Saturday, November 30, 2013

Internet fumble!

Sorry, folks!

I had written a full description of our trip home yesterday, complete with pictures. I click on the Publish button and got the "update successful" message. However, the "update" seems to be stuck in internet limbo somewhere, since it never appeared here. So I will have to write it again. I just don't have the energy right now, so will try again later.

Dang technology!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Day - and we have lots to be thankful for!

It was quite cold last night, getting down to 29 degrees. We still managed to get by without having to run the heaters, and it was only 42 degrees inside the boat. Perfect for snuggling!  We awoke to an absolutely gorgeous day, even the wind has finally subsided. When I first went outside there was frost on the cap rails and decks.

Poor Duke was having a real time of it trying to use his mat on the bow. The bow deck has quite an angle to it, and he kept sliding past the mat. Poor guy had just started peeing when he slid the final time. He decided to wait until I gave him a ride to shore. We bundled up and hopped in the dinghy and headed to his favorite spot. As I was leaving Paula handed me the wrench I was constantly forgetting. Thanks, dear!

The cold air had Duke feeling really frisky. Once he completed his contribution to fertilizing the bushes, he came flying back to the dink. He leaped the last 4-5 feet and landed half way back in the boat. Then he did a butt-tuck run, made a u-turn, and jumped back out and tore off down the small beach. He repeated this process a half dozen times before finally exhausting his energy. The water was much lower than normal, so exposed the muddy bottom. Needless to say the dink is full of muddy paw prints now!

Once that job was completed, we headed over to the abandoned sailboat to retrieve the propane tank. As we came around the corner, there were 8-10 deer along the shoreline. I expected them all to bolt into the woods, but most of them stayed at the water's edge. I managed to get a few pictures, but I was a fair distance away, and cell phones don't take good zoom photos. Duke saw the deer, too, and kept his eyes locked on them until the last one disappeared into the high marsh grass. We probably spent about 10 minutes watching them.

Once that excitement was done, it was time to get down to work .The sailboat had moved a bit from its previous location. The high tides and winds had pushed it further up to the bank. In addition, we now had an extremely low tide, so the boat was sitting up out of the water. It apparently has twin keels and it is resting on them. It made it a bit more difficult to retrieve the propane tank, as it was now located at chest level. Once I removed the hose connection and tried lifting it, it was obvious that the tank was full. It was heavy, and hard to lift out of the propane locker. But I was successful. You can see that the boat has been pretty well picked over already. I was quite surprised no one had taken the propane tank yet.

When we returned to the boat I eased the dinghy up to the swim platform, as usual. Duke then hops onto the swim platform, then deftly hops up through the boarding gate to the back deck. It did not happen that way this time. He got his front legs on the platform, then hesitated. It only took a few seconds, but by the time he decided to continue on the dinghy had drifted to the side a little bit and he lost his balance. His back end went into the water and he desperately tried to hang on to the swim platform with his front legs. That didn't work and he fell in with a big splash. I plucked him out quickly and pulled him into the dinghy. I pulled back up to Microship and this time he wasted no time in getting aboard. Oh well, no more muddy paws now!

A short while later it was time to begin prepping for cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Grilled turkey, sweet potato casserole, shrimp & sausage dressing, cranberry-apple relish, and one of Paula's pecan pies. What a feast. It was nice to have two propane tanks; I could use one for grilling turkey outside, and the other with our two burner propane stove for cooking sweet potatoes and dressing ingredients. After we stuffed ourselves silly all we could do is sit around the boat and complain how full we were. A perfect Thanksgiving!

The sailboats rafted up behind us went through several boats. There were never more than three at one time, but one would leave and shortly after another would arrive. You could sure hear that everyone was having a good time.

Around 3:00 pm I just had to go have a nap. It just would not be Thanksgiving without it. When I woke up I looked out to see a little flotilla arriving. I don't know if they were traveling together, or just coincidentally arrived at the same time. But three trawlers and three sailboats were coming in. One of the trawlers anchored on the opposite side of the sailboats from us. The other two trawlers and a sailboat continued on to the back of Ingram Bayou, where we were. I don't know why, there was plenty of space to anchor before they got this far back. One of the trawlers anchored within 50' of us. I had to call them on the radio to request they give us a bit more room, as we had 100' of anchor chain out and were swinging in a large circle. They courteously pulled up the anchor and move a short distance away. He is closer than he looks in the picture.

One of the other trawlers, really more of a houseboat, tried to get their generator started. After trying for an hour or so they gave up. They are now sitting over there with no lights showing at all. The hailing port on the stern is somewhere in Iowa. The other boat here is from Rhode Island.

The wind has been pretty light all day, and is totally calm right now. The marine forecast for tomorrow says 10-15 knots from the NE, even less Saturday, then less still on Sunday. Depending on how the wind is actually blowing in the morning, we may make a run for it. Otherwise, we will have to wait until Saturday. I would prefer not to have to wait until Sunday, as we need to be back in Hammond Monday.

But, it will be what it will be. The most dangerous thing on a boat is a schedule!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Day 6 (Wednesday) - afternoon update

After a short nap we were ready to get off the boat for a while. So we decided to have another go at getting to Pirates Cove. The wind seemed to have eased up considerably, so off we went. Let's just say that the trees surrounding our anchorage do an admirable job of blocking the wind. We made it just around the eastern point and got blasted. We have a whole new appreciation for how protected our anchorage is!

We returned to the calm waters of Ingram Bayou, but were not ready to go back to Microship yet. We just took a tour of the area. It was a little breezy way back in the northern part of Ingram, where there is a stretch of water open to the north. So we entered the small bayou at the NE corner of the area, and explored the back as far as we could go. It is pretty back here, with lots of wildlife.

Unfortunately, less than a mile back, the bayou is blocked by fallen trees. We could go no further. It was so peaceful that I turned off the motor and broke out the oars. I rowed all the way back to open water. It was good exercise, and allowed us to hear all the sounds of nature around us.

Since I was in the rowing seat, Paula was in the drivers seat.  She has yet to operate the dinghy, and this seemed like a good time for her first driving lesson. She started the motor and we proceeded to zig zag around the lagoon. She has trouble adjusting to the fact that she has to point the motor tiller in the opposite direction she wants the boat to go. But, all in all, she did really well. More practice will make steering second nature.

While she was circling around I managed to get a couple of pictures of the other abandoned sailboat here. This one has been here a while. It is usually stuck up along the shoreline, but the high winds and water this week have floated it and it is riding on its anchor in the middle of the dead end canal on the NW side of Ingram Bayou.

I had hoped to swing by the other abandoned sailboat here to get the propane tank from it, but I keep forgetting my darn wrench every time we come out! We are down to less than 1/4 in our propane tank. We don't use it often, but I am planning on grilling steaks tonight, and turkey tomorrow.

It was getting cooler, so we started heading back to the boat. Along the way we made a quick stop for Duke to take care of business, so I don't have to come out again today. As we got to the boat the sun was just going behind the trees. The temperature was dropping rapidly, so it was nice to get back aboard. There were a couple of owls hooting in the trees, and a pack of coyotes howling in the distance.

Time to settle in with an adult beverage and start cooking dinner. On the menu tonight is grilled steaks (filet mignon, Paula's favorite), baked sweet potatoes, and sauteed zucchini and onions. Pumpkin pie for desert. We also baked the cornbread for the stuffing tomorrow.

I went to check on the anchor, just before going to bed, and there was already a layer of frost on the bow. Made the footing a bit dicey! But Duke and I made it back inside with our butts, and pride, intact.

Day 6 (Wednesday) - The sun returns!

For once, the weather forecast has certainly been accurate. We were supposed to have gale force winds, and we did. Our weather alert system (flying bridge aluminum frame) thrummed and wailed all night long. There were many times during the night when a strong gust would slam the side of the boat and make it rock side to side. At one time this may have been bothersome, but now it just rocks us back to sleep.

