Saturday, October 25, 2014

Days 345-6 in N'Awlins

Day 345
      New Orleans is the city with many names, such as N'Awlins, Nawlins, Nola and The Big Easy... It is also a city where "what happens in Nawlins stays in Nawlins" not that I would know anything about that.
     We left Lucky Us here at this very scenic dock on the canal along side the park (picture at right). The shuttle bus departed from the marina (and RV park) at 10:00 or more precisely at 10:07 am. We got to the edge of the French Quarter about 20 minutes later. We had about an hour to walk around before the first movie started so we drifted toward the riverfront. We were last here in May 2013 on our way to start the Great Loop. Thus it was with mixed blessing that we looked out at the river knowing that in two days we would be crossing the river again, but this time we might not be back by boat for a while.
    We got to the Theaters at Canal Place, which is attached to the Westin Hotel on the edge of the French Quarter. We did visit several stores, but we (fortunately for me) only looked in the windows at several other stores, such as Tiffany's. "Fury" started at 11:30 am, and we had time to order our meal before the previews began. They have 7 theaters, with all over-size reclining chairs, and the Admiral can be seen seeming to enjoy sitting in luxury in the picture at the left. Everything is done with a dinner theater concept, including shared tables that rotate out. I had a rather bland Margarita pizza, but the lunch did not matter since, of course, we also ordered popcorn for "dessert" with the movie. The movie was action packed and very bloody.  After the movie, our original plan had been to wander around the French Quarter for a while, and the we would go to another movie later.

     We headed for Café du Monde for beignets and coffee to discuss our plan. Surely, no visit to New Orleans can be complete without stopping at Café du Monde even if it is in the middle of the afternoon. And there must be a technique to eating beignets without getting covered in powdered sugar, but if there is a proper way to eat them, I have yet to discover it. It seems that after walking a couple of miles that we were losing interest in another movie and arriving back late on the last shuttle. So, we decided to walk through several of the market areas and in general work our way back to catch the 4:00 pm shuttle.
      After relaxing for a bit back on board Lucky Us, we rallied enough to go to the hot tub too sooth our tired "walking" muscles. The soothing part was great, but we were both so relaxed enough that I do not know how the Admiral could muster up the energy to make dinner after we got back to the boat. I have mentioned before how nice it is to be back in the Central Time Zone where the nightly news comes on at 10:00 pm. That is true, but tonight was definitely another night that I did not see the nightly news no matter what time it might have started...

Day 346
      Finally, we actually had a low key day! I would hesitate to say restful, but it was pretty restful since I even got a nap. We went to the marina restaurant (and bar) for lunch. The marina has two channels for boats. This one seems to be for much smaller transients. The multipurpose store, office, restaurant, laundry, etc. is all in the big building at the head of this channel. The hot tub is at ground level to the left of the main building. The two story buildings are pre-fabricated complexes that consist of two lower units with an upper unit that spans the deck between the lower units.

      Two guys started all of this after hurricane Katrina in 2005, and they have steadily added more permanent units as well as additional dock and RV spaces. They even have some two story floating units. The pool deck is on the upper level of the club house, and we had not checked it out before today... Good thing because we would have been disappointed because they were only now refilling it after some repairs.

   We spent the afternoon doing the "usual" paper work, blogging and of course, napping.  And the Admiral rode her bike to the grocery store for a quick shopping spree. 

      This is a view from the stern of Lucky Us looking along the shore toward some of the waterfront 2-story units  and waterfront parking spots for large (bus like) RVs. In spite of all of the water around (and in) New Orleans, there is not a lot of waterfront living here. Many hones that boarder Lake Pontchartrain, for example, have a partial view of the lake over a high levee system. The city and actually the whole Mississippi delta is slowly sinking due to compaction of the very young sediments at the surface, and reportedly, there are parts of the city that are over 20 feet below sea level. Thus, this kind of waterfront view is pretty rare. Mind you that it is the waterfront view of a fairly commercial channel (not shown).
     Tomorrow we will be moving on westward, but our last day in town ended with a beautiful sky at sunset. A lovely ending to what is always a too short visit to Nawlins.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 2-344 to New Orleans via Lake Pontchartrain

