Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Video Updates of the trip to Florida from Demopolis

 During the trip that we made from Demopolis, Alabama to Florida, I recorded updates as I had new things to say. Some of them are a bit rambling, but some have some interesting footage. If you have a bit of time on your hands and want to learn more about the trip, please check them out. Just click on the links below.

Day 1, Leaving Demopolis: Day 1 - Leaving Demopolis

Day 2, Getting into river life: Day 2 - Getting into River life

Day 3,4,5: Day 3, 4, 5 - Challenges and Rest

Day 6: Crossing Mobile Bay and Beyond

Gulf Crossing: Gulf of Mexico Crossing 

It would be great if you would give the video a thumbs up or even subscribe to the channel. I am not trying to make money on this effort. It is purely to keep my friends and family updated on our travels and as a gift to my future self. Some day I hope that Kim and I will sit down and read and watch all of this content and relive this amazing part of our lives. 

Much Love,


There is more to come.

Exploring Tarpon Springs, Florida

 We arrived at Anclote Key on Sunday, November 28th. We spent the day resting up from our 50 hour sail from Pensacola. We had light winds and the water was very calm. The forecast was for the wind to pick up to around 12 knots overnight out of the North. The bad news is that we did not have any protection from that direction. I made a phone call to the Tarpon Springs City Marina and was pleasantly surprised to be told we could reserve one of the 6 transient slips for 2 nights. 

We had a beautiful sunrise before we left Anclote Key. You can see the power plant that is at the head of the Anclote river, which is where we were going.  

We were up early when the boat started to rock a bit from the increasing wind. It was not bad at all, but we were eager to get to a dock and get off of the boat. We pulled the anchor and we were on our way. We only motored about 7 miles to the head of the channel that is the Anclote river that leads the 5 miles inland to the docks of Tarpon Springs.  

We had stopped at a small anchorage at the head of the Anclote river in 2019. It was the place we had met up with our buddy boat, with Byron and Mary on it, to cross the gulf going north.

This time we continued up the river. The channel is well marked and has plenty of depth until you get to town. As we approached the marina, a dock hand yelled to us to watch the shallow water in the middle of the basin. That caused me to change my approach in mid turn and I did a poor job of getting in the slip. We scuffed a bit on a piling, but all was good and we got tied up to the very strange floating dock. I guess we have gotten used to the wonderful floating docks at Kingfisher Bay Marina in Demopolis, and everything we have seen since then, have been a disappointment. Dillon, that met us to help tie up, gave us lots of local information. There is also a tourist information office in the same building as the city marina office.

This is the Tarpon Springs City Marina office and Visitor Center. They also have bathrooms and a nice shower. There is only one shower, but with only 6 slips, we never had to wait.

 We met some dock neighbors that had been in town for a week and they gave us the best places to visit and eat. Tarpon Springs was founded by Greek immigrants. They were both fishermen and sponge divers. This is one of the best places to find natural sponges on the seabed. 

We decided to take a walk and see what the waterfront looked like.

Kim standing in front of a statue dedicated to the sponge divers and the Christmas tree.

A sponge boat drying its catch. The docks were decorated for the season.

After exploring the docks we stopped at one of the traditional Greek bakery to get some sweets. Then it was off to the restaurant that was recommended by our dock neighbors. Sadly, Katarina's was closed on Monday's. We walked on to the center of town.

St. Nicolas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is in the center of town.

On our walk back, we stopped at a Greek Deli for a Gyro. What a great find. We had an excellent meal at an excellent price. 

On our walk back to the boat we saw this hawk sitting on the hood of this truck. I thought it may be injured when it did not fly as I approached, but when I got too close it flew away. What a beautiful bird. 

The following day we met up with the former owners of SHIFT, Don and Kim. They were kind enough to make a drive up from Palmetto. We did have an excellent meal at Katarina's on that day. If you guys are reading this, Thanks for coming!