It got quite chilly overnight, but we were snug as a bug in a rug, curled up with each other under our down comforter and blanket. Duke was curled up on the couch under his own blanket. Since we generally don't run the generator overnight, that means no heaters. But there really is no need, we are both a bit hot blooded, and would rather the boat be cold, than warm.

We awoke to a beautiful, sunny sky. But the wind is gusting to 30-40 mph, so the wind chill is bitter if you step outside.

Duke and I made a run to shore, for his pleasure. Once ashore, and in the woods, it was not too bad as we were out of the wind. He took care of business quickly, but I walked around and allowed him to go exploring. He has not had a chance to spend more than a few minutes ashore since last Thursday, so he appreciated the opportunity to romp a bit. It was quite amusing to watch him. He would go off into the woods until he would just lose sight of me. Then he would come running back at full tilt, leaping over branches and bushes. Once he got back to he would go off exploring in the opposite direction, then repeat the process. He had a good time, and burned off some excess energy.

We still have three sailboats here this morning. No one is any hurry to take a dinghy ride, with the bitter wind blowing like it is. One of the boats was supposed to head off to the Wharf Marina yesterday, but I think the stormy weather delayed that.

The Three Amigos!

Paula was cooking breakfast by the time Duke and I returned. Homemade biscuits, and green onion sausage patties. I just love sausage biscuits! As I came aboard, she handed me a mug of steaming hot coffee. What a woman!

We spent the morning trying to decide if we should again attempt to get over to Pirates Cove for lunch. While the wind is out of the NW, meaning it should be a relatively soft and dry ride, it is REALLY cold out there. So neither of us is sure we are willing to make the chilly ride over. Plus, we want to take Duke, since the place is dog friendly. But he is likely to freeze his skinny tail off before we get there. His Aunt Becca has purchased a sweater for him, but he won't get that until we get back home.

Shortly before lunch the sailboat, that was supposed to leave yesterday, pulled out. So now we are down to two boats left here. The original boat is not supposed to leave until Saturday; not sure what the other one plans to do.

We are down to two other boats here.

Here are some pictures of how it looks from our vantage point inside the boat. Really nice scenery, not sure  if you can see the Pelicans and Loons around the boat.

Duke loves laying in the sun. He is quite content that he can lay in his favorite spot on the couch, and have the sun, too. We call it "belly up mode". This is how he likes to sleep.

Well, this has been another Bloody Mary morning, so I think it is nap time now. Perhaps I will write more tonight.  Perhaps, there will even be something to write about!! :)

Day 5 - Rainy Tuesdays

Last night was a wet one. It rained so hard at some times that it woke us up and sounded like hail hitting the deck! I got up a couple of times to check on things and found it was just heavy rain, and lots of wind. By the time we finally got up around 7:00 am, it seemed as though the worst had passed. We actually started seeing some blue skies.  Then, a short while later, I looked out the window and saw that we had more bad weather approaching.

Aww, c'mon!! More rain???

Well, that was the last we saw of blue skies today. It rained the remainder of the day, well into the evening. It was also quite chilly, as the temps fell all day. It was 64 degrees when we woke, and quickly started falling. By noon is was in the low 50's, and by sunset it was in the 40's. Wind chill was 35 degrees. And it is supposed be colder tomorrow, and colder yet on Thanksgiving. Hard freeze warnings are up, and is supposed to be 29 degrees here Thanksgiving morning. Brrrrr!

Given the bad weather, no one left their boats today. Well, except us. I did have to make a bathroom run to shore for Duke. But he was out and back in the dinghy in less than minute. I don't think I have ever seen him go that quick!

Looking forward to landfall!

One bright spot in an otherwise gloomy day is that we received news that our good friends, Alan & Peggy, are going to be getting married. Congrats to them!!  An even bigger surprise, and a very exciting one, is that they have honored us by asking us to be best man and matron of honor. We are tickled pink to be allowed to participate in this event. Now if we can just get the wind to subside so we can get back to Bay St. Louis for the wedding! :)

We spent the day reading (thank goodness for Kindles), listening to music, and watching the rain, and blowing wind . When the wind gets to 30 mph and above, it makes some interesting sounds when passing through the aluminum framework on the flying bridge. It starts as a low thrumming sound, then builds to a sort of wailing. Kind of eerie, actually. I used to have a wind alarm set on our weather station; it would go off when the wind hit 30 mph. I now have it set at 40 mph, since the sound from the flying bridge serves as adequate alert to wake me in the night!

The heavy rain has alerted us to some leaky spots we had not seen before. So I have some new items added to my ever growing boat to-do list. Does this lists ever get shorter? I mean, we have had this boat nine years now, and I have completed hundreds of items on the to-do list. But it just gets longer, never shorter!

Since it was getting cold tonight, Paula suggested chili for dinner. Sounded perfect to me. So we cooked the ground chuck in the skillet, added the black beans and other ingredients, then transferred it to the small Crockpot we keep aboard. This allowed the chili to do the slow simmer it needed to develop the best flavor. Then, using a black cast iron skillet, Paula made some of her killer cornbread. Since the oven was already hot, she also baked one of the best pumpkin pies I have ever tasted.

Life certainly is good aboard!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 4 - Monday, Monday

Since we are stuck in one location, it is getting difficult to come up with things to write about!

The weather today was much warmer than the last few days, getting up to 68. Much more humid, too. Still have winds gusting to 20-25 knots. There is a big storm system heading our way from offshore of Texas. It is supposed to arrive tonight with heavy rain and even higher winds.

We did manage to get off the boat for a while. We had hoped to go have lunch at Pirates Cove nearby. It is an interesting place, a bit of a hole in the wall. But, fun to visit, and very dog friendly. We have not stopped there in 3-4 years and were really looking forward to it. But the weather is just not cooperating. As soon as we left the protection of our anchorage we were buffeted with high winds and a heck of a rough and wet ride. We were going to have head directly into it for at least 30 minutes or so, and would have been soaking wet by the time we arrived. I quickly executed a maneuver Paula taught me a few years ago... the U-turn!

I dropped Paula and Duke back at the boat and went to investigate the abandoned sailboat. Maybe there was something to salvage. It looked like it had been picked over pretty good, but I did find a perfectly good propane tank. I think it even still has propane in it.. and we need some! So I am going to return later with a crescent wrench so I can remove the regulator and liberate the tank.

We spent the afternoon reading books, watching wildlife, and trying to get the bread to rise so we can make Stromboli for dinner. It's just not warm enough to get it to rise properly. So I preheated the oven a little and stuck it in there. Then I tackled reprogramming the satellite dish so we could have TV again. Not that we watch much when aboard, but it is nice to catch the news and weather. We also use it for listening to DirecTV music channels.

It was getting late at this point, and we were getting antsy again, so time for another dinghy ride. I fixed us a couple of hot buttered rums in travel mugs, and we all hopped in the little boat to go exploring. A woman from one of the sailboats was rowing a small inflatable boat around the anchorage. As she passed by Paula commented that she was sure getting her exercise. The woman responded that she was going stir crazy on the boat and had to get out and do something. The couple in the other sailboat also got out and started rowing around the shoreline. So everyone was out getting a little fresh air before the storm.

The wind really ramped up and it starting getting cooler so we all headed back to our boats. Around dusk it started to drizzle and did that all evening. Just after dark a third sailboat arrived and anchored much closer to us than the others, but still a good distance away. It was time to start dinner so I checked on the bread, and it had hardly risen at all. Oh well, I just took a rolling pin to it and squished the heck out of it. I was able to spread it out enough so we could fill it with all the goodies, then roll it up and put it in the oven. It turned out delicious, one of our favorite boat meals. Thanks to our daughter, Alison, for the recipe.  We have made it hundreds of times over the years, and never tire of it.

I spent the evening remotely accessing customer's computers to get some service work done. Gotta pay the bills. By the time I headed off to bed it was raining pretty steadily.

