Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 2-341 in Biloxi, MS where we are supposed to be relaxing???

    What is the first picture on a day of rest and relaxation? Evidently the Admiral was up early since I found this picture on my camera...  Well, by now you know that I did not take a sunrise picture when I was in fact sound asleep. This beautiful sunrise is a little misleading if you believe the old adage of "red sky in the morning, sailors take warning" since the weather was quite nice all day.
     When I "finally" got up at 9:00 am, the Admiral had left to take the city bus to go grocery shopping, and I spent the rest of the morning working on the blog.

      Like most marinas around here, the boats are a mix of charter fishing boats and pleasure craft. Several of the charter boats are 75+ feet long and carry  6 or 8 -16 foot long Boston Whaler type fishing boats on their flybridge. So, I guess that the mother ship is for transport while the small boats fish the flats (shallow waters) around the barrier islands. The Golden Nugget (upper left) is in the background.

     We had lunch on board followed by a quick nap for me since Aggie Football was on TV at 2:30 pm. Well, I should have just stayed asleep.... The Aggies did not "show up" for the game. They played the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Aggie offense, which had been ripping off yardage all season at a rate of 500 to 600 yards a game, but they managed only 160 yards for the game. The final score as an embarrassing 52-0. Like I have said before, you never know which Aggie Team is going to show up...
    Well, it was "tough love", but we did watch the whole game. At least the Admiral enjoyed the Kettle Corn popcorn that she had bought especially for the game. For dinner we had planned to go to one of the restaurants in the Golden Nugget, which turned out to be a good idea to help forget the miserable football game. We had a lovely view of the waterfront at dinner (picture at right), and we even managed to have a relatively quiet dinner away from the gambling, which is hard to do. I had a grilled shrimp and flounder combo that was quite good, and it certainly helped to improve my mood. Cameras are frowned upon in casinos since not all of the couples are married ( or at least married to each other). So, I kind of hid the camera when taking this picture...
      After dinner, we had to walk through the casino, of course, to reach the exit. The Admiral announced that she was feeling lucky. Indeed she was! In a relatively short period she almost doubled her money at roulette. THEN, in a really amazing move, she cashed out and was ready to leave. Well, she certainly helped to brighten an otherwise  disastrous day.
      We got back to Lucky Us in time to watch a beautiful sunset over Mississippi Sound. The picture at the left shows the sunset just starting. The view shows some pelicans and the new Gold Burgee now proudly flying on the bow of Lucky Us.

 The last picture shows the actual sunset in progress. All in all, the dinner, casino and sunset really helped to end an otherwise disastrous (football) day on a definite upbeat note...

     Just as a side note, we know that the Aggies cannot lose next weekend (they don't play)...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Day 2-340 We cross our wake in Mobile Bay

     We had planned to spend two nights at Dog River Marina, but the weather was so beautiful that we decided to take advantage of the weather and go for it... Go for it we did! Besides, the excitement of crossing our wake was WAY too much!
      We easily adapted to get back to checking the tides before departing, and found that we would be riding a falling (out going) tide for 3.5 hours after we left the Dog River Marina, and then later in the day we would probably be going into the current as we approached our destination at Biloxi, MS. We also continued to enjoy seeing many pelicans and cormorants, and the Admiral was back in form telling me not to go too close to the markers so that I wouldn't "scare" the birds. Evidently it scares her more than the birds. Well, in all honesty I did hit one once but that was a different matter...
     We also saw the familiar shrimp boats with their ever present flotilla of (mainly) sea gulls and pelicans. Pure greed in action...

      For the first 6 miles we retraced our path from yesterday east back out to the Mobile Ship Channel and headed south to the Intra Coastal Waterway. Once we were in the ship channel we were passed by what looked like a new car carrier (ship). It was not until the ship passed us that we could actually see that the cargo was railroad cars. It looked like there were 7 tracks on each of two decks. Judging from the modest length of the carrier, my guess was that there were about 10 cars in each row or about 140 cars in all. Anyway, this was definitely a first for us...

      We went south in the Mobile Ship Channel for about 12 miles before turning to the west to head toward the Intra Coastal Waterway. About 3 miles later MAGIC HAPPENED! We crossed our wake to complete America's Great Loop. We slowed the boat to idle speed and took the remote control for the auto-pilot with us down to the bow of Lucky Us. The picture of me (below, left) shows me with the original America's Great Loop Cruising Association (white, for Loop in progress) burgee that has flown on the bow since we began the Loop on May 31, 2013. It has gotten very faded, but the tear is a recent addition. At the rate that it was finally falling apart, it is a good thing that we crossed our wake...
     No single photograph nor indeed a few words can hardly express the feeling of actually having completed the Loop. So, I won't really try, but here are a few numbers:
1. travel from League City, TX to start the Loop = 572 miles
2. Our trip around the Loop including side trips like the St. Johns River in Florida, going up the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. and going to the Thousand Islands = 6,330 miles
3. Our estimate of the distance to return home is 535 miles (slightly different route) = 535 miles.

