Friday, November 28, 2014

Santa Claus is coming to town

Santa arrived in Apalachicola this afternoon! The whole town turned to see him. We were excited to be part of the celebration on what looks to be our final day here.

Here he comes!

Yep- Santa travels by shrimp boat in these parts! Who needs a sleigh anyway? And that's all I have to say about that.

Why are we so joyous? Because we will be crossing the Gulf tomorrow after waiting 2 weeks for favorable weather!! We will be traveling with Sea Horse, Serenity, and Ta Ta most closely, with quite a few other boats in our armada. It is nearly 200 miles from here to Dunedin on the west coast of Florida. Our group will cruise at 7.5 miles per hour on this overnight trip. We will not have cell phone service out there on the open water, but our VHF radios can easily be heard by the Coast Guard if need be. We have planned in great detail and stocked up on junk food to keep us awake. This is probably the scariest part of our adventure- not because of danger, but because of the unknown- cruising at night, the almost certainty of encountering bigger waves than we like, possible sea sickness, taking turns being on watch and minding the auto pilot etc. Its good to know that no Looper has ever been lost on the crossing! (But we do have our immersion suits, emergency locator beacons, and flares handy.)

Sights Around Apalachicola

Day 87
Miles today: 0.      Total miles: 2,286.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Apalachicola has been home to a variety of industries over the years- timber, shipping cotton, and seafood are the big three. Now tourism is on the rise in this small town of about 2,200 people. The town is "old Florida" with a quaint downtown and a working waterfront. The atmosphere is laid back and friendly.

The Gibson Inn

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Day 86
Miles today: 0.      Total miles: 2,286.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Excitement is building in the Looper community in Apalachicola as the weather window for Saturday still looks good! We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to make the long crossing across BIG water this weekend.

Meanwhile 26 of us celebrated Thanksgiving with a leisurely dinner at Caroline's River Restaurant. 

We ate on the screened in porch built right over the water.

Boats/crews here in addition to us are Serenity, Quo Vadimus, Pier Pressure, Sundowner, Sea Horse, Fat Cat, Beach House, Prime Interest, Teri-Fied, Takes 2, Ta Ta, and a sailboat whose name I missed.

We sat with John and Kathy from Serenity.

Dinner was followed by pumpkin pie and a planning session on Mara Beel. At least 4 of us are planning to travel at the same speed to the same destination of Dunedin.

Still keeping our fingers crossed for good weather on the Gulf Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Apalachachiola for real

Day 85
Miles today: 65.     Total miles: 2,286.5
Hours today:  8.7
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

This morning we left Panama City Beach early and motored a few miles to Panama City (no beach) for fuel and a pump out. Then we were quickly on our way east along the panhandle. The sun finally reappeared today after 4 days of rain, and considerably brightened our mood. The ICW route today included wide shallow bays or lakes as well as narrow creeks- plenty of variety of scenery but not many other boats.

We arrived at Water Street Hotel and Marina shortly before 4 PM. Old friends caught our lines- including John and Kathy (Serenity) and Roger and Mary (Ta Ta). Mark did a great job of pulling into a slip barely wider than Mara Beel with the wind pushing us. Fortunately the tide was not an issue. Quite a few Loopers are here in Apalachicola patiently (or not) waiting for favorable weather to cross the Gulf. Some have been here as long as 2 weeks. Yikes!

Now that we are in the Eastern time zone daylight lasts until after 6 pm - this works much better for 5:00 docktails! We are so happy to catch up with fellow Loopers for the momentous overnight Gulf crossing. The weather conditions have to be just right for us to cross open seas (170 miles) overnight, and it just might be possible this weekend. Keeping our collective fingers crossed.

Six of us enjoyed dinner at Up the Creek- Apalachicola is the self-proclaimed oyster capital of the entire universe, so of course we had oysters!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Apalachicola by car

Day 83
Miles today: 0    Total miles: 2,221.5
Hours today:  0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

The rain just doesn't go away here- but it is warm and green here on the Emerald Coast. Today we decided enough is enough- we haven't seen our Looper friends for a month and greatly miss them. We rented a car and drove 58 miles to Apalachicola. We have a reservation at one of the marinas here starting on Wednesday. In the meantime, we re-connected with Kathy and John on Serenity and Roger and Mary on Ta Ta. They are all docked at Water Street Hotel and Marina, and have been for way too long. The weather window needed to safely cross the Gulf has not opened in over 2 weeks, so it's easy to see why we are all getting antsy. We're all anxious to get to the west coast of Florida for the winter.