Sorry, no pictures today.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 3 - Just another day in paradise!

Woke up to an absolutely beautiful day!  While the wind is still howling, we have clear blue skies, low humidity, and cool temps. Tucked in behind the trees we are not feeling the brunt of the wind.

Sunrise in Ingram Bayou

It was too cool and windy to sit up top this morning, but we still enjoyed the view while sipping coffee and nibbling on some more of the pumpkin bread. Other than the one sailboat here, and they are anchored about a half mile away, we have the entire place to ourselves.

Checking the weather forecast again, I see that little has changed. Forecast is for high winds through Friday, and heavy rain Monday night and Tuesday. We were supposed to meet up with our friends Bill & Debbie Stuart, who live in Gulf Shores, but the weather is preventing us from leaving the protection of our anchorage. Perhaps things will ease enough tomorrow for us to dinghy in to a local marina to meet up with them.

With the clear and sunny skies, Ingram Bayou looks completely different. Compare this picture to the one from yesterday.

Ingram in all its glory!

Foggy Ingram!

Paula decided she was in a baking mood today, so fired up the oven and made some Banana Oatmeal cookies. Holy cow, they sure smelled good. The folks on the sailboat downwind of us came out sniffing the wind to figure out where the smell came from!  I have been snacking on them all day!

I finally got around to launching the dinghy, so we could go exploring. Of course, Duke was quite excited at the opportunity to go for a bathroom break ashore, so that was the first place we visited. He wasted no time in hopping out of the dink and taking care of business. He was one happy dog!

Back to the boat for lunch... hot dogs with pepper jack cheese, potato salad, and cole slaw. With an ice cold beer to wash it down. Life is surely good! :)

Then it was time to get down to business. I have been meaning to make some changes to our electrical system. We have an Iota 90 amp battery charger that I installed a few years ago to supplement the 120 amp charger in our inverter. The problem was that the Iota charger was running off the engine room light circuit. So, if I forgot to unplug it after shutting down the generator, it would be using the batteries to run the charger. That was not good. Also, when running the generator, if I had both chargers running, using the oven or cooktop would cause the circuit breaker to trip. So I wanted to isolate the Iota charger to a dedicated breaker that only ran from the generator or shore power. I spent the afternoon running new wires and connecting to a spare breaker on the electrical panel. It took a few hours but I finally got it all hooked up. When I ran the generator and tested the new configuration, the breaker tripped after a few seconds. It turns out the charger needs a 30A breaker, and I had connected it to a 10A breaker. Duh!  Fortunately, the galley air conditioner is on the fritz, so I was able to connect to that 30A breaker. Voila! We can now run both chargers, oven, and cooktop simultaneously! So now I only have to run the generator for two hours, rather than three hours, to get the house bank batteries charged up! An afternoon well spent. :)

By the time I was finished with the electrical project, it was time for our daily sunset ride in the dinghy. A couple of travel mugs of wine and off we go. While Ingram Bayou is known for it's scenic beauty, it is also known as a location of abandoned boats. There are two sailboats way in the back now. I got a picture of only one, but will get a picture of the other on our next outing tomorrow. The one pictured below was not here when we came through last May. 

Abandoned sailboat

We cruised all the way to the back of Ingram. The waterway forks in the back, with the west leg dead ending about a half mile back. The northeast leg goes back into the woods a ways, then is blocked by a fallen tree. The fishing is supposed to be good back there, but I have never tried. Since we are stuck here this seems like it may be a good time to give it a try. 

While we were out another sailboat came in and anchored between us and the other sailboat. They are still a good ways from us, so we still have the back area of Ingram to ourselves. The folks on both of the sailboats also took a late afternoon dinghy cruise through Ingram. We chatted with the people from the first sailboat. They commented on the fact that they had seen us here several times here before. Paula and I had already noted that this boat was here the last three times we have anchored here. As I mentioned previously, we thought they were living aboard here. It turns out that it is purely coincidence that they just happen to be anchored here at the same time we are. They come over from Mobile and spend a week or so at a time here. The guy even apologized to me for shining his spotlight in my eyes last May, when we were making our way in here late at night, after our nightmare crossing of Mobile Bay.

As the sun set it was getting quite chilly, and the wind was picking up again. So we decided it was time to get back to Microship. Poor Duke was shivering, and his teeth were chattering! As we turned the corner and the boat came back into view, Paula commented on how beautiful the scene was, and asked me to get a picture of it. So here it is.

Microship at anchor in Ingram Bayou
Once back aboard it was time for a couple of sundowners, and watch the sunset. The wind had subsided again, and it was very peaceful. No dolphin excursion boats, no fishermen, just the sound of nature. As the light faded the stars came out in all their glory. The Milky Way was very bright. 

Sunset on Ingram Bayou

Paula made her homemade Chicken Pot Pie, and I was in heaven. It must be driving those poor folks downwind on the sailboats crazy to be smelling all this good food. On top of that, she baked a Dutch Apple Pie for dessert. If she keeps cooking like this, I hope the wind never lets up!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 2 - Settling in for the long haul.

Awoke this morning to find the winds were still calm. But it is overcast and foggy. Ingram Bayou is a beautiful anchorage, located just north of Orange Beach. We have spent many nights here, and it is one of our favorite anchorages on the gulf coast.

Early morning in Ingram Bayou

The raft of six trawlers broke up at daybreak. Took them a while to get separated, then all headed out to the east. The sailboat remains. Having seen this boat here multiple times before, and always anchored in exactly the same spot, it makes me wonder if the couple is living aboard and this is there permanent spot.

We had a wonderfully peaceful night, and slept like the dead. I got up first and made coffee, and Paula finally followed the smell up the stairs. We took our mugs of steaming coffee to the top deck and watched the wildlife. Pelicans, Loons, and Osprey hunting. Pods of dolphin feeding all around the boat. Blue Heron wading in the shallows, snagging fish. We had breakfast up there, some of Paula's most excellent Pumpkin bread. Good stuff with some chocolate milk to wash it down!

Duke has decided to be stubborn about bathroom breaks on the bow. He has refused to go, preferring to wait for a much hoped for dinghy ride to shore. But I have not launched it yet, so he is going to have to make do with his AstroTurf mat on the bow. I figured he would be about to pop by this morning and would go quickly. Unfortunately, he was unable to hold it through the night and decided the ice chest by the back door was as good as place as any to let go. So we had a mess to clean up when we got up. Duke got fussed at, and banished to the bow until he did his remaining business. He toughed it out up there for six hours, shivering in the cool breeze. I went up there and encouraged him several times, to no effect. Finally, in early afternoon, he gave in and the dam broke! Have not had a problem with him since. He goes on command! :)

We were feeling decadent, so had Bloody Mary's, a late, leisurely lunch of leftover chicken & dumplings, and a long afternoon nap. Woke up feeling refreshed and relaxed. The wind started picking up, as forecast. We had hoped to continue on to Pensacola, but with 25-30 knot north winds forecast, I think we are going to be here for the rest of the week. 

We ate dinner late, since we had a late lunch. Fettuccine Alfredo with chicken was on the menu tonight, and there was nothing leftover this time! Wow, was that good stuff. Settled in to watch some TV, only to find that there are hardly any local over the air TV broadcasts here. Switched over to satellite and that was not working, either. The in-motion dish needs to be reprogrammed periodically, and this is one of those times. I did not feel like messing with it tonight, so put it off until tomorrow. So we just sat here and listened to the wind howl and read our books until bedtime.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Boring can be a good thing

Well, I wish I could have some excitement to report for our blog readers. But, for our sake, I am happy to report that I do not. We had a completely uneventful trip from on our first day of the cruise. It was certainly a long day, though. We departed at 8:15 am, and arrived at our first anchorage at 11:00 pm. But the weather cooperated this time, and we had a smooth trip. Even across Mobile Bay. In fact, it was dead calm when we entered the bay at 6:30 pm. Paula even cooked dinner as we crossed the bay... chicken & dumplings. Yum-oh!
This was our first full crossing of the bay at night. While we got caught in a storm here last time we crossed in May of this year, we were 3/4 of the way across before night fell. This time it was black as pitch by the time we got there. To make visibility even worse, there were patches of fog across the bay. But we had no problems, and did not even see another boat in 2.75 hours it took us to get across. We entered the ICW on the east side of the bay at 9:15 pm.