For the whole trip our estimate is a Grand Total = 7,437 miles.

The picture at the left shows the Admiral with our new gold burgee that signifies "Loop Completed".

   Also, our best estimate of the number of days is about 355 days (plus additional time on the boat in Wilmington, NC where we left Lucky Us for the winter. ...and every minute, mile, etc. has been well worth it!
      Back to reality, since we still had about 53 miles to go across Mississippi Sound to our destination of Biloxi, Mississippi for today. The clear skies continued, but a westerly breeze of about 12 mph came up for the afternoon. We passed one tow in the ICW, and we also passed a USCG Buoy Tender that was replacing one of the channel markers. Otherwise, the rest of the trip was very nice but uneventful or perhaps when compared to the Wake Crossing, it just seemed ordinary.
   So, there you have it! We have closed the Loop by crossing our wake, but the trip and the blog will continue for 2+ weeks as we travel home at a "leisurely" pace.
     In Biloxi we are staying at the Point Cadet Marina, which is owned by the City of Biloxi, and it is between the Golden Nugget Casino and Resort and the water (Mississippi Sound). The picture at the left shows the marina as we approach from the south. We went to Bubba Gump's in the casino for dinner, and of course, the designated gambler (aka the Admiral) did spend a few minutes playing the slots on the way out. You gotta love those casinos... You cannot even go from the front door to the front desk without going across the casino. They do not miss a bet when it comes to giving you opportunities to spend money.
       The marina office is on the third (top) floor of the building that also houses the bathroom and laundry. It has a commanding view of the marina and also Mississippi Sound in the background. Lucky Us is at the end of the pier in the middle. We are on the outside of the T-head so we were a little expose to wakes coming in through the entrance on the right.

     Who knows? A lot of people cross their wakes and just keep on going to other adventures...

Day 2-339 to Dog River Marina on Mobile Bay

     What else would I use for the first picture of the day? Yes, another sunrise photo... We had a wonderful peaceful night at the anchorage, which was over a half mile away from the Tombigbee Waterway and any tows that might make waves. Just like the sunset picture yesterday, the sky was blue and cloudless. You can also see some steam rising from the warm water in the cool morning air.
      We had kind of gotten into a routine of having a lock just a couple of miles after departing each morning. Now we have passed the last lock so today we only have 5 bridges with only one being low enough to require it to open. Fortunately, the CSX railroad bridge was in the up position for another boat so we passed right through. Our trip today was 57.1 miles with over 43 of those miles being in the relatively swampy delta of the Tombigbee River before it enters the north end of Mobile Bay at Mobile, Alabama.
     In my "infinite wisdom" I had suggested to the Admiral that when we got to Mobile it would be fun to go past the battleship USS Alabama. Sure enough there is an alternate route that would take us very close to the battleship. The photo at the left shows her in all her splendor. We got close enough that this is one of the few pictures in which you can see the entire ship.  
    The grounds on the shore at this sight also contain an impressive array of other ships and planes, including this submarine. As you can see in the pictures so far, the sky was very blue and virtually cloudless. Okay, are you ready for the "but"? You have to figure that if they got a battleship into here that there must be a deep water channel here. Well, if there is, then we never found it...
     There was a channel where we had to take a sharp turn of about 90 degrees to the west  to enter into the Mobile Ship Channel. The problem was that the channel was full of barges, and we soon ran aground in soft mud. It was a slow process of backing up to get free and then trying a slightly different route. We kept running aground, but each time we ended up a little closer to the barges that blocked the channel. The brown patch in the middle of the photo is one of several that we churned up.
     Finally we reached the barges and found enough water to slowly creep westward toward the main ship channel. Here is a picture of our audience during this adventure in the mud. The empty barges were just covered with seagulls who did not seem at all bothered by our presence. We had come alongside the barges and were turning to go past the end of the barges where the chart showed slightly deeper water.
       Once we were in the deep water of the shipping channel, I could finally relax, and it turns out that there was plenty to see. The downtown area of Mobile is in the center of the photo at left. There was a terminal for container ships on the right as well as several large shipyards. Having driven through Mobile many times on Interstate 10, you really do not see the port area since you drive through a tunnel under the shipping channel. 
      In the picture above we are actually headed away from the city and out into mobile bay just to the south. I find it ironic that NOW we go passed a dredge working in the channel...
     The ship in the background is an (abandoned?) former Navy research vessel that looks like it should be headed to the grave yard soon. Just beyond the ship is a little spit of land and then we were actually in Mobile Bay.
     I suppose we had been too busy to notice, but all of a sudden it seemed like there were pelicans and dolphins everywhere. Yup, welcome back to the Gulf Coast. Suddenly, both the Admiral and I felt like we were sort of back home.
Once we entered Mobile Bay we were about 15 miles from our destination. About half of the distance was going south in the bay and about half in a side channel that headed west to Dog River.  
     Our destination was the Dog River Marina which is about 0.2 miles past this highway bridge over the mouth of the river. The river is a pretty setting, but unfortunately, all three waterfront restaurants were across the river. Fortunately, we were able to borrow the marina courtesy car  (although only for one hour instead of the normal two hours that they usually allow) to drive to dinner. We arrived at the marina just after 2 pm. It seemed strange, but I remembered to ask the Dockmaster about the tidal range here. Yup, for sure we are back in salt water with tides, etc., and we have to allow for the tides when we are moored to fixed docks.
"What's next for us?" Well, even if you did not ask yourself that question, I am going to answer it for you. In May, 2013 we officially started the Great Loop when we entered the Mobile Ship Channel, and in a few miles after we leave Dog River Marina, we will reach that same point and officially "cross our wake" to complete the Great Loop. Our plans are to stay two nights at the Dog River Marina so there will be a short wait, but stay tuned for the "Big Announcement"...

