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Getting Ready to Begin the Great Loop

This blog is to document our travels on the Great Loop and share with friends and acquaintances who have an interest in following along on our adventure. The Great Loop is a waterway route that, for example, starting in Annapolis, the route we are taking takes us north on the Chesapeake Bay, through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to the Delaware River, down the river to Cape May, NJ, up the Jersey Coast to the Hudson River, north on the Hudson to a canal that leads to Lake Champlain, another canal at the north end that leads to the St. Lawrence River. We will go downriver to Montreal, up the Ottawa River to Ottawa, then down the Rideau Canal to Lake Ontario. After heading west on the lake, we will enter the Trent-Severn Waterway (canals, lakes, and locks) to the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Then it’s west to Lake Michigan, to Chicago, through a canal to the Illinois River, then the Mississippi past St. Louis to the confluence of the Ohio River. Then, it’s up the Ohio past Paducah, KY to reach the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway which eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, AL. Then, we will cross the open water of the Gulf to the West Coast of Florida, around the keys, then north on the Intracoastal Waterway back to Annapolis. The trip will take at least one year to complete.

Our tentative departure date is May 10th. It is weather dependent. John’s brother, Jerry, will be joining us for the first two weeks of the trip. We will drop him off in Poughkeepsie, NY on the Hudson River. He lives in Northwestern Connecticut. We will be staying three nights at the Great Kills Yacht Club on Staten Island. Our son, Jack and his wife, will be visiting her parents in Manhattan at the same time so we will get some visiting in. Jack is a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy.

Fort Pierce to Titusville

We left Fort Pierce on 2/11 but, before doing so, we had dinner with friends from Connecticut and their lovely wives with whom both Gloria and John worked in Connecticut for twenty-five years. It was fun catching up about family and other friends. Unfortunately, we all forgot to take any photos. Then we moved on to small marina in Melbourne and had a very nice meal in the marina restaurant there (Ichabod’s).

From Melbourne we traveled 48 miles to Titusville on what is known as the Space Coast. We rented a car and spent a day at the Kennedy Space Center.  We were very surprised at what we encountered there. We found a very large and well-organized tourist operation just like a large theme park. This place is a must-see for anyone vacationing in the area. The presentations and exhibits are amazing and inspiring. They have an entire Saturn V rocket on display inside a building. Until one sees in person the mammoth size of this rocket one cannot fathom just how amazing our space program was and is. We took many pictures. We hope that the photos give you

some idea of what we saw but truly only an in-person visit tells the whole story. In particular, notice the water tower in the “launch pad” picture. That tower releases over a million gallons of water on the launches, not for cooling, but for sound suppression. Without the water, the level of sound produced by the rocket motors would irreparably damage the spacecraft.

In addition to the Space Center pictures, we included several pictures of what what we thought interesting or curious along the way up to Titusville.

Fort Myers to Fort Pierce

We left Fort Myers on 2/1 bound for the east coast of Florida via Lake Okeechobee. We cruised up to the Caloosahatchee River and Canal to our first stop for the night, the small town of Labelle. There is a free city dock there but our boat was too large for the slips there. Instead, we anchored across the river in the lee of the lift bridge spending a very quiet, peaceful night. The next day, a Saturday, we intended to stay at the Roland Martin Marina in Clewiston on the western edge of the lake but learned that even though we had called two days earlier to confirm space, the marina could not accommodate us because of an on-going bass tournament. That explained the dozen bass boats racing up the canal at 50 -60 MPH, maybe more. Instead we tied up at the Moore Haven City dock for the night.

The next day was a short day, just 12 miles to Roland Martin where we stayed two days. The tiki bar there was very nice. It seems to be a destination for landlubbers and boaters like. Even on a Monday night, there was a good crowd there.

Our boat is not small at forty-four feet. After we pulled in, a 60-foot DeFever arrived and docked just ahead of us. See the pictures to get an idea of the size difference. A talk with the owners revealed that they have owned and operated that boat for only four days and that their only previous boating experience was on small boats. That was a very bold purchase for an a captain with no previous meaningful piloting. Even after five years owning an operating our 44-foot boat, we would be intimidated operating such a large vessel.

Leaving the marina put us directly on the lake. The four-mile channel leading out to the lake is notorious for catastrophic groundings. Lake Okeechobee’s bottom is limestone. This requires attention to detail. Boaters must stay in the very narrow marked channel which, in some places, is no more than 6.5 feet deep. Our boat draws 4’9”. We cleared the channel with no bumps and the water the rest of the 25 miles across was sufficiently deep. At the eastern end of the lake we went through a lock and entered the St. Lucie Canal.