As we progressed eastward we passed Lulu's, and Tacky Jack's. Since it was Friday night, we expected them to be packed. Much to our surprise, both places were almost totally empty! I have never seen Lulu's like that. Of course, it was 9:45 pm, but I expected at least the bar to be hoppin'.

As we approached the Wharf marina we started getting multiple alerts about impending collisions. Looking at the chart plotter I could see at least six boats had left their AIS transponders on. Since we were going to be passing within 10-15 yards of them Coastal Explorer software was warning us of the close approach. I finally had to mute it.

As we approached Ingram Bayou I could see two targets on the radar. So it looked like there were at least two boats already anchored in there. When I made the turn to enter I briefly turned on the spot light to see how they were anchored. It turned there were not two boats, but seven?  One small sailboat that we have seen here before, anchored off to the side. Then six trawlers, all rafted up together in the middle. I squeezed between them and the sailboat and went all the way to the back and dropped anchor in 10' of water. With all the trees around we are well protected from the high winds forecast for tomorrow. Now it is time for a nightcap and some well deserved sleep.

Thanksgiving 2013 cruise - Day 1

We got off to a late start this morning. The weather forecast has been changing so much it has been difficult to plan when and where to go. Today and tonight is supposed to be perfect weather, then degrading to a cold and blustery day tomorrow. Looks like it is going to be very windy for the next several days. So we decided to go for it and head to Florida. We did not get underway until 8:15 am this morning, and we need to be across Mobile Bay before the front arrives sometime early tomorrow morning. So, it is going to be a long 15 hour run to our next anchorage in Ingram Bayou, just north of Orange Beach, AL.

But, we are off to a good start, with light winds and calm seas, as you can see below. This is supposed to persist well into the night, so we should be fine getting across Mobile Bay between 6:00 and 8:00 pm tonight. You can follow our progress by clicking on the Live Tracking link on the right.

It does not get much better than this!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Homeward bound

I awoke at 4:30 am Friday morning, and listened for the sound of the wind. It was certainly less than yesterday, but I could still feel a little wave action going on. I went up to the pilothouse and checked the wind speed. It was blowing 10-15, exactly as forecast. Certainly better than the 20-25 of yesterday. I decided it was time to start getting ready to leave, before the wind kicked up again. I did the standard engine room checks, then got the coffee going.

At 5:15 am I started the generator, figuring that would get Paula up. Nope, no movement from below. At 5:30 am I started the engines, certain that would do it. Nope, still the sound of gentle snoring from the stateroom. I finally had to go downstairs to rouse her. She did say that starting the engines had awakened her, but the soft droning of the idling engines had put her back to sleep. Sorry, honey; time to get up.

By the time Paula, and the engines, were ready to go it was just getting light enough to see. I thought of taking Duke in for one last beach quickie, but decided we needed to get underway. He knows where his mat is on the bow. I also decided not to hoist the dinghy yet, figuring we could do it once we were in bay near the marina.

It took a little while to get the anchor up, as it was dug in pretty deeply. But we got it up and were heading west by 6:30 am. The wind was out of the south, so we were still in the lee of Horn Island for a little while. Paula took the opportunity to start breakfast. Homemade sourdough biscuits and Conecuh smoked sausage. She was just putting them in the oven as we started crossing the pass between Horn and Ship Islands.

As we got into the open water of the pass, we started feeling the swells coming in from the gulf. They weren't too big, perhaps 2-3', with an occasional 4'. But, since they were directly on our beam, it made for a rolling ride. Good thing breakfast was in the oven, so we did not have to worry about it ending up on the floor. We could hear the metal baking pan sliding from side to side. A little shake and bake going on!

By the time we started getting in the lee of Ship Island breakfast was ready. Perfect timing! Sausage biscuit sandwiches... yum. With a full belly and smoother seas things were looking up. :)

Now was a good time to check on the dink, and I was surprised to see that I had forgotten to raise the outboard. So now it was cocked to one side, causing the dink to pull at an angle to our course. Drat!  So now I have to stop the boat, climb into the dinghy, and raise the outboard. This is what happens when you do things early in the morning before having enough coffee!

The Dukester missed his bathroom break this morning, and it was showing. He was pacing the bow obviously needing to relieve himself. There was a bit more motion of the bow than he liked, so he would pace around and then come back to the pilothouse. But, finally, he could hold it no longer and went up and used his bathroom mat on the bow. Good dog!!  He gets special treats for this, and we are all happy.

As we progressed westward, and further away from Ship Island, the seas were building a little. Then we crossed the pass between Ship and Cat Island and again caught the swells coming in from the gulf. But soon we were behind Cat Island and headed for Bay St Louis. As we crossed the channel, I took the opportunity to tweak the radar heading. There were multiple channel markers, and we were heading directly at one. I opened the radar utility in the software on the PC, and adjusted the heading line to point at the channel marker. It was about 4 degrees off. I have been wanting to do this for a while, and was glad to finally remember to get it done.

As we were approaching the CSX railroad bridge at Bay St Louis, we heard a sailboat call and request the bridge tender to open up. He proceeded to do so. We were about 20 minutes out, and called in to ask if he could leave the bridge open for our approach. He replied that he had a couple of "high rails" approaching (service trucks) and would have to close for that. He asked that we give him a call once we were closer.

We could see three of these service vehicles closing on the swing bridge. Once we were 5 minutes out we called the bridge tender again. He replied that as soon as the service people were dropped off and the trucks exited the bridge, he would open for us. I was surprised to see that one truck remained on the bridge, while the other two went east and west of the bridge and stopped at the signal lights about halfway to shore. Oh no, it looks like they will be working on this for a while!

After about 10 minutes or so, the bridge tender hailed us, and said that if we were willing to squeeze by on the east side he could do a partial opening of the bridge to get us through. It was a little windy, but I was willing to give it a try rather what wait out there for who knows how long. The bridge opened about halfway and we slipped through with about 6' to spare on either side. As is turns out, this was a good thing for us. For a couple of hours after we came through, we heard repeated calls to the tender to open up, and he replied they were working on things and it may be a while before they could open again.

Once in the bay we stopped long enough to hoist the dinghy. It was relatively calm and the task went quickly enough. Then we continued on to the marina.

As we entered the marina the wind was blowing pretty hard from the south. This meant it would be blowing directly across our slip, pushing the boat to the side as we docked. This is always the most challenging wind direction to dock in. But we were up to the task and backed the boat in on the first try and had her tied up 5 minutes later. Paula and I have done this so many times together we generally don't even have to speak to each other during the process. While we cannot see each other during this process, as I am on the bridge and she is in the cockpit, we can "sense" what the other is doing. We do have walkie talkies for when it is necessary to communicate, though.

So now we are home in our slip. Fifteen minutes after arriving all dock lines are secure, power cord is connected, and the air conditioners are running. It has gotten quite warm today, so we decide to just rest up inside until later this afternoon. At that point, I go outside to remove the outboard from the dink and hang it on rail mounted bracket. Flush and wash it, then wash the dink. Flip it over and tie it down. Now I have to rinse the salt from the entire boat. A couple of hours later I was finally finished and it was time for a shower, then an evening libation!

Other than the rough start, this has been one of our best spring cruises ever. A bit windy, and occasionally too cool, but pretty weather nonetheless. Certainly better than the heat that is now building in.

Can't wait for the next one!

