Alabama to Port St. Joe Florida

By Monday morning, Memorial Day, we were really, really tired of the craziness. I am not sure if every weekend is like this or just holidays, but this is beyond anything we have experienced before. By 9 in the morning we had a boat pulling a water boarder off our bow, a boat pulling 3 tubes with kids on them off our starboard side, a water skier off our stern and someone just running full blast off our port side. We had already made arrangements to go into Bear Point Marina and we were anchored about a half mile from them. We called and told them we needed to come in now and we hauled up the anchor and headed in.

We like Bear Point Marina and I am not sure why. It sits right on the waterway and the wakes from passing boats that ignore the no wake signs keep all of the boats in all of the slips rolling constantly. You need to be well secured and have lots of fenders out but we still like it. The personnel are very friendly and helpful and the place is kind of funky without being run down. The restaurant now named Flipper's always has good food and the portions are huge. We have yet to be able to finish a whole meal and it is always well prepared, but most importantly, for a beach town the food is not expensive. We usually always find someone heading to the grocery store and willing to give us a ride as we did this time. Groceries, a boat wash, laundry and even almost completing a new sun awning to replace the 5th or 6th one we have worn out was accomplished in the day and a half we were there. The only thing left was to get a weather window to cross to Pt. St. Joe.

 We honestly believe the folks at the National Weather Service have totally lost it. Every day the forecast changed 3 or 4 times a day and the next day it changed 3 or 4 times a day. We could not make heads or tails of what we could expect offshore. Our plan was to move down to near the Pensacola Ship Channel on Wednesday and head out into the Gulf on Thursday morning. Because of 48 and 50 foot fixed bridges over the waterway on the east side of Pensacola, we had to go out into the Gulf at this point. On Wednesday morning the forecast had changed from the 4AM forecast to the 10AM forecast and again made no sense. So we made the decision to just leave the marina and go and just see what we had. Of course our actual conditions differed totally from the NWS forecast but we figured that at some point in the last few days they must have forecast these conditions.

Instead of the SE to south expected, we had SW at about 10 knots and this was actually good. Those conditions held until about midnight and we had about 8 hours of light but steady sailing. At just about exactly midnight the winds lightened and switched to the NW so the rest of the night was spent motor sailing. 21 hours after we turned off the Pensacola ship channel, we hit our waypoint at the Pt. St. Joe ship channel. About an hour prior we had a visit by a large school of dolphin that swam and jumped all around us for at least a half hour. The seemed truly glad to see us. By 11:30 we had the anchor down off the beach at Highland View, Florida. There is a grocery store, Dixie Dandy, right on the beach here if you needed to do some restocking. We settled in, had some breakfast and took a short nap. We woke up a short time later to find that the wind had picked up and, although not much, a nasty chop had developed so it was time to move. We didn't really want to do this but it was not comfortable and we knew of a nice FREE tie up at White City, about 10 miles away. We cover this great stop in detail in our post for this area heading westbound.

Around 3PM we were secured at the dock and getting the boat out of offshore mode. We stow things a lot better and put everything away off the decks when offshore but not necessarily so secure when we are running the inside of the waterway. Our plan is to do short 15 to 20 mile runs for the next few day, then stage ourselves to run offshore again from Carrabelle to the Florida Barge Canal near the Withlacochee River. We will spend a couple of days there visiting friends and relatives.

Gunkholing Alabama

Once again we find ourselves in a strange weather pattern. This seems to happen a lot to us wherever we are cruising. There are fronts coming down from the north and another coming up from the south and one coming in from the west and disturbances riding along all of them and all of this happening at the same time. The winds in any 24 hours is out of the southwest, west, north, northeast and south and then back to the east. So until things sort out and settle down we are hanging around the Orange Beach, Pensacola area and just gunkholing each day. Friday night we moved down behind Perdido Key in Big Lagoon and had our first serious thunderstorm of the trip. We had winds to 26 knots and lots of rain and lightening. The TV has become a valuable weather tool especially since the new digital channels from each local station have a weather channel running all of the time. We can look at the real time Doppler radar and see what is coming and when. We set a second anchor just before the storms arrived as a precaution and had no problems. We put our water catcher that is built into the hardtop to use and collected about 12 to 14 gallons of great rain water. It makes really good drinks and coffee. Unlike the Houston area which brought a black, we don’t know what, with each rain, what we caught was clear and clean.

The next morning we did some weather research, then a trip ashore to the sandy beach nearby. One thing we noticed right off were the jellyfish. Never have we seen them so prolific as we have here. There was virtually no area that was not completely covered and swimming would be absolutely impossible in Big Lagoon. Someone on the radio called it jellyfish lagoon. This is a holiday weekend, Memorial Day, and the boats are out by the hundreds. There is absolutely NO sign that gas prices are keeping people from using their boats. Quite to the contrary, many don’t seem to have any destination in mind and are very content in running up and down the waterway at full throttle all day. They are anchored all around us, tied to shore and rafted together, and many have the boats backed up to shore and tents set up on the beach. It is quite a sight to see so many folks out enjoying the weekend but it does make the anchorage pretty rolly during the day. We do not know that we have ever seen this many pleasure boats on the water at the same time in all of our years of boating. At night things quiet right down, well, except for the thunderstorms. We are not comfortable with the wind directions for travel the next few days and we do want to sail as much as possible so we will just hang out and relax and if the mood strikes do a few chores around the boat. It is also almost time for a marina stop to clean the boat, do some laundry and maybe get some groceries.

