang out here at Port St. Joe for one or two or ??? days, watching the weather and hoping for a good day to cross soon.  When we think we see one we’ll move down to Carrabelle to be ready.  Meanwhile, this place is supposed to have some great seafood restaurants…so off we go.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Panama City, Florida (Not Panama)

If I had a nickel for every time someone came up to Once Around, saw the “Sacramento, CA” hailing port, and asked me if I’d brought her through the Panama Canal, I would be rich.  Maybe now I’ll just say, yeah, I brought her through Panama…
We were the only Looper boat to pull into Shalimar Yacht Basin on Thanksgiving.  In fact, we were the only sign of life in the entire place.  We knew they would be closed so had gotten our slip assignment from “Vito” the day before.  Shalimar is very well protected, and the cold and brisk north east wind we had in our face all morning, was nowhere to be found.  It was actually warm and sunny.
Carrie whipped up a mini-feast for Thanksgiving.  We had Turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberries, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts (brussel sprouts???) and pumpkin pie for desert.  She remarked how strange it felt to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a galley where only two steps got you from one end to the other.  About the only thing we missed (besides the kids and grandkids) was football, as the cable TV on A dock seemed to be on the fritz, and the one air TV channel we received seemed to be stuck in a “Charlie Brown (Peanuts) Thanksgiving” time.  No matter, we had a quiet, but wonderful evening.
Friday we left early (never did meet Vito), because we had a fairly long cruise day ahead of us.  As we pulled out into Choctawhatchee Bay, which would consume the first 30 miles or so, we almost immediately heard from Something Special over the VHF radio.  Sid had left the other two boats he had been with behind and knew we were planning to travel on Friday.  We met up about an hour later, and Something Special followed us the rest of the way to Panama City, Florida.  Our mileage that day was 72 miles, one of the top ten longest cruise days since we started in May.
On the Bay we came up behind a slow sailboat... it possibly be???

Of course!  Lolligag again!  They may lolligag, but they keep getting ahead of us!
We are really enjoying being back in the salt water and its’ marine life.  We had many dolphin sightings, some very close to the boat.  I’m not sure if Carrie’s camera finger was quick enough to catch them, but the dolphin show was pretty impressive on occasion.
She swears there were dolphins here a second ago...'ll have to settle for the house of the day...
When we got to St. Andrews Bay at Panama City, Something Special headed north to the Panama City Marina and we headed south to Bay Pointe Marina.  Greg and Kate from Grianan met us on the docks.  They had first gone to the City Marina and had moved over to Bay Pointe the day we arrived.  Without going into great detail, they led me to believe I made the right choice. 
Some of the boats in Bay Pointe

Lots of them are pretty serious sport fisherman

And then this suppose he ever gets his wife to go boating???
I wonder why not???
After topping off our fuel, we went to our assigned slip and I was beat from the long cruise.  But, the Admiral wanted to wash the boat.  So, we washed the boat.  Finishing about dark, we showered and headed for Grianan for cocktails with the crews from Boreas and Spirit of Whitby.  There was some comedy stage show playing at the marina at 6:00 PM, but we managed to cocktail right past it.  After leaving the party, Carrie and I had a quick salad at the marina pub, relaxed for an hour or so listening to a live country singer playing in the bar, and crashed.
Saturday morning became “laundry morning” as it had piled up this week.  I have been catching up on my route planning.  It looks like (keep your fingers crossed) the Gulf might calm down enough for us to cross around Wednesday.  We will be keeping a close eye on the weather reports, and if this forecast holds, Monday or Tuesday we will move down the panhandle another 60 or 80 miles to Apalachicola or Carrabelle, both good jumping off points to cross from.  We will cross to either Tarpon Springs or Clearwater, Florida.   Our crossing will be about 140-150 miles.  The Gulf can get cranky in a hurry, so we want to be sure and catch a calm window.
We received some great news and some crummy news from other Loopers yesterday. 
First, on the happy side, Jolly Tolly has entered Mobile Bay and could catch up with us here in a few days.  It would be great to cross the Gulf with Captain Ron and Jan (The Pump-out Queen).  Our boats are happy at similar cruising speeds and capable of much faster comparable top speeds, if needed.  Besides that they’ve done this crossing before, although that was not one of the highlights of their Loop, to say the least.  Mostly it will be great to see them again.  It’s been three months since we cruised with them on Lake Michigan.
On the downer side of things, two boats I mentioned (awhile back) that we hoped to see soon, Algonquin and Abreojos, are both down with mechanical problems.  I haven’t yet confirmed this, but ironically I think they both may be at Aqua Marina.  That is above the Tenn-Tom, some 400 miles above Mobile Bay.  It’s getting cold and probably lonely up there, and we wish them both good luck with their repairs and safe cruising coming down the waterway.  Remember guys, boating is fun!
Well, the laundry is about done.  So I better get moving.  I’m not sure what the Admiral’s plans are today, but you can bet it’s not sitting here on the computer!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank You, God

