We made it!

img_1523-2We finally made it to Florida!

After our sojourn in Fairhope, we sailed southward on Mobile Bay, to finally enter the Gulf Intra Coastal Waterway (GICW).

We spent two nights at The Wharf in Orange Beach. The Wharf is a huge resort, complete with condos, shops, entertainment centre, boats and built for vacationing. We caught up with Exhale and partook of food, drink and good company.

Rick and Mary took us to see the Gulf of Mexico, at Orange Beach, still in Alabama – our first sighting since commencing the loop.

After our last supper of spaghetti bolognaise and key lime pie, Exhale and Bushranger again parted company – Bushranger heading eastwards.

Today we set sail for Pensacola, Florida. We had a brilliant day of calm, blue waters and clear skies. We had the waterway to ourselves. We sailed past brightly painted homes, weird sailing craft and pirate coves. I kept a lookout for tall ships! We sailed past forts of a bygone era with cannon pointed to the high seas. Dolphins accompanied us, pelicans dive bombed and still I saw no alligators!

Now we safely reside in Pensacola. We went for an exploratory walk around downtown and the historic area. What a quaint place! Pensacola is rich in history: Spanish, French, English, Confederate and USA histories. This is a piece of land richly contested over the last 500 years. Homes and commercial properties have been preserved to give an authentic experience of life in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Above is an early 20th century first truck and the alleyway is in the Seville District, connecting old buildings and leading to cool brick courtyards with fountains. Very atmospheric! Nice, very nice!

Such is Life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A town called Fairhope

Fairhope is a little gem on the eastern shores of Mobile Bay. We only intended to stay three nights but the weather turned nasty so we stayed an extra night. 

Fairhope is not a bad place to have a layover. Mind you – it is expensive! Mark had his iPad fixed after shattering the glass on the flybridge and we then ended up buying two new US phones. The quaint town is easily walkable with pretty little shops and colourful flowers lining the streets and squares. There is a French Quarter and a lovely pier to watch sunsets.

Bushranger is currently berthed at the Fairhope Yacht Club. It has a beautiful clubhouse (picture above) which arose from the ashes of Hurricane Katrina. Each evening we enjoy sundowners on the southern-style porch in rocking chairs, soaking up the ambiance. We ‘discovered’ a rustic restaurant on Fly Creek, quite literally 200 metres from our berth, which serves the best Bouillabaisse.

We are ready to move on tomorrow, to head down the eastern shores of Mobile Bay to The Wharf Marina on the Gulf Shores. This is on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Hoping for no wind and calm waters, but that will be up to the weather gods.

Oh! And did I mention… we made it to the Mardi Gras Museum in Mobile. We had our own docent showing us a whole lot of bling, mentioning mystic societies (hush-hush) and endless wealth. These Southerners sure know how to party!

Such is Life!

Mobile – You’re my kind of town…

Where do I start?

We left our Three Rivers anchorage in fog. We sailed in convoy. We sailed under bridges. We passed tows. We at last entered Mobile Bay. We hit the big smoke.

We moored at the Convention Centre – right on the edge of Dauphin Street, the main street of Mobile. A most marvelous location for exploration! Along with Rick and Mary from Exhale we trod the streets of Mobile on a glorious autumn day. We visited museums and cathedrals; parks named Spanish Plaza, Cathedral Square and Bienville Square. We ate luncheon at A Spot of Tea and dined on the causeway at The Blue Gill (oysters to die for). Mary and I discovered the cultural side of Mobile: the Masonic Temple which has been converted into a playhouse; the Sanger Theatre where we had a sneak look from the stage into the audience; visited the Police Museum and had a very entertaining and informative talk with a Police sergeant. And whilst the boys had a little siesta back on board, Mary and I explored the History Museum of Mobile –  very interesting presentations with many hidden gems. It was an absolutely delightful way to spend a lazy Sunday.

And for those who didn’t know, the Mardi Gras was first staged right here in Mobile. All throughout the city are reminders of the history and pageantry of Mardi Gras. We saw the Mardi Gras Museum, but alas, it was closed on Sunday.

What a great time we had in Mobile! It is historic, cultural, a little bit old world, a little bit modern. The mix is just right. As they say here “ welcome very day with an enduring passion and a little soulful hospitality, because life is the ultimate gift”.

Such is Life!

 

Looper insights

Today’s blog entry is about Looper camaraderie and a sense of belonging.