Microship anchored at Petit Bois Island

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Horn Island

We spent a very peaceful night at Petit Bois island on Wednesday. It was a bit windy, but we were well protected from any wave action. We both awoke around 7:00 am, feeling refreshed and looking forward to our last day at the barrier islands before heading home.

When I got ready to take Duke in for his morning constitutional on the beach, Paula decided to come along. This is unusual for her, as she usually prefers the evening beach visits. But this was such a beautiful beach, white sand, pristine, that she could not pass up the opportunity to have one more walk on it. We all piled in the dink and headed ashore.

We walked in a different direction than yesterday, west, to explore further. We came across a tidal lagoon, with a small inlet connecting it to open water. The tide was out, so we were able to wade along the inlet back to the lagoon. It was chock full of fish. We could see large Redfish swimming along the edge of marsh grass, and schools of speckled trout over in the lagoon. Where the heck is my fishing rod when I need it?? I won't make this mistake again! I have marked this spot on my chart and intend to return here in the future.

We waded further back, and spent quite a while watching the Redfish swim up to the shallows to feed. Duke somehow ended up on the opposite side of the inlet from us and was barking as we tried to encourage him to jump in and swim over. He would have none of it, and eventually found a shallow spot where he could get in and walk over to us. He had been chasing ducks in the marsh and was covered in mud. When we got back to the beach we had to pull him into knee deep water so we could rinse all the stinky mud off of him.

We decided that was enough fun for the morning, and got into the dink to head back to the boat. It was our good luck that we caught the dolphin's morning feed on the way back, so we had a repeat performance of the night before. Nature is just so awesome!

We did not have far to go to get to Horn Island, so we were not in a hurry to get underway. But, the wind was starting to pick up and we thought it best to get moving. We had the anchor up and were westbound by 8:00 am. We only had a couple of hours to our next anchorage, and had nice conditions, so we thought it called for Bloody Mary's. Paula was bartender while I ran the boat. Once drinks were in hand, she started breakfast. She had a special meal planned for our last full day on the water; her special homemade corned beef hash. Man, I love that stuff! She puts a couple of fried, or poached, eggs on top and I am in heaven.

She had the hash well underway as we passed out from behind Petit Bois and crossed Horn Island Pass. Well, perhaps Bloody Mary's and breakfast were not a good idea while underway. The wind had really kicked up, out of the south, and nice size waves were rolling in from the gulf. Paula ended up having to stand in front of the stove to hold on to the skillet so it did not slide off. Fortunately, this did not last long, and 30 minutes later we were in the lee of Horn Island. So we were back on the Bloody Mary/corned beef hash plan.

We decided to stop at an anchorage we have not used before. It was closer the east end of the island, and we were ready for breakfast. We eased in close to shore and got the anchor down. It set quickly, and we were set for the day. Or, so we thought.

After a couple of more Bloody Mary's we were feeling pretty good. Our good friends, Alan and Peggy, called to check on us. They were concerned about the wind, and if we were getting beat up by it. We responded that all was well, we were safely anchored, and the only issues we had were we were running out of vodka, coffee, and dog food. Alan graciously texted me and asked what kind of coffee and dog food we needed. I replied we have enough to get us back to the dock tomorrow. Thanks Alan, you are a great guy!

After our morning libations, we needed a nap. We zonked out around 1:00 pm, and woke up just after 3:00 pm. Now, the wind was really blowing! Even though we were a couple of miles from the east end of the island, the waves were wrapping around and we were doing a bit of rocking. Not uncomfortable, but noticeable. I elected to raise anchor and move further west along Horn Island to a spot we had used before. 45 minutes later we had the anchor down in a spot much better protected. While the wind was still blowing 20-25 knots, the wave action was much less.

Another trawler that was anchored a mile or so to the west saw us come in and anchor here. I guess they were getting bounced around there, because they pulled up the anchor and headed our way. They stopped about a 1/4 mile east of us and dropped anchor.

Shortly after arriving here, a Mississippi Marine Patrol boat passed by, and stopped to check us out. He had his binoculars out looking us over. I waved at him, but got no response. I thought he may come over to talk to us, but he just continued idling by. He did the same for the other trawler that had just arrived. I'm just glad we had not gone to the beach with Duke yet. This is Gulf Islands National Seashore and no dogs are allowed ashore. This holds true for the other barrier islands, too. But Horn Island seems to be the one they enforce it on more than any other.

We waited a couple of hours to be sure the officer would not return. Around 7:00 pm we took Duke ashore. This is an absolutely beautiful island, and full of wildlife. Duke wasted no time in locating it. There are rabbits everywhere here, and there were several grazing at the top of the nearby dunes. As soon as Duke saw them he kicked in the turbos and went flying after them. They scattered to the grass flats behind the dunes. By the time I got to the top of the dunes I could see Duke a 1/4 mile away leaping through the high grass like a gazelle. Rabbits were scattering everywhere. There were so many Duke did not know which direction to go. I spent a half hour trying to call him back, and ended up just having to wait for him to wear himself out. He finally returned, panting hard, and came up to me with his tail between his legs. He knew he was in trouble.

Paula had been waiting on the beach and was relieved to see me return with Duke. Now that he was safe, she felt she was justified in telling him he was a "dumb ass dog" for running off like that. He was covered in marsh mud, yet again. So he got dragged out into the surf for some much needed rinsing off. He was not happy, but Paula told him "if you don't like, don't run off next time!". She was pretty pissed.

We all got in the dink and headed back to the boat. The tide had dropped since we came in, so I had to paddle a good way out before I could lower the outboard. I think we were all ready to get back to the boat, at this point.

Time to get back to the boat

We have had enough excitement for the day. Duke is exhausted, and is sound asleep. So is Paula. I am heading that way shortly (it is 11:00 pm). Keeping my fingers crossed this wind abates tonight. Last time I looked it was blowing at 25 knots!

The big day

It's Wednesday. The day. Today we are going back across Mobile Bay. On this boat, it is also known as the "washing machine"!

 However, it appears our plan is going to work. We have been watching the forecast closely and the wind for today is supposed to be the least for the next several days. Even though it meant heading back a couple of days earlier than planned, it will be worth if we can cross in light wind.

I was up at 6:00 am to check on the forecast. When I walked outside it was dead still. The gnats loved it. I quickly retreated inside. The forecast was for light and variable winds until mid afternoon. Perfect. Down to the engine room for engine and generator checks. Make sure everything is secured. Just in case. Then a beach run for Duke, and back to the boat. Crank the engines, reel in the anchor (while the gnats made breakfast out of me), and we are underway for 7:30 am.

We eased past the well known Lulu's Restaurant (Jimmy Buffet's sister) long before they were open for lunch. Tacky Jack's, their competition, is located almost directly across the waterway.

Lulu's Restaurant and fuel dock.

Tacky Jack's      
An hour after getting underway we entered Mobile Bay. This was a far different experience than when we came across almost two weeks ago. These are the conditions we hope and pray for when crossing this bay. It was calm enough that I was actually able to snooze in my hammock on the flying bridge while Paula kept an eye on things. Even Duke enjoyed the calm and snoozed on the bow, enjoying the sun.

As you can see in the photo below, this is about as flat calm as water gets. I love it! The pelican does not seem to care.

It was an uneventful, even boring, trip across the bay. Boring is GOOD! We did have one sport fisher blast past us, but I saw him coming from a long way off. I did not rely on him slowing down, and had plenty of time and space to get well off the channel before he blew past me.

We were passing behind Dauphin Island by 1:00 pm, and decided we were not ready to stop for the day yet. So we pressed on to Petit Bois Island. A sailboat arrived shortly before we did, and was headed for the anchorage we prefer when staying here. But he ended up stopping about 300 yards away, so we had plenty of room to drop the hook where we usually do. We were anchored and having sundowners by 4:00 pm.

