Thursday, December 17, 2020

Our First Week in Gulfport

 We arrived in Gulfport, Mississippi on November 24th. It was a bit of a challenging arrival with strong winds, but the next morning was nice and calm. After checking in with the marina office, we took a walk around to check out the surroundings. We knew there had been damage to the area from hurricane Zeta, but were a bit surprised at the degree of damage. There is sand in many places that are not supposed to be sandy and many of the docks are being fixed after being under water. We took advantage of the calm conditions to move the boat into the neighboring slip, which is where we were supposed to be in the first place. We spent the rest of the day relaxing after our long sail the previous day. 

The following day was Thanksgiving. We awoke to fog and and a perfectly calm marina.

 We enjoyed a nice quiet day of football games and a feast of Pork Steak and Sweet potatoes and stuffing. We would much rather be with family, but we did a video call with the grandkids and are now looking forward to seeing them in about a month. 

On Friday, November 26th we undertook the project of getting the truck moved from Demopolis to Gulfport. What took us almost a week to do in the boat is a 3.5 hour drive one way. 

I started the effort by walking about a half mile to the local bus station. It is right across the street from the original Gulfport High School. It is a beautifully restored building with some beautiful live oaks in front. 

I took the bus to a stop near the Enterprise Rent Car office. I picked up a mid size Toyota and drove back to the Marina to pick up Kim. We made the drive north to Demopolis. This car had forward collision avoidance. It was pretty cool to just set the cruise and steer the car. If you approached a car in your lane it would just slow down until you changed lanes and then speed back up to the set speed. 

We made it to the marina in Demopolis around 1pm. It was at this time, that I looked at the weather radar. There was a very large and strong storm approaching. I looked at our options and thought if we went straight south, we may have an hour or so before it hit us. If we had gone the way we came, we would drive right into it. As it turned out, we never saw more than a sprinkle, while the area north and west of us had very strong wind and a couple of tornados. After turning the car in, we were back at the marina about 6PM. It was a long day, but we now have wheels.

The next morning we headed out to hit the Walmart for groceries. The closest location is west along the beach in Long Beach. This area was hit very hard by Zeta. We saw a significant amount of damage and cleanup in full swing.

This big motor vessel was stranded up on the beach. It appears that the dock it was attached to ripped loose. This gives you a hint at how high the storm surge was. 

The following week I saw a crew carefully loading this boat on a trailer. 

I have been taking daily walks around the marina. The storm surge water was up to the first level of the towers around the marina. That is about 5 feet above the docks. They had evacuated the marina, but a few boats remained and were damaged and sunk. 

When we arrived, these two boats were laying in the parking lot. It appears they were damaged and sunk. They were then lifted by crane into this location. It is a Carver MV and a Pearson 30 sailboat.

In this shot, you can see the damage caused by pilings. The sailboat had her hull ripped opened amidships. The Carver lost her transom.

The fuel dock is out of action until further notice. They are guestimating it will be February at the earliest.

Damaged docks at the end of the jetty.

The port of Gulfport has been through this before. There is a mark on one of the buildings showing the high water mark from Katrina in 2005. It was 20 feet higher than zeta. That is just mind boggling. Looking at all of this damage has reaffirmed our decision to always get out of the hurricane zone for the season. The good news is that hurricane season is over. We have seen a couple of winter storms hit this area in the weeks we have been here. They come from the north and carry winds of over 20 knots and cold wind. The wind comes over the land so, we have very little wave action and the winds are not strong enough to cause any concerns. We have only seen temperatures of around 40 degrees when the forecast for land was 32 degrees. The water should help us stay above freezing. We will see. This looks like it will be a good place to winter. 

We came here to get the boat out on the water on nice days and do some sailing while still staying isolated during these COVID times. So far, that plan is working well. In my next entry, I will write about Christmas time in Gulfport and maybe some sailing. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Sail from Mobile, Alabama to Gulfport, Mississippi

 We got to bed early on November 23rd after arriving at Dog River Marina on the west side of Mobile Bay. We were planning to do a 75 mile trip to Gulfport, Mississippi the next day. 75 miles does not sound like a long day to most people, but to a sailor, it is a long way for a late fall day. You can generally count on making about 5 knots on average on most long sails. That works out to 60 nautical miles in 12 hours. The daylight this time of year is only about 11.5 hours. If we had any chance of arriving in daylight, we would have to leave as early as possible and we would have to average better than 5 knots. 

The channel leading out of Dog River is very narrow and shallow. If you get out of the channel, even our 4.5 foot draft boat will run aground. The good news is that I had a good GPS track on my chart plotter from the trip in the previous day. We were underway at the first hint of sunlight. It was not long before I had plenty of light to see what we were doing. It was a beautiful clear morning with a nice 10 to 15 knot breeze out of the East. 