The Tarpon Springs vibe was very different from the places we have been in the recent past. There were open air bars and restaurants with live music. We could sit in the cockpit of the boat and enjoy the cool evenings and listen to music. It was cooler than normal and the locals let us know that. They were all dressed in hats and coats, while we walked around in shorts and T-shirts. 

We decided to extend our stay by one night, making our stay in Tarpon Springs three nights. On our last day we took a walk to get a prescription refill. On the way, we had heard about a spring where there we manatees swimming. 

Historic car and building 

There are some beautiful homes in the city center.

This is the park that we saw many manatees swimming around the spring. We took some video that I will post at some point on my YouTube channel. 

We really enjoyed our walk around town and then we hit a grocery store and the Walgreens. We got a taste of the cruising life when I put a gallon of milk and some fresh fruit and vegetables in my backpack and carried them the 2 miles back to the boat. Luckily Florida is flat. 

That was about it for Tarpon Springs. We were now out of time and were ready to get on the move again the next day. Where would we go next? In my next entry, I will write about our 4 straight travel days to arrive in paradise. The only problem is that I made a big mistake along the way.

SHIFT in slip #2 at Tarpon Springs City Marina. Ready for her next adventure. 



Monday, December 13, 2021

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico (part 2)

 In my last entry, I left you after 17 hours of sailing from the Pensacola inlet to somewhere south of Port St. Joe. We had sailed in rough sea conditions in winds ranging from 15 to 25 knots. The winds were not too bad, it was the confused sea state that was the most uncomfortable for the crew of SHIFT. It was now midnight and we had about 6 hours more of sailing off into the darkness. 

We both knew that the main thing we had to guard against was sleep depravation. In the previous 4 overnight sails that we have done, I slept very little and by the time we arrived, I was not thinking as clearly as I would like. This first night, Kim was seasick, and her best option was to curl up under her blanket on the starboard side of the cockpit and go to sleep. This made her feel much better and made me happy to see that. 

This is a shot of the sea state at sunset of the first day. The camera never does the sea justice. I did take some video that shows it much better. I am making some videos that combine my many video updates and posting them on my YouTube Channel. I will post the links in a future blog post. 

 The good news is that the conditions were consistent and we had no squalls. This allowed me to just sit back with my feet braced to the base of the starboard lazarette in the cover of the dodger and let the auto-pilot drive the boat. I was able to close my eyes for about 15 minutes at a time and then look around for any activity and check our course. I was able to watch a constellation off our starboard side that told me we were still on course.

The one downside to all of this sailing is that the auto-pilot had to work hard and that combined with all of the lights and instruments was taking a toll on our batteries. At one point during the night, I had to run the engine for about an our to recharge. I did not even put it in gear. We did not need any more speed. 

As we got close to sunrise, Kim woke up and said she felt much better. She insisted that I lay down and try to sleep. I did, and I slept hard for about an hour. When I awoke, I felt much better and that we could make it through.

Sunrise on the second day. The boat was covered with salt spray. 

As the sun rose you could see a slightly improving sea state. You can also see that we are now under full sails.

I have come to love sunrises at sea. 

  As we got into the day the sea state was improving and the wind was decreasing. At one point, I went back to sleep. This time I slept for about 2 hours and Kim was able to read her book. I awoke to winds now down to 10 to 15 knots and seas that were comfortable. I shook out the reefs in the sails and went to full sails. Our speed was running between 5 and 6 knots, but in a very comfortable way. The second day was really fun. 

As we got close to night fall the winds got even weaker. The forecast did say that by the end of Saturday the winds would become light and variable. We were able to sail until about midnight. 

It seems I only take pictures of sunsets and sunrises while we are at sea.

Sunset on the second day. 