We left Demopolis Wednesday with two other boats, Exhale and Recess. We exited the lock at Demopolis with Bushranger in the rear, being the slowest boat. We lost sight of the others for most of the day, not expecting to meet up with them again. Coincidently and most fortunately we chose to drop anchor in the same small but incredibly beautiful and peaceful Bashi Creek. The creek is very narrow. Exhale coaxed us in, inviting us to use their bow as our stern anchor and helped secure Bushranger.

In turn, they asked for help in getting their dog ashore for a poop run. We easily deployed the dingy and Mark enjoyed the jaunt. We and the crew off Recess were invited for drinks and nibbles. Much banter and laughter ensued. New friends were made. Wisdom and knowledge exchanged. We parted promising to leave early the next morning in convoy to our next designated spot – Bobby’s Fish Camp.

Bushranger and Exhale left the idyllic stopover at 8.00am. We both sighted deer at the creek’s edge and Exhale sighted an alligator. Our next rendezvous was only three hours away. Exhale took the lead and moored first to the dock. They signaled for us to come in and helped with securing our lines. Recess came in next, rafting up to us. Later a fourth boat moored at the dock – a lone sailor with his dog. Already enjoying terra firma was Steve, an Englishman in a kayak, undertaking the loop for charity. All meeting on the dock, all with good humour, all willing to help each other in any way possible.

We hosted docktails aboard Bushranger. Everyone was keen to come and have a look at the old girl. We had  drinks and nibbles on the flybridge before conducting tours. The group of eight then went to Bobby’s Fish Camp for a meal of catfish, Southern style. We had an uproariously good time. During the meal we teased each other, complimented each other, supported each other, encouraged each other. Two boats are just about to finish the Loop – cross their wake; one is only going as far as Florida; the kayaker is half way; and we have only just begun. Yet all feel a real sense of belonging, of having each other’s back. It is a comforting feeling.

Oh, and did I mention my baking skills? One loaf of bread was fed to the alligators; the other was devoured at docktails. 

And the almond biscuits went down a treat. I am one happy baker and I left one happy kayaker!

 Such is Life

Bushranger’s thoughts

We have been underway for a bit more than a week. I was delayed for a day or so due to some medical problem. I didn’t know I had a problem but Dr Terry the mechanic found it. Something to do with a turbo getting clogged. I don’t know what they did – turbo bypass surgery? Turbo Pacemaker? Anyway I feel as good as ever and have settled into the routine of long passages with flawless service to the owners.

I detected some concern from the skipper about our program. I am keen to get on down to Florida and get that lovely salty warmth around my bum, but apparently there has been a hurricane called Michael that has made a mess of our route. We have slowed our passage south to await news of the state of the waterways across the southern panhandle.

Some of you will know this is not my first time. But it is the crew’s first time. How many times do you have to tell new crew “don’t sail to a schedule”? The skipper had it all worked out from Mississippi to Florida, day by day, anchorage and marina, fuel, water, pump out (don’t ask, it is my least favourite function), nice ports, restaurants – everything. But did he plan for Michael? Noooooooooo!

Rumour in the scuppers is that we might not attempt Florida this time around. The Captain is studying reports about the waterways and may decide to not venture east of Mobile Bay which is in Alabama. I’m OK with that since he has already dragged me through the dirt once on this trip and I don’t want any repeats – even if they are from hurricane damage.

Time will tell. I find myself in a pretty good place. Comfortable, polished and pampered, looked after (but not consulted enough), surrounded by other boats with the same problem and happy to fit into any plan that happens from here.

Such is Life!

A day underway

The day started

The ever changing scenery

Sailing back into Alabama

Along the way we saw a wild black pig charge out of the undergrowth for a drink at the water’s edge. Near the white cliffs we saw two fawns frolicking along the river bank. Blue herons and white cranes soar and dive. Canadian geese honk.

Now the day is finishing and we are safely berthed at Demopolis.

Such is Life!

Safe and snug

To those who have enquired as to our safety with the hurricanes rampaging Florida and the East Coast, we are safe and snug. The storms and wet weather have not reached us in our travels. We had one day of showers, yesterday, which was perfect timing as we stayed in Columbus for some sightseeing. We borrowed the marina’s courtesy car and drove into Main Street, Columbus – the historic part of town. We had a delightful tour of the home of Tennessee Williams before lunching in a cute ‘pie’ shop. We walked a part of Catfish Alley – home to Mississippi Blues music.

Last night we experienced our first docktails – a gathering of boaters to share convivial chatter, wisdom and food. We met some lovely people who we hope to ‘bump’ into again on the waterway. Our boating neighbours gave me a bunch of fresh basil, and another neighbour gave me a much needed scourer – for cleaning my fenders.