Sunday brought even more boats if that is at all possible. To say the whole thing seemed unreal is putting it mildly. We decided that we had enough of the rolling and wakes and the outboard for the dinghy was acting a bit cranky. There was no way of working on it without being thrown out of the dinghy with all of the boat wakes. Just getting it on and off the davits was a chore. We decided to head back down the waterway toward the Bear Point Marina where we plan to stay on Monday to get a few things done. We also knew there was going to be few places to anchor to escape the wakes. Perhaps Ingram Bayou would not be full since it is a tight anchorage. Once we arrived there where a bunch of boats already anchored so we headed just across the waterway toward an area with a beach and a tall stand of pine trees. Fortunately the anchor took hold since we were having problems getting it to set well in this area. Soon after we anchored a thunderstorm formed off our stern so not much work was done on the outboard but it did not do much more than rumble and lightening a bit and with very little rain. We will hit the marina in the morning and spend a night tied to the dock with power and water. It looks like maybe Wednesday might be our departure day, or Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday, well we will see.

Some Thoughts on This Leg Of Our Trip

I have been reflecting on doing this section of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway since it is now our second trip along this route. From the Galveston Bay area until reaching our current position in Orange Beach, Alabama, we saw very little in the way of pleasure craft outside of small local boats fishing. Even they were few and far between. It goes without saying that there are almost no facilities for pleasure craft, with only a couple of exceptions, so planning things like fuel and water stops must be done in advance. My point being that those considering this trip need to do some very careful preparations prior to departing along this road less traveled. The over all condition and especially the mechanical equipment on board must be in top working order, properly serviced before setting out, and well tested in advance. If something breaks you need to have spare parts on board and be able to make repairs. I am not saying that you won’t be able to get assistance, but you can not count on it to be prompt or inexpensive.
We chose an unlimited towing insurance policy through Boat US which we felt would be a good investment here. But even their unlimited towing has limitations and in some areas they are just not there. In a real emergency, repairs might be made at some of the commercial yards along your route but these are primarily for ships, tugs, supply boats and barges. Not much sailing will be done so a good engine with enough power to get you out of the way, if need be, is a must. We have found ourselves sandwiched in between several tugs with tows that were hundreds of feet long. If something goes awry you will need to do something quickly, not them. This also presents the need to be able to navigate in the same waterways they use. Anchorages at night should be chosen carefully and consideration needs to be given to the commercial traffic that runs all night, might pull over to the side of the waterway or into the same bayou in which you are anchored and that has a 200 foot tow in front of him.
Availability of weather information is also important. You are traveling the waterway in mostly protected waters but there is also some very large open bodies of water that can be problematic in bad weather. It also helps you find the right anchorages when serious weather approaches. We don’t have a lot of faith in the forecasts put out by the National Weather Service. They are wrong more than they are right, in our opinion, but you still need to acquire weather information. We use several sources and make decisions on our own experience and guesstimations and usually we are right more often. We have the ability to download weatherfax and wind and wave charts via out SSB/Ham radio. This is done through Winlink and is for only Ham operators. Sailmail sells a service very much like this for non Hams and both can send and receive emails. We do listen to NWS reports but only to determine the location of front and low and high pressure systems that will affect our weather. We also use local TV station news to get reports and get a visual of the recent radar pictures. There are virtually no places along the waterway that we have not been able to pick up local TV stations. We gather this entire information then try to formulate a plan based on what WE think is going to happen. So a good understanding of the workings of weather, the weather systems and prevailing conditions for the area you plan to travel is also important.
And finally, the creature comfort equipment you need to make the trip a pleasant one. We have gone way overboard in our years of cruising. I remember a day when I sailed to Bermuda with a compass, VHF radio, plastic sextant and a portable radio that doubled as a range finder. Today we have a HD LCDTV, satellite dish, DVD player, stereo system, WiFi adapter and more electronics than I ever dreamed of in the early years. Oh, and let’s not forget the computer I am typing all of this on. For those things, each person must make their own choices. Cruising the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama is unlike most other cruising you will do. For those who consider coastal cruising a race from one marina to the next each day, this will probably not work for them. Once you reach Orange Beach, Alabama you are back in civilization, back in the land of jet skis, sport fishing boats that have no clue as to how to safely pass another boat and small watercraft of every size and shape operated by suicidal young people that truly believe they can do whatever they want and are invulnerable. It makes you long for the remote bayous of Louisiana. Preparations, a good sound boat and well maintained equipment will make this and easy, uneventful passage. We really do enjoy making the waterway trip and prefer it hands down to running straight across the Gulf. I guess our thoughts here probably apply to most cruises, but because this is sometimes considered equivalent to the east coast ICW, we thought we might enlighten any of those that chose to follow in our wake.

Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay

With 64 miles to cover, today would be our longest run and day so far. Once out of the waterway you are in the open Mississippi Sound. The channels at that point zig and zag until you are north of Cat Island, then the trip is pretty much east. So until about 12:30 PM we motor sailed with the engine running at low RPMs to conserve fuel. At 12:30 the forecast winds of 10 to 15 from the SW kicked in and we were actually able to put up those big white pieces of cloth and, I think the term is, "sail" most of the rest of the day. It was really a good sail for the first time in a long, long time. About half way to our anchorage destination we had a visit from Homeland Security. I noticed a go fast boat coming up astern of us but did not think much of it. We were seeing lots of small boats out for the day. As it approached we noticed it was also slowing down and not trying to make a slow pass. Once we saw the decals on the side, we gave them a big wave and a friendly hello as they pulled along side and announced that they were Homeland Security. I mentioned that I figured that from the big sign on the side of the boat that said Homeland Security. They kind of got a kick out of that and asked where we were coming from, where we were heading and how many people on board. We told them, they wished us a safe trip and went on their way. It was all very informal and friendly and we wished them a good day also.