We spent a couple of hours on the beach before sunset. It must have been feeding time, because there were dozens of stingrays all along the beach, coming up in water about 6-12" deep. Paula had quite an eye for them, and was able to pick them out. They do a good job of camouflaging themselves in the sand. I could only see them when they were moving. There were also hundreds of small, perfectly preserved, horseshoe crab shells along the beach. We have found their shells before, but never with the entire skeletal structure as preserved as this.  Paula found a much larger shell, which now resides with her other sea shell collections.

Sunglasses are for size purposes

Back to the boat in time to watch the sunset. On the way we had a special treat. The dolphins had come in to feed and were all around us. I turned off the motor and just let the dinghy drift. There were dozens of dolphins, of all sizes, splashing and herding fish into the shallows. Then they would rush in and feed on them. Sometimes, they would throw the fish in the air as if to play with it. They came right up to the dinghy to check us out. We thought of reaching out to touch them, but did not want to frighten them away. Duke was fascinated by them, and watched them intently until they finally moved on. All in all, we had them around us for about 20 minutes. It was awesome. Unfortunately, I was so enthralled I completely forgot to get my phone out to get video. Drat!

Then it was time for dinner; grilled chicken breasts, risotto with porcini mushrooms and shaved Parmesan Reggiano cheese, and Paula's famous homemade spicy cole slaw. Yum. Then retire to the top deck for a cigar and a whiskey. Life is good!

West to Ingram Bayou

We were up early Tuesday morning, and started getting ready to begin our trip home. The weather forecast was for light winds on Wednesday, so that is when we want to cross Mobile Bay. No repeats of our trip across last time, please.

It was a beautiful day, a little breezy, but not bad at all. After a quick trip to the beach for Duke, we cranked up the engines. We had the anchor up by 8:30 am and were on our way. It was only 37 miles to our next stop at Ingram Bayou. We were in no hurry (good thing in a trawler) so pulled the throttles back and just cruised at 6 knots. This is the first day of this trip that we have been able to run the boat from up on the flying bridge. It has either been too chilly, or too windy. Today was near perfect and we were able to remain up there for the entire day.

As we were approaching the Pensacola Beach bridge I checked behind me for any overtaking boat traffic. I saw a big sport fishing boat approaching at high speed, throwing a huge wake. About that time I heard someone come on the radio and "thank" the boat for the wake. I was hoping to avoid getting waked by this guy, so called him on the radio. I offered to slow to idle so that he could get pass me at a slow speed. He replied that he already had it "taken care of" and was down to 1000 rpm. Well, I don't what kind of power he had in that thing, but when he blasted by at that rpm he was throwing about a 4' wake. I turned into as quickly as I could, but it still rocked us pretty good. It probably would have cost him all of five minutes to give us a slow pass. You just gotta love these guys... NOT!

We got across Pensacola Bay without any drama. Water was beautiful, as we had an incoming tide and all the clear, blue water from the Gulf was pouring into the bay. We had a dolphin escort for quite a while.

Dolphin Video

We had hoped to watch the Blue Angels practice on Wednesday, but had learned that all practice sessions for 2013 had been cancelled due to the budget sequestration. Who came up with that name anyway?? But, while traversing Big Lagoon, a pair of Blue Angels were doing some maneuvers overhead, so we got to see a few minutes of their performance, after all.

It was an easy ride to Ingram Bayou. Just before arriving Paula mentioned that no water would come out of the faucet. I checked the water pump to be sure it was running, and it was. Uh-oh, looks like we ran the water tank dry. Fortunately, Barber Marina was only 5 minutes away. I did not really want to take a slip for the night just so we could fill the water tank. Paula called them to ask if we could come in and fill our tank, and what would the charge be. No charge, they said. Hooray! It was a bit windy so we had some fun getting tied up to the dock. Paula did a commendable job of getting the lines around the cleats as I jockeyed the boat. In the end we had a full tank of water and headed back out to anchor in Ingram Bayou.

As we were getting anchored we noticed a boat from the marina that had followed us. One of the dock boys was in it, and was obviously waiting for us to get the anchor down. I thought that perhaps the marina had changed their mind about free water and sent him out to collect a fee.  But, he just dropped anchor a short distance away and sat in the bow texting on his phone.

When he got ready to leave he approached us, and commented on our boat. He asked what kind it was, and chit chatted. We had hoped to get rid of some trash while at the marina, but there were no trash bins nearby. So Paula asked the guy if he would mind taking our trash, and he agreed. I felt sorry for the poor kid, as she handed him over one of the bags from our trash compactor. It had over a weeks trash in it and must have weighed 50 lbs. Well, at least it seemed that heavy to me.

There was a stiff south wind when we entered the bayou, so we motored a good way back. But we still stayed in the main arm so we could get a good breeze back there. It was very nice all afternoon. But, once evening fell and the wind died, we were reminded of why this place is not good in calm winds. BUGS! Lots and lots of biting gnats! Almost invisible little buggers whose bite feels worse than the biggest mosquito. They just about ate me alive before I could get off the top deck and get the boat closed up. Thank goodness for generators and air conditioners!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Happy birthday... to me!

What a great day for a birthday!  Sunday we awoke to glorious weather, calm wind, and a beautiful sunrise. Paula allowed me to sleep in, and served me coffee in bed. Once I got up she had a Mimosa waiting on me. That sure took the sting out of being one year older today!

There were no problems during the night other than, sure enough, one of the sailboats dragged anchor around 2:00 am and got a bit close to us. The captain was quick to move further away and reset the anchor, and all was well for the rest of the night.

I went on deck at 7:00 am and stepped out to survey the anchorage. I was surprised to see that more than half of the little sailboats were already gone. The remainder were making preparations to get underway. I would have thought that after their beach party last night they would be a bit slow getting going this morning.

We had considered staying here until later this afternoon, but were concerned about how much jet ski and ski boat traffic there would be. The nice weather was going to have everyone out. Seeing the sailboats getting underway and heading west we decided it would be best if we did the same. If they were planning on stopping at our next anchorage, we wanted to get there first, while there was still room. We had the anchor up by 7:30 am and were underway. Looks like more Mimosas will have to wait. But, as soon as we were underway, Paula cooked one of my favorite breakfasts; homemade apple-cinnamon muffins, and served them piping hot slathered with butter, and a side of sliced fresh strawberries. Yum! Hmm, birthdays are not so bad, after all.

We spent the entire three hour trip to Big Sabine Point passing these little sailboats. Most were doing no more than 3-4 knots. We passed the final one just before we turned south into the anchorage. All of them were very courteous, and stayed in a line hugging one side of the channel. It made it very easy to get past them. One of the boats hailed us on the radio as we passed. He thanked us for sharing the anchorage with them last night. He also told us his was the boat that dragged in the night, and apologized for it.  I responded that I thought they were the most polite and courteous bunch of boaters we had ever shared an anchorage with. I meant every word, too.

We reached our destination at 10:30 am.  The only other boat here was a very nice Krogen 48' trawler. They were in the best spot, but there was room for me to squeeze by and anchor further back in, so we would have good wave protection. The wind was forecast to pick up to 20-25 knots overnight. While this anchorage offers no  wind protection from that direction, the shoals to the north of us are shallow enough that any incoming waves will break there, and not make it to us.

Once the anchor was down, and set, Paula immediately handed me another Mimosa and I was ordered to go get comfortable, and that I was off the clock for the rest of the day.  I made my way up to the bridge and deployed my hammock. Once ensconced there my awesome wife proceeded to ply me with champagne throughout the day, with occasional snacks. I spent a wonderfully dreamy day swaying to and fro in the hammock, drinking, reading, napping. Now, THIS is the way to celebrate a birthday! Thanks so much, honey!

Later in the day the owners of the Krogen came by in their kayaks to introduce themselves. Jeff and Julie out of Cape Coral, Fl.  The bought the boat in Annapolis, MD last October, and have been cruising on her since. They have only been home for three weeks in that time. They came down the east coast, around Florida, then up and around the gulf coast. They made it to New Orleans, and spent some time there. They are now making their way, slowly, back home. They plan to sell their house and then get back to cruising. Really nice folks.