Day 2-338 to a beautiful, serene anchorage

      The picture at the right shows the dock at Bobby's Fish Camp with the houseboat ("Semper Fidelis") that had shared the dock with us last night. In the background you can see a partially sunk cruiser and some steam rising off the warm water in the cool morning air. Our only lock for the day was the Coffeeville Lock and Dam just 2.2 miles down river. The Lockmaster was most helpful when the Admiral called ahead and told us when he would be ready for us after locking through a tow. Since we had "extra" time, we actually watched the AIS and could see the icon for the tow on the chartplotter. We watched as the tow moved into the lock chamber and could also see it move out about 20 minutes later. I suppose that this is the modern, hi-tech version of "watching paint dry", but it was interesting to see how accurate the AIS system really was.
      Then it was time to depart from Bobby's and head the 2.2 miles to the lock as the lock chamber was filled with water. In the right center of the picture at the right, you can see one of the cabins that were available for rent as well as the store/restaurant in the center. Unlike the travel trailer at the left, the permanent buildings were built well up above potential flooding.
      The Coffeeville Lock and Dam are the last on the Tombigbee Waterway. Once past there we hopefully will avoid any potential delays due to flooding from the big storms up river 2 days ago. Of course, the operative, key word is "hopefully". However, that's our plan and we are sticking to it. The picture at the right was taken from Lucky Us moored in the lock chamber and looking back at the dam. On the center right you can see both spray and steam rising from water going over the spillway. Sure enough, the flow in the river was higher, and our speed down the river increased to between 10.2 and 11.3 mph for the day. This extra lift from the current was a very pleasant surprise for us since we had another fairly long trip of 82.9 miles planned.
     We exited the lock, which has a drop of 34 feet, about 25 minutes after we entered so it was another very efficient lock through. After we existed the lock, this was the view looking back up stream at the dam and lock. The gates in the center are partially open and water is also flowing over the spillway at the fixed portion of the dam on the right. Like I said above, lots of water being discharged resulting in higher current...

     Once again, the scenery today was mainly treed river banks with occasional outcrops such as in the picture at the right. Our trip for today had to end at an anchorage since the next marinas that could fit us were an additional 55+ miles downstream. We are only a few days from the Autumnal Equinox, and with occasional morning fog our travel days are getting shorter. The anchorage will give us an excellent chance to test our new house battery bank and power inverter.
     Well, the Admiral out did herself! The anchorage was an absolutely beautiful setting. The picture at the left was taken from the aft deck just before sunset. The air was still, and the river current held us quite steady. The anchorage is about 25 "river miles" above Mobile, Alabama. The Tombigbee has formed a delta at the north (up stream) end of the Mobile Bay. We actually are anchored on one of the smaller distributary streams that divide the Tombigbee up as it flows over the delta. Deltas are usually swampy, and even though we are pretty close to a large city (Mobile) it is a very unpopulated area.
     The final picture for today was taken up stream over the bow of Lucky Us. The sun has just set behind the trees, and the sky is so clear that there are literally no clouds to enhance the sunset... Like that is really something to complain about - NOT!
One final note: We are now below the final lock and only about 25 "river miles" above Mobile Bay. Thus, we are back into waters that are subject to tides. The tidal range at our anchorage was normally less than 1 foot, and the water was still fresh water. However, we are getting close to our familiar cruising grounds along the Gulf Coast...