As we approached Horn Island and our anchorage stop for the night the winds began to build to 15 to 20 knots. We reached our turning mark at about the same time as 3 or 4 tugs and barges and the winds were now 20 sustained. The ICW channel makes a turn to the south and that turn is where we planned to continue to the anchorage spot for the night. Naturally the wind was from exactly the direction we needed to go to anchor. We fired up the engine, got the sails down and motored into the wind and substantial chop until we were just off the beach on the island. We dropped the hook in 20 feet of sand close to shore and in a bit calmer water. The wind was still blowing pretty hard but the anchor set right away in the sandy bottom. At least the wind generator would be cranking some amps most of the night. There is a current that runs parallel to the shoreline so we were sitting sideways to the wind. We hit a couple of milestones today, albeit small ones. We crossed the 500 mile mark which is about ¼ of the way on this leg of the trip. We are finally out of Louisiana and are past the half way point in crossing the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay.

Our SW 10 knot winds turned out to be SW17+ for the entire night making our anchorage a bit rolly. It was not terrible but more of a nuisance. In the morning we got the news that our ideal forecast of SW 10 to 15 for the day had been tweaked to SW 15 to 20 with small craft advisories and winds and seas building during the day. What a surprise, since we have so much faith in the forecasts. Sea Trek's ketch rig makes sailing with just the mizzen and headsail ideal in moderate to heavy winds. We had changed from our 120% genoa that we have used for years to the original working jib for the boat. We have always felt she was over powered with that larger headsail. It has proven to be a good decision so far and we are pleased with how much easier she is to handle. Additionally, the autopilot struggles much less in heavy conditions. The waters in the sound were like a washing machine as we left the anchorage, moved back on our course and crossed the Pascagoula Ship Channel. I hate this point of sail in sloppy seas since it is Sea Trek's worst point of sail, wind directly on the stern and seas coming from all directions. We tend to roll all over the place and there is nothing that can be done about it. Not much traffic in the ship channel, a couple of tugs with barges and a ship plus us and that was about it. Once across the ship channel the seas did settle down a bit and we sailed on our course a little more comfortably. But within a short period of time the machine kicked in to the next wash cycle. We only needed the engine to get the anchor up, set the sails, and get us on course. Then we shut it down and started sailing again. We just love saving that fuel, especially since we were not able to fuel up at our usual stop in Lafitte.

The winds continued to build early in the day to 22 sustained with higher gust and the seas just got sloppier. We sailed on without a problem until the channel turned and we had to head dead down wind. In those cases we did use the engine to keep us from yawing with each passing swell. Then the channel would head east again and we would shut the engine down. Once past the Dauphin Island Bridge we left the Mississippi Sound and entered Mobile Bay. The lower Bay is littered with oil platforms and we saw very few other vessels. Who else would be crazy enough to be out on a day like this? Our winds at the point were blowing in the 26 to 27 knot range, but hey, at least they got the direction right, yeah. We reach our final waypoint to enter the waterway again at Gulf shores at 2:15 PM and once inside the tree line the winds dropped right off.

Our first priority now was to find fuel and decide where we would anchor for the night. Within a short distance inside the waterway is Lulu's Restaurant and Homeport Marina and fuel dock. Since it is right on the waterway and has a long floating dock, we decided to stop for fuel since we know just getting to some of the other fuel docks in this area are challenging. They were mostly designed and located in spots that are a bit difficult to maneuver in and out of and they are mostly used by smaller boats. The attendant was on the dock as we approached to take our lines and help get us tied up. We received great service and everyone was very friendly. Fuel prices were $4.50 per gallon and although this is the highest we have paid so far it is cheaper here in Alabama. A bit further along we will be in Florida and the additional $.40 taxes will increase the price considerably. We made sure we took on as much as we could.

The winds were still blowing 25+ knots and finding an anchorage in this stretch of the waterway from the SW to W winds is not all that easy. We first tried a couple of spots but did not feel too comfortable. We finally headed back down the waterway a mile or two to a nice spot called Ingrams Bayou. It is very protected from anything but south winds and with a high tree lines makes for a comfortable spot. There were two other boats already anchored as we came in but still plenty of room for us. Once we dropped the anchor and did our usual procedure to set it we were relieved and ready for a long rest. We had already decided that no matter what, tomorrow was going to be a rest day. And the winds were expected to stay at about 25 out of the west for the day. This is another one of those great anchorages that we have not used before. This makes the about the 6th new anchorage we have used so far that differs from our trip west.

We covered 71 miles on this leg in 11 ½ hours counting our fuel stop and a couple of changes in anchoring locations. It was the longest day for us so far, but worth it since we have the Sound and Bay behind us. It appears we will be here for a couple of days since our next move will be a jump off shore from Pensacola to Port St. Joe Florida.

Barataria Waterway to Blind Rigolets, La.

With a number of bridges, two locks, the Mississippi River and who knows what else, an early start on Sunday morning was needed. The Barataria is only 15 miles from the Harvey Lock and we had one bridge before that we needed to have open. We called the Harvey Lock from our anchorage to be sure there would be no unusual delays and got instructions on what to expect once we arrived. The Lockmaster was very friendly and professional. The anchor came up and we got underway just as a tug was heading into the waterway with us. At mile 2.8 before the lock we came to the Lapalco Blvd. Bascule Bridge.