First of all, I want to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all of our family, friends and fellow Loopers near and far.  As always, we have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Thanks for our family, especially our kids and grandkids.  Thanks for our friends, our co-workers, our health, our work, and our countless other blessings.  In my Thanksgiving prayer as always I will remember all of those.

But today, besides being Thanksgiving Day, Carrie and I celebrate our wedding  anniversary.  We weren’t married on Thanksgiving Day in 1984, but whenever the 24th falls on the holiday, like this year, I am reminded of what I truly am most thankful for.
Actually, we did get married once on Thanksgiving Day.  In 1994, on the tenth anniversary of our civil marriage we renewed our vows and were married (in the Catholic Church).  That was a pretty cool Thanksgiving.  We didn’t want to make a huge deal of it, so we asked our friend Monsignor K. to marry us early, prior to the eight o’clock mass.  Only immediate family and our closest friends (who stood up for us) were there.  In true Monsignor K. fashion, the ceremony was quick.  We hoped to just duck out quietly before the churchgoers arrived and head home for a traditional Thanksgiving Day of parades, football and turkey with the kids and our good friends.  No such luck.
Afterward, as we walked down the aisle to the back of the church, an old Irish character named Norm Montgomery appeared.  Uh-oh, Norm was an old friend of my late fathers and he was about as quiet and subtle as a herd of dairy cows.  He was also one of the funniest characters you would ever meet.  As we approached the rear of the church, Norm jumped up from his knees, clasped his hands over his chest as if having a heart attack and bellowed, “By God an Irishman sure needs to get up early to beat an Italian.  There I was all proud of meeself for getting’ ta mass bright and early this fine Thanksgiving mornin’, and you’ve already been up long enough ta get yourself married!”  All the parishioners filing in were smiling and congratulating us.  So much for being quiet and discreet.
One anniversary many years ago we were vacationing in a tropical paradise somewhere.  The vacation was supposed to be our anniversary gift to each other, but, I somehow managed to sneak a “bauble” (Carrie’s term for jewelry) under her pillow the first night as a surprise.  Subtle, huh?  Anyway, when we went to bed that night she discovered it and without missing a beat squealed, “Look what the Jewelry Bunny brought for me!” 
This year we agreed our Loop adventure was our gift to each other and would cover any and all gift obligations this year, birthday, anniversary, etc.  But, her trip to San Francisco last weekend gave me (excuse me, gave the Jewelry Bunny) a golden opportunity to strike again.  Besides, she’s overdue for a bauble.  If you go back and read my earlier post (August), “Never Sufficiently Adorned”, you will understand.  You didn’t really think I believed I was going to get off with a mere trip to the beauty salon…did you
So, today marks 27 years since the prettiest and nicest girl in the universe and I said, “I do”.  When I look at her I still see the same young twenty something beauty that I fell head over heels with back then.  But now, I know how much more I value her sweet gentleness, her love of and devotion to family (and to me), and her outrageous sense of humor.  She makes me smile and laugh every day.  I cannot imagine a life without her.
There is a scene near the end of the movie, “Animal House”, during the wild bedlam of the parade.  During the mayhem, a beautiful and scantily clad coed is suddenly flung through the window of a home and onto the lap of a thirteen year old boy who had been sitting on his bed and sneakily “reading” a Playboy magazine.  The boy gets a huge smile on his face, raises his eyes upward to the heavens and shouts, “THANK YOU, GOD!!!”
Well, today (just as from the moment we met), I feel just like that thirteen year old boy.  I am not exactly sure how she landed in my lap…but…