The nice weather had lots of people out. Several boats came in and beached at various spots around us. Everyone had kids and dogs; all playing and having a great time. It was nice to hear all the laughter, and barking, mixed with the lapping of the waves on the boat. One group of four women drove in and walked down from the road. They pulled a cart full of stuff and setup for the day. They brought two half gallons of rum with them, and were making a nice dent in it. Two of them were fishing, and there was lots of squealing going on every time they caught something.  They did not keep anything they caught; it was obvious they were not even sure how to get them off the line. One caught a small stingray and that caused a bit of hysterical screaming as they ran from the water, dragging the poor stingray behind them. Fortunately, after a hefty round of picture taking with everyone, they figured out how to get the hook out, then used a stick to push it back in the water. They finally left around 5:00 pm, very sunburned and definitely feeling no pain. Tomorrow morning was going to be another matter!

Another fellow showed up with a kite surfing rig. I could hear him telling one of the fishermen that he had just purchased the rig, and this was his first outing with it. I remember another time here a couple of years ago someone else showed up with a new rig for his first attempt. So, I knew what to expect. The poor guy spent over three hours trying to get the kite up. For the first hour or so, it would just go up and do an immediate 180 and slam back into the ground. He eventually got to where he could keep it in the air for several seconds, doing uncontrolled loops before crashing. During that time it would drag him for several dozen feet. One one attempt, he kept it in the air for about 30 seconds. But it dragged him off the beach, across a small lagoon, and through the marsh grass before it finally crashed. The whole time he had his heels dug in, leaving furrows in the sand, then almost skiing barefoot across the lagoon. Once he reached the marsh grass he just sat down and slid on his butt for quite a distance. When the kite finally crashed he just sat there, exhausted, and rested for half an hour before bringing the kite back to the beach for yet another attempt. We could hear the guy talking to himself, berating for his lack of skill, then trying to encourage himself to keep trying. I have to give it to him, he was certainly persistent.  He never did get to kite surf. He finally gave up around 6pm, when he was just too exhausted to continue. To his credit, as tired as he was, he spent almost an hour packing everything up, meticulously cleaning the sand off everything before stowing it. I had thought of videoing the attempts, but just did not have the heart to do it. It was embarrassing enough for him to do this performance in front of several dozen people around the beach.

Before he left, a powered paraglider came over and buzzed around us a couple of times. We could see him taking pictures of Microship. The kite surfer guy was whooping and shouting, telling the paraglider pilot "way to go"; not that the pilot could hear him over the engine. I guess kite surfer dude was just happy to see that someone had gotten airborne that day.

After the kite surfer left, we and the Krogen folks had the place to ourselves again. So we had a very peaceful evening. I took Paula and Duke for our traditional sunset dinghy ride. We motored up into the shallows about a mile upwind and shut the engine off.  We just drifted for a while, looking over the side and enjoying all the marine life in the grass flats. Stingrays, trout, redfish, crabs, etc. I did not want to disturb the peaceful aspect of the evening, so just deployed the oars and slowly rowed us back to the boat.

After a great meal, and an evening of Survivor finale, I went out to adjust the dinghy mooring line, and noticed all the bio-luminescence in the water. Every little wave, or splash, would sparkle with little explosions of light. I decided to hop in the dink and take a spin around our little bay to enjoy the spectacle. The wake was ablaze with swirls of bluish-green light. It was awesome. As I returned I could see little bursts of light around where the anchor chain entered the water. It would have been great to get a photo of all this, but it is just not possible.

It has been a long, and wonderful, day. I could not have asked for a better birthday. Somehow I managed to stay up until 10:30 pm. The forecast wind was beginning to make itself felt. I checked the anchor chain, our depth, and location. The anchor was holding fast and everything was secure, so I headed to bed. The wind was blowing 25 knots, but waves of only about 1' were making it to us. Just enough to gently rock us to sleep. Which it did.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spectre Island

We arrived at Spectre Island around 4:30pm Thursday, and took the west entrance into the anchorage. While the chart shows this side to be too shallow, looking at the sat photo of the area shows a relatively deep channel here. We found no less than 9-10' on the way in. This is much easier than the approach from the east. Only one other boat was anchored here when we arrived, a Jefferson motor yacht, about 47'. It was a very nice evening, and a gorgeous night. A bit noisy, though, as there were some flight operations going on at the air force base, Hurlburt Field, nearby. They must have been doing gunnery practice, too, as we could hear Gatling gun and cannon fire late into the evening. Noisy, but way cool. Paula got a little nervous and went to bed.

The Jefferson left around 10am Friday morning, and we had the place to ourselves for a while. Later in the afternoon a couple of other small power boats arrived, offloaded a bunch of gear, and setup camp on the beach. Unfortunately, they also brought along a jet ski, and the kids spent the afternoon buzzing around our boat. We were waked endlessly. Fortunately, jet skis throw pretty small wakes.

I wonder what would happen if I just stood on the bow with a shotgun cradled in my arms?

When I took Duke for his beach break that morning, we saw the Navy Seals doing training. They came out of a cove, in full gear, laying horizontally along the tubes of their black RIBs. They came ashore on Spectre Island and proceeded to do some kind of mock attack. They are pretty stealthy, and it was difficult to locate them in the high grass on the island. Finally they met for a debriefing on the beach, then dragged their RIBs off the beach, loaded up, and headed our way. This was too good to be true. There were in full stealth mode and passed less than 50' from us. Got some decent video of them hunkered down in the RIBs as they passed by.

SEALS video

That was the highlight of the day. The rest of the day was spent getting buzzed by jet skis and fishing  boats. The folks camping on the beach got a little rowdy around sunset, but they burned out quickly and were asleep by 8pm. There were no flight operations or gunnery practice tonight, so we had a very quiet and pleasant evening.

Well, actually we did have on other event during the day. An 80' motor yacht, Blue Moon, was traversing the ICW heading east. This monster was cruising about 20 knots and was throwing one of the largest wakes I had ever seen. As it approached I was thinking how happy I was to be behind an island. That wake had to be at least 6'. As we watched him blast by on the other side of the island I heard the sound of breaking waves. I looked up to see that his wake had actually wrapped around the tip of the island and was heading into the anchorage. Thankfully, by the time it got to us, it was down to around 3'. Still rocked us pretty good. I could not imagine going past that guy if he did not slow down. A tow boat with a string of barges saw him coming and radioed a request that he slow down. Way down, please. He complied.

Saturday morning we awoke to dark and dreary skies. The forecast was for thunderstorms all day, so we elected to stay put. A nice benefit to the weather was the beach campers promptly packed up, and both boats plus the jet ski left. The jet ski did have to buzz us one final time. Thanks.

The rain hit, but it was not the thunderstorms that were forecast. Just a gentle rain, with a little breeze. We did not even have to close the windows. We could hear thunder rumbling in the distance, but it was well offshore and heading east. Once the rain started, a horde of small sailboats arrived. We thought they were looking for shelter from the wind that never developed. Most are Catalina 22's. As it turns out, this is an annual gathering they do ever Mother's Day weekend. Lucky us. For some reason they felt like the side of the anchorage we were on was the best side, so we have 23 sailboats crammed up into one corner of a large anchorage.

As we were walking along the beach today, an eagle landed in the tree just above us. I did not have my camera, so had to use my phone to take a picture. It is a shame to take such a crappy picture of such a beautiful bird. We stood and watched him a while, then he flew off and started hunting. Impressive to see it grab a large fish out of the water and carry it up into the tree with ease.

