Friday, December 28, 2018

Gulf Shores, Alabama

I am writing this entry from southern Florida. We had an awesome Christmas with Shannon, Brian and Amelia. They came from Missouri to go to Disney World and stayed with us in Orlando. I will write all about our magical day in a coming entry, but let's go back a few weeks...

We left the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Friday, November 30. We went east through Mobile, Alabama and then south to Gulf Shores. We decided to bite the bullet and stay at Gulf State Park. I say it that way because although we have stayed here before, and it is a very nice park, it is very overpriced in my opinion. By the time you pay all of the fees and taxes, it is over $50 per night. I just don't like to pay more for something than it is worth. (wait until I write about Disney) Don't get me wrong, we like the park. The sites are large and you have access to the very nice beach. You do have to drive or ride a bike the 4 miles to the beach, but it is not far.

You may ask, why we would come here when it is overpriced and we have been here before, well it is all about seeing some very good friends. We were really looking forward to spending time with Bob and Rox, who have a condo in GS. This is the closest park to their condo.

We went through the check in process of this huge park. I think they have over 350 sites. They do offer monthly rates and RV storage, so many people leave their rig here and just drive down to stay for the winter months. The check in process is still very much like a large resort hotel. We got set up in site 91 in the Bobcat loop. That loop is the closest to the front of the park. It can take 10 minutes to drive from the back of the park to the front gate. We had plans to get together with Bob and Rox that evening, but we had time for a quick trip to the beach. It was about 70 degrees, but that was going to change in the next few days. A big storm would bring wind and rain over the next two days.

The surf was up because of the coming storm

Kim loves her beaches
Nice wave over my head
We took some of the shrimp that we had purchased off of a boat in Gulfport over to Bob and Rox's and they added some fish that Bob had caught on a recent charter trip. We had an awesome dinner. Here is a shot of Bob and I cleaning shrimp with their deveiner. I am still looking for one of my own.

The next day we went to look at marinas in the area. They pretended to be interested. We, of course, were gathering information for the future plans of cruising the coastal areas in a boat.  It was pretty rainy and I did not take any pictures.

Then on Sunday, I had an appointment to see a boat that was located on the Dog river on the other side of Mobile bay. We had a fun time looking at the boat. Bob and Rox decided to take their two wired hair Dachshunds along for the trip.

The "Girls" travel very well.
After looking at the boat, which was only mildly interesting to me, we drove out to Dauphin Island. The town there is quiet and very charming. We drove the island from end to end and then waited for the next ferry back over to the other side of the bay.

This was our lunch spot, the ferry is in the background.
We walked around the outer grounds of Fort Gaines. It costs only $8 per person to visit the fort, but we did not have the time to do a full tour.

The keel of an old ship that was found after a recent hurricane. 
We boarded the ferry and Kim was in her element. She loves to be on the water. We saw dolphins, but were unable to get any pictures of them. The wind was light, but we had a nice swell coming in from the gulf. We loved the ride.

Kim is up on deck ready for the ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay.

Everyone on Dolphin watch

A Coast Guard cutter passed to our stern
We had an awesome weekend in Gulf Shores. We can not thank Bob and Rox enough for the hospitality and tour guiding. We really love visiting friends while we are on the road.

We had been on the road for almost a month at this point and we were just getting back into our groove. Our next stop was at a Florida State Forest campground that sounded like our kind of place. Come back for my next entry and I will tell you if it was as good as advertised.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Gulf Islands National Seashore

We are now near Gainesville, Florida. We are enjoying the slow pace of a very nice RV park in Northern Florida this time of year. The majority of Snow Birds and not come south yet. We are really looking forward to the latter part of this week, when our Daughter and SIL along with our youngest Grand Daughter will be joining us for Christmas and a trip to Disney World. I will write all about that in my coming entries, but for now it is catch up time.

We left Big Biloxi Campground on November 25 and drove the 40 miles over to Davis Bayou campground at Gulf Islands National Seashore. This National Seashore is made up of the area around the Davis Bayou and the off-shore barrier islands that protect the gulf coast from Louisiana over to the panhandle of Florida. We have stayed in this campground once before almost 5 years ago. This was the first campground that we stayed in after I had retired. I have great memories of this place.

We were able to easily fit into this site that was limited to 30 foot rigs
The National Seashore area is surrounded by the city of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. It has the normal sounds and traffic of a city. Unfortunately, you can hear those sounds while in this protected oasis of nature. We did need to do some provisioning while we were there, so it did make it easy to find fuel and a grocery store.

We did get very active while we were visiting the National Seashore. I started out with a 4.5 mile walk around the park to see what there was to do. The next day, Kim joined me and we also walked well over 4 miles. We went to the visitor center and watched the movie. We collected a bunch of information about visiting the barrier islands, we may have to do that some day in our boat. Hmmm...we will see.

The scenery in this park is very beautiful.

We noticed that is was low tide. The park changes very significantly as it goes from low to high tide. The mud flats in the following picture were under water just a few hours later.

Here is a Great Egret fishing in a tidal marsh area

Beautiful Live Oak trees all through the park
This Egret is for you , Mom
The following day we went for a bike ride. I ended up with about 7 miles, Kim did not do as much, but at least she is exercising. The next day we got the inflatable Sea Eagle Kayak out of it's bag for the first time in over a year. We spent about 4 hours paddling around the park. We started with no wind, so we headed out into the channel. It was low tide, so it was just deep enough for our 9 inch skeg. We did hit mud in a few places.