     Ho hum! Guess what time we departed from Gulfport, Mississippi? Need a hint? The picture at the right shows yet another sunrise as we departed. As you can see, the sky was cloudless, and there is a very light breeze as can be seen from the small ripples on the water. The truth be told, we might have stayed longer in Biloxi, or Gulfport or both, but we had fairly open water crossings here. The longer term weather forecasts indicated that reaching New Orleans sooner rather than later would be in our best interests. So, here we are headed for New Orleans while the weather is still perfect...
     Our trip today was 72.6 miles with about the first 40 miles in the Mississippi Sound, and the remainder in Lake Pontchartrain. After the first 40 miles we could have turned into the GICW and taken a more protected inland route to New Orleans, which is the way that we had come on the way east last year. However, we decided to go into Lake Pontchartrain instead. Our destination was the same marina that we had stayed at last year, which is on a canal between the lake and the GICW. We did have a number of bridges before the GICW turned off to head inland to New Orleans, including these highway and railroad bridges. All of the railroad bridges today were ones that remain open unless is train is crossing so that speeded things up a bit. This picture was taken about Noon, and you can see that the wind is still only a few mph.

       You can tell that this railroad bridge is after the GICW has turned off since it is "open" but only about half way. A normal tow could not fit through that narrow opening. With a clearance of only 4 feet obviously we needed to maneuver around the bridge.

      Lake Pontchartrain is tidal with a relatively narrow opening. The current here can be strong given the size of the lake. The chart showed depths of 51 feet, which was not a surprise. However, I took this picture of the chartplotter, which had a reading of 72.8. and to that number we can add 4 feet since the depth shown is from the keel down. However, the lake is generally shallow with depths often in the range of 11 to 15 feet. We did follow the marked navigation channel just in case.. That might seem shallow, but it would provide easy access to most pleasure craft.

     We only had one bridge that required an opening to pass through between entering the lake and reaching the canal. That bridge worked very well with us to be able to pass through without having to wait. At this point we were maybe 10 miles from our destination. The Admiral does a great job of not only plotting the course, but she also checks aerial views of seemingly difficult places to maneuver, such as at locks, multiple bridges, etc. It was about at this time that I heard a rather loud "Oh no!!!".

     In the picture above, Part A. is what the chartplotter showed. Lake Pontchartrain is just off the bottom. The white area is deeper water and the two brown lines are bridges. The railroad bridge has a clearance of 4 feet, but it is left up (open) when there are no trains due. The other bridge is a bascule bridge, but it has a clearance of 40 feet in the down position. Everything is a go, or so it seemed.  Part B. When the Admiral checked the bridges on iMaps, she saw this picture which shows the channel completely blocked by a man made dike. Whoa! If this view is accurate, then we have to go back around for a distance of about 48 miles... Skip to Part D, which is the next view that she found on Google Maps, and this view agrees with the navigation chart. After a nervous call to the marina, they confirmed that there had been a temporary earthen dike, but it was now gone. The temporary dike was built so that new flood gates could be built across the channel. Panic over! Part C. shows are view after we had passed through the two bridges. At this point we are about 1/4 mile from the marina (and not 48 miles!). I am sure that some day we will see the humor in seeing the old outdated aerial view on line. All kinds of lessons learned and/or confirmed in this little "exercise"...
     We docked with no further problems and had a nice dinner in the marina restaurant. We debated going back later for a visit to the hot tub, but after a long day that debate did not last long.

     Tomorrow, we will take the marina shuttle bus to "The Big Easy" for some good old fashioned fun.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 2-343 in Gulfport, MS

       After a very (for me any way) lazy morning, we headed back to downtown Gulfport on our bikes. The park between the marina and downtown has many paths for walking, jogging and cycling as well as a number of pavilions. Everything, including the marina would appear to be post-Katrina. The structures are elevated and very sturdy looking. My guess is that this entire several block area was destroyed during Katrina and has been turned into parks, etc. to help shield the town from waves in future hurricanes. At any rate, it is now a tremendous resource for both locals and tourists.

      The picture at the left is from the edge of downtown looking back toward the marina and beach areas. The view also shows another pavilion as well as a small "forest" of 2 story white finger like structures in the marina. The marina is indeed full of these small towers that are used to elevated transformers and other equipment in the marina. The intent is to preserve these items during future large storm surges, especially during hurricanes.