With all the activity here we considered heading back to our previous anchorage at Big Sabine Point. But, there is no way to tell how many boats took safe harbor from the storm there, and there may not be room for us by the time we would arrive around 6pm. We decided it was best to stay here, where we know we are safe. Plus, all the sailboats are anchored downwind from us, so one drags anchor tonight, they will be moving away. If you could have seen the antics when these folks tried to anchor, you would know that at least a couple will drag tonight it the wind picks up very much at all.

Well, it is time for a sundowner. Or two. We are heading to the top deck to enjoy the breeze, and the clanking of halyards banging two dozen masts. Grilled salmon, baked sweet potatoes, and cole slaw on the dinner menu tonight. Yum!

Navarre Beach

I spent the morning doing some re-wiring on my inverter and charging system. The port alternator was giving strange readings on the Link 1000, and I thought it was not performing properly. A call to Balmar, the manufacturer, confirmed the alternator was working fine. But the Link 1000 was  not displaying the full current the alternator was putting out. On their recommendation, I checked the wiring to the shunt on the negative side of the battery connection. Somehow, for the last eight years, this has been mis-wired!!  There was an extra connection on the battery side of the shunt that was connected to the negative bus bar on the port side, thus the Link 1000 was not seeing the full load. I am not sure how it worked all these years, but it was not working now. So I rewired the circuit to isolate the load from both port and starboard battery banks to go through the load side of the shunt. Everything works perfectly now. Thank you, Eldon at  Balmar!

Now that was done, we were ready to raise anchor and head east. We departed around 1pm and headed for Navarre. There is a Winn Dixie right at the bridge, and easy access to it from the public boat launch there. The Admiral had a list, and she was on a mission!

On the way there, I had to deal with issues with the electronic charting software I use. The newly released update to Furuno's MaxSea Time Zero, required in order to be able to run in Windows 8, has glitches.  It crashes periodically, at the worst possible moment. When it does, I lose radar, depth, and chart info. I do keep Coastal Explorer 2011 running in the background, so I can just switch over to that for chart display. MaxSea went wacky on me twice on the way to Navarre. I could get radar to display, but could not adjust range.

As we approached the Navarre Bridge, we noticed several work crews on barges around the bridge supports. We had to work around them to get off the ICW. We turned north along the bridge and anchored in about 8' of water, halfway to the public boat ramp from the ICW. As Paula and I were preparing to get into the dinghy, we had a surprise. Duke has decided that he likes dinghy rides, and nudged us out of the way as we were preparing to step down to the swim platform. He literally flew out of the stern boarding door and hopped into the dinghy. Paula and I looked at each other in astonishment. We had never seen this behavior before! Here he was, sitting in the dinghy wagging his tail.

Paula made her grocery run while I took Duke for his constitutional. She managed to leave her list behind, so did not get everything she needed. I think when she got to the wine aisle she got distracted. ;)

It was a short stop, and we were back aboard and underway an hour or so later. The wind has picked up a bit, out of the west. But the ride is still comfortable, and the next stop is only about an hour away. As we were heading out of Navarre, a Marine Corps Osprey aircraft buzzed us, twice. The second time around I managed to get a few seconds of video.

Osprey fly-by video

This was the highlight of our day. A short while later we arrived at Spectre Island and anchored behind it, protected from the wakes of boats passing by on the ICW.  It was perfect timing to have an adult beverage and watch the sunset. We sat on the top deck and grilled steaks and baked potatoes. After a fabulous meal we climbed into bed and slept like logs.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Big Sabine Point

Big Sabine Point is one of our favorite anchorages on the ICW. It is far enough off the ICW so that you don't even notice any boat traffic, and wakes are no concern. The island, at this point, is national park land, so no commercial development. It is a very quiet and peaceful anchorage. Due to the shoals all around the north side, there is good protection from pretty much all directions. Great fishing, too!

Getting up Wednesday morning, it felt like this was the real start to our vacation. Weather was perfect, wind was normal, and we had miles of white beach to ourselves. And, all my current boat issues have been resolved! Let me tell you, there is nothing like sipping coffee, with the smell of bacon and eggs cooking, listening to the wave on the beach, and knowing you don't have to be in the engine room today! :)

After breakfast we decided to take Duke to the beach. While he has learned to do his business on the mat on the bow, we felt it would be good for him to know the beach was an option, too. The last time we took him to the beach, it was quite rough, and he did not like the ride. So when we tried to get him in the dinghy he zipped inside and got on his bed in the pilothouse. Paula picked up and carried him to the boarding gate, where I grabbed him and more or less pulled him out on the swim platform. At that point he continued on into the boat. Not a very graceful entry.

Microship as seen from the beach

Once ashore he was thrilled to have grass under his feet again. He loves to romp in the grass and flush the birds out. Unlike Max, he does not give a fig for digging in the sand. It is just something he has to lick out from between his toes later. We walked along the beach and, much to my surprise, he actually let the water touch his feet!  When we first took him to the beach, not long after getting him from the pound, he actually ran from the little wavelets lapping on the shore. Now, here he was actually walking through it, although only about an inch or two deep. But, it is progress.

On our way in Tuesday night, after dark, we saw target on the radar. Obviously a boat, in the narrow channel that is the entrance to the anchorage we are in now. As we got closer, I still could not find the boat in front of me. I continued to watch the radar as we approached the target. We were just about on top of it when I finally saw it. A small sailboat, with no lights on. The boat did not have a white hull, and was almost impossible to see in the dark. After our beach run this morning, Duke and I went to look at the sailboat. It was obvious no one was aboard; the mast was lashed to the top of the boat with a cushion blocking access to the cabin. It looked as though it had been abandoned here.

 Paula won't drink the water out of our water tanks (don't ask) and prefers to bring bottled water for drinking and cooking. Water in our main tank is used for washing dishes and showers. Anyway, we were down to our last 5 gallons of drinking water so I loaded up four of the empty gallon jugs in the dinghy and headed east to Navarre Pavilions. It was only 15 minutes, but was bumpy. Once there I proceeded to the water fountain only to find the water was off. No other faucets around, I headed to the restrooms. Locked. Off to the side of the restroom building, there was a pedestal with shower heads. Success! It was a little messy, but I got all four jugs filled, with the added bonus of getting my feet washed.

When I returned to the boat, I noticed a small catamaran fishing boat circling our boat. By the time I got there he had made a couple of circles around the boat, and I noticed he was taking pictures, or video, with his phone. I got to the stern and started handing up the jugs, and Paula told me she was getting very nervous about the guy, and was glad I had returned. About this time he approached us and explained that he and his wife had owned a DeFever 49 Pilothouse, just like ours. They had owned her for nine years, and he had completely refurbished the boat himself. Took him two years. They sold her last year, so when he saw ours it brought back fond memories. He asked if we would mind if he returned later with his wife, as she would want to see the boat, too. Of course, we said that would be fine with us.

An hour or so later, here they were. They pulled alongside and we had a nice chat. Found out that their boat was even the same year as ours. Their boat, Spring Tide, was hull #26, and ours is #30. We invited them aboard, but the wife declined, saying she would not do that to us. They did offer to either take us ashore for provisions, or to pick up anything we needed and bring it back. Paula asked for milk and sour cream. As it was quite late, we figured we would see them tomorrow. In fact, we made it a point to mention that we would not be leaving for the next day or so. However, around an hour later, almost sunset, we heard someone outside calling us. There they were, with the stuff Paula had asked for. They refused payment for the items, and would not let me cover their fuel expense, either. Very nice people, indeed!  They left us with their phone number should we need anything else. Wow!

Just after sunset, two sailboats joined us in the anchorage. They anchored a little closer to me than necessary, and certainly closer than I liked. We were the only three boats here, in an anchorage that could easily hold 6-8 boats. They had plenty of room to spread out a bit. So, Thursday morning I was getting the itch to move on, and get away from the crowd. We waited for a while to see if they were going to continue on, and one did. But the other, the closest of course, did not. I could have just pulled up the anchor and moved further away. But, if I am going through that trouble, I may as well keep going. Besides, Paula has now decided she needs more "provisions".