27 years and counting...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bye Bama, Hello Florida Panhandle

I spent last Saturday and Sunday slaving on the boat while Carrie was whooping it up with the kids in San Francisco.  All my girls had a ball shopping for Carla’s wedding dress.  Besides Carrie and Carla, our older daughter Dina and our granddaughter Lia (5) were on the dress shopping team.  By the end of the weekend, success was achieved, the dress was ordered, and Dad was poorer yet.
The Bride-to-Be

Granddaughter Lia...planning ahead?

The Admiral out to lunch with her girls (photo by Lia)
By the time the Admiral flew back into Mobile on Sunday, I was ready to go.  The boat was ship-shape, even the Admiral was impressed.  American Airlines managed to lose the Admiral’s luggage, but I convinced her they or Dog River Marina could forward it to us…somewhere.  So, off we went Monday across Mobile Bay.  We cruised alongside Greg and Kate on Grianan and had a calm crossing. 
This "boat" made it all the way down the river system...somehow,
and pulled into Dog River just before we left.  Note the chicken
on the far right "deck".
Along the way to our stop at The Wharf Marina in Gulf Shores, Alabama, we ran across our old friends on Something Special, Free to Be and Brown Eyed Girl.  So, obviously we had to have a Looper party that night.  We had finally reached some warm weather, so we were able to enjoy cocktails and treats on the fly bridge of Once Around.  Afterward Greg and Kate (from Grianan) and Carrie and I had a pretty decent Italian dinner at Villagio there in the harbor.
Tuesday we all (with the exception of Grianan) stopped in Pensacola, Florida at Palofax Pier.  It has a pretty good restaurant on sight and the bunch of us enjoyed lunch outside in the warm weather.  Clyde from American Airlines finally showed up with Carrie's bags.  After lunch we decided to walk the town.  We were reminded however that is still winter here on the Gulf, when Carrie and I got caught in a cloudburst as we walked around downtown.  We returned to the boat soaking wet, but laughing in the rain (I know, it’s supposed to be “dancing” in the rain, but let's be honest, neither of us are ever going to be asked to compete on Dancing with the Stars). 
OK, she likes pelicans...they've now replaced Adirondack chairs...
get used to it.

We saw a few of these birds too as we neared Pensacola.

Approaching Pensacola by water

Yes, it is a Navy town!
Today, Wednesday, we all went to breakfast on the way to visit the Naval Air Museum.  Breakfast was so-so.  The museum was awesome.  Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels, and we saw an IMAX movie about flying that had incredible footage from onboard the Blue Angels as they performed.  I was damn near airsick it was so real.  We also saw every imaginable type of aircraft ever flown by the Navy, Marines or Coast Guard, including a helicopter just like the one that our future son-in-law Evan jumps out of for a living.  The mother-in-law-to-be was proudly pointing out that to our friends, as well as a scale model of the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to which Evan’s squadron is attached. 
One of an older generation of Blue Angels in the collection.

Admirals get to ride anywhere they want!

Sid and I discussed the kind of damage we
could do with these babies on the Canadian rocks!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  All the boats here are departing, although for different destinations.  I think Once Around is the only one headed for Shalimar Yacht Basin in Destin.  The Florida Panhandle is pretty compact, so we know we will be seeing the other Loopers in Panama City in a couple of days.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

They Did It!

When they hadn’t hauled Once Around out by noon on Friday I was pretty bummed.  But, by 12:45 she was in the air and had workers swarmed over and under her.  Two guys worked on removing the old transducer for the existing depth finder and replacing it with a new one, and also adding another transducer for a second depth finder.  That gives us “redundancy” which is an important sounding way to say, “a back-up system”. 
Out she comes...again,
but you've seen Once Around in a sling from the boatyard before...