Our view of Mobile Bay at First light on November 24th, 2020.

We motored out the channel for about an hour and then were able to turn due south and head to the mouth of Mobile Bay. The wind was just a little forward of the beam, which is exactly where SHIFT likes it. Kim took the helm and I raised the mainsail and the unfurled both the genoa and the staysail. It was a glorious feeling ripping along at close to 7 knots under full sail.

SHIFT finally under full sails 60 degrees to the wind.

You can see our lean angle in this photo. It was a cool morning, but it wasn't long and we were just wearing a light jacket. 

We had to stay in the shipping channel because much of the rest of this part of the bay is too shallow. The only problem is that many fishing vessels were trawling in the main channel, so we had to work our way around them. While we were in the bay we heard continual warnings from the Coast Guard of a 40 foot sperm whale that was causing a navigational hazard in the bay. The sad thing is the next day they had to euthanize the whale.  

This fishing boat was heading in after a night of fishing.

We passed this guy. He was dragging a large net. Her name was "God's Blessing"

Once we cleared the fishing boats we were quickly to the head of the bay and took a turn to starboard to head for the Dauphin Island Bridge. We kicked on the motor for a short time to improve our maneuverability. After clearing the bridge we had a long straight shot down the Mississippi Sound. It was not long before the channel opened up and we could shut off the motor. The winds were now a bit lighter and we slowed to about 5 knots. I decided that we needed to try to improve our speed, so I went to the foredeck to rig the new whisker pole. While doing this we were surrounded by a large pod of dolphins. Kim tried and tried to get a good picture. A few came out well. 

The water was so clear that we could see the dolphins under the surface looking up at us. We could also see when they were about to surface.

It was during this time that she lost focus on her first priority and almost ran into a channel marker. Scary, but the good news is that we did not hit it and we both learned a very important lesson that I am sure will stick. 

We should be on the other side of that marker. A little too close for comfort. 

We sailed on from there all afternoon averaging about 5.5 knots. It was very pleasant and we just decided to keep the motor off and prepare for a night arrival into Gulfport. We had come into this harbor at night 2 years ago when we chartered a boat out of this marina. We went for a sunset cruise and I was at the helm as we came in under the watchful eye of Captain Jim King of Northstar Sailing. He gave me some navigational keys for this harbor and I luckily remember stuff like that. I was confident we could make it . Kim called the marina and got a slip number and detailed directions that we hopefully could follow in the dark. 

I dropped the mainsail before sunset and we motor sailed with the Genoa to make our best speed. We had no issues running along the coast in the dark. We saw a few fishing boats, but there was very little traffic. We approached the channel it was about 7 pm. The good news is we had some moonlight. We dropped all sails and motored into the marina. Kim used our high power search light to spot the channel markers for me. The only problem was that the wind picked up to about 20 knots just as we came into the harbor. This marina has good protection from waves, but nothing to stop wind. We had to approach our slip in the dark. The bad news is that there are just pilings on one side and a fixed dock on the other. As luck would have it, our dock was upwind. So, as we approached, the wind was blowing us off the dock. Did I mention it was pitch dark! I tried twice, but Kim could not get a line on the dock before I got blown off. I escaped each time with no damage to the port side of the boat. The slip next door was available, so we just went in there and let the wind blow us on the dock. We tied up for the night and called it good. 

We awoke the next morning to our beautiful new home. I can't wait to explore all around this area. We went to the office to check in and then with the light winds we moved into Slip 4-57. Our home for a while. How long? We have no idea.

First light in the wrong slip. Oh well, like they say, any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

Gulfport Municipal Marina

There is a beach with palm trees on the other side of the jetty.

You can walk all the way to Biloxi on this beach.

In my next entry, we will begin our exploration of this area of the Gulf coast. So far it looks pretty nice, but we do have some weather coming in.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

We Sail Right Through Downtown Mobile, Alabama

 We left our beautiful anchorage at mile 16.6 on the Mobile River on Monday, November 23. It was a cloudy and cool morning. We pulled anchors and were on our way by about 7 am. That was late for this trip, but we did not have far to go. The problem was that we did not know where we were going to stop. 

We had three options. We had tried to call a marina in Fairhope, AL on the East side of Mobile Bay, but they were not answering on the weekend. Our backup plan was to go to the Dog River area on the west side of Mobile Bay. We had called there, and they had space available for us. The third option was to go on through the bay and anchor at Dauphin Island. This would significantly shorten our trip the following day. The problem with the Dauphin Island anchorage was that it was exposed to a north wind and the forecast was for a strong north wind. We were able to reach the marina in Fairhope during our trip down the river and they did not have space for us, so we decided to head to Dog river and tie up to a dock and get ready for our long sail to Gulfport the next day. 