Based on the current speed it looked like we would be arriving in the Tarpon Springs area in the morning on our third day. The last evening was some slow sailing and then I had to make the decision to start the engine. We had traveled over 220 miles by sail and that felt very good. We now had to motor the last 50+ miles. The seas were now calm and very comfortable. I felt confident in the new engine and was able to add significantly to my sleep that last evening. Kim was well rested. She said that she felt that she had slept most of the trip. I awoke to watch the sunrise on the third day. We had traveled over 250 miles and had only seen one other boat. I expected that to change as we approached land on a calm Sunday morning. 

First light on our last day of the passage. What a welcome sight.

Not sailing, but land not far off

I just love this shot.

 We knew we were close when we started seeing crab pots. Those buoys become a problem heading into the rising sun. Kim went to the bow with our headsets on and we talked our way through the last 20 miles to land. We also started seeing other boats. I am sure many were charter boats heading out with their customers for a day on the flat gulf. 

The conditions looked perfect to pull in behind a small key called Anclotte Key. It is really just a spit of sand with no visible vegetation, but it offers some protection and a place to set the anchor and rest. That is exactly what we did. I sent out a few texts and posted something on Facebook to let our family and friends that we were safe. 

Hard to see in this shot, but that is the key that protected us for our first night. There is a small boat on the left and some people walking on the sand in the distance. 

We felt great to be done and are very proud of our accomplishment. After getting the hook down and set, I went to bed and slept for a couple of hours. That is all I really needed. After sailing for 275 miles in 2 days, 2 nights and 2 hours = 50 hours, I felt great. I think we learned a lot on this trip. We learned how to manage the boat in rough weather and we also learned how tough SHIFT is. She felt like she was on rails the entire time. We also did a much better job of managing ourselves. If we ever make a longer passage, that will be even more critical. 

So, what do you do after spending 7 days on the boat and crossing the Gulf of Mexico? You go to a dock and take a walk in a cool Fishing village with amazing history. Come back to see our exploration of Tarpon Springs, Florida. 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico - Part 1

 In my last entry, we were anchored in Ingram Bayou enjoying the Dolphin shows. Our entire focus was on our plans to sail to the Tarpon Springs area of Florida. There was many ways we could do it. We could hug the coast along the panhandle and day hop to Destin, then Panama City, Then go inside to the ICW at Port St. Joe and then down to Carrabelle. From Carrabelle we could then make a 24 hour crossing down to Tarpon Springs. That is the route that we used (only in reverse) when we were coming north in March of 2020. The problem with that route is you have to find multiple weather windows that match your sailing plans and there is a significant amount of motoring. After coming down the river, we were tired of motoring. We wanted to sail as much as possible. SHIFT is a sailboat after all. 

We had this perfect weather window for the day after Thanksgiving, November 26th. It looked like we could head SE out of Pensacola with a 15 knot wind on our beam and head in the direction of just SE of Port St. Joe. We had a bailout at that point if the conditions were not to our liking or if we had a problem. After the first 24 hours, the wind was forecast to diminish to around 10 knots for the next 24 hours and then get very light on Saturday night as we would be approaching the Florida Coast. 

On Thanksgiving day, we weighed anchor and headed out of Ingram Bayou. We motored along the ICW to the Pensacola inlet. 

There was a lot to see along the ICW to Pensacola. This area was hit hard by Hurricane Sally in Fall of 2020. This boat was still up on dry land. 

Lots of nice homes along the water. This one has a nice sailboat.

The anchorage that we selected is right next to the inlet. It is a small basin surrounded by mounds of sand that were deposited here by dredges working in the inlet. 

When we arrived there were a number of other boats at anchor enjoying the nice day. There was one group that had a large pot luck Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, we were not invited. We baked some sweet potatoes and warmed up some deli sliced turkey and had our Thanksgiving feast. 

Here is a shot of the other boats in the anchorage. 

As forecast the wind died off to nothing about sunset. It was beautiful. 

I just love this shot with the Blue Heron on the spit of sand.