...but here's the boatyard from Once Around while in the sling...

...and another shot

A carpenter they called “Chopper” (honest, I couldn’t make this stuff up) cut the holes in the teak dash downstairs and the fiberglass helm upstairs, while Bryson ran the cabling.  We went back in the water at about 4:00 Friday afternoon, and I was told they would finish up the final connections and dial the system in on Saturday morning.
Bryson running cables through a chase in the salon
left to right:  "Chopper", Gary and Bryson at the lower helm
Back to my assigned spot on the dock I went, while Chopper was still cutting holes.  He and I had a great conversation about restoring 1950’s vintage Ford pickups.  I had done one; he had done six or seven.  He even tried to sell me one but I told him one vintage truck was plenty for me, how would he like to buy my spare boat in California?   No thanks.  But we parted friends.
A few minutes later I was surprised to see Gary and his boss, “Britt the electronics guy” come down the dock tools in hand.  They had decided to finish up Friday after all.  By 6:00 PM we were relaxing over a cold beer and talking…boats of course (also maybe stock cars, U of Alabama football, and Southern foods, all three of which I knew almost nothing about…but do now).  When they left Once Around had not one but two depth finders at each helm and a happy if somewhat poorer owner. 
Lower helm

Upper helm

Many thanks to the excellent crew at Dog River Marina.

Now I better get this boat cleaned up before the Admiral gets back!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Dog River-Week 1