We called on the radio several times and no answer. We blew our horn and no response. We called and called and still no response. Finally we called again to Harvey lock and explained our situation. The Lockmaster gave us the bridge cell phone number and we called the bridge tender. She answered the phone with an "Oh, I did not hear you. Oh, there you are. OK I will open the bridge." Just one of those irritating
moments. The approach to Harvey lock is congested to say the least. Tugs, barges and work boats of all sizes shapes and states or repair line the waterway. The area is strictly commercial for the waterway and we wondered how some of the larger tug and barges ever got through. As you approach the lock there is the Harvey Route Railroad Bascule Bridge, usually open, and Harvey State Road 18 Bridge which is right at the Lock entrance. The bridge opens when the Lockmaster sounds the horn for you to begin the approach to the lock. As you enter the lock eastbound you will probably tie up on the port side. The Lockmaster will drop a line down to you and you need to attach a long dock line to it. He will secure the line at the top and you will take up the slack as the water levels rise. This is done with one line amidships. We also had 3 fenders tied at strategic places along the hull. We came up 11 feet to meet the Mississippi River when the gates opened. It all went very smoothly.

Upon leaving the lock and entering the mighty Mississippi you are required to call Gretna Light Traffic Control and tell them who you are and where you are going. The trip down river is fast since the currents are extremely strong. These currents determine which lock you will use going eastbound or westbound. Going west you need to go down the river with the current to the Algiers Lock. Going east you also need to go down the river from the Harvey Lock to the Industrial Canal Lock which takes you through New Orleans and to the canal which connects to Lake Pontchartrain. Care is needed in turning into the Industrial Canal as the strong current wants to continue to sweep you down river. Our speed over the ground once on the river exceeded 11 MPH and we were running at a very low RPM on the engine. The currents and eddies on the river are incredible and the depth well exceed 100 feet in most places. There is the St. Claude Ave. Bascule Bridge at the entrance to the Industrial Lock and it works pretty much the same as Harvey.

 We waited for a tug and barge to come out heading westbound and we entered the lock. The procedure is similar except bow and stern lines were dropped to us and since the water level was to be lowered 11 feet, we let out line as it dropped. All easy, no hassles and again the Lockmaster was friendly and professional. As soon as you come out of the lock there is the North Claiborne Ave. lift bridge that needs to be called for an opening. The locks use VHF channel 14 but the bridges use VHF channel 13 as do all of the commercial traffic. We have been monitoring only channel 13 since we turned onto the GICWW at Galveston.

The rest of the trip was almost boring. The canal heading east is almost entirely marshland with some waterways of unknown depths here and there. Today was the most pleasure craft we have seen in a long time. Lots of small runabouts with fishing gear and even a few of those nasty jet skis. We hope they will be in season soon so we can bag a few. We again chose the path less taken and changed our minds about where we would anchor at the last minute. The anchorage behind Rabbit Island is full of wrecked abandoned equipment but this is where everyone anchors. Right next door is the Blind Rigolets waterway that has a railroad bridge over it very shortly after you enter. It is fairly deep at 17 to 24 feet and pretty wide. So we poked our nose in, checked the depths and decided this would be OK for tonight so the anchor is down. The rest of the evening will be prepping for the crossing of the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay. We will try and do the crossing in two day hops or three if the sailing is slow. And we will try to sail this leg instead of motoring and using the precious diesel.

Bayou Black to Barataria Waterway, Lafitte, La.

With only 27 miles to cover to Houma we still got an early start from Bayou Black. The weather was to be possibly stormy this afternoon so we wanted to get in and settled early. Another issue is the depth of the canal the marina is on. It shallows to less than 6 feet in a short distance once we enter so we need to tie up close to the waterway at the end of the bulkhead or very close to it. With a few days of bad weather coming our concern was that others would also be seeking shelter and the available space would not be there. We did take our time and arrived 4 hours later at around 11:00 AM and found only a couple of very large house boats and a couple of small sport fishing boats. But the trip to the municipal marina was not without a little excitement. Well, just a little, since almost the entire waterway between Houma and Black Bayou is covered with floating Hydrilla. So we spent most of the trip dodging floating islands of green vegetation and just trying to avoid running over the larger pieces. There were some areas where it was almost impossible to not run through the stuff. We did manage to arrive without incident and had our usual spot near the end of the face dock that makes up the marina.

The Municipal Marina is located in a small Canal sandwiched between twin high rise highway bridges with the marina on one side and the morgue, a bank and a hospital on the other. The marina consists of a long face dock and a very nice adjoining park. There is no office here and you need to call the dockmaster that lives across the street from the park next to a florist. Jessica took over as dockmaster for her parents, the Ellenders. They may come to the boat or ask you to come over to the house, I suppose it depends on how busy they are. The fee for dockage is only $20.00 per day and that includes water and 30 or 50 amp electric. There are no facilities such as showers or restrooms, just a very nice, peaceful, setting adjoining the waterway. There are trash cans and a pump out, however. It is an excellent spot to wait out weather heading west, or especially east before getting into the New Orleans area.

Jessica directed us to the new laundry mat three blocks down on the right on Park Ave., which is the same street the marina is on. There are also 2 convenience stores in gas stations on the other side of the road from the laundry. If one crosses the walkway bridge and under the West bound side of the bridge, then turns right, you will be on Main Street. The Coffee Zone internet cafĂ© and well as other restaurants are located some 4 -5 blocks away. Jessica also provided us with the number of Tommy’s cab service who will come and take you shopping at Walmart for $7 one way. It is not within walking distance. The downtown area is pretty deserted with only a few shops and offices. There is a large government building and the hospital, but not much else. Everything is pretty much out of town and a cab is needed. Our stay here was for a couple of days as some serious weather passed through, especially over New Orleans. It is though a powerful supreme being is really pissed at that city. They had torrential rains and winds to 100 MPH estimated with some of the storms. Lots of damage and power outages. We saw some rain in Houma but not much else. The weather stayed north of us. We were joined by four other cruising boats, one power and three sail, while we were in Houma. We are keeping an eye on Fridays conflicting weather reports to decide if we will move on or wait till Saturday.

