On Jan 31,2017, Tom flew to Dog River without Paula as she had a very swollen knee and knew she could not climb the ladder to the boat while it was out of the water. But Tom had work to do while Life’s TraVails was on the hard. Over the next 5 days, he supervised the installation of the new drive shaft, installed a new sea chest extension he made while home over Christmas (for details, see Sea Chest Extension), installed our new 73-pound Rocna anchor. (Paula had wanted one ever since we couldn’t anchor in Beaufort, SC and we finally found one on sale with free shipping.) He also put up some new wood blinds on our front windows in the salon.
On Saturday morning, Feb 4, Tom awoke to fog engulfing the marina behind us. That afternoon, Paula joined him. We went to church on Sunday at Crosshope Chapel, a very small Calvary Chapel pastored by Steve Durkac, who we discovered was an ex-7th Day Adventist who was Facebook friends with our Phoenix pastor! Small world. After church we drove to Dauphin Island, about the only thing we hadn’t done in the Mobile area we wanted to do. The island reminded us of the islands on the east coast and had a small fort on the tip.
We didn’t know of any Super Bowl parties but found a big-screen TV at the Mariner Restaurant just across the bay from the marina, and ran into Dave and Beth Rogers again who we had no idea were still in Mobile, plus their sailing friend, Henry Krzemien. It was great to connect with them again.
On Monday, more health issues began, this time for Tom. He had a swollen gum and went to see a dentist, who determined it was an abscess. He promptly sent him to another dentist for a root canal. In between those 2 office visits, we “splashed” LT back into the water at Dog Marina into a slip after 2 months on the hard (out of the water). The next day Tom went back to the original dentist for a crown on the tooth.
While Tom was relaxing in the dentist chair, heavy rains poured down with a tornado watch in effect. Paula was alone on the boat nursing her knee, but there was only rocking and rolling for a little while and then the wind died down, though a tornado did touch down in New Orleans, only 135 miles to our west. We were really happy not to find a single leak on the boat from the rain.
George and Pam Green on Bye George, Loopers we had met the day before, came by for a visit. They liked DeFevers and later when we saw their boat, our first Tolleycraft (48’), we really liked theirs too.
On Wednesday, we went to our favorite breakfast spot in Mobile, Cream & Sugar, with it’s wonderful scones. We wanted to share with friends so we waited while they baked us a dozen scones and then delivered them warm to Dave, Beth, and Henry plus helpers at Dog River. At 1:00 PM, we took LT out with 2 mechanics for a sea trail to make sure the drive shaft installation was proper. George and Pam rode along with us just for fun. All was good and it was a quick return, this time to the fuel dock for a ready departure when the weather allowed. Later, we joined mariners from Turner Marine who usually had a Wednesday evening potluck but due to weather had decided to go to The River Shack across the water for dinner. We visited with others we already knew and got to meet Kurt and Barbarajean Walter, new Loopers on In His Time.
Tom awoke on Thursday with more tooth pain and we were hesitant to leave Mobile until we were sure everything was OK. The result of another dental visit was the assurance the pain was residual, due to so much being done to the tooth in such a short time. A stronger antibiotic ensured no infection would result.
Friday, we finally cast our lines and began our first day of Loop #2! We motored 10 miles across Mobile Bay before arriving at the first marker on the ICW, marker 134. We had whitecaps and wind – more than forecast, so it wasn’t a real comfortable ride, but we were glad to finally be moving again. We saw many pelicans. On Loop 1, we saw dolphins on our first 17 days of moving, and but this day, no dolphins.
As we motored into the “ditch” (the narrow man-made channel), things calmed down and we stopped at the Wharf Marina at Orange Beach for the night. Just in case we thought we had this all under control because we had “done this before,” we had a difficult time getting into our assigned slip. There was a strong crosswind, the fairways were very narrow, and only by quick dockhand thinking and suggestion we go in a different slip did we avoid causing damage by contact with someone or some thing! We suggested in Active Captain that anyone with a boat longer than 35’ not let Wharf Marina assign them a slip in the “East Basin.”
The Wharf Marina at Orange Beach was a very nice location, adjacent to a nice waterside outdoor mall/shopping area, complete with stores, restaurants, movie theater, and a big Ferris wheel. It was nice to stroll around before calling it a night.