We’ve learned if you’re stuck in port for a while, rent a car.  That was our first order of business on Saturday. 
We had no real plans, so we drove across the bridge to the eastern side of Mobile Bay to visit Fairhope, which we had hoped to make a stop at on Once Around.  I’m not sure what the Loopers who made that decision think, but I think they got hoodwinked a bit by the guy who gave the plug for Fairhope at the Rendezvous’.  
The town of Fairhope was all that he promised.  It was a neat little downtown to fool around in, and my First Mate and I enjoyed puttering through the shops and had a great pizza at a little Italian bistro.  However, I don’t remember the guy doing the hawking for Fairhope telling the Loopers how far Eastern Shore Marina was from downtown.  It took us a bit of searching to even find the marina…by car!  We finally saw some folks on the fold up bikes that immediately identified them to us as boaters, who through panting spells directed us to the marina.  It looked nice…but was a long way from the “convenient shopping” that I had thought I had heard about.  
Sunday, we cleaned up the boat some, and then drove to a restaurant that we had seen in our travels the day before called, “Felix’s Fish Camp” for lunch.  It was packed both days, so we figured that it must have something going for it.  We were right.  We both had Cajun whitefish with a corn and bean salsa and a side of turnip greens.  I had a cup of their crab chowder as well.  We both left with happy tummies.
We did a little provisioning and returned to the boat just in time to head for cocktails aboard Confetti.  This was a special occasion, and six crews of Loopers were there to celebrate with the folks from Confetti, Bavarian Cream and Mineau, who all cross their wakes here in Mobile Bay.  (Once again, for you non-Loopers, “cross your wake” means they’ve completed their circle, and are officially “Gold” Loopers).  It was a neat occasion.  Joining the three new gold Loopers besides Once Around were, Grianan, Lady in Red, Another Dawn, and Adesso.  There was one other guy there, a friend of Mineau’s who had driven over for the occasion from Louisiana.  They introduced him simply as “Killer”.  They offered no explanation, and I figured in that case, you probably shouldn’t ask!  You could tell there was mixed emotions among the crews who were finishing the Loop; happy to have accomplished their goal, but a little sad to be ending their trip.  We’re still five and a half months away from worrying about that though…
The Admiral was pretty chipper Monday morning.  She had connected with a friend (Devra) who is a yoga instructor that had moved to Mobile from Elk Grove.  So, off she went for a 10:00 AM hot yoga class.  They call it hot yoga because they heat the room to 105 degrees or so to do the 1-1/2 hour workout.  I think they really call it that because of the hot little outfits they wear.  I was tempted to go along…almost…but, I had to remain in “the waiting place”, hoping that someone from this boat yard will show up to discuss the work I need done.  Besides, I started sweating in the entry area of the yoga studio in Elk Grove the one time I ventured in there.  I don’t know how they do it, but the Admiral loves it!  Meanwhile, the only guy to show up at the boat was “Billy”, the parts manager, who basically took the same list of things I wanted them to work on that I had given Linda the previous Friday.  Oh, well…at least he promised he’d stay in touch with me.
Tuesday morning "Marty the appliance guy" showed up to fix the refrigerator (he doesn’t do dryers, which is also on the fritz, and on the list).  Carrie had decided not to go to yoga that morning and It’s a good thing too, because I wouldn’t have wanted to suffer the embarrassment alone of having him tell me the refer was fine, it just needed to be defrosted.  It never occurred to us that a $1,700 refrigerator would not defrost itself!  Hell, for that much it ought to do the cooking, too.  Anyway, after Marty left and we removed about a 24” x 24” x 3” thick block of ice from the new Italian made refrigerator, it works perfectly.  I wonder what that cost us? 
Nobody else showed from the boatyard, so late in the day we ran some errands.  We’re learning our way around Mobile…which is not necessarily a happy thing.  We did have a great Mexican food meal at a little local bar in downtown Mobile that Carrie’s yoga buddies told her about.  It was a little hole in the wall called The OK Bicycle Shop.  It did actually have a few Schwinn Cruisers suspended above the bar, although I never did learn the significance.  Otherwise, the atmosphere was pure “local watering hole”, the staff and locals were really friendly, the food was good and the margaritas were outstanding.
Wednesday morning bright and early "Ray the mechanic" showed up to look at our generator.  It wasn’t really broken; it had just recently started to slowly fill the boat with a smell like burned motor oil when it ran for very long.  In short order Ray found and repaired a stuck PCV valve…voila’, no more smell.  Great start to the day…now where is that electronics guy that is supposed to figure out why my depth finder is acting up, which is the main reason we’re stuck here in the first place?
Carrie left for yoga around mid-morning and returned with lunch.  Her friends laughed when she asked where she could find a good Chinese take-out place.  Apparently that would be NOT in Mobile, so she brought back burgers.  We were stuck waiting on the boat as I had been told that "Brett the electronics guy" should be there by 1:15.  He showed about 2, which was cool with me.  We discussed the options, and he promised to get back to me with pricing and availability of parts…soon.
So at 6:00 Care and I left for dinner at a marina across the river called Grand Mariner.  We sat at the bar, enjoyed the local conversation and bantered with a couple of guys who were sailboaters.  Power and sail folks agree only on the beauty of the sea…and little else.  They go slow, we go fast, they are cheapskates…OK, maybe I’m a bit biased.  They were nice guys though, and not gay.  Carrie asked them.  No more martini’s for her.  The food was good, but mostly fried.  Fried fish, fried shrimp, fried oysters, hush puppies (fried potatoes)...etc.  Like our freind Carolyn said in New Orleans to her husband Buddy:  "Buddy, it was just like dinner at your grandma's!"