Well, Friday morning just before sunrise the rain and thunderstorms began so another day at the dock was in order. That is not necessarily a bad thing since it might mean just a day of relaxing and watching some movies. The rains continued into the afternoon and finally cleared around 3:00 PM. The forecasts calls for clearing tonight and what looks like a good weather window for the next couple of days. We will see how that works out.

Saturday morning was fantastic. It was sunny with light winds and cool temperatures and looked like a perfect moving day. We had a brief wait for a few large tows to pass before we could back out into the canal but by 7:25 AM we were again under way. The day was pretty uneventful. We had a pontoon bridge about 8 miles up the waterway and a lift bridge a bit further on, but both opened on request and the rest of the day just cruised by. As we neared the Barataria Waterway we began to see signs of civilization again. Small fishing boats, air boats and even a very large pleasure yacht went buzzing past us. The barge traffic was also much lighter. At around 2:00 PM we turned off the GIWW onto the Barataria Waterway and headed a bit down river. The old Fleming fuel dock that we used to refuel going west has closed and been sold to an airboat rental company. Large airboats now take folks on tours and the noise is incredible. But that eliminates a good fuel stop and possible overnight stay. All of the guide books say there is another small marina with fuel in the same general vicinity. When we called them to ask their location, we were told they are 10 miles down river. That would be a 20 mile round trip for fuel so we decided to pass. We figure we have enough fuel to get across the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay to the next fuel stop if we motor all the way, heaven forbid. There is a marina in the Industrial Canal in New Orleans if we really needed to stop. After a couple of attempts to anchor along the waterway banks, we chose a spot about a mile south of the GIWW on the starboard side heading south. There are a few houses that we are anchored in front of and we are getting a pretty good WiFi signal from someplace. This will be home for the night then off to New Orleans and points east. Two locks and several bridges will make tomorrow a busy day.

Charenton Canal to Bayou Black

The currents on the next section of the waterway are some of the strongest we have encountered to date. We have a steady 4 to 4 ½ MPH current and of course it is against us, slowing our progress considerably. The swirls and eddies are very visible as we move along and it makes steering interesting. Our only tactic is to hug the side of the waterway as much as depth will allow to at least not be in the strongest flow. One particularly sphincter tightening spot is the Wax Lake Outlet. As you approach the intersection you can see the strong flow from the currents moving across your path. As we entered the intersection we were swept down stream at a pretty substantial pace. The boat was almost pointed straight upstream to make the crossing. Water depths at the center of the intersection are over 50 feet. This is not a crossing you want to make at the same time as any other vessel. We crossed crabbing hard to port at full throttle and as quickly as we were in the soup, we were out of it. Delightful weather again today - sunny, cool and light winds make this a great traveling day. A cold front later in the week may hold us up for a few days but for now we will just wait and see and keep moving east.

Once we left the waterway and headed up the Atchafalaya River we encountered even more current. Our best speed running almost full out was about 2.9 to 3 MPH over the ground but our knot meter showed over 9 MPH. We traveled up river with 2 large tugs and barges that did not do much better than we did although they probably could have. A few miles up river we turned off into the waterway again. Then the excitement really began. We needed to transit the Bayou Beouf Lock just 2 miles off the river.

When we arrived there was a tug transiting west bound so we had a short wait. Then it was our turn and we entered the lock and eased over to the starboard side to tie off. Just as we were about to tie off the boat began moving forward quite rapidly. The engine was in full reverse but we should no signs of slowing down and the gates at the other end of the lock were heading in our direction. At first we thought we had lost the prop or transmission, but that did not explain the acceleration. At almost the last minute we got a line wrapped around a timber on the side of the wall and the boat came to a screeching halt. As the water levels started dropping we did a little checking. The transmission shifted into forward and reverse and seemed OK, so what happened? We really, really hate mysteries, (unless they are by best selling authors). The gates opened after several minutes and we motored out of the lock with no problem. Upon later reflection we realized the lock master did not check to see if we were secured to the wall yet and we believe she opened the gates and let the water out of the lock too soon. The water rushing out carrying us forward so fast that being in reverse had no effect. We did scratch the new paint a bit but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Finally at about 3:00 PM we arrived at Bayou Black. This too is a busy waterway so staying out of the channel is important to safety. We ran a short distance up the bayou and anchored on the port side well out of the way. We dropped the anchor in about 12 feet of water, which is pretty good since the Bayou is 20+ feet deep almost to the tree line. But soon another annoyance was to sprout and we found that with the wind and current the bow of the boat was sitting in about 15 feet and the stern kept
swinging into the tree line and we would sit on the bottom at the stern with the bow in deep water. It would not have mattered except every time a boat went by, the rudder bumped on the bottom and we did not like that. We dropped a small Danforth anchor over to try and keep us out in the channel a bit more but the soft mud would not let it set well enough. So we hauled up anchor and moved to another spot down river a little closer to the waterway intersection. Everything seems to be working out better in this spot so we expect a quiet night and a short trip to Houma tomorrow.

Mermentau River to Charenton Navigational Canal

Our anchorage on the Mermentau was beautiful and during the afternoon we had many alligator, turtle and bird sightings. This is a pretty remote area and we could also hear hunters firing at their prey way off in the distance. But all good things must come to an end in more ways than one. With 50 some miles, a lock and a fuel stop we had a long hard road ahead so anchor up and under way early. This trip has gone far too well so it was time for something to go wrong, after all this is cruising. Poking my head in the engine compartment shortly after heading down river revealed a pretty good stream of water coming out of the stuffing box. We use a special Goretex packing so the drip should be almost nothing. So here I was hanging upside down in the engine compartment trying to adjust the stuffing box as we drifted down river. This was the one thing we did not tend to before leaving with our long to do list occupying most of our time. I have not repacked the gland since I don't know when, maybe in Guatemala. So I suspect it is way past needing redone and after not going anywhere for 2 years and then pushing hard for the last week it is not surprising. The stuffing box is one of those things that had driven us crazy over the years. At times we can barely stem the flow and other times such as our trip from Central America to Texas it gave us no problems at all. We will keep an eye on it today and make adjustments when and if needed and just see how it works out. We would like to be able to nurse
it along until Houma but we will see.

