Saturday, April 25, 2020

Life in Kingfisher Bay Marina - Demopolis, Alabama

We arrived at Kingfisher Bay Marina on April 1, 2020. I have not been that happy and relieved in a long time. I think I even did a happy dance. After getting tied up, we spent some time getting to know the marina. We are in a small basin, just off the river. We have very good wind and wake protection. The cost of the slip is $10 per foot per month. That is very reasonable by Florida standards. We also have access to a nice common room, bathroom and shower. They have a pool (that is not currently open, but looks nice for when it gets a bit warmer). The majority of the slips are covered, but they have plenty of uncovered slips for us sailboats with masts.

Kingfisher Bay Marina has nice concrete docks that are about 50 feet. This is the first time we have been on a fully wrap around floating dock. It makes it easy to get on/off the boat and work on all sides. 

Lots of turtles and fish around the docks. 

We spent the first few days getting ready to hunker down for the next few weeks.  The virus lockdown was getting very serious all around the country and was being taken very seriously in rural Alabama even though they had only one reported case in the county.

We took advantage of the free courtesy car to go to Walmart and buy groceries. That was a strange experience, but all went well and we were ready for the next month or more.

Byran and Mary stuck around for 4 days and then decided to head up the Tenn-Tom Waterway to get to their home. Their trip went well other than one scary night they got hit with very strong winds and drug anchor into shallow water. They finally got the boat free after a long sleepless night. They made it home in about a week from Demopolis. The trip was over 200 miles to the Tennessee river. The good news is they had very little current and were able to average over 6 knots.

I spent days going for walks and checking out the boat yard facilities. We are planning to haul the boat here and do some work on the bottom.

The Marina from across the basin. Notice the water level on the bulkhead.

The boatyard filled with all kinds of boats. Some are getting refitted by their owners, some are rotting away. They all represent someone's dreams. 

This is the Travelift, that we will use to put the boat on the hard. To haul the boat and block and stand it and put it back in the water will cost about $500 at this DIY yard. 
I spent my days working on the boat. I started by going over the engine. I found a dirty air filter, which could have been the reason for the black stripe on the transom. While doing some testing, I went to start the engine, it would not start. I was happy! I now had a symptom to work with. I hate intermittent problems. I traced the problem back to some corroded connections and a corroded fuse holder. I ordered a new waterproof fuse holder and bypasses all of the connections. Now the motor starts every time. I will also put in some oil treatment when I change the oil, which hopefully will help get the rings to seal better and reduce oil consumption. I ordered some things, but Amazon was delayed, so we had to wait.

We then cleaned the hull and taped the teak rail below the rub rail. We sanded and then varnished all the way around the boat. That is where the full wrap around dock is great. We had to use the dingy to do the transom. We then did a touch up on the rest of the teak on the boat. This boat has a lot of teak, but it looks great when it is freshly varnished.

I then put a coat of wax on the hull. That is the first time we have done that. It looks great, but boy is that hard work.

Well that is what we have been doing for the three weeks we stayed in the marina. We were watching the situation with the virus closely and were very eager to get back to Missouri to see the kids and grand kids. After three weeks we decided we did not to wait any longer. In my next entry, I will write about our trip back to Missouri and life on the ranch.

A beautiful sunrise from the cockpit of the boat. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Trip up the Waterways - Day 8 to 11

After 4 days at "Old Lock 1" we were discussing our next move. Byron, on Serendipity, was thinking it was time to move along. I was thinking we needed to wait a bit longer and hope the current would slow down making it easier for us to get up the river. We were watching the hydrology reports along the river and were guessing that the current would reduce along with the lower water that was expected in about 3 more days. Kim was concerned about the water level in our current anchorage. When we came in, we only had 11 feet at the bar at the mouth of the creek. If the water dropped too much, we could get stuck in here until the next flood. It was a difficult decision, but we decided to go the next day.

We had about 16 miles to get to the Coffeeville Lock and Dam. We started out early and easily cleared the bar. When we hit the river we had a strong opposing current. We once again slogged along at about 4 knots. I was moving from side to side in the river looking for reduced current on the inside of the corners. I was able to find almost no current right along the bank in the eddy caused by the apex of the curve. I was concerned about hitting a log, but most of the time we were in more than 20 feet of water.

When we arrived at the Coffeeville, we were able to get in the slack water leading up to the dam. It felt great moving along with no current. Byron called ahead and the lock was ready for us. We easily pulled into the lock and got tied up. There was no current or wind. We tied off to floating bollards and just waited for the signal when we could untie and leave. Our first lock was a breeze.

