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. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Real Time Update and The Journey Begins

 I hate to let people worry, so I will just tell you now that we are safe and sound in Gulfport, Mississippi. Now, what it took to get us here...well, you will have to read the next few entries of the blog to find out. 

We have been working on the boat and planning our departure from Demopolis since our arrival on October 9th. Now that the hurricanes have finally quieted down and the boat is ready, we were ready to head down the river. We chose Wednesday, November 18th as our departure day. I joined a captains meeting on the night before to discuss the trip with other boats that were departing on the same day. Most of these boats are doing the "Great Loop". Demopolis is a stop on the loop and this is the time of year most people are on this section. We have been seeing them come and go for weeks. We were the only slow moving sailboat in our departure group, so I thought it was going to be a solitary trip. We had a boat buddy for the trip north back in March, and that gives you some piece of mind while traveling the 218 miles to Mobile. There are no real services for the entire stretch, except a small place called Bobby's Fish Camp at mile 118, that has a small dock with fuel and water. We did not plan on stopping on this trip at Bobby's. $1.50 per foot seems a bit much for very limited services. We love the piece and quit of this river anyway. 

The first thing to think about on this trip is the lock at Demopolis. That is at Mile 216, just 2 miles from the marina. I was nominated to contact the lock on behalf of the other boats that were leaving. They didn't answer the phone, so I finally reached them on the VHF and they said come on down. So, I did not have much time to get nervous, we had to leave now! We fired up the engine and got the electric disconnected and before long we were exiting the Kingfisher Bay Marina, our home since April 1. I can not say enough kind things about Fred and Kim the owners, and the staff. We did have one issue with the dockmaster, but she worked hard over the past few months to mend that fence. 

The other boats with us are big power boats including the Lucky Lucky, a 60 footer. All of the other captains were great to talk to. Here are a few shots of us riding the lock down. This lock is about 42 feet.

Honalee forward and Legacy behind on the Port wall all secure ready for the ride down.

Lucky Lucky in front of SHIFT

Down we go

Cool Change is a fast boat. He was planning a 2 day passage at about 15 knots.

All the way down

Kim, my line handler, doing her usual excellent job

We left the lock and the other boats headed down river in front of us. As we left the lock we got this nice look at the water going over the dam. It is low water, but it is still flowing. 

Demopolis Dam

 It wasn't long before we were alone on the river. The motor rumbled along and never missed a beat. I decided to run the engine at 2100 RPM. That is lower than what is recommended, but we had a nice 1 knot current behind us and I really wanted to take it easy on the engine. We cruised along about 5.8 knots over ground.  I added a grand total of 1 quart of oil for the entire trip. I have learned that if you fill the motor to the full line it will push a quart out the overflow. The good news is that I think the engine is good to go for now. 

As we cruised along the river I saw a Tow on my AIS a few miles in front of us. The strange part is that it was not moving and in the middle of the channel. As we approached, I called them on the VHF and talked to the captain. He was in the process of trying to push some barges that were stuck on a shoal. He asked us to hold for a few minutes, which of course we did, and he told us when it was safe to go by. We had to stay close, but it all went smoothly.

The Miss Lillie pushing the stuck barges into a safer position.

That looks close, but not bad

We cruised down the river for mile after mile. It was a cool morning at around 40 degrees. With our dodger open for better visibility, the wind coming in off of the water is very cool. We dress in layers. The vest I am wearing was a gift from a fellow boater the day before we left. Mr. Wright said it was too small for him. I ended up wearing it much of the trip and was glad I had it. I do most of the driving, but Kim can handle the boat just fine and takes her turn at the helm. 

Here I am at the helm as we pass the stuck barges. We had to wait for a while and the boat behind us in this shot is about to pass us.  

We had a plan to make the first day a short day. We wanted to set ourselves up for the rest of our planned stops and the take it easy on the first day. We pulled into a wide spot on the river at mile 177 about 1 pm. We dropped the anchor in 13 feet of water well outside the channel. About two hours later another boat came in to our anchorage. The "Elizabeth" came in a dropped anchor. She is a nice trawler and we expected she would move in front of us the following morning. They normally run at about 8 knots. 

Just as the sun was setting a Tow came by and disturbed our glass water. As you can see we are very safe in our very calm anchorage.

Elizabeth laying at anchor

So that is how our first day on the river ended. We slept well in a beautiful place. The next morning served up a new challenge. We knew we had a long day in front of us, so it was not welcome. In my next entry, I will write about day 2.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Our Plan...Today.

 They say that a sailors plans are written in the sand at low tide. We have been living examples of that saying. We have been waiting here in the marina in Demopolis since being put back in the water on the 3rd of November waiting for all of the factors to align that will allow us to start our 250+ mile trip to Gulfport, Mississippi. 