Day 2-337 to Bobby's Fish Camp

     The Admiral called the Demopolis Lock and Dam at about 6:30 am, and they said that there would be a 40 minute wait to finish a down bound lock and chamber re-fill. So, we had a slow start, but the lock is 3.0 miles down stream which takes about 20 minutes anyway. Thus, instead of leaving the dock at 7:20 am, we left at 7:10 am. Big deal! In the overall scheme of things we were more or less right on schedule. We passed through the gates to enter the Demopolis Dam at 7:30 am (picture at right). The lock has a drop of 40 feet with a nice view until you get down far enough that all you see is the lock walls...
      There seemed to be a lot of water passing over and through the dam (picture at left). There also seemed to be remnants of an older dam as the water went over two "drops". The picture was taken after we were tied up to the floating bollard in the lock chamber. Yes, there was steam rising off the warmer water in the cool morning air. The view is more or less to the northwest. The clouds on the left were moving to the right (or northeast), and we hoped that this was one of the last waves of clouds following the cold front that had come through last night.

     The lock through was very efficient, and we passed through the gates on our way out of the lock (picture at right) a mere 21 minutes later. This was our only lock for the day. Our trip for the day was 97.3 miles to Bobby's Fish Camp, and we were off to a very smooth start. The early morning sun is low in the sky behind the dam.

     Unlike the spectacular scenery with the Selma Chalk forming the beautiful white cliffs along the river, the scenery today was much more modest. There is a sharp contrast in rock types across a line that dips steeply to the left. This may be a normal fault where the rocks on the left side have moved down relative to the rocks on the right side (?). Anyway, the rocks here were much more easily eroded by the river, and we only saw a few, scattered outcrops along the river today.
     For the remainder of the nearly 10 hour trip, the scenery was nice enough (picture at right), but it was also pretty much the same typical treed river banks that we had been passing for days. It was not a boring trip, but I guess that I found the scenery along the Tombigbee Waterway to be generally "more of the same". We did pass through some very big meanders in the river where the river curved back around itself so much that we could travel for an hour and end up only a mile or so further south. I had taught this in introductory geology for about 41 years, but it was a great perspective to actually experience this, especially at our current aided (slow) speed of 9.3 mph.
     We arrived at our destination at Bobby's Fish Camp at about 5:30 pm. When the Admiral had called to confirm our reservation earlier in the day, we were disappointed to learn that the restaurant would not be open unless there were 10 or more customers. So far, they were only expecting two other boats for the night so our hopes for a fried fish dinner were not high. The single, floating dock is about 150 feet long and parallel to the shore so it is accessible on only one side. The dock can handle 3 boats our size, and we had been warn to expect to be asked to raft boats up to 3 deep. The main "lodge" is a store and restaurant combination, which is well known for its fried catfish dinners.
     The camp is also the last fuel stop until Mobile, Alabama, which is about 150 miles down river. They also have some small cabins and a boat launch ramp for fishermen. The owner's father had built the camp over 50 years ago. It turns out that he was one of the first customers of the local Texaco distributor. Texaco had a long running yearly series of "Texaco trucks". The owner kept the ones that he was given every year so they have several shelves filled with classic old truck models. In case you are wondering, I checked, and they are not for sale...

     For dinner on board we had the Admiral's Hearty Soup with ice cream later for dessert... The marina was remote so there was no cell service or wifi, and the satellite antenna was blocked by thick trees. So, we used our back-up collection of movies that we had recorded and store on a hard drive before we left on the Loop. We watched the movie "Clue" and thoroughly enjoyed it (again). It had been another long day on the water so one movie was quite sufficient as we were headed to bed early.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Day 2-336 in Demopolis AL

     The day started out with scattered clouds, but some of them were getting pretty tall and already starting to look like thunderstorms. The chances of rain and thunderstorms was predicted to be 60% started to rise to 60% at 1:00 pm. After a leisurely start to the day, we took the courtesy car to the other (south) side of Demopolis for lunch and groceries at 11:00 am. The picture of the Admiral and me at the right shows us taking the golf cart to get the courtesy vehicle. We had very good Mexican food (taco salads) at La Fiesta Mexican restaurant and got groceries, including ice cream, at a large local super market.