There are more tugs today so that is getting back to normal for this part of the waterway. It is hazy and overcast and the air temp is about 81 degrees with very little wind. There is a bit of rain in the forecast for tomorrow morning and we could sure use a little fresh water rinse, but just a little. Our hardtop over the cockpit is set up as a big water catcher so it also helps fill the tanks. The trip through the Leland Bowman Lock went quickly and smoothly. As we arrived at the lock a tug and barge also east bound was tying up in the lock and we were instructed to come in as soon as he was secured and pull up ahead of him and tie to the opposite wall. As the gates behind us were closing the gates ahead began to open. We estimate that the water level raised maybe 6 inches and little turbulence was encountered. As soon as the gates were fully opened we were instructed to head out before the tug to avoid his prop wash. We got out as quickly as possible and headed for Intracoastal City.

Our stop at the Shell Morgan fuel dock in Intracoastal City revealed that our stuffing box was still leaking quite a bit so we decided it needed repacking now since we still had a long way to go the next couple of days. After fueling up and topping off the water tank we moved to the other side of the dock and tied up for the night. Fuel is at $4.05 per gallon here and this is usually the best price anywhere on the waterway. Overnight tie up is a flat $20.00 and there is electric but only 20 Amp service.

 This is right on the waterway and not one of our quieter stops. There are tugs and barges, work boats of all sizes, shrimpers and supply boats, sometimes all operating at the same time. It is noisy, smelly and rolly but the price is right. This worked out fine for us and shortly after settling in the repairs began. Once the flange is removed and the old packing is pulled out there is a pretty good flow of water coming into the boat. But once the new packing was in place the flow stopped immediately. The whole process took a couple of hours only because I want to do a small modification to the flange bolts and the stuffing box is very difficult to get to. The job needs to be done hanging almost upside down off the back of the engine which was quite warm from running all day. It is finally done though and should not need repacking again for some time. We will need to do some minor adjustments in the morning as we run down the waterway. Did I mention the engine room was really hot and very uncomfortable to work on the stuffing box?

Ordinarily we would head down river another 15 miles to Avery Canal, after stopping at Intracoastal City, but we will try and find another alternate anchorage farther down the road. Sometimes we just have to find these places on our own and sometimes they are a bit out of the ordinary. Sunday morning was dark and overcast and we had a tough time getting weather info. We have had no WiFi connections available since we left Clear Lake and the local TV stations don't do news on Sunday mornings. To add to the problem the VHF weather broadcasts are not available here either. We were able to piece together enough info from the Weather Channel to know a front was coming through just as we got up this morning. It was a weak one and other than a few sprinkles and a wind shift to the north it was over without much notice. We were off the dock and under way at about 9 AM after a few adjustments to the stuffing box. After the clouds passed the weather turned beautiful. Clear crisp blue skies with light north winds, almost no humidity and plenty of water ahead.

Then problem number 2 showed its ugly head. We have been wondering if we have radio problems with the VHF because we call the tugs and they don't seem to answer. We thought maybe they had just gotten stuck up since our trip west. In the past they have always been friendly and professional and almost happy that we called to confirm what was going on and what our intentions were. But some times they did respond and we were able to communicate with the lock tenders with no problem. This afternoon I pulled out the hand held VHF and made contact when we did not with the main radio. In addition we could pick up weather broadcasts with the hand held but not the main radio. Using a spare length of coax with connectors on both ends I was able to isolate the section of coax that was the culprit. It took a bit of doing and another couple of hours but I was able to run a new section of cable from inside the base of the mast to a section that connects up in one of our hanging lockers. We were soon back in the communications business.

About the same time the VHF was working again we arrived at Franklin Bayou, our first consideration for the night. A shrimp boat coming out told use we should be able to anchor with no problem and the depths were 9 feet in the canal. We turned in and promptly ran aground in 5 ½ feet of water. Remember, we draw 6 feet so this was not going to work. So we tried a spot just out side of the channel right on the waterway. We sat with the anchor down for about 20 minutes contemplating whether this was a good idea. After the first tug and barge passed we decided it was too exposed and there is just too much heavy traffic here. Our second choice was back the other direction about 2 miles. The current had been running strong against us all day so turning around was a quick ride back to plan B. It was getting late,  OK 5 o'clock, not too late, but we wanted to get settled in since there are not many options here.

We arrived at the Charenton Navigational Canal and turned north off the waterway. Testing the waters, so to speak, we determined that the depths were pretty adequate almost right up to the tree line. We are currently anchored in 11 to 12 feet of water a mere 60 or so feet from the trees. This is a busy waterway also and that is why we needed to get as far out of the channel as possible. Aside from the usual inconsiderate work boat flying by and rocking us with his wake it is a nice spot. This will be our third different anchorage from the ones we used going west bound and in each case it has been as good as or better than the ones we used in the past. We do like the Avery Canal anchorage quite a bit and even considered going there anyway, but time dictates we keep moving so this will not be the pleasure part of this cruise.

Calcasieu River to Mermentau River

We had to say goodbye to our oil production friends this morning. We were pulling up anchor at about the same time the crew boats were heading out to take them to their sites. They have been friendly and curious through our short stay and only one grumpy driver had an issue with us anchoring in the Bayou. Fortunately it is not his Bayou so we ignored him and he ignored us. About 10 PM last night we saw a large tug go past us and since we were about as far back as a boat of any size can get we were a bit intrigued. It seems he had a large dilapidated sail boat of at least 45 feet on his hip and he brought it in and pushed it up to the trees at the bridge. He was none too gentle and we surmised he was glad to be rid of it. The crew tied it to the trees and they promptly left. But the vessel was at least floating when we left this morning.