It seems that all is looking good for a departure on Wednesday of next week, November 18. The hurricanes have left the Gulf of Mexico, although there is a new one in the Caribbean, but it is predicted to stay south. We will watch it closely before we depart. The marina at Gulfport is now open and is ready to accept boats. All we have to do is add some more fuel and do our final provisioning. 

It should take us about a week to make the trip to Gulfport. We will spend about 4 nights on the river and then one or two in a marina in Mobile Bay. We should be arriving there on about Thanksgiving if all goes as planned. 

We have been trying to stay busy while we have been in the marina. We have now completed the teak project and we are very happy with it. We put 5 coats on all of the topside teak. We will just have to see how it looks in 6 months. 

We celebrated Kim's Birthday last Saturday. We made a drive up to Tuscaloosa. We bought a heavy duty sewing machine and then went out to lunch. Kim has some plans to work on some upholstery and canvas here on the boat. So far, she seems to be enjoying the new machine. 

We took the boat out on the river for a shake down cruise. It has been since last May that we have had the boat out, so I felt like I wanted to make sure all is good. We ran upriver for about an hour and then came back down. The good news is all looked perfect and I think we are as ready as we can get for the trip down the river. 

I try to stay active by taking a two mile walk each morning. The days have been near perfect with 70 degree daytime highs and 50 degree nights. We really have liked it here, but we are also so ready to get moving. While I have been out walking I took a few shots of what is going on around here.

This is a shot of the fuel dock with a couple of "Tows" taking on fuel

This is a bit upstream, where the Tows leave the barges while they go and take on fuel. 

Well, that is about it for this entry. I hope my next entry will be from the river. 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Splash Day!

 Hurricane Zeta came and went. She left plenty of damage in her wake that will impact our future plans, but I will get to that later in this entry. We hauled SHIFT out of the water on October 21st. Due to many factors we ended up staying on the hard one day short of three weeks. Zeta certainly impacted the situation here in the marina. Only one boat was damaged by the high winds. A large houseboat was blown off of it's stands and onto the ground. All of the slips in the marina were occupied with boaters that were waiting in this very protected place before continuing south down the river. We took full advantage of the time in the yard. We completed all of the projects on my list and even added a few more. None of those projects was as big as the teak project.

The teak project included stripping all of the old varnish off of the boats teak bowsprit and rails, the eyebrows, the cockpit combing and hand rails on the foredeck. All of this teak was freshly varnished when we bought the boat in July of 2019, but a year of hot sunshine had left it blistered and peeling. We really wanted to do something different. I was reading one night and found another blogger that recommended a product called "Teak Guard". The advantage of this stuff is that you don't have to sand it off to refinish each year. You just reapply a new coat over the old. The stuff is guaranteed not to peel or blister. We ordered a kit and have since talked to some other boaters that swear by the stuff. 

This is what the rail looks like after just two coats. We will put on at least 5.

Here is a shot of just the bare wood and the rail forward of the drain with two coats on it.

Here is a shot of the bowsprit with two coats. I just did my 5th today. One nice thing about this Teak Guard is that it has a nice satin finish and it is not slick like varnish. I prefer the glossy finish of varnish, but it is looking better and better with each coat. It is also much easier to apply than varnish. 

On Monday, November 2, they came to put SHIFT into the slings. They let her hang for a night to give Rico some time to finish the painting on the bottom. He did an excellent job and we are very happy with the way it came out. Splash day was November 3 (Election Day).

Not a flattering shot of Rico, but this is SHIFT in the lift. 

Here is a short clip that I shot as we were leaving our home for the past three weeks. It actually turned out pretty cool. We met some very interesting people and we will always remember riding out the hurricane. 

Kim walking with her home. It was a bit nerve wracking for both of us, but they took good care of her.

Hanging 10 feet above the water.

Here we are back in our slip in the marina. The entire process took about a half hour. We were in our slip by 8 am. It feels great to be a boat again.

Now comes more work. We have to complete a number of tasks to be ready to start the 200+ mile trip down the river to Mobile, Alabama. We have to finish the rest of the coats of Teak Guard. We have to put on the head sails. We have to complete some mechanical checks and then we will take a short shake down cruise. Then we check the weather and pick a date. That was the plan until yesterday. I called the marina in Gulfport, MS, which was going to be our destination of the first leg of this trip, but found out they were badly damaged by Zeta. They are hoping to be back up in running in a couple of weeks, but we are now looking at alternatives. The problem is, most of the marinas in the area along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts have been impacted by one of the many hurricanes. And now there is another storm coming to Florida. It has been a crazy year.  For now, we will stay here and wait for the hurricane season to finally end and maybe we will know who the next president will be...Come back to see what happens next.