The Grand Mariner
Thursday morning Carrie packed for her west coast visit, then we left for the airport, stopping at Big Ed’s Tiny Diny (on a tip from Bavarian Cream) for breakfast.  When the waitress asked me what I wanted to go with my corned beef hash and eggs I made the mistake of asking for sourdough toast.  She looked at me weird and said, “None of that here.”  I really cracked her up when I then asked for an English muffin.  She chuckled and said, “Honey, this here’s the South.  We got white or wheat, or you can have biscuits and grits.  English muffin, what’s that?”  The grits were…well…grits, but the hot out of the oven biscuits were to die for.
The Admiral flew out at 10:00 AM.  She and our daughters and granddaughter are meeting in San Francisco to shop for a wedding dress for Carla.  The mere suggestion by me that maybe the Admiral didn’t really need to be there, that the girls could handle it themselves, drew me “the look”.  End of discussion.  Every other Admiral here I have looked to for support has just given me that “Are you some kind of idiot” look.  That must be something they all learn in Admiral school.  Anyway, there’s something called a “trunk show” going on in San Francisco.  From what I can tell I think that means Dad will have to send a whole trunk full of money if they find a dress…excuse me…wedding gown there.
I had a pretty quiet day after the Admiral left (imagine that!).  I did hear from the yard that the parts are on order and IF they arrive early as promised Friday, they will get everything done then.  Carrie returns Sunday night and right now the weather forecast looks good for getting out of here on Monday.  I was invited to a nice home (boat?) cooked meal aboard Kadahdi Thursday night.  BBQ pork chops, lots of wine and good conversation.  They are leaving the boat here and heading home for the holidays to Canada, so we won’t see them again until after the first of the year.  They are really great folks and lots of fun.
We’re not the only Loopers getting work done here.  Lady in Red got new bottom paint and a hull wax and Grianan had their stainless rails (ripped apart in a marina on a windy day in Chicago) replaced and also got bottom paint and a hull wax.  There were lots of other Loopers getting work done as well.
Lady in Red

Meanwhile, it looks as if our old buddies Lolligag are going to pass us he toying with me???

It’s now Friday morning and I’m still waiting (not my strong suit) for word from the yard.  Meanwhile, half a dozen or so boats have left, although the Mobile Bay weather is marginal.  I imagine a new bunch of Loopers will arrive late this afternoon.  That’s life on the Loop…

Once the "waiting place".

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Back in the day, when Care and I were a lot younger and, as our son Leo likes to note, “dinosaurs ruled the earth”, we loved to water ski.  We used any excuse to get out there on my 19’ Avenger with its’ 175HP Mercury outboard (did I ever tell you we love boats?).  Together with our friends, Jody and Bobby, we would head out after work and on weekends several times a week in the summer.  The Sacramento River was usually our destination…but…I digress…
While the four of us were taking turns skiing, we would not roll the ski rope up tightly till the end of the day.  As we were still planning to ski, if we needed to haul the rope into the boat for any reason (tequila stop, prop check, lunch, whatever) we would simply pull it in from the stern hand over hand and let it coil lazily on top of itself in the back area of the boat.  Next time someone was in the water, all you had to do was toss him the handle and idle away.  The rope would feed itself out neatly.  That is, unless Jody touched the rope!
For some reason, if Jody was the one that brought the rope in, it always ended up in a tangled mess.  The poor schmuck in the river had to wait while the rest of us unsnarled the darn thing, which sometimes would take a while.  Those of us tasked with that job always whined…J-O-O-O-D-Y-Y-Y, as we worked on the twisted mess.  This happened so regularly that if we were thinking clearly (pre-Jose Cuervo), we would not let Jody touch the ski rope.  It just wasn’t worth it.
I don’t think Jody even knows this, but over the years at our house, we began to blame Jody every time something was inexplicably tangled, even if he was not around.  The cry “J-O-O-D-Y-Y" coming from anywhere in the house, garage or office told whoever heard it that somebody was untangling rope, wire, string or cord.  Even lashed up fishing lines often get blamed on him.  We still can’t figure out how Jody sneaks into our Christmas boxes in the garage each year and makes such a complete disaster out of the Christmas tree light cords (that I distinctly remember putting away so carefully).  Hearing J-O-O-O-D-Y-Y is almost like Christmas music at our house.  It marks the official start of the Christmas season.
So, what does all this have to do with the Loop?  As we tied off recently and I was plugging in shore power, I heard the dreaded
J-O-O-D-Y-Y whine from my first mate back in the cockpit.  Here’s what I found there:
I’ll be damned if Jody hadn’t sneaked into our deck box and made a complete disaster of our TV cable this week.  But it's certainly not like it's the first time he's visited us on this trip.  I’ll never know how he does it…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Admiral's Blog: Stardate 11-11-11