We knew we had to give advance notice to the Ellender Bridge some 25 miles down the waterway, in order to get an opening. The bridge height is 50 feet and our mast height is 57 feet. We called at 6:30 AM to give them a heads up and told them we would call again 4 hours prior to arrival since that is their requirement. We were told, "no problem" and we headed out. This was to be a short run again since we planned to anchor in the Calcasieu River and it was only 30 miles up the waterway. This was another of our stops on the way west so we knew what to expect. But our last anchorage there was just a right turn out of the channel and anchoring behind a range marker. This time with the help of our Skipper Bob anchorage guide, we planned a stop in what was described as a lovely anchorage in an oxbow 3 miles up river. Once again lots and lots tug and barge traffic.

At one point we passed a tug pulling a HUGE oil drilling rig with another tug pushing from behind. We fell in astern of one tug that was traveling at just the speed we needed to make our arrival at the Ellender Bridge. At exactly 4 hours out we called the bridge and gave them our ETA. It seems it did not matter a whole lot since we still waited 15 to 20 minutes for the bridge to open. But if you don't call ahead there is a good chance that no one will be on the bridge to open it when you arrive. The turn off the waterway on to the Calcasieu River is less than a mile after the bridge and is a wide and deep commercial channel. There are lots of tank farms and refineries up river and a ship dry-dock on the port side as you turn in. The winds were the forecast (imagine that) 15+ from the SW which was just fine for this leg. The trip up the river was quick and easy and we found the anchorage in the oxbow just as described. There is a tank farm and fill up for the barges at the entrance but as you go farther in you are in low lying saw grass with a golf course off the stern, but the ever present refineries are all around the river. Next morning we were off early and back on the waterway heading east. We needed to time our departure to put us at the Calcasieu Locks after 8:00 AM since they are restricted prior to that. As we arrived, a tug and barge was locking through west bound but came through rather quickly. We locked through next and the gates were open on both ends so it was just a quick motor through. At the east side of the lock is a pontoon bridge which needed to open and usually coordinates with the lock. But I guess this has changed since the lock master instructed us to call the bridge on channel 13 to open. After a few calls and no response we called the locks on channel 14, they in turn called the bridge which finally opened for us.

We had one other pontoon bridge to transit some 7 or 8 miles down the waterway. This one opened as soon as we arrived, even though a tug had just passed through. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful and we saw much less commercial traffic than on previous days. We arrived at the Mermentau River at about 2:00 PM and traveled upstream about 1.8 miles to a beautiful anchorage in another oxbow. This one is populated by tall trees and very little signs of refineries. There is even a small park at the pass just before we turned into the anchorage. It should be a peaceful night and we will have to start at the crack of dawn tomorrow because we have about 58 miles and that includes a fuel stop in Intracoastal City and a lock to transit and they can hold us up.

Taylor Bayou to Adams Bayou

Tuesday was a short trip for us, only 25 miles. The anchorage at Taylor Bayou was peaceful and quiet as usual. This is and old outfall canal were built but never used by one of the oil companies. Winds were very light and it is so far out in the toolies that you don't encounter many other boats. We have been there on a weekend and the small fishing boats do come out during the day. But other than the large refinery off in the distance that lights up the entire sky at night, we are pretty much to
ourselves. We both slept like logs for a change. We were up early as usual and went through our morning routine. I know, how boring, but cruising is not always about sandy beaches and tropical sunsets. However, we did have occasion to see a pink ibis as we entered the waterway from Galveston Bay, a big gator a short while after High Island and last night were serenaded to bed by a multitude of frogs singing "Ricky, Ricky, Ricky!!"

We passed through Port Arthur, which is a seaport, so naturally we shared the waterway with a couple of ships. Plenty of room for passing and again lots of tug and barge traffic. But today the sun was shining and the breeze was light and it was pretty delightful. The 25 mile trip to Adams Bayou only took us about 4 and one half hours and that was because we took our time, running the engine at a lower RPM to conserve fuel. This is not always great for a diesel but it does not hurt once in a while. We had a favorable current so in just a little more than an idle we made 5 or 6 MPH. While under way each day we do an inspection of the bilge and engine compartment about every 3 hours if we are running under power. We are looking for any water, oil or fuel leaks, stuffing box drip, loose belts or anything out of the ordinary. On a few occasions this has headed off what might have been a more serious problem and allowed us to correct whatever it was.

Adams Bayou is a very nice easy to enter anchorage right off the waterway. There is a fuel or chemical loading station on the Bayou so you must come in beyond that to anchor. A short distance into the Bayou a small highway bridge blocks anything but small boats from going further. But it makes for some great exploration by dinghy. A well known but long since closed Marina and restaurant sits just before the bridge. It was in pretty bad shape the last time we were here and has gotten worse since then. Buildings are boarded up, windows broken and sunken boats are everywhere. As we came past another cruising sailboat was tied to one of the dilapidated docks, I suppose for free.

We decided anchoring was our preference. We are anchored near a small boat ramp so it can be a bit busy on weekends. There are many supply boats in and out here ferrying supplies and crew to the oil rigs as well as pipeline crews working in the Sabine Lake and along the waterway. At the end of the day we have had maybe 15 or 20 vessels ferrying the workman back to a parking area they have set up just beyond the bridge. This is indeed oil country and the rush for profits here is obvious. Wind forecasts for Wednesday are 15 to 20, yeah right, so we will stay put for the next day or so and catch up on minor boat chores and, most importantly, get a little much needed rest. We have been going all out for weeks and that includes right up until we untied the dock lines. If you are not seeing photos with these posts, that is because we are sending the posts over our Icom M710 HF radio via the Winlink email system and it does pretty much text only. When we have the next internet connection we will post some photos. We are really out reach of any WiFi signals even with our nifty new WiFi adapter and antenna.