Ordinarily, we prefer not to cruise any more than 35 – 40 miles in a day. Remember, our boat cruises at no more than 8.5 MPH. This day we chose to continue all the way to Stuart, 62 miles to an overnight anchorage, five miles from the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW). The St. Lucie Canal was as pleasant and quiet and easy cruising as was the Caloosahatchee Canal. Of special note, at about twenty miles east of Stuart, we passed close by the yacht “Honey Fitz”. Some readers will recognize the name but, for those who do not, the Honey Fitz was the presidential yacht used by Truman through Nixon. The boat was named by JFK after his grandfather. Research showed that it was purchased and restored by a private individual. This boat is a historical treasure.

After Stuart we moved on to an anchorage (Faber Cove) in Fort Pierce one mile east of the AICW. Faber Cove is reached by a winding channel through a neighborhood of waterside homes terminating a large water cul-de-sac surrounded by modest homes, modest as compared to the many McMansions one encounters on so many of America’s waterways, and Canada’s. We anchored las night (2/6) and will stay here for two more nights before moving over to the Fort Pierce City Marina.

Tarpon Springs to Fort Meyers

We haven’t updated our postings in quite a while. Today is Sunday, 1/27. Last we left you was in Tarpon Springs. A lot of water has gone under the keel since then. We left Tarpon Springs on 12/16 and arrived in Fort Myers on Christmas Eve. The first two nights we anchored in pleasant coves just off the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Next we stayed for four nights in Bradenton, Florida due to high winds day-after-day. While in Bradenton we met up with Tom and Jody Goldman whom we befriended along the way. They took us to the Star Fish Company for lunch. Star Fish is more a local fish market that serves simple fish dinners on a deck overlooking the docks where the local fisherman bring in their catches of the day. We had fish and chips made from fresh grouper. It was the best we had on this trip. Don’t hesitate to try grouper if you have the chance. It’s a nice, light-tasting whitefish.

The next two nights found us in anchorages again, one of which was Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa Island. This anchorage came well-recommended. There were about eight other boats with us. In the morning we left early. The Captain was anxious to get to Fort Myers being that it was Christmas Eve. The Captain wondered to himself why the other big boats were not leaving. Well, it was a very low, low tide. The First Mate recommended waiting, but, no, the Captain elected to keep going and promptly went aground, the first time in over 4,000 miles of cruising. The Captain attempted to back off the sandbar, a common maneuver and generally not unsafe. It wasn’t unsafe but the high throttle over-torqued the rubber coupler on one of the shafts and it ripped apart leaving the boat with only one engine to move the boat.

And, to boot, we were still aground. We called TowBoat US, the Triple A of the water for assistance. By the time the towboat arrived, the tide had already come in and we had floated free. That left us to sail forty miles to Fort Myers on one engine. It took a long time. But, we arrived safely and tied up in a very nice marina.

We eventually determined that we needed to have the boat repaired professionally. We again had to run on one engine to the repair yard in Fort Myers Beach but it was only a twenty mile trip. The repairs, though extensive should have been done before we left on the Loop. The short story is the propeller shafts were binding in their rubber bearings and were nearly impossible to rotate by hand. It was determined that the shafts were bent at both ends all of which explained the vibrations that could be felt in the stern. We never knew any different because the condition has existed since we bought the boat five years ago. It is now a very happy boat. Smooth and quiet, no vibrations.

On Thursday (1/24), as part of the Great Loop Association’s LooperPalooza event, we opened our boat to inspection. We hosted a number of couples who are exploring boats to suit their needs for a Looper boat.

Fort Myers is a terrific city. Our marina is a five-minute walk from a VERY vibrant downtown filled with shops, ice cream parlors, and good eateries, including a pizza joint (Capones’s) that is the first one we have found in 4,000 miles of travel that meets the NewYork/New Haven standard of good pizza. We have eaten there twice and are going there again on Monday before leaving the following morning (1/29). We are meeting friends at Capone’s

from Connecticut (Fran and Vicki Patrick).

From Fort Myers we move east, continuing up the Caloosahatchee River, through a canal to Lake Okeechobee, across the lake to another canal and then on to the east coast at Stuart, Florida. From there we begin our northward trek up the ICW back to Maryland where we expect to arrive sometime in mid-May. We are skipping The Keys and the Bahamas this trip. That will come next winter.

Mobile Bay to Carrabelle, Florida to Tarpon Springs

e stayed three days at Turner Marine on the Dog River off Mobile Bay south of Mobile proper waiting out the cold and rain. From there we moved on to a marina in Orange Beach, AL called The Wharf. This place was deluxe and we met several Loopers with whom we have traveled. From there we moved on to a marina (Palafox) in downtown Pensacola. This part of the route, from Orange Beach to Pensacola, is fairly narrow and abounds with dolphin. We had a number of them swimming alongside surfacing for air and continuing to run with us.