We made up for our strike-out with dolphins the next day, encountering 18 along our 62 miles through Wolf Bay, Ingraham & Roberts Bayou, Period Bay, Big Lagoon, passing Pensacola, and East Bay. Enroute, Tom installed snaps in the captain’s chair cushion Paula had made and adjusted the drive shaft packing a second time. We enjoyed the sunny 74° day and the white sand beaches, arriving at the free dock at Ft. Walton Beach around 3:00 PM. As soon as we got docked, we got LC down and scootered around town for a quick look at Ft. Walton Beach. Two people had recommended the triggerfish dinner at High Tide just across the bridge and after indulging, we definitely agreed.
The next day we were off at 7:00 AM and had a huge dolphin day – 42 dolphins over our 62-mile day! One group played in the bow wave for 20 minutes. We saw 2 babies, and one dolphin with only half a tail fin. Many had scars on their backs.
Choctawachee Bay was wonderfully smooth. We were happy about that because we knew it could be rough as big as it was.
Dolphins played in our bow wave for another 30 minutes across East Bay and once we had 7 at one time, a record for us. They had to form 2 lines (forward and aft) for that many to ride. At one point, 3 jumped together just in front of the boat just like they were in formation. Paula had a smile on her face all day, running down to the bow each time to watch them play.
Unfortunately, LT had now developed a loud squeal. After we entered Masslina Bayou, Tom dove the drive shaft to see if he could see anything wrong. The dive told him nothing other than that the water was cold! We anchored that night in Masslina Bayou in the same spot we had anchored on our first Loop. We even saw the same sailboater rowing to his dinghy who talked with us 2 years prior! It was the first time we dropped our new Rocna anchor and we had to try twice (disappointing) but then it held solidly.
On Monday, we passed through East Bay (with lots of crab pots in the channel at the east edge in very dirty water), Wetappo and Searcy Creeks and Lake Wimico (where Tom saw his first turtles) before reaching Apalachicola River. Apalachicola is one “jumping off point” for cruisers making the big 160-mile all-night crossing across the Gulf to Tarpon Springs or Clearwater. Since we hadn’t stopped there on our first Loop, we decided to check it out.
We stayed at Apalacicola Marina, a tired marina just yards off the ICW. The docks were in poor repair and the golf cart provided to get around town was down as much as it ran, but it worked out well enough for us to wait out 3 nights while windy/rainy weather passed through. Over the 3 days, we walked the small town, met the local potter who gave us bunches of fresh mint and oregano from her garden, split a delicious seafood dinner at the Owl Café, and met Rick and Linda Neilson on Nautical Dreamer. Tom replaced the fresh water pump head, and really enjoyed the 6½-hour job of replacing the processor panel inside our main head poop processor (not). But…it worked better and there were no leaks after the job was done, thus it was a success!
Before leaving on Thursday, Tom finally got a response from Dog River Marina about the squeal. They wanted us to take LT to Dockside Marine in Carrabelle (the other tiny town “jumping off point” for cruisers making the crossing), 26 miles in front of us. We knew the place well as on our first Loop, we spent 5 nights at Dockside while Eric worked on our engines and electrical problems! Well, at least we were happy we knew we’d be in good hands there.
We fueled up at JV Gander about ¼ mile away from Apalachicola Marina where Tom had found diesel for $1.95 + tax if we paid in cash and at 12:10 PM, we left for Carrabelle. Unfortunately, when we called Dockside, they told us they couldn’t haul us out until Monday morning. Ugh! That meant another loss of 4 days…but we had to determine the problem and get it fixed.
It was an easy day, and just before we dropped anchor at Cannonball point on Dog Island just 30 minutes across St. George Sound from Carrabelle, we decided to called Dockside to tell them how close we were in case they had any change in their schedule and could haul us out before Monday. We heard, “Wait and minute” and then… “Bring it on over, and we’ll pull you first thing tomorrow morning.” Yeah!!!