Sundown meant it was time to get some sleep and get ready for what was to come. The uncertainty is the hardest part. I was pretty nervous, but I slept well. I would need it.

The forecast called for a wind shift at 2 AM to the North and around 15 knots. I was uncomfortable with a boat that was anchored near me. He had a stern anchor out which meant that he was going to take that north wind broadside. After the day boats left, I pulled up my anchor and moved about 50 yards to stay clear of him. 

We were awoken at exactly 2 AM to the sound of strong wind in the rigging. I got up and found that we were laying  exactly as I had hoped. Clear of other boats and now on the other side of the basin pointed into the now strong north wind. I went back to bed and waited for daylight. 

Just before sunrise, we raised the anchor and headed out to the inlet. I decided to raise the mainsail in the protected water of the bay. We turned and headed out the inlet with a strong 2.5 knot current on our tail, just as had been predicted. I have learned a lot in the past few years of sailing and checking and planning for tides and currents in one of the most important things to do. We had a smooth ride to open water. 

As we headed out we sent a text to 2 of our sons to let them know we were on our way. We had already sent them our float plan and they knew what to do if they did not hear from us. 

Here is our planned route. You can see, we will get pretty close to land after about 100 miles of the 275 trip. Also notice the 7.3 knots of speed over ground.

This is our view as we left the inlet. It was a smooth ride.

When the time came, we made our turn to the East and unfurled our head sails. We had 15 knots of wind and about 3 foot seas. Our speed jumped to 7 knots. It felt great. We got set on a port tack and held that for the entire trip. 

As we headed further from land the wind began to pick up. We started seeing upper teens and the seas were building. I decided it was time to reef. I left the mainsail full, but furled the staysail. Then I furled the Genoa about 50% to be conservative. The boat leveled out a bit, but still was ripping along at 7 knots. We were now rising and falling close to 6 feet in the confused seas. It was a bit exciting, but SHIFT took it all in stride and made no uncomfortable moves. The Autopilot was having to work hard with the confused seas, but was able to keep up. We were just along for the ride. 

This pace continued all day and actually intensified a bit with some gusts as high as 25 knots. We were sustained at about 17 knots of wind dead out of the north. 

As the sun got low in the sky we were treated to an awesome sunset. 

Sunsets at sea are amazing. You can see the confused seas. It was quite a ride. 

At this point in the trip we were both feeling the heavy seas. I was trying to keep food and drink in me and I felt ok. Kim got sick at one point, but afterwards felt much better. She laid down on the starboard side of the cockpit and fell asleep. When she awoke around 10 PM, she told me that she felt good. I asked her if she wanted to go in at Port St. Joe, she said no. We actually got cell signal for a short time and was able to send a text to our boys that all is well and we were going to keep going. 

At that point it was right about midnight. We had covered 110 miles in 17 hours. That is a 6.5 NM per hour average. That is fast for us. We were now on Eastern time and ready to make the move out into the open gulf. All was going well.

In my next entry, I will finish this story. We still had a long ways to go and we would have to spend another night at sea. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Crossing Mobile Bay

 In my last entry,  we had stopped for the night at mile 9.9 of the Mobile River. Yes, it was no longer the Tombigbee, it had changed names at mile 45. We  were now about 5 miles to civilization.  The change is immediate and drastic. You go from a beautiful estuary to an industrial port very quickly. 

We had 47 miles to get through Mobile, across the bay and join with the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) and head up Portage creek to the Wharf Marina. Yes, we had reservations at a marina. After only setting foot on dry land once in the previous 7 days, I was looking forward to it.  I was also looking forward to the possibility of raising our sails out in Mobile Bay. 

We were ready to go at dawn and headed out of the anchorage. It was a beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise as we pulled out on the river. It looked like a beautiful day ahead. 

