Going Where the Wind Blows

So, this past week we left the dock at LaBelle and proceeded to travel through the Okeechobee Waterway, and crossed big Lake O.

 

It was quite the adventure…we anchored out in the waterway and central Florida countryside for 2 nights.  We could enjoy watching birds, manatees and a few alligators, until the sun went down: then the mosquitoes attacked!  We had to put in screens everywhere, and actually slept really well. The water was calm and there were not many boats to bother us.

One afternoon Bob went up the mast in the “Bosun’s Chair” that I cranked to raise him! He successfully changed batteries in our weather station. It is so important and helpful to know the wind speed and temps at any given time, as it helps us make decisions for the next step. 

Monday we arrived in Stuart, Florida.  It is an interesting spot, still part of the waterway, but opens to a big estuary and river.  There is an excellent marina here, and decided to stay for a week after a few weeks of “roughing it”. We are always aware that places such as this can easily become a “vortex” that holds you longer than is practical! So, we have enjoyed some fine dining on their patio, use of laundry and wonderful showers, walking in the waterfront area of town, and fixed up a few things on the boat. We feel refreshed and ready to “head out there!” Where, we do not have a solid plan so far, but are leaning towards going north on the Intracoastal Waterway to explore the East Coast of Florida for a while. If we get too chilly we will turn around!

 

 

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EXACTLY One Year Later…

So much fun and adventure in the past year: Sailing the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida west coast Intracoastal waterway, visiting the kids in the Ft. Myers area for the holidays a year ago, exploring around Boca Chica & Key West, traveling up the Caloosahatchee River & storing the boat in central Florida, and spending the summer at the lake. We were able to see lots of family and make new friends there. This Fall, we went to get the boat, and along the way were able to visit Harlan, as well as volunteer in Panama City with Operation Blessing and an amazing crew of people. Finally, we were able to spend a few days with “the kids” in Ft. Myers before the holidays.  Wow! ! I feel immeasurably blessed To be living this life and have all of the wonderful people we have in our lives. 

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Naples, Florida
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With Gary at Operation Blessing HQ: Panama City
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At Florida Gulf Coast University: SO proud of these two!

Currently, we are in LaBelle, Florida, after getting the boat cleaned up and ready. We spent the past week at The Glades storage facility and boatyard.  Yesterday was our first day back in the water after we “splashed” at The Glades.  Today,  I am at an amazing little coffee shop a block from the LaBelle City Marina, enjoying a cafe au lait, a cinnamon roll and free wifi!  As we get prepped to leave here we will put the sails on, fill the water tank, buy groceries, do laundry, and plan the next steps.  The plan currently is to head east through Lake Okeechobee to the east coast of Florida, spend time around the southeast coast of Florida (West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami) and hopefully see the kids over the holidays, while making our plan to cross to the Bahamas.  It will take weeks or months to plan the right day to go:  it is ALL dependent on a safe weather window to cross the Gulf Stream the 60 or so miles to the Bahamas. That is the loose plan anyway!

Stay tuned…More to come!

 

Off the Rivers, in the Gulf

We are living the Salt Life…We finished the Tom-Bigbee Waterway, which led to Mobile, Alabama-traversing over 800 miles and 18 locks since St. Louis. Our last couple of days on the rivers were beautiful, with foggy mornings. I had to post out on the bow to watch for barges!

We entered and crossed the HUGE and CHOPPY Mobile Bay and had some great days anchoring at Fairhope, AL and Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, FL. We rested and recuperated at Naval Air Station Pensacola, which has a full marina for military personnel, and a wonderful Navy Lodge ON the private sugar sand beaches of the Intercoastal Waterway. It is so exciting to see parts of the country we have never seen, and from the water, it is such an interesting perspective.

We left the boat and drove to Ft. Myers to spend Thanksgiving week with the kids. Now, we are back in Pensacola, ready to continue the adventure! Bonus* we were able to rendezvous with friends from waaaay back to Army days in Germany! We were best man and maid of honor in their wedding 25 years ago on Thanksgiving weekend! How cool is that? Let the record show that we won Trivial Pursuit this time…

Sweet Home Alabama

So…Alabama is gorgeous!

We have been back on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway for a week since taking a weeklong break to see the kids in Florida. We had been on the boat exclusively from Sept 10-Oct 22; every night, every meal. It was time for a break, and we had a fabulous time! We docked the boat in Columbus, MS. We rented a car, and first stopped in Tallahassee to see our friend Krista. We were “base housing” neighbors back at McClellan in the mid-90s! Those are ties that bind, and I am so thankful for her friendship. Yay social media; we found each other! We had a blast, with lots of laughs!

When then got to see Harlan in Bradenton, and stayed two nights. It was great to catch up with him. Then, on to Family Weekend with Katie and Michael. They are doing so well at school, navigating all that goes along with adulting! One of the hardest things is not always having cell service or the ability to have a hotspot on the rivers. Despite that, they have both risen to that challenge and have figured some tough things out without being able to always reach us. Good lessons in the long run, I am convinced!