OK, it's my (Carrie's) turn to post on the blog. 
In our family, we have always joked about everyone needing a planned backup job, just in case things got really tough.  Dina (our business executive) says she would attend the truck driving academy so she could drive big rigs; Carla (our teacher) says she would do acrylic nails; and Leo (our electrician) wants to run the camera up sewer pipes for the company that repairs sewage blockages.  Well, after 27 years, I believe I have finally found the one for Frank.
Frank alluded to our hectic experience anchoring when we reached the Alabama River Cutoff.  It took four tries, and since we weren't wearing the “marriage saver” headphones, a bit of hollering.   Even after we had set both the bow and stern anchors well, we were too close to shore (in my opinion, and I’m the Admiral).  With even minor wind gusts, I felt that the starboard side of Once Around was inching too close to the creek’s edge.  Oh well, if the Capitan thought it was secure, I guess I did, too. 
This is the rail of our boat and the edge of the river!
But, by the next morning, after hardly sleeping, and the first couple of boats left the gunkhole (common term for anchorages), I was just getting ready to ask the Captain if he would lift our anchors and move the boat over so we would be able to sleep the second night.  But Frank proceeded to get busy.
As the first boat turned the corner into the anchorage, I was happy to see Frank greeting them.  He informed them of depths, warned them about the stump in the center of the waterway, told them about anchor sites and even offered, “Would you like some help setting your stern anchor?”  How nice, I thought. 
Bavarian Cream and Joysea in the Alabama River Cut,
anchored directly behind Once Around.
“Oh, Care, you have to come with.  I can’t drive the dinghy and do the anchor, too.  You’ll need to help set their stern anchor.”  Really?  Just yesterday we had trouble, and today you are offering aid?  OK.  Off we went and set the stern anchor exactly where the first experienced captain said.  Whew.  That wasn’t so bad, but it was heavy and darn near gave me a boat bite.
Well, about the time I was ready to ask again to move Once Around, two more boats came on the radio asking us about the anchorage.  So, one at a time, we led them in, showed them where to go (Frank just seemed to know where they would be secure), and I had an additional near miss setting their stern anchors.  Boat bite two averted.  The boaters were extremely grateful for the help.  A couple of them asked for advice, and Frank gave it to them, laughing as he told them that if they had seen him botch the process yesterday with our own boat he would probably be the last one they asked for advice!  Still, he made the process easy for these other Loopers, and they appreciated the help.
Lunch anyone?  It’s  2:30 and I’m kinda hungry.  Hello.  I had just start cooking something when another set of boats arrived.  Out goes the new Harbor Host to guide them in.  (And, of course, me to set the stern anchors.)
Out on his dinghy, talking, directing, leading, even pushing one boat that had lost its bow thruster, arranging cocktails (including taxi service in the dinghy) with two of the boats, was my usually very reserved husband.  And, he was having a ball.  This is it.  I’ve found his new backup job!   He could be a harbor master in an anchorage.  Better yet, in a mooring field where he wouldn’t need me to help!  He doesn’t even need to get paid…if he’s in a boat (even his dinghy) he’s happy.
The "Harbor Host" in his dinghy, about to guide a sailboat into the anchorage.
After everyone else was settled in nice and snug, we did finally move Once Around away from the river’s edge by moving the bow anchor over about twenty feet.  And we even had lunch about 3:30 PM.  My boat bite damage for the day included two bruises and a small diamond missing from my ring. I officially baptized four brand new stern anchors.  We also slept like logs. 
 But, the Alabama River Cutoff had a Harbor Host for a day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Alabama River Cut to Mobile