In just 5 miles, we started passing barges moored along the river.  Then we were in the middle of downtown Mobile.  We had a large cargo ship with a tug on both sides that was coming into port. We slowed a bit and moved around them. It is amazing how quickly things change.  Then we passed the high rise buildings and many other large ships and buildings. We had timed the tide correctly and had a 2 knot current behind us. We were moving along at over 7 knots over ground. 

All of a sudden we have ocean going vessels on both sides and industrial docks along the river.

Kim took this shot from the bow after we had passed this large transport ship with two tugs pushing it into place.

Approaching downtown Mobile and the large buildings.

The cruise ship docks still unused due to COVID.

I  had checked the weather when we arrived at Big Bayou and all looked good to cross the bay. Mobile bay is very shallow and can get nasty if the wind and current oppose each other. We were expecting a nice 8 knot breeze out of the east.

When we hit the bay we were surprised to see 15 to 20 knots. We raised the sails and SHIFT went to work.  She handles that kind of breeze with ease. We were ripping along at 7 knots and the engine off. I loved it, but it didn't last. 

SHIFT doing what she does best.

It felt so good to get the sails up and test everything out. We would need them more in the future.

After an hour and a half the wind diminished and clocked around to right on the nose. Oh well, we had to put the sails away and fire up the engine.  We motored across the now calm bay and up Portage creek. 

We first stopped at the fuel dock and filled up with 26 gallons of diesel.  That means we did the 260 miles on 34 gallons. Not bad. Many of  the power boats that we were traveling with were burning about a gallon a mile. We then went to our assigned slip. 

It was the most difficult docking maneuver I have ever done. The marina is very tight and a huge Hatteras Yacht was tied up right behind us. I  had to pull into the empty slip next to mine and back out and approach from another angle. We got it done, but I am not sure what I would have done if that other slip wasn't empty. 

This was our slip at The Wharf Marina.

We were kind of in a hurry to arrive because some great friends were going to be there.  Bob and Rox were in one of the restaurants watching their beloved Green Bay Packers play. We were able to invite them on board for a catch-up conversations and go have dinner.  It was great to see them and be back on land.

The next day we made plans with our RV friends Dick and Cathy. They have been staying in Gulf Shores in the winter time the past few years. They had a big family Thanksgiving planned. Over 20 people in Cathy's family had rented a beach house and were enjoying the gulf coast for the week. They invited us over for dinner. 

They rented the light blue house just to the right of the walkway. 

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the beach.

Our stay at the Wharf was only two nights. The price was over $100 per night. That seems that overpriced marinas that are hard to get a reservation, will be a common theme on this trip. I was very nervous about getting out of our slip. The wind was blowing about 15 knots our of the east when we were ready to go. I decided I would ask for some help. They sent 3 guys to help. We needed all of them to make the move out without hitting that big yacht behind us. We made it safely and then motored down Portage Creek 7 miles to Ingram Bayou. It was a beautiful and protected spot. We loved it there. And the best part is that it was free. 

This is more like it. Beautiful nature and quiet.

As evening approached the wind died off and the water calmed to glass.

It doesn't get any better than this...or does it?

When we thought it couldn't get any better, we had dolphins join us. They swam all around the boat for a private show. We saw them a number of times during the 3 days and 2 nights we were there. 

It is so hard to get good pictures of dolphins. 

There were a number of dolphins in this pod including a young one.

This one came right along the side of the boat.

The water was clear enough to see them swim under the boat.

While we sat in Ingram bayou, I watched the weather forecast. I had been watching for a weather window to sail to the east. That means we need a north or west wind. We were thinking about sailing 40 miles to Destin or maybe 70 miles to Panama City or 100 miles to Port St. Joe. All of these would then require us to go inland to Apalachicola and then on down to Carrabelle. That would set us up for our planned Gulf of Mexico crossing from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs. That trip would take us about 24 hours. The problem is that the wind comes from the east most of the time, so you have to wait. 