We set sail at 7.00am today to negotiate the first lock with three other boats. We stayed in company with one of the boats, as he motors as slowly as we do! The river is beautiful with graceful ‘S’ turns, meandering back and forth into Mississippi and Alabama. The state border is not delineated by the river, but rather a straight line. Some of the time I don’t know which state I am in! But the scenery is bucolic and the river flows with a steady rhythm. Sunlight danced on the water producing sparkling diamonds. Garlands of mauve water lilies floated by. Trees stretched their limbs to the waters edge. And through it all I kept alligator watch. Yep! We are sailing in ‘gator waters. I am looking out for their beady little eyes.

Tonight we are safe and snug in a very picturesque cove. We tootled around in our dinghy before sunset. I wondered if alligators jump – the water level is close. Still, it was fun to explore our little piece of paradise.

Another day awaits…

Such is Life!

It had to happen…

Yes… today we ran aground! It was actually a gentle kiss that remained a hug until a small cabin cruiser hauled us free. But let me give you the full picture.

We left Fulton at 7.00am, locking down easily through the first lock with two other boats. As we approached Amory Lock we were told by the lockmaster we would be delayed for a tow barge locking up. No problem, except the wind cut strongly at right angles to the lock and its approach. Still no problem keeping in a holding pattern. As the tow emerged he could not get out of the lock due to the strong wind. The captain of the barge and lockmaster requested the three pleasure craft to go to the windward side of the barge and move out of the channel, to allow the barge a huge amount of room to negotiate steerage in the wind. Still no problem as there was plenty of depth… except for one little area and we found it. Mud bottom and no speed so no damage, just stuck! The small cabin cruiser came to our rescue and towed us clear. We resumed our travels.

And so now we are snug in a berth at Columbus Marina, enjoying a sensational sunset.

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Such is Life!

Farewell to friends

This morning, at 6.30am, we farewelled Summer Wind and Water Music, signing off over the radio.

We set sail at 8.30am, locking down in the first of three locks for the day at 9.00am. Whitten Lock is quite deep and provided some amusement. In the lock, Bushranger is tied up midships with one rope attached to a moving bollard. I took up my position  at the stern, fending Bushranger off the lock wall. As we descended a breach in the wall created a ‘little’ waterfall… just where I was required to stand to fend off. I couldn’t abandon my post! At first I was not amused, then reasoned as it was so hot, I would enjoy a little cool-down.

Through two more locks and we reached our destination for the day – Midway Marina at Fulton, Mississippi. We were met by our Mississippian friends, Sonny and Eileen. They drove us on a tour of Fulton and we had a delicious and enjoyable Japanese lunch. After a quick stop for supplies, they drove us back to our slip.

Our boating adventure is not just about boating, but the people we meet along the AFFF62C3-645C-4C12-89DB-603092EF5D8C
way. We have been enriched by having met Sonny and Eileen.

Such is Life!

We’re Off

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Today we set our sights on new horizons. Mark attached our American Great Loop Cruising Association (AGLCA) burgee to our bow. We set sail at 8.00am in the company of Summer Wind (Gregg and Carol) and Water Music (Bob and Renae). We bade farewell to Aqua Marina, Bushranger’s home for the last 18 months, fully stocked, engine checked, fueled and watered for the next leg.

We sailed off in a clear and glassy morning, via Yellow River to the entranceway of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. What a mighty feat of the Army Corp of Engineers! Locally known as “The Ditch”, the Tenn-Tom is an essential ‘canal’ which provides the water route from the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico via the states of Mississippi and Alabama for commercial barges and pleasure craft. We had been told it is just a service canal, but I beg to differ. The foliage is beautiful and the going is easy. Many kinds of birdlife are present. We sailed an easy 38 miles to Bay Springs Marina located on the lake created by Whitten Lock. The lake is gorgeous. The water is green and clear with tree-studded coves and small beaches dotted sporadically. As we sailed to the marina, there was not a breath of air to move the listless foliage or produce a ripple on the water. The heat was oppressive. The air was heavy with humidity as we docked. This is Mississippi!

As Mark tinkered, I dozed – couldn’t do anything else. There is no respite from the heat and humidity, not even at night. Fall is late in coming.

We spent a very pleasurable evening on board Summer Wind, where we dined for the last time with our good friends. Tomorrow they head north, from whence we came, and we head south – to new horizons. We take very happy memories with us, and the promise of more to come.

Such is Life!