Channel markers leading out into the bay.

As we headed out into the bay we passed the Marine Research Center. All of the structures in this area we destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

We watched as a local fisherman came by to check his crab traps. We rounded the corner and headed out into the bay. We passed a number of houses with boat docks along the shore. The opposite site was protected shoreline with birds and other wildlife.

In this shot you can see all the way down the coast to the casinos of Biloxi
Some Pelicans looking for their next meal.
As predicted, the winds picked up from the SE, so we just rode the breeze back to the park and into the protection of the bayou. We cruised around up and down the arms of the bayou checking out the birds. It was very quiet and enjoyable.

A Blue Heron and two Egrets in this shot

I got a couple of nice reflection shots to finish the day.

 We had a great time at the National Seashore. We can't wait to come back.

After staying 5 days, we left to go to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We have some awesome friends there and we were excited to see them again. I will write about our time in Gulf Shores in my next entry. Will there be boats in the story??

Monday, December 10, 2018

4 Hour Tour on a 40 Foot Sailboat

We arrived in Gulfport, Mississippi on November 18. We had plans to stay in the Big Biloxi Campground. Big Biloxi is a National Forest Service Campground. It has electric and water hook ups, but does not take reservations. We have found that campgrounds that do not take reservations are fairly easy to get in. You just need to arrive by early afternoon and arrive on a Sunday through Thursday. Big Biloxi is a nice little campground with easy access to the main highway heading south to Gulfport. We were only about 14 miles to the water. We only paid $20 per night and had great Verizon service and good OTA TV.

Site 15 at Big Biloxi - The largest site in the park.
This was the week of Thanksgiving, but that is not the reason we came to Gulfport. After spending all of last summer learning to sail on our little lake in Missouri with our Hunter 22, we wanted to charter a big sailboat and get out in some more open water. Neither Kim or I had ever been off shore more than a short distance in a boat, other than a large cruise ship or ferry. I looked at a map and the shortest distance to open water from Missouri is Gulfport. I looked for a charter company in the area and found North Star Sailing Charters. When I contacted them, Captain Jim King was quick to offer exactly what we wanted. We not only wanted to ride on his boat, we wanted to help crew it. Jim's response was "No Problem!"

Jim King is also an American Sailing Association certified instructor. I am sure he was thinking this was just going to be our first lesson with him. Jim is a retired Air Force Pilot. He flew C-130's during his time with the US Air Force.

When I contacted Jim to make final arrangements for our trip, we had to work around some weather issues. We decided on a 4.5 hour trip out to Cat Island. Cat is one of the barrier islands that sit about 6 miles off shore. We would not be sailing in the open Gulf of Mexico. This area between the barrier islands and the coast is called the Mississippi Sound. That was fine with us, 6 miles should give us a good taste of coastal navigation and some other large ship traffic coming in and out of the Port of Gulfport. The trip was scheduled for Tuesday the 20th of November.

On Monday, Kim and I went down to the docks to check the place out. We have been to the Gulf many times and I can never remember seeing it so calm. There was no wind! The good news was that there was some wind in the forecast for the following day. We walked around on this beautiful day and looked at all of the boats. We easily found the North Star dock. Here is a shot of Kashmir. She is a Catalina 40 MK2, a beautiful boat.

I had trouble sleeping on Monday night. I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. We got to the dock early on Tuesday and watched as Jim came in to dock after a morning lesson. We headed out at 1 PM. We got the motor started and after a short safety briefing,  Jim looked at me and told me to take the helm. I drove this big beauty right out of the slip. We cleared the channel and the lessons started. I turned her head to wind and we unfurled the sails and shut down he engine. We were Sailing! The rest of the trip was just a dream. We had autopilot, but I wanted to "drive", so we did most of the time. We had winds between 10 and 20 knots and a swell of 1 to 3 feet. This boat handled it all with amazing ease. I now see the advantage of a 40 foot boat in rough water. I do feel confident, I could have sailed on this day, in this water, in our 22, but it was so much easier in the 40. Kim enjoyed moving around the boat and taking pictures, she even took the helm for a while. We took hundreds of pictures, even Jim took a bunch he sent us after the trip.

Jim King giving me directions getting our of the harbor

Unfurling the sails. This boat had a mast furled mainsail.

We did see some dolphins

I had to dodge this barge

Kim riding the bow. It did get chilly as the day wore on.

Beautiful Sunset. This is where we want to be! Nice Hair!
We sailed down wind out to Cat Island. As we turned into the wind to head back in, the wind came up a bit and we were now feeling the wind that had been with us earlier in the day. We fully unfurled the headsail and this boat showed me what she had. We went to wind with a bit of heal and topped out at a bit over 6 knots. I was in heaven. 

Check out our angle of lean in this picture. 
We ended the day with a beautiful sunset. It was a near perfect day. Jim is a great captain and a great story teller. I would highly recommend his charters to anyone that wants to experience sailing. As far as this being my first lesson, I am sure this was just the first of many to come.

We ended up spending 7 days in Gulfport and had a fun time touring other marinas and checking out the area. Kim did fix dinner on Thanksgiving.  It was quiet, but still a nice day.

We love the gulf coast and were not done with our boating adventures. Come back to see where we went next and what kind of boat we would be in this time.