We had a window that looked good. It would start with a strong North wind on Friday, November 26th. The interesting part was that it was going to stay out of the north for two days until it then got very quiet for 2 days. I asked Kim how aggressive she want to be. She looked at me and asked, "Can we make it all the way to Tarpon Springs in one shot?".  I was shocked that she wanted to consider doing that long of a crossing. We are talking about over 48 hours non-stop in the open Gulf of Mexico. I kept watching the weather and planning a multi option strategy. 

What would we do? I will tell this story in my next entry.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Trip to Florida Day 4, 5 and 6

 In my last entry, we were anchored at mile 78 of the Tombigbee river. We had a secure spot and had our friend David across the river from us.

We had a night with interrupted sleep, but awoke to a foggy river. David wanted to make miles, so he headed off into the fog. We later heard on the radio that his motor failed at mile 26. He had to be towed to Mobile. We waited and thought about our plan. We decided that we were getting tired and would like to take a day off. We looked at our options. One of the anchorages that we have used on every one of the three previous trips up or down the river was only 15 miles away at mile 63. There was also a very good anchorage at mile 53. We were thinking that we wanted to stop at mile 16 after that to wait for good weather to cross Mobile Bay.

By around 7:30 am, it looked clear enough to go. It was still a bit tough as we moved along and Kim went to the bow to keep a look out. We use our “marriage savers” to communicate, and I find it very helpful. By 9:00 the day was bright and sunny with little wind. Another beautiful day on the river. We had to make a number of tight curves, but there was only one tow that we had to pass and that went smoothly. We passed mile 63 and decided to keep going to 53.

I looked at the forecast and there was a mild northern coming in the next day with 10 to 15 knot winds out of the north. That sounded like another reason to hold up for a day. We pulled into the Alabama river cut-off at mile 53 and dropped the anchor. The anchorage runs NW to SE. I decided to buy some insurance and not only drop a stern anchor, but got the dinghy down and rowed to the bank and wrapped a long line around a tree.

Looking off our stern in the Alabama River cutoff anchorage at mile 53.

Our view off the bow.

We stayed very secure for two nights and got some much needed rest. We were way out of the river and could only see the passing tows. We had another sailboat join us the first night, but we were alone for the second.

A Tow passing our perfectly calm anchorage. The wind that was forecast, never came.

It was now day 6, Saturday November 20, and we were ready to head on down the river. We looked at our options and normally stay at mile 16.6, but there is a good anchorage at 9.9. Many boats use the Big Bayou Canot at 9.9. There is a lift railroad bridge at 14 that has to be up for us to move down the river. We decided to get that bridge behind us and head on down to 9.9.

The captain at the helm. I spent a lot of hours there, but Kim certainly did her part.

A passing tow

I think the cypress trees are beautiful. This is another indication we are getting close to the coast. 

Lots of cypress knees.

The anchorage at 9.9 is a very famous spot for a very bad reason. It is the site of the worst Amtrak disaster in the history of the rail service. On a foggy night on September 22, 1993 a tow with barges missed the turn and entered the Big Bayou Canot. It then hit the rail bridge on the far end of the anchorage. Shortly thereafter an Amtrak passenger train derailed and fell into the bayou. 47 people died in the accident. If any boats had been in the anchorage, it would not have been good. The good news is that now they have much more sophisticated electronic navigation with GPS making this a much safer river.

We arrived to find one other boat at anchor is a very wide area well off of the river. We dropped our hook and for the first time on this trip did not drop a stern anchor. The current will change in this area due to the rise and fall of the tides in Mobile bay. We started pointing one direction and then by morning  we all had swung around and we pointing in the complete opposite direction. We are certainly getting close to the coast and salt water. Three other boats joined us for the night making a total of 5. There is plenty of room and we all enjoyed a quiet and restful night.

In my next entry I will write about the Mobile Bay crossing and sailing. Come back to see how that goes and I will talk about our plan to get to south Florida from there. At some point we have to cross the Gulf of Mexico. How much will we bite off at one time?

Thanks for reading.