The six of us enjoyed lunch at Papa Joe's- fresh oysters, crab cakes, etc. delicious!! The rain varied from a downpour to a trickle, but we didn't let it dampen our mood.

 I dropped the men off at the marina after lunch and then took the ladies to the grocery store in the car. It is difficult to know how to provision, since our departure time is unknown and wholly dependent on the weather. At the same time, it is tough to walk or bike 2 or more miles to the store and tote groceries back to the boats. A car is a blessing, yet there is no car rental agency easily available in this town. And of course plans are underway for some type of Thanksgiving meal, since it is almost certain that no Gulf crossing will be possible before next weekend.

Apalachicola is an "old Florida" town- quaint and interesting, with many small shops and seafood restaurants.  It is totally unlike the cities on the east and west coasts of the state. It will be fun to take pictures there when the rain stops.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rainy Day

It was a rainy day here on the Gulf. Thunder, lightning, the whole works. It rained all day. But it is NOT snow! Rain and 70 degrees, and nothing to shovel works for us.

We made a run to Walmart and Publix in the marina pickup, aka the death mobile. The truck has no defroster, so we were constantly wiping the windows with our hands to be able to see the road. The gears are iffy- the other day we drove about 6 miles before discovering that we were in second gear. Somehow "D" is actually "N" on the gear selector. Sketchy business. As Mark said, its a $400 truck with an $800 paint job advertising the marina. But beggars can't be choosers, as my mother frequently admonished me. We are grateful to have free access to a vehicle of any sort.

Walmart was aggravating. I promised myself I will not set foot in one of these stores again until after Christmas. Long after Christmas. I have never seen so many people standing around aimlessly- in the middle of the aisles! The aisles were just narrow enough so that one lost soul in the middle made it impassable. I am not known for my patience, and it was sorely tried. The cashiers were more than friendly but the clientele was another matter all together. The fact that we were in a tiny truck meant that we had to come back to the boat and unload our Walmart purchases before going to Publix- my lap only holds so much. Geez Louise.

Having survived this ordeal, Mark and Eric from Pier Pressure were emboldened to make a run to Cardenas Seafood Market just a mile or two from here. They bought 4 pounds of fresh steamed gulf shrimp, cocktail sauce and some smoked salmon dip. Eric and Pam climbed on to Mara Beel and the four of us devoured some awesome seafood. Looks like we will be traveling together tomorrow. We will probably anchor out a night or two as we await a weather window- along with a bunch of other boats- to cross the Gulf. We might be hanging around for a week or so. Neptune is keeping the water riled up around here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pirates Cove Marina

Day 81
Miles today: 0    Total miles: 2,221.5
Hours today:  0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Today's forecast:

We had a productive day today. I cleaned and re-organized a few things, and took advantage of the free laundry facilities here- more on that in a minute. 

Mark changed the impellers on both engines. Impellers are like small turbines- they pull raw water through the heat exchangers to interact with the antifreeze to cool the engines. Then the water goes out through the exhaust system. If the impellers fail, the engines will overheat and burn up. We have heard of impellers disintegrating and sending little pieces of themselves deep into inaccessible engine parts- that would be disastrous. They are pretty darn important and need to be replaced before something like that happens, usually with no warning. The water pumps on both our engines have to be removed to get to the impellers- can't imagine what engineer thought that was a good idea. If the hoses come off easily, the process goes well. Mark batted .500 on that through no fault of his own. Mission accomplished by lunch time. After lunch he changed the oil in both engines. That went pretty well.