If I thought it was going to be a quiet day at anchorage Thursday, I was dreaming.  Boats continued to come into the cut, as it is one of the few good anchorages anywhere nearby for boats that draft more than about three feet, which is most all of us Loopers.  Besides Joysea and Bavarian Cream, who we had already invited for cocktails that night, six or seven more boats came in.  Since I was in first and had explored quite a ways up the cut in my dinghy (the one with the working depth finder), I felt obliged to pass on the local knowledge and lend a hand.  That’s another blog that my First Mate says she wants to write.  Let’s just say, we were busy right up till about 4 PM anchoring boats!  The Admiral and I took quick showers and then I got back into the dinghy to round up our guests for cocktails.
Dave and Joyce on Joysea are from Indiana.  They had never boated before buying thier 39' Mainship a couple of years ago.  They boated from Maine where they purchased it down along the east coast to Florida, and then decided to do the loop.  If you think Carrie’s broken toe and thumb were tough, Joyce suffered a broken hip in Canada.  Dave had guests aboard to help him from there down to Joe Wheeler, Alabama, where Joyce rejoined him after a few months of recovery at home.  They have been married for 50 years, so naturally took this as just a minor little setback.  They will complete the loop in Marathon, Florida.  I hope we are there to celebrate with them.
The Bavarian Cream crew, Larry and Sandy are a hoot.  I knew someone told me I had to meet them, and after talking with them for a while, I realized it had to be Doug and Judy of Moonstruck or Ron and Jan from Jolly Tolly.  Larry is originally from Ohio, but they live now in Sandy’s hometown of New Orleans.  They are completely nuts, so we hit it off quite nicely.  Their boat is a German made 40' Cytra Bavaria.  On the back of their boat card (business cards we all carry to identify boats and crews), they printed the recipe for Bavarian Cream, a dish they had planned to make their signiature dessert on board.  Trouble was, they said it was just too damn hard to make!  They will complete the loop in just a few days as they reach the southern part of Mobile Bay.  Unfortunately for us, they will turn west for Louisiana and we must go east to Florida.  I hope our paths cross again somewhere.
Anyway, on this chilly night in the Alabama River Cut off the Tenn-Tom, the six of us yucked it up for about two hours on Once Around.  Everyone brought more munchies than we could eat and more cocktails than we oughta drink, but we put a good dent in both.  By seven or so, the party broke up and I somehow managed to get the four of them back to their boats without losing anyone in the river…but it was touch and go at times.
Friday morning the misty fog cleared early and everyone began lifting anchors.  Of course, the anchors on Once Around that I had so much trouble getting to set two days before now decided that they had “become one” with the river bottom.  And, half the river bottom came up with them when, panting, cold and exhausted we finally got them unstuck.  Remember, Boating is Fun!
We had about 50 miles more river to cover before we would reach Mobile Bay, then another 17 miles or so till we would reach Dog River Marina in Mobile, Alabama.  Piece of cake, right?  Everything went fine, right up to the 14 mile bridge.  It had been closed all day Wednesday for repairs.  We had heard it had been closed for a couple of hours on Thursday for the finishing touches.  Oops, seems not.  We were held up above it for about an hour and a half.  When it finally opened we were the first boat through, and it looked like a boat parade from there to Mobile Bay.
Looks like this barge is being pushed by Papa Tow and Baby Tow, huh?

And the scenery became less "forest" and more "bayou"
the farther south we travelled.

The challenge of the day...a long wait for the bridge to open

And the "boat parade" after the bridge opening

It was weird being out in open water of the bay after the past few months on the rivers.  However, much of Mobile Bay is shallow, too shallow, so you have to be very careful to stay in the channels.  We did, and let a few other boats into Dog River just an hour or so before sundown. 
Entering Mobile Harbor through the river

A fisherman on Mobile Bay
When we reached Dog River Marina, the Admiral and I tied off, cleaned up and walked across the highway to the Mobile Yacht Club for dinner.  We were back and tucked in by 8:30.  We slept in (7:30) on Saturday.  Nothing to hurry about, we will be here for a while.  I am going to get that depth finder fixed before I go another mile, and there is always a list of other stuff for both the boat yard and me to do.  Work starts on Monday and I hope to have it done by Thursday.  Carrie is flying to San Francisco on Thursday and returning on Sunday.  Seems the girls are doing wedding dress shopping with Carla.  Me, I’m thinking about driving over to New Orleans for the weekend…OUCH, I just got hit…I mean, I’m going to sit around Dog River and do boat chores…really