We motored up the next 2 miles to the only gas stop on this part of the river, a place called Bobby's Fish Camp. The dock was in the strong current. We got in and tied up to the sketchy dock. The restaurant is closed, but we were able to call the number on the door and Bobby's daughter came down to turn on the fuel pump. I spent a while talking to her (I did not catch her name). Bobby passed away a few years ago and she has tried to keep the place open. She recently made the tough decision to close the restaurant and just keep the store and dock open. We could have stayed there for the night, but with the strong current, we decided to go about 6 more miles to Okatuppa Creek. We pulled in to a beautiful little creek. There were tall trees and we had to be careful to give clearance for the mast, but it was a great place to anchor. We set our main anchor and a stern anchor to keep us clear of the middle of the creek. We did see a number of fishing boats go by while we were there.

The view forward at Okatuppa Creek. The creek continued around to the right.

Our view out the back at Okatuppa Creek. The main river was only about 100 yards away. 
We had a very calm night. The next day, Byron and I discussed our options. The river was continuing to drop and I was hoping for significantly reduced current in the coming days. There were strong storms predicted for the next day, so Byron decided to move along. We stayed an additional night.

We had an interesting time after Byron left. We had some locals walk up to the bank along side of the boat to talk. They were very nice and we had an enjoyable conversation. They were also boaters and were very surprised to see a sailboat as big as ours in this little creek. I also did some work on the motor, but that did not have much effect.

We awoke the following day to some strong wind. It pulled loose our stern anchor and caused us to turn sideways in the creek. Kim suggested it was time to leave, so we got ready and hit the river. The current was a bit reduced, but still much stronger than I would like. We got a bit of wind and rain, but we continued on. It was at that point that we decided to try to make Demopolis in two days. We caught up to Byron because they waited out the storm and then when we made contact and found we were not far, so they waited for us. The problem was that there were no good anchorages in this part of the river. We checked out a couple, but decided to keep moving. As night approached, Byron found a small creek and went in and tied off to two trees. We dropped our forward anchor and eased out chain and came along side and rafted up to him. We had a pleasant night other than a few wakes from the Tows.

Some views along the river on March 31

This was a strange plume of water that was coming up out of the river. Not sure what that was...
I once again worked on the motor and I am fairly sure I cleared a partial blockage in the seawater cooling line. The following day the motor did run slightly cooler and the steam was mostly gone.

Our anchorage was at mile 170. Demopolis Lock and Dam is at 216 and the Marina is at 218. After the long day on March 31, we were hoping we could make it on April 1.

We woke early on April 1, but when I tried to start the engine, I had no power at all. The batteries were charged, so it came down to a lack of power to the ignition switch. I used a jumper cable to power the ignition and the engine started. I had no accessories and no power to my gauges or my voltage regulator. We decided that the solar would power the instruments, so we started up the river. About a half hour later all of the power came back! What the heck! The systems on the boat ran fine the rest of the day.

It was a fairly uneventful day. I was concerned about the motor, but it ran fine and only used about a half quart of oil.

Cruising up the swollen river. Serendipity just in front of us. 

Cool white rock bluffs as we approached Demopolis, Alabama

As we approached the Demopolis Lock, we saw this one would be very different. There was strong wind and current as we came into the channel. We were lucky again that we did not have to wait, but the winds swirled around and we both had to do some piloting to get tied up to the bollards. Much of the wind and current were gone when we exited the lock on the top side.

Demopolis Lock

Demopolis Lock on April 1, 2020. Serendipity just in front. The lock was about half full at this point.
My excitement built as we exited the lock and headed to the marina. We had been traveling for exactly 6 months to the day. We had been so many places and met so many great people. I was happy to be done mainly because of the engine concerns, but also because I felt a bit tired and was ready to just relax.

SHIFT with Serendipity along side in Kingfisher Bay Marina
 It was at this point we were not sure what to do. The fears of the virus were growing daily. We wanted to get back to Missouri to see the kids and grand kids, but did not know if that was the right plan. I will talk about our next moves and life in Kingfisher Bay Marina in my next entry.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Trip up the Waterways - Day 2 - 7

We had a good night at anchor on March 23. We did have a pretty strong current, but our anchors held well and we got some sleep. We were now ready to go a bit further on day 2. We set our goal to make it to the three rivers anchorage at mile 63.8. That was 47.2 miles away. We headed out just after sunrise. I was a bit concerned about the current while pulling anchors, but that went well.

Sunrise on Day 2

The captain settling in for a long day.