Our first thing to deal with on this day was the railroad bridge at mile 14. This is the lowest bridge on the river, but we had passed under it in the spring in higher water, so I was confidant we could make it. That went well. We then started to feel a bit of wind coming in from the NW and we were heading SW. The land was now flat and the wind would be more predictable. I decided to unfurl the staysail. It was not long before we were going 7 knots over ground. The sail was adding about a knot to our speed. We still had the motor running, but it felt great to be a sailboat again. 

SHIFT was sailing again. 

It was not long before we were approaching downtown Mobile, Alabama. It goes from natural swamp and marsh to industrial area in a short distance. The change is a shock to the system.

As you approach Mobile, you pass under a large bridge, that is Alternate 90. 

A happy captain on this cool cloudy day. It felt good to be done with the motor trip down the river. 

This is a stealthy navy vessel. There was three of them in the area.

Downtown Mobile

A large ship in a dry dock in the left on this shot.

As we left the harbor, this large ocean going vessel came by in the channel. We just had to stay clear on the port side. He was going 12 knots.

There are tows out in the open bay also. This one is bashing into the waves and north wind. 

We were able to get the genoa up and sail along with the engine off for about an hour before we had to make a turn out of the main shipping channel and into a narrow channel that lead to Dog River. Mobile bay is very shallow. Most of the bay is 9 feet deep, but many sections are less that 4 feet, so it is critical that we stay in the channels most of the time. The main shipping channel is about 40 feet. 

As we headed down the channel to Dog River, we saw a familiar sailboat. I hailed them on the radio and was correct that Tally Ho was exiting Dog River and heading out to their next anchorage. We had met them in Demopolis a week earlier. Jason and Natanya are from the St. Louis area and are on a sailboat adventure.

Tally Ho motoring in the Dog River channel

We came into the Dog River Marina and had some docking help from a 14 year old girl named Isabella. Our granddaughter Isabella is 14. Kim enjoyed talking to her as we added fuel and pumped out our holding tank. We then tied up to the face dock and settled in for the evening. I took a walk. It was the first time we had been on land in 5 days. 

I looked at all of my options and decided that our best bet was to try to make it all the way to Gulfport, Mississippi the next day. The weather was going to get bad after that. The problem was daylight. It should take us about 15 hours to go the 75 miles. There is only 11.5 hours of daylight this time of year. I have never gone into a marina for the first time in the dark. Bad plan? I will explain why it was not a bad plan and tell you how it went in my next entry.  

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Day 4 and 5 on the River - Relaxing with Wildlife

 We awoke early on November 21st to little fog and warmer temps. We wanted to get going before the sun rose to let the duck hunters, that we had met the previous night, have their favorite spot. I had been up a couple of times during the night to add some lights to the boat. I wanted to make sure we were seen if the fog was thick and an excited duck hunter was gong too fast to get to his favorite spot. As it turned out, we only saw two boats come by before we left and both of them were fishermen. We pulled the anchors before sunrise. We had about a quarter mile of very narrow creek to navigate before it opened up to the main river. We had to wait for one boat to clear the creek, but we did not encounter any other traffic on the creek. We made it to the main river right about sunrise, it was a beautiful day. 

Our goal for the day was Big Bayou Canot at mile 16.6. That would make this a shorter day at 47 river miles. We had a one knot current behind us and we were making 6.2 knots over ground. This area of the river is tidal and is impacted by the tides in Mobile Bay. The topography of the area was changing quickly as we approached the coast. Gone were the high bluffs and pine trees. Now the main trees were cypress and Palmetto. We were also seeing more birds and a few alligators sunning themselves on the bank. 

Some very interesting trees along the bank including this cypress.

We saw a number of gators along the river, but this is the only one that had his picture taken.

Blue Heron

Great Egret

It being a Saturday, we saw significantly more boat traffic along the river. Most were fishermen out enjoying the nice day. At mile 45 we left the Tombigbee river and joined the Mobile river. Then we made a right turn to avoid the Tensas river and make our approach to Mobile. As we got further south, we approached a major milestone when we went under the I-65 bridges. This meant we were only 20 river miles from the mouth of the mobile river.  

The twin bridges of I-65.

We then cruised down the river 4 more miles and made a starboard turn to head into Big Bayou. This is a fairly wide and deep bayou that is very beautiful. There are no roads or buildings along the bayou, so it is very isolated. We had just a few mosquitos, but that was only in the late afternoon to evenings. We had loud owls in the evening and lots of other wildlife around the boat. The only thing to disrupt our solitude was an occasional fisherman cruising by down the bayou. 

Our view forward in Big Bayou Canot

Our view out the back.