Meanwhile I tackled a couple loads of laundry. Since the machines were fairly close by, with no one waiting, and free of charge, I even washed throw rugs. In the last marina where I did laundry, there was a great lounge area with a big screen TV and multiple state of the art machines. It was also $2.50 a load there. That is a lot of quarters!  I still remember doing laundry in college with a few dimes (because I am old) so $2.50 for each machine seems exorbitant. Our current Marina offers free machines, which sounds great. Granted I had to take my cleaning supplies and scrub the tops of the washer and dryer before using them, since they were covered with black dirt. After that, it was fine. But I'm thinking this outdoor arrangement would not work well in Iowa!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Panama City Beach

Day 80
Miles today: 64     Total miles: 2,221.5
Hours today:  6.8
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Today was another good cruising day, although the wind picked up and there was a light chop on West Bay, a wide section of the ICW. Mark was worried about the dripless shaft seal on our starboard shaft. When he checked down below in the nether regions of the boat last night, it looked like the seal was throwing off black carbon fiber. He did not, however, detect any vibration or other abnormality when we were underway. There was also a small diesel leak in one of the return hoses. We called ahead to Lighthouse Marina in Panama City Beach, knowing they have the repair facilities we might or might not need. The boat mechanic was standing by at the fuel dock when we arrived- talk about service! By the time a couple other guys pumped out our holding tank, Justin had diagnosed and fixed our issues- he tightened a couple of thing-a-ma-jigs and we were good to go! Awesome!

Since the Lighthouse doesn't really have transient slips they sent us across the Grand Lagoon to their sister marina, Pirates Cove. This is a wonderful place! Three guys caught our lines, hooked up our power, and made us feel like honored guests. They are super friendly here! We have excellent cable TV, free laundry, a loaner vehicle, restaurants within walking distance, and a Publix nearby. The beach is about a block away. We are very comfortable here and will be here at least through the weekend. Pier Pressure is tied up next to us. We have many other neighbors of the feathered type.

This evening we borrowed the loaner truck and drove to Dee's Hangout for dinner- fresh seafood with a Creole twist. We ate here last winter when we were by car, and loved it. Tonight's special was red fish with a tomato butter sauce with artichoke hearts and capers. Mouthwatering!

This is an oyster boat. The oyster man usually stand on the boat and uses the long handled rakes to gather oysters off the bottom. The oysters are stacked in the boat. We enjoyed some before dinner!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Day 79
Miles today: 51.5      Total miles: 2,151.5
Hours today:  6.5
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

We left Santa Rosa Yacht Club shortly after 7 AM and continued to cruise on the ICW to the east.
It was a perfect day for boating- smooth seas and brilliant sunshine. The temp quickly warmed up to a pleasant 65 degrees. We passed one small towboat and a few fishing boats, but otherwise the water was ours alone. Several dolphins played alongside us for awhile. They are incredibly fast swimmers and fun to watch! I will be taking many dolphin photos as we travel these waters!

We arrived at our overnight docking around 1 pm- Baytowne Marina in Sandestin. Baytowne is a luxurious resort complex with many condos, restaurants and shops. This is the off-season in the panhandle of  Florida, so the place is practically deserted. We enjoyed a stroll around the grounds.

Swiss Family Robinson??

Mary Ann, the very noisy parrot
We are feeling disoriented- it certainly doesn't seem like it's almost Thanksgiving, with Christmas a month or so away.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here We Go Again

Day 78
Miles today:  32    Total miles: 2,100
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

We are back on board after a week-long trek to Iowa for Mark's mother's funeral. Another 2800 miles in a rental car. It was COLD and snowy in NW Iowa. The overnight low in the 20's here seems almost balmy in comparison! 

We are learning to decipher the wave forecasts measured by offshore buoys - the terminology includes smooth, light chop, moderate chop, choppy, and rough. We would rather not experience anything more than a light chop for any length of time!

Today we had a short cruise, and we crossed into Florida! That is exciting! And yes, there is a sign on shore welcoming boaters to the Sunshine State. We cruised past the Naval Air Station at  Pensacola and saw 2 Blue Angels flying low. 