On The Road Again Texas to South Carolina 5/05/08

Even after 16 years of cruising we still find we get the pre-departure anxieties just before and as we shove off after a long spell at the dock. You start to worry about the weather, and what if the boat breaks down and what if the anchor breaks loose in the middle of the night and what if the mast falls down and on and on. You finally have to force your self to stop thinking negative thoughts and concentrate on all of the positives you know you will encounter. You tell yourself that you have done this all before and you can handle anything that comes along.

We finally got off the dock on Sunday albeit a bit late. We usually try to get a very early start but this time we still had a little prep to do so we did not untie the dock lines till 10 AM. The folks we had come to know during our two year stay were on hand to shove us off and we receive a horn salute as we pulled out of the slip. A Cape Dory club race was scheduled that morning so we had lots of company. A short trip to the fuel dock and topping off the fuel tank and deck jugs was our final chore.
Fuel at 3 Amigos was $4.19 a gallon for diesel, ouch, and we knew this was just a preview of things to come. As we left Clear Lake and exited the entrance channel we had several farewells over the VHF radio. We were surprise that no one ask us what we were doing going in circles to do a calibration of the autopilot. Soon we were heading down Galveston Bay. As usual the ship and barge traffic were pretty heavy even for a Sunday. It was a bright sunny day so lots of folks were out on the water.

Now you will probably get tired of reading in these posts as we go along, some of my rants about the weather service, but we have been doing this for a long time and have some pretty strong opinions. Now I know forecasting weather is not an exact science but with billions of dollars worth of computers and satellites and degrees in meteorology you would think that once in a while they would get it right. We delayed leaving for a day or two because the winds have been quite strong from the direction
we needed to go and Galveston Bay is no fun in those conditions. For a couple of days all of the forecasts called for NE winds 10 to 15 on Sunday going east at 10 to 15 Sunday afternoon. A perfect run down the bay and no motoring while using that expensive diesel. As we left Clear Lake it was indeed NE but very light, maybe 5 to 8. Very shortly as we entered and headed down the ship channel it turned to the SE, the exact direction we needed to go, and as the day progressed built to 15 to 20, yes, right on the nose. Typical NWS forecasting or lack there of, and we should know better after all these years. For some reason they just can not get marine forecasts right. We have observed this over a 16 year period so this is not just based on this forecast. With the millions and millions this agency spends and the equipment at their disposal you would think they could get it right once in a while. Our forecast for today, Monday, was SE 10 to 15 for the area we are in. I can tell you we indeed have
had 10 to 15 then 15 to 25 with gusts to 30 except out of the NE. Oh, by the way, that is the direction we are heading, but at least we are in the protection of the Gulf ICWW. Now the forecast for today, Monday, is for a 20% chance of rain and mostly north of the Houston area and we are about 70 miles south. Temps are suppose to be 78 to 80 degrees and mostly cloudy. It has been pouring rain to the point that we have had zero visibility at times and there appears little sign it will quit today and
the temps are in the 60s. I am still not sure why they don't call it weather guessing instead of forecasting. So much for the weather rant.

We arrived at our planned anchorage behind Baffle Point off the Bolivar Peninsula around 3:30 PM Sunday afternoon. The winds were still pretty much SE so we had fairly good protection even though we could not get close to shore with our 6 foot draft. But all in all it was a pretty good spot. This is a fair weather anchorage only since the entire bay is exposed from the north and a north wind would not be fun. We spent a peaceful night although the first night at anchor we are still getting used to
new sounds not heard at the dock and a few times during the night we were visited by some strange swells from unknown sources that really rocked us from side to side. Fortunately it was not often and did not last long. The wind stayed out of the SE all night and was down to about 5 knots by morning.
We were up at the crack of dawn Monday because we had a long 55 miles to our next anchorage. We have a regular routine each morning while under way. First the engine gets a thorough check, oil, transmission fluid, water and a good look over for leaks and any other issues. All of this info is recorded in our log book. Next we check the levels of the fuel and water tanks, the battery status, bilge and bilge pumps and engine hours from the previous day, recording all information good or bad. Next is breakfast and the most important thing, coffee. We check that all electronics and radios are working and get things on deck ready including any sails we plan to use during the day. This is done daily without exception and we use a check list to make certain nothing is over looked. So by 7:40 AM we had the anchor up and were under way. Did I mention I LOVE, LOVE our new electric windlass. After 15 years of cranking that anchor and chain up with a manual windlass this was a real treat. I even had to make note of this in the log book. At 08:00 AM sharp we entered the Gulf ICWW for our looonnnnggg trip on the Gulf coast. Once again we found the waterway busy with tugs and barges.

So it pretty much rained and blew all day. We put down the side curtains for the cockpit which makes a complete enclosure and stayed dry at least. Tug and barge traffic was pretty heavy but with the new AIS receiver running on our chartplotter we were easily able to keep track of everyone. Having the plotter at the helm was a real treat after running our navigation program from the computer at the nav station. By 6:20 in the afternoon our anchor was down in Taylor Bayou just west of Port Arthur Texas. The weather has settled down a bit but we can't be sure how long it will hold. The anchorage is very protected and secure but very remote. We have had dinner and settled in for the night and just kicking back and watching TV. Tomorrow will be another early start to get to our next anchorage before some heavy winds that are forecast, HA HA.