     For lunch we chose an Italian restaurant about a block away from the Half Shell Oyster House where we ate last night. I had a rather strange Margarita pizza. I say strange since it had some sort of orange cheese that had been sprinkled over the crust before the (thick) crust had been pre-cooked. That cheese added a rather sour taste to what was otherwise a standard Margarita pizza... Oh well, it did not effect my nap later...
     It was a beautiful day after a cool start, and the plan for the late afternoon was to catch the heat of the day on the beach. I took the picture at the right while standing in 6 inches of very clear water about 150 feet off the shore. Obviously (?), the tide was out and the various sand bars were covered with gulls. The very shallow water was a very comfortable 85+ degrees since it had been easily heated by the sun. I walked much further out, but it never did get very deep. However, it did start to cool off dramatically as I approached more open water. So, I never did get to swim, but I did enjoy the sights.
      Those sights included a variety of sea gulls  and black skimmers that allowed me to approach as close as 20 feet or so. Sea gulls are not high on my list of favorite birds, but this was fun enough.

     The Admiral captured this great picture of skimmers in flight.

     The Admiral also took this picture of some handsome guy (me) sunning on the beach...

     It has been probably 2 months since I have spent quality time on a real beach and that was probably back in Michigan (both state and lake).

     After dinner on the boat, the Admiral got this picture of one of the pavilions, which are lighted at night. All together, the waterfront at Gulfport is quite pretty, but it is also sad that the city had to suffer a lot during hurricane Katrina to get to this point...

Day 2-342 a short trip to Gulfport, MS

      "Honey, it's a beautiful day. Let's cruise onward to Gulfport" said the Admiral. Well, it was a glorious day, and she caught me off guard. So, after a little stammering, I said "Sure, Why not? We've never been to Gulfport". ...and so it happened. Thus, so much for another day off as we went 15.5 miles west to Gulfport, Mississippi. The picture at the right shows our audience as we headed out through the breakwater at the marina. They (i.e. the sea gulls) seemed indifferent at best as we departed so maybe that was a sign of some sort (?).

      The weather was perfect with a cloudless sky and a light 7 mph breeze out of the east. We had a leisurely cruise of about 2.5 hours (dock to dock) at less than our normal cruising speed in order to enjoy the beautiful weather. One of the first sights was the Beau Rivage Casino and Resort. There are several marinas here, including the one in the foreground, that were never repaired after hurricane Katrina in 2005, but other wise, the place is quite attractive from the water.
     A short distance later, we passed the historic Biloxi lighthouse. The plantation style building to the right of the lighthouse in the picture at the right is the Chamber of Commerce Visitor's Information Center. The lighthouse is one of the few remaining cast iron lighthouses from the 19th century. It was cast in sections in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and shipped down the river system by barge. During the Civil War, it was dismantled and buried in the sand so that the "enemy" could not use it... Today, it sits in the median of a beautiful four lane divided boulevard that runs along the shoreline.
      The main shipping channel into Gulfport splits into two channels just off the shore. The one to the west is for the barges and ocean going ships while we took the smaller, eastern channel to the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor. The breakwater was lined with fishermen, which often included whole families. The marina is behind a bend to the right in the channel. The old downtown is between the marina and the tallest building toward the left in the picture. To the right (east) is a marvelous, wide sand beach that stretches all of the way back to Biloxi.

     We had not visited Gulfport when we started the Great Loop, but the marina is all quite new, i.e. definitely post-Katrina. After the usual pump out at the fuel dock, we docked successfully just in time for my "nap". Now that's timing.
     Later, we headed out to walk into downtown and tour around a bit before finding "food". The picture at the right shows a huge mural inside of, you guessed it, the Half Shell Oyster House. I did not have oysters, but I did have excellent broiled shrimp and grilled flounder.

The trip today was short, but it served a greater overall purpose. Our next destination is New Orleans, which is now "only" 72.6 miles away rather than the 88.1 miles that it was before today's trip. Today's trip also shortened the amount of time that we will spend truly in the Gulf Of Mexico before we enter the more sheltered, inland portion of the Gulf Intra Coastal Waterway where we will be until we get back to Galveston, TX.

      Well, once again it was early to bed, but tomorrow we will do some exploring around the marina.

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"...