I wanted to post an example of the maps we follow- these show us what mile marker we are at, upcoming hazards, and bridge/power line heights. We have a 46′ mast, so always watching out for that! Everything south of St. Louis is at least 50′, so we did not have to remove our mast. The “loopers” are not sure about us, since every other sailboat needs to remove (“step”) their mast to get under bridges around Chicago. They wonder why we have our mast, until we explain we started in STL. It is all very interesting and keeps us on our toes!

Currently, we are in Demopolis, AL. It is a small town of 7,000, but it and the marina have everything we need, including nice laundry, shower and pool facilities! Here is a picture of our dock and some of the boats.

We have met so many different people along the way…people help each other out! Another boater offered to drive us to the store last night. Everyone “pays it forward” and works together. Other examples: I helped tie off the lines for an incoming boat, and another couple gave us some extra ice. We meet tonight at 4 pm for “docktails”, a time in which we have snacks, a beverage, and talk about a plan for departure tomorrow. If we leave as a group, we help keep the lock master from having us go through separately or having delays for either us or the barges. We try not to tick off the people working for a living out here!

We now about 200 miles until we reach Mobile, AL and the Gulf of Mexico. Ready to smell the salt air!

In the great state of Mississippi-wait! Tennessee…now: Mississippi

We have had a wonderful stay on the border. Every time we go somewhere we cross it again! The best memories are always food-the Cajun food truck and the Memphis style BBQ! We also have run into friends from recent river travels as well as meeting new ones.

We started our latest journey from the Ohio River, to Kentucky’s big lake, to the Tennessee River, traveling “upstream” since leaving the Mississippi after Cairo. Now, we are at a momentous change as we begin to go with the current towards Mobile, AL on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway! We will be a speedy 5 or 6 knots as opposed to 1-3.

So to answer a couple of questions: #1 is about locks. “What are they, and what do they do?” The purpose of a lock and dam is to “maintain a pool of water for commercial vessels to travel”, which we learned touring the big Melvin Price Lock and Dam at Alton. There, they work to maintain a 9 foot pool. I always thought it primarily was about flood control, but as in most things, it is about the $$$! So, we have seen the business side of the river system, specifically all the coal needed for electricity. I no longer think of it as “clean” energy, but I do respect all the hard work to keep things going.

This is the huge Kentucky Lock and Dam, basically think of it as a big bathtub that needs to be filled so we can proceed. We rose the height of that wall, and behind it is 55 feet of water! I can best describe it as stressful but amazing to see the engineering up close and powerful.

In contrast, here is the older and smaller Lock 52 on the Ohio River. We are with 4 other boats- wonderful people we continually say goodbye and hello to again a few days later! Same concept (filling bathtub) but on a smaller scale.

Question #2: “How do you know where you are going?” We have chosen to use the simplest methods: A TomTom, an atlas, some free online waterway maps, and the bouy system. As for the buoy system, when going upstream (back from sea) the red stay on the right (starboard) side. Using binoculars, we note the shape rather than color. The red are called “nun” bouys, and the green are “can” bouys. I call the red ones new crayons, and the green ones broken crayons! 😂

NOW we start downstream again, as we were on the Mississippi River, and will have the green on the right. Yay! Speed! Now we will travel faster than we could run on the shoreline! So I have to end with some views. We are so enjoying this time on the rivers!

Back out after some R & R

Tomorrow we set sail once again. It rained 16 hours straight here in the Kentucky Lakes, and we got over 6 inches of rain! We think it was some effect from Hurricane Nate, but was nothing concerning. The locals said they needed it, and it made for a lazy day of cleaning and organizing for our departure.

The place we currently are is so relaxing and handy. We have a 2 block walk to groceries, ice cream and an ATM. The town is Great Rivers, and I highly recommend anyone in Illinois come visit here! The cabins at Lighthouse Landing look out onto the sunset over the lake!

We were able to meet up with other people we have met along the way, and even babysat for a couple from Chicago! They are also in a sailboat, with a 3 and 5 year old…and we think we have it hard!

All in all a wonderful respite, and we are ready to get back out on the water. We have had wonderful hospitality here in Kentucky! Here is a map of our route…follow the line to Mobile, AL. We are just south of Paducah. On average, we travel 40-60 miles per day. Slow and steady wins the race! We have had some long waits for locks, up to 4-5 hours, which I will discuss in an upcoming post. We have learned so much about the pace and commerce of the rivers. Next stop, Tennessee!

48 Hours Down

So, it feels like a lifetime…probably due to the fact that we have faced and overcome several challenges. These have included going through two large locks, replacing a frayed engine belt, anchoring x 2 in the river, and navigating 120 miles. Feeling good even though sleeping is a challenge: every time a barge goes by in the night, their wake causes our mast to rock at least 10 feet! I am trying to let that rock me back to sleep.

Pictures!

Saying goodbye to Alton Marina- time to move the Welcome Mat…

It was so fun passing by the Arch from the water. This is what our anchorage looked like in about 12′ of water. Imagine it being dark, looking north and seeing a glow from St. Louis, and hearing a barge slowing churning toward your spot on the river. Know that while this seems unsafe, it is not. We are tucked down river from a “wing dam” and to the shore side of a channel bouy.

Glorious sunsets!

Next stop: Somewhere near the confluence with the Ohio River. Stay tuned!