Palafox was not inexpensive but worth the price because of its location. Pensacola is a good-sized city and its downtown is lined with upscale shops and restaurants. We stayed for five nights, longer than we would have wanted but, again, the weather dictated our sailing plans. We took in the local sights including a fine museum. We also experienced

McGuire’s Pub to which we had to take Lyft but it was well worth it. This place was recommended to us by a friend and, even though it was not convenient to the docks, we decided to give it a try. The restaurant is very large but it is divided up into rooms, each with about eight booths giving the experience an intimate feel. The walls are plastered with photos of celebrities (John McCain at the entrance) and Blue Angels artifacts. On the ceilings are 1.4 million, yes million, one-dollar bills stapled in place. Our waitress explained that the money is insured and that the serial number of each bill is documented once per year. Plus, the food and beer, Irish ales brewed on site, is very good.

The route from Pensacola to Carrabelle passes by Panama City and Mexico Beach, the area that was devastated by the recent hurricane. The waterway we traveled was inland from these beach towns but the power of the wind from this storm was evident all along the waterway. We saw many homes, large and small, with “blue roofs”, roofs covered with blue tarps. And the tall pines, mile after mile of trees broken in half like matchsticks with the vegetation mostly stripped away. It was frightening just looking at the damage.

Carrabelle – this is the staging point for making the 170-mile, 24-hour, overnight passage on the Gulf of Mexico to Tarpon Springs. From Pensacola it took five days to get to Carrabelle. The passage was pleasant and uneventful and unremarkable. To cross the gulf a boater must wait for a forecast of 48 hours of good weather (moderate wind and waves). We waited five days in Carrabelle for a good enough forecast.

Well, the forecast was for flat seas most of the way with some building of wind and waves toward the end – in daylight. The forecast turned out to be inaccurate to say the least. We left Carrabelle at 10:30am. For twelve hours the water was benign. Then the wind and seas began to build, quickly. By midnight we were rocking and rolling with waves coming at us from the port bow. Fortunately, the waves were not directly on our beam (from the side) so we rolled side-to-side infrequently. The waves were three-to-four feet which, for our boat, generally, do not make for an uncomfortable ride. However, these waves were short-period waves, waves that come one after the other very quickly. This made for up-and-down, up-and-down, UP-AND-DOWN. A big up-and-down hit us every third or fourth set of waves. From midnight to first light (7:00am) we were unable to move around the boat without holding onto something firmly. Sometimes, we had to crawl on the floor to safely reach the head (bathroom). So, we hung on, watching the radar. We were mostly alone on the water. Once in a while we caught a glimpse of a boat’s running lights far off. Gloria does not get seasick. John rarely is affected but on this night, not so much but it was brief, and after dinner went down the sink drain, no more sickness which was a big surprise. It was a VERY uncomfortable ride. Gloria was frightened. John was not but certainly concerned.

When dawn came we were coming into range of a land mass which shielded the wind and the seas started to lay down. At the same time we began to encounter crab traps which must be avoided lest their float lines get wrapped around propellers. We had that heard this area, the off-shore approach to Tarpon Springs, is lousy with crab traps. It was not, at least as compared to the number of traps boaters see in the rivers and bays of Chesapeake Bay, not even close. The traps here were infrequent and set relatively far apart such that they are easily avoided. On the Chesapeake, sometimes avoiding traps is like running a slalom course. Ho-hum on the traps here. One not ho-hum was the fact that our dinghy, which hangs on a davit off the stern, was damaged significantly, probably a total loss. The lines securing the dinghy loosened during the night letting the dinghy to swing fore and aft and crash into the swim ladder. Being of fiberglass construction (think Boston Whaler) about a two-foot section of the rail disintegrated exposing its two-piece construction. Water will get in between and when it freezes will certainly damage the boat even more. Insurance will cover the loss but there is the deductible. Oh well, we got across safely. All else doesn’t matter.

Tarpon Springs – this is where the sponge boats live, boats that go out and harvest natural sponges. Along the river close to the sponge boats is a long street full of tourist shops and Greek restaurants, lots of them. We had dinner at one that was recommended with a friend of John’s from grammar school back in Torrington, CT. The food was terrific, Costas Restaurant. We stayed (are staying) three nights here waiting for the rain to pass by. Last night it rained heavily which was okay with John because it washed of most of the dirt and grime that, somehow, we accumulated on our Gulf crossing. From here we will begin moving south along the west coast of Florida, all in protected waterways, with stops in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Port Charlotte, Venice, and Fort Meyers before crossing Florida via Lake Okeechobee to Stuart on the east coast.