We are tied up at Santa Rosa Yacht Club, a great facility with lots of amenities in Gulf Breeze.  We are taking advantage of the free laundry room. We took a long walk and enjoyed a fantastic grouper dinner at the Aegean Breeze restaurant. We definitely enjoyed today's relaxed pace. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day

Day 77
Miles today: 40       Total miles: 2,068
Hours today: 4.5
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Our plans change abruptly some days, and this was one of them. We woke up at 0430 in our New Orleans hotel. Mark immediately checked the weather forecast, as he always does first thing in the morning. The nasty winds and cold front that dumped snow up north were predicted to arrive in Mobile around midnight tonight. Mobile Bay is shallow, except for the shipping lane. It's a very large bay, but 9-10 feet deep at best.  Many spots are 2-3 feet.  A strong, sustained north wind will blow a lot of water right out of the bay! It's not like the Red Sea parting, but it does make a shallow, turbulent body of water for several days. Since we did not want to spend more time in Mobile, we decided to head back right way. We were on I-10 by 0545, returned our rental car, and were underway by 0915. Whew!
Glenda and Carl helped us untie.

The Bay was as smooth as could be today. We have now entered the Gulf Coast Intra Coastal Waterway. (GCICW). This is narrow and sheltered from weather. We will follow it along the Florida Panhandle. We are now docked at The Wharf Marina in Orange Beach, AL. it's a great place, but we haven't found any other Loopers here.

We did have company on our ride today:

These Dolphins put on quite a show as they jumped along our starboard side again and again!

As I finished this post we received the phone call telling us that Mark's mother just passed away. We are making arrangements to go home for the services. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

New Orleans

Day 76
Miles today: 0       Total miles: 2,068
Hours today:  0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Today we drove to New Orleans in our rental car- its only about 2 hours from Mobile. The food and the architecture are amazing!

Lunch at Napoleon House in the French Quarter with Susan and Foster from Quo Vadimus.

Beignets for dessert at Cafe du Monde. 

The St. James Cheese Company has so many varieties of yummy cheeses.

This is our favorite:

We had dinner at Irene's in the French Quarter- excellent food. 

We rode the trolley all day (it's a real bargain at $3) and walked over 8 miles sightseeing. I thought the French Quarter was rather dirty but very interesting. Definitely a tourist thing. On the trolley ride that took us past Loyola and Tulane Universities we saw block after block of huge old homes that were amazing. This area is much nicer than the French Quarter. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Day of Rest

Day 75
Miles today: 0       Total miles: 2,068
Hours today:  0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Today the weather was again just about perfect. Mark is fighting a cold so we took it easy. He caught up on the monthly financial stuff while I cleaned both heads and defrosted both freezers. Since everything is small, these chores don't take long. I also re-inventoried our food supplies and came up with a new system to keep track of what's on board. Since we have foodstuffs stored in several out of the way spots, I tend to forget what we have. I tried using a spreadsheet, but that was more annoying than useful. I'm going old school- back to 3x5 cars and a pencil! It works for me, the joyful organizer.

We walked to Turner Marina next door, and visited with some folks there whom we know.

Mark's mother is back in the hospital, and is stable now. But.....

This evening our friends Steve and Debra came aboard for cocktails. They live here in Mobile so they took us to their beautiful home for dinner.

Steve cut some satsumas from the tree in their front yard for us.  We had never heard of satsumas, but they resemble a Mandarin orange and are quite tasty.

It was a pleasant evening to top a good day.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Blue Angels Air Show

Day 74
Miles today: 0       Total miles: 2,068
Hours today:  0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

We are enjoying our stay in Mobile! Yesterday was a clean-up, stroll around, rent a car day. It was great to sleep in and enjoy a slower pace. We went to Napa to buy oil for the boat, and of course made the obligatory visit to West Marine to browse. We found fellow Iowans on our dock- Carl and Glenda on "Gold Leaf." We had a glass of wine on our boat and then went to a nearby restaurant- Mariner's- for seafood.

Today  we drove to Pensacola for the Blue Angels Homecoming performance. This team travels all over the country to do air shows, and the Naval Air Station at Pensacola is their home base. The crowd was unbelievably huge- around 150,000 people! The show was spectacular! It started at 9 a.m. and lasted until 3:30 or so, with various aviation performances throughout. The Angels were the finale. We drove on Blue Angel Parkway, and I noticed that nearly every business along the route is named Blue Angel something. It was a fun day.