Serendipity leading the way down the river. We let Byron and Mary lead because their AIS and radio were working better than ours.
We headed out into the river in the strong 2.5 knot current. We did have some strong wind predicted from the south and were able to raise sails and get some help, but we found that the terrain was quickly changing as we made our way north. The hills got higher and the trees got taller creating more wind protection than we would like. The wind was also funneling down or up the river with each bend, so we either had a pure head wind or a tail wind. Neither are great for sailing.

After just a few miles we went under the I 65 bridge. That was a very impressive bridge.

I 65 bridge ahead

A large double span bridge. We had plenty of clearance.

Looking up the mast between the spans

We were in front at this point, I don't remember why.
I will insert a story here from day 1. Our first bridge is considered the shortest bridge on the river. It is a Railroad lift bridge at mile 13.6. We approached the bridge and tried to call the bridge tender. We did not get a reply. We held up and Byron and I kept calling. They finally answered Byron with a reply that was very difficult to understand, but the bridge went up. We went through, but Byron was taking down a sail, so he was a bit behind. We cleared the bridge with about 5 feet to spare, but then the bridge started to come down. Byron called the bridge again and the tender claimed that he thought we were through and he could not raise it again for a while because a train was coming. Byron had to wait for quite a while before he was finally able to get under with just a few feet of clearance. It was a very strange situation made worse by a very inattentive and difficult to understand bridge tender.

I was looking forward to mile mark 45.0. It was at that point we would take a left turn on to the Tombigbee river, leaving the Alabama/Mobile river. I was hoping that the two rivers together were causing more current and we would see less on the Tombigbee. At this point we were averaging about 4.5 knots because of some help from the sails. That is still very slow.

At Mile 39 we hit the exit of the Tensas River and the river got much wider. We also saw more current, but the wind picked up and we got the Genoa up and we sailed the next 6 miles to the Tombigbee intersection. The river was rougher than any other point, but we gybed our way up the river in a strong tail wind that at times was over 20 knots.

Rough water on the last few miles of the Mobile river.
We rounded a corner and everything was different. We were now protected from the wind, so the water was flat, but the current was as strong as ever. I was a disappointed. We motored along at an average of 4.0 knots Speed over ground. The scenery was beautiful and we had plenty of time to look at it. I was very happy to pull into our anchorage at mile 63.8.

Three rivers was beautiful. We came in a tight channel that opened up into a small lake with no current. We dropped anchor and settled in for the night. At almost 50 miles, it was our longest day on the river. We saw a couple of fishing boats go by, but it was very quiet except the owls again and beautiful. I was trying to study the hydrology on the NOAA web sites about the river. What I saw was concerning. It looked like the river was going to rise over the next few days to a low level flood. I was still trying to determine how that affected current, but the high water was actually good because we had deeper water than what was shown on the charts. At Three Rivers it showed 10 feet and we had about 15.

We decided to try to anchor the next night at a place called Old Lock 1 at mile 100. I was not sure we could get in there, but we had an alternative if we couldn't. I was still concerned about my engine. It was putting our more steam than I thought it should, but was still not overheating and sounded fine.

We got up a bit later and cruised up the narrow channel to the river.

Kim took a couple of shots from the bow as we cruised out the channel to the main river.

It was short, but it felt so good to be cruising without current pushing against us.
As we moved further north the topography was quickly changing. The hills were getting higher and we were seeing rock bluffs along the side of the river. It was now impossible to sail.

Taller hills and a wide river.

White limestone bluffs along the river. 
We made it up to the channel into "Old Lock 1" park and Byron led us in. We saw about 11 feet at the bar, but then it went to 15 feet. We went back into a beautiful little lake by a boat ramp. We dropped anchor in 16 feet. We were very protected and it was beautiful other than the gnats, but they did not bite, so we settled in for the night. We decided to stay for a few days to see what the river was going to do. We dropped the dingys and went ashore. There was a nice bathroom and water available. It was there that we met the campgound host named Bob. He told us he was surprised to see us. Normally the bar does not have enough clearance for most boats, let alone a sailboat. We would have to watch the water level very closely or we could get stuck in there. The forecast for the next few days was for the river to rise to minor flood level, so we would be safe for now.

A beautiful calm night at Old Lock 1

SHIFT resting comfortably at anchor
We spent time over the next 4 days going for walks on land, meeting some local fishermen and relaxing. The water rose each day, by day 4 we were in 20 feet of water.

Our new friend Bob, who was the campground host at Old Lock 1 park

Meeting some locals, but keeping our social distance. The virus was getting crazy at this point.