     Then it was back to the boat with a nap starting at 12:50 pm.  The "white" sky in the picture above is the clouds that just kept building up and getting blacker.

      The picture at the left is of our "neighbors" in the covered slips, which are nice protection from the rain, but they are noisy in the rain and wind. As if right on cue, there was a roll of thunder and sheets of rain at 1:20 pm. The storm only lasted about 10 minutes, but it was only one of a few outliers of the main storm system, which was still about 100 miles west. Ten minutes after the storm ended the sun was back out, but the sky still looked fairly ominous... Anyway, the storm did awaken me, but it did not deter me from finishing my nap...

     The Admiral was busy with laundry and making Hearty Soup. I was busy trying to get caught up with the blogging.  It was a good thing that she had made the soup since we did not want to leave Lucky Us as the weather continued to deteriorate. The actual cold front did not pass through until after midnight as predicted, but before the front moved through, the weather was bad enough to block the satellite TV and make internet intermittent at best. Oh "poor us"...
     The final picture is from our arrival at Demopolis last evening when the sky was blue with scattered clouds. The area along the river to the left of the water tower is all park that leads up hill to the town, which was built high to avoid the frequent floods. So, that was yesterday, and our hope is that tomorrow will look like this as it clears off after the cold front passed though.
     If the weather clears, we will continue our journey south on the Tombigbee Waterway tomorrow...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Day 2-335 to Demopolis AL

      As I have said many times, this trip is the dream of a lifetime (or at least about 30 years). For example, nineteen years ago while visiting friends, Rick and Kathy G in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, they said that I must visit Demopolis, Alabama on my way driving back to Texas. Even back then, it had a statewide reputation as a prime stop for Loopers. So, I stopped at Demopolis and even stayed overnight at the motel at the marina.
      With that said, the destination for today is Demopolis, Alabama. First, we left Pickinsville Marina after the Admiral had called the Lockmaster at the Tom Bevill Lock and Dam to check the status of the lock. The news was great, as he said he would be ready when we arrived. We hurriedly left the dock at 6:30 am and went the 1.0 mile to the lock. We had to wait a few minutes for "High Maintenance" to also join us in the lock. It was only 25 mites from the time we entered to the time we existed after going down 30 feet. The interesting observation at the lock was the rather high flow both down the spillway (left side) and that some of the gates had also been lifted for extra discharge. I have mentioned before that there has been no current on the Tombigbee Waterway to this point. Standing on the flybridge taking this photo, I began to (optimistically) think that now there should be a (favorable) current. Our trip to Demopolis was 90.3 miles with two locks, and with the current our trip suddenly got shorter. The current was just about 1.2 mph, but it was enough to take over an hour off the 11+ hour running time plus the two locks.
      The second half of the trip was a geologist's delight. We passed many miles of outcrops of the Selma Chalk. It is a well layered, extremely fine grained carbonate rock. Chalk? Well, not all chalk is "blackboard" quality chalk since some of it too well cemented and therefore too strong to be used on a blackboard. Other chalks that you may have heard of are the White Cliffs of Dover in England and the Austin Chalk in Texas. Most of the chalks in the world are Cretaceous in age. In fact, the Creta in Cretaceous means chalk. The picture at the left shows a small outcrop with some nice Fall colors for contrast. The sun was bright enough that the white color was very bright.
      The picture at the right shows a "wall" of the chalk ahead at a bend in the river. I suppose that as a geologist that I might have enjoyed the scenery a bit more, but it was just plain beautiful to see...

     Our total travel time thanks to the current and quick lock transits was only 10 hours and 45 minutes. However, we were pretty tired when we arrived at Demopolis. They have built a new marina next door to the old one, and when it is finished, it will be much more upscale that the old one. However, the new marina (picture at left)  is not staffed even though it has a nice laundry, bathrooms and a lounge so you have to take a golf cart to drive about a half mile to the old office. It was when we checked in that we got the bad news... The restaurant is only open Thursday through Sundays, and guess what? Fortunately, the Admiral somehow found the strength to cook hamburgers and cut up vegetables for dinner. Not fancy, but it got the job done. The black sky in the upper right of the picture did fore shadow some rain later, but even a "little" noise was not going to keep either of us awake.
     We are going to stay another night in Demopolis since the weather forecast for tomorrow afternoon and over night is not good. The predictions are for plenty of rain and (possibly severe) thunder storms. So, we will take the day off and hopefully rest up.