Columbus, MS to Mobile Bay

Distance to Turner Marine south of Mobile proper is about 340 miles, all of which, except for Mobile Bay, follows the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. For the most part the Tenn-Tom is not very wide and follows a meandering course down to Mobile Bay. It is very, very rural with most of its length having nothing alongside except woodland with an occasional short section with some riverside homes. From the marina in Columbus there are only two stopping places where a boater can tie up to a dock. The first is in Demopolis (120 miles) that has a nice marina. We stayed there for six days waiting out the cold, rainy weather, some nights below 32 degrees. The other place to tie up

is Bobbie’s Fish Camp, a short, rickety dock alongside the waterway that would charge us $66 for the night with no services (no electric, no water). Plus, other boats might raft to each other if there was not enough dock space but still charges the same rate ($1.50/foot) which we found to be outrageous. Bobbie’s claim to fame is that the restaurant there is supposed to have good, fresh, fried catfish. That didn’t interest us.

We continued down river a few miles and anchored alongside the riverbank well out of the way of any passing barges. In all, we anchored along the way in seven places. One anchorage (Three Rivers) was up a narrow creek which, after about 500 yards, opens up into a rather large lake. Some of the pictures we posted are of our transit up the creek. It was a bit disconcerting but the fact is that the lowest depth we saw was 15 feet, plenty for our 5-foot draft boat. The pictures of the fouled anchor were from this anchorage. Retrieving the anchor proved a bit difficult as we pulled up a 15-foot, four-inch thick deadhead. Fortunately, our anchor windlass is very strong. It strained a bit but did the job.

We spent Thanksgiving anchored at a spot on the side 106 miles from Turner Marine. We dropped anchor early in the afternoon on Wednesday and spent two nights there. The next day we cooked a full Turkey Day meal, whole turkey breast, homemade stuffing, smashed potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce, and a banana cream pie for dessert. We watched the Macy’s parade in the morning and football much of the rest of the day, just like at home. We missed being with family but we had cell service there so we made lots of phone calls. Cell service all the way from Peoria, IL to Mobile was very spotty.

The last run, to Turner Marine, started from the Tensas River, a 50-mile trip. The day began gloriously with warm sunshine. However, approaching the industrial section passing by Mobile proper, the weather turned windy, cold, and rainy forcing the boat driver to pilot from the lower helm which is not preferred because of lower forward visibility. By the time we made the turn out of the channel to go to Turner marine it was pouring rain but visibility was about one mile so no danger there. When we arrived at the marina, no one answered our call. We had made reservations. It turned out that the marina is not staffed on Sunday, a fact which was not shared with us when we made the reservation. We had no alternative but to tie up at an open spot on the dock which we found. We stayed there three nights before beginning our trip east through the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Note on anchoring: many new boaters are apprehensive about anchoring having heard or read about all the things that can go wrong as were we before we began this trip. We learned that, with good equipment, which we have, anchoring should be embraced. All of the places we chose turned out to be idyllic. See the pictures. You may agree.

As usual, we included a few pictures of notables seen along the way.

Green Turtle Bay South to Columbus, MS

This section is pretty and unremarkable at the same time. Kentucky Lake is fairly wide but a channel must be followed. The was formed by flooding behind the downriver dam. The channel is actually the old Tennessee River bed. We spent the first night in a quiet cove (Panther Bay) alone, no other boaters. It is a mystery to us how few boaters are willing to anchor out; rather they hop from marina to marina. The next stop was a marina, of course. We spent three nights at Pebble Isle waiting out bad weather. No town at all but we used the courtesy car to go to a hardware store and to get a haircut.WolfIsland1

Paducah to Kentucky Lake

From Paducah we continued up the Ohio River to where the Cumberland River empties into the Ohio. The Cumberland took us about 20 miles to Kentucky Lake after transiting a lock. Kentucky Lake is part of the Tennessee Valley Administration (TVA) systems of locks and dams which form a waterway that enables to get to the Gulf of Mexico without having to transit the Mississippi. Each lock and dam is a hydro-electricity generating plant. The Cumberland was delightful, a sunny day, very rural, winding, and scenic. Our overnight destination was the Green Turtle Bay Marina on Kentucky Lake. But, after transiting the lock from the Cumberland River to Kentucky Lake the weather turned nasty. The winds were from the south, a long fetch unimpeded up the lake which translated into three-foot waves. For our boat three-foot waves on the bow are not particularly uncomfortable although we did take some water over the bow. As soon as we turned west into the channel leading to the marina, the wind virtually disappeared. The pictures are some of we saw along the way.