After spending 4 days moving down the river, we decided to take Sunday off and relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of this beautiful place. We had no wind and it was a warm, sunny day. I was very happy with our anchoring in this place. It seems that we finally have a good system for setting our stern anchor. I don't think SHIFT swung more than 10 feet the entire time we were anchored in Big Bayou. 

I spent some of the day doing maintenance on the engine and preparing the boat to be a sailboat again. We looked at the weather forecast and found that we would have to make a move to somewhere in Mobile Bay the next day and then decide if we should stay there or then make the move on down to Gulfport. We still did not have firm plans or reservations. I guess that is just how we roll. 

In my next entry, I will write about our exciting arrival in Mobile and explain our decisions of our future plans. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Day 2 and 3 on the River

We left Demopolis on November 18. I wrote about our first day in my last entry and this one will pick up with day 2.

We had a very quiet night at our first anchorage. There was not even a whisper of wind. The bad news about that is that we awoke to thick fog. We had to stay in place for a while to give us any visibility. The good news is that with today's electronics, we could see any approaching tows and they could see us on AIS. We also know our GPS position exactly, so we did not have to worry about getting run down. The other thing is no boats move in this stuff, so we all just sat and waited it out for about an hour after daylight. 

"Elizabeth" in the fog

Fog starting to break up around the small island

I like the way a few of those fog shots came out. I knew we had a long way to go that day, so I was eager to get moving. By about 7 am, I felt it was safe to get moving. We cruised along at about 3.5 knots for the first half hour and then suddenly the fog was gone and we were back up to our full speed of 6 knots. The interesting thing is that "Elizabeth" came out behind us and stayed with us all day. Normally a trawler goes about 8 knots and I was expecting they would pass us, but they never did. 

We had a very calm and uneventful day. We passed a number of tows, but the river got wider making that very easy. 

This is Day 2 in a single picture. We had perfectly calm water and lots of birds to watch. It was a beautiful day.

We cruised along and checked out a number of anchorages along the way. I am taking notes for future reference. The anchorages will change a great deal depending on the level of the water. 

We had chosen a stop at mile 123 called Okatuppa Creek. We had spent two nights at this anchorage back in March and we loved it. I think it was better this time. We cruised right in and set both our bow anchor and a stern anchor to keep us against the bank in 8 feet of water. We did have a couple of fishermen come by, but other than that, it was beautiful and calm and quiet. Just after we got anchored, Elizabeth hailed us on the VHF and asked if there was room for them. We said sure and they dropped their hook at the mouth of the small creek. 

Our view off the bow in Okatuppa Creek

Our view aft in Okatuppa Creek. You can see "Elizabeth" anchored behind us. You can see we are totally protected from any passing boats in the main river. 

We were now only 7 miles north of the second lock at Coffeeville, Alabama.

We were up early again and had some fog, but much less than the previous day. We were able to get underway before sunrise and begin our 7 mile cruise to the lock. Just as we left, we noticed that "Elizabeth" was coming with us again. We were then hailed by a boat at Bobby's Fish camp, that is at mile 118. They saw us on AIS and asked if we wanted to join them in the lock. I said yes and thank you. We waited a short time for the lock tender to get the lock set for us and then proceeded in. Just as we were coming in we saw a beautiful bald eagle sitting on the top edge of the lock, but sadly did not get a picture. 

Our second and last lock of the trip at Coffeeville. On the other side of these gates is tidal water and we are now at sea level.

"C-Bird" was the boat that hailed us from Bobby's Fish Camp. 

Passing through the lock without too much delay was critical to our plan for the day. We were going to try to make it our longest day at 59 river miles. Our stop for the night was Three Rivers lake at mile 64. The problem was that the last anchorage before that was 10 miles up river, so we had to make a decision at that point. 

At mile 100, we came to Old Lock One. This is the anchorage that we spent 4 nights waiting for flood waters to pass during our trip up the river in March. We were told that there normally is no way for us to get into the small lake. You can see why in the picture below. The lines on the grass to the left of the small creek indicates the higher water levels in the spring. 

The entrance to Old Lock One

We cruised along to our decision point at river mile 75. By my calculations, we could make Three Rivers with about an hour of daylight to spare. For reasons we don't know, Elizabeth decided to hold at that point and we never saw her again on this trip. We kind of felt bad we never met those folks, but it was nice having them along anyway. We made Three Rivers without issue and cruised down the 1/4 mile very narrow creek to a small lake and anchored in 14 feet of water. All was good until two boats came by and warned us that the next day was opening day of Duck season and we were right in the middle of one of their favorite spots. I told them we would be out of here and first light and they were good with that. 

I did not sleep well that night worrying about the duck hunters, but as it turned out, I did not have anything to worry about. I will write about the rest of our trip down the river in my next entry.