Beautiful flowers and many cool birds to see.
Old Lock 1 could have been one of my favorite anchorages of the entire 6 month trip. This is the site of the first lock on the old river way that was built back in the 1800's to move cargo up and down the river. Much of the lock and dam are still there.

We now had a decision to make. Should we go on or stay a while longer. In my next entry, I will tell you what happened next.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Trip up the Waterways - Day 1

We have been looking at a trip up the waterways into the center of the country since before we bought our boat. The main reason we decided to buy a boat was to travel and explore, not to sail. We have learned to love sailing, but travel is still our #1 objective. We just love to see new places and meet new people.

The waterway that we decided to use is the Mobile River going north from Mobile, Alabama, then turning on the Tombigbee. This will take us to Demopolis, Alabama. If you continue north on the Tombigbee to the Tenn-Tom Waterway you will end up at the Tennessee River. You can take the Tennessee upstream to around Chattanooga or downstream to Kentucky lake and then the Ohio River, which then joins with the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. The Tenn-Tom is man made and opened in 1984. It was the largest civil works project ever completed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and 5 times longer than the Panama Canal. The main purpose for the project is to provide an alternative to the Mississippi River to move goods to and from the Gulf Coast to the center of the US.

The original plan was to take the boat all the way to Kentucky Lake (over 500 river miles), and we may do that some day, but this year we decided to just go 216 miles to Demopolis. The main reason to do this trip was to get the boat out of the Hurricane zone. We learned last year that we want no part of those things. The other reasons are an affordable place to leave the boat and take it out of the water to work on the bottom. We were also looking forward to the adventure. We knew this would be all motoring (or so we thought), and we were also going upstream. We were concerned about the current, but we could not find any information that told us exactly the speed. All we had was water levels at various places along the route. We were also very concerned about the Corona Virus situation. Both of us and our traveling partners had been fairly isolated for the past three weeks, but not completely. We would be very isolated on this trip and were concerned if we did get sick, we may not have access to healthcare, but being isolated may be better than being in a big city like Mobile. So, enough of the why's and what's, let's see what happened...

We left Turners Marina in Dog river on Monday, March 23. We were up early and were ready to leave before the sun was up. We stopped at Dog River Marina next door to pump out. That was quick and easy and we were on our way. We motored out into Mobile bay on a very calm morning.

The flat water out in Mobile Bay

A view backwards through a light fog to Byron and Mary on Serendipity
We had just a few miles up the bay to the port of Mobile. We would be traveling right through the port and downtown area of the city. It was a very cool experience.

We were right in it with big ships and large barges. We had to stay alert, but had no issues.

Large container ships, the front one was leaving as we passed.

That is one big ship

Cruise Ship Port - no ships due to the virus

Downtown Mobile - First time we approached by water

Naval Stealth ship

Check out the log in the water. That would be a constant concern on the trip. 

Approaching the I-10 Bridge

Just as we were approaching a tow was coming the opposite way. You can see that Byron raised his head sail. 
It was about 5 miles to get through downtown and the big docks. Then we went by a large barge anchorage. Then it was just us and the river. The wind had come up to about 10 knots and there was just swamp around us, so we unfurled our genoa and before long we were going more than 5 knots into a 2+ knot current.

The change was dramatic from big city to just quiet swamp. You can see the shadow of our mast and genoa in this picture.
We saw one large alligator sunning himself on a sandbar, but that was the only one we saw on the entire trip. No picture. Our plan was to only go up to mile 16.6. There was a good anchorage there and that gave us 27.7 miles for Day 1. This was a place called Big Bayou Cannot. It was a small river with some significant current. We dropped our main anchor and then our secondary anchor and tied it to the stern. This kept us clear of the narrow channel in the bayou. Our guide said we would have 7 feet of water. We had over 15 feet. No worry of running aground here.

Our anchorage in Big Bayou Cannot at the end of Day 1. Serendipity anchored behind.

It was a beautiful and quiet place except for the Owls. I have never heard owls as loud as they were in that Bayou.  
The first day went well except the current was much stronger than we had hoped for. We were guessing it was 2 knots or better. We were able to average about 4.5 knots because we were able to sail part of it and we did close to 6 knots in the bay. It was clear that this would be an isolated, beautiful and slow trip. We had a number of river intersections in front of us and we had hope that the current would be less. I started studying the river levels and was now trying to predict the currents. We would see how that would go. The river had a historic flood 3 week earlier. The river was down significantly, but the water was still very high. That turned out to be a good and bad thing.

One other thing to note here was that I was seeing more steam coming from my exhaust than I had seen before. The engine temp was staying normal, but I was a bit concerned. In my next entry, we will continue up the river.