By 9:30 Friday morning, LT was once again hanging from straps out of the water. Determination: Dog River had painted over the holes which allowed the water to pass through the strut bearings, cooling the drive shaft. As soon as the paint was scraped off, water poured out. We also discovered the shaft had not been properly prepared (roughed up) before the primer and finish paint were applied, as it was already coming off. Within a few hours, we were repainted (less covering the holes) and ready to go back in the water as soon as the paint dried. While Eric was with Tom in the engine room, Tom was able to pick his brain about our intermittent tachometer problem and an electrical problem with the inverter charging, for which Eric suggested some work-around solutions.
While the paint dried, we borrowed Eric’s 1966 Ford pick-up and drove to town to have lunch at The Fisherman’s Wife’s where we had eaten our first time around. At 4:30 PM, we were lowered back into the water, with permission to stay the weekend, which was great as the weather forecast was not good for our 60-mile mini-crossing of Apalachee Bay the next day.
Unfortunately, at 10:30 the next morning, we got a call saying we needed to move from the lift dock because they had to put another boat back in the water. So, we went out in the rain and wind to leave (a tough departure due to the wind) for an anchorage at the east end of Dog Island, cutting off an hour from our mini-crossing whenever we did get to do it. It was not a real nice day to have to move, with whitecaps and chop in St. George Sound. But, as soon as we got in the lee of the island, it smoothed out and we found a wonderful anchorage at Tyson’s Harbor.
After 2 unsuccessful anchoring attempts (Paula’s Rocna was letting her down), a passing boater pointed out the best place to anchor and it held the first time. We had great protection from all directions, right alongside a small grass landing strip. Tom took the afternoon to modify the PVC bumper poles to his new-and-improved more rigid design.
We were ready for our mini-crossing to Steinhatchee the next day and set our alarm for 6:00 AM. In order to make the 68-mile crossing and arrive an hour before sunset (our personal minimums), our “drop dead” departure time was 8:00. When it was light enough to see, there was a thin fog hovering over the water. Within the next 45 minutes, it began to clear. Then…poof…totally socked in, and until 11:00, we could barely see the shore a hundred yards away. Another day of waiting.
When the sun turned the day into a lovely afternoon, Tom inflated our kayak and figured a way to store it inflated on the dinghy deck, knowing we would use it much more often if it were easily accessible and almost ready to paddle. We kayaked to shore, walked across the narrow island to the Gulf and dipped our toes in the cold water. It was a beautiful beach and Tom shell-hunted while Paula rested her knee, bummed she couldn’t walk with him. Upon our return to the boat, we walked by the Dog Island Yacht Club and met one of the 8 permanent residents on Dog Island!
The next day, we repeated the 6:00 AM wake-up. As soon as we determined fog was unlikely, we were anchor up at 7:00 and on our way. We were rewarded with excellent conditions, initially only about 1 to 2’ swells, then almost none. We only saw 2 other boats the whole day of the crossing, but we knew Nautical Dreamer and 2 other boats they had hooked up with (Sea Clusion and Distant Star) were about an hour behind us doing the crossing as well. It provided a bit of comfort factor.
Along the way, Tom trolled and when we heard the zing of the line, he was quickly down reeling in his first fish. Five minutes later when he got it near enough to the boat to see, it looked like a 2 foot tuna. Umm…we could almost taste it! Just then it decided it didn’t want to be dinner and spit the hook out, leaving us with sad faces…the one that got away.
It took us 30 minutes to get the anchors set (main and stern), anchored just yards off the channel in Steinhatchee as we couldn’t get the stern anchor to hold and ended up asking a skiff to take it away from the boat and drop it for us. Bingo. Just before we went to bed, Paula noticed the stern had shifted and was now toward land and asked Tom how much water we had under our stern. He decided he should check and discovered we had only 1 foot below the keel, and the tide was going to drop 2 feet more. Tom was able to shorten our stern line and get our stern back in 8 feet of water, which put us back in the comfort zone.
In the morning (7:25), the strong current and tide had shifted, the main anchor was slack, and the stern anchor was holding us. Tom couldn’t get the stern anchor up. We started the engines and Paula tried to motor the stern around a bit to help. But it just wouldn’t move. Why not? We were aground! Checking tide charts again, Tom determined we had a rising tide and it would be high tide at 10:00. There was nothing to do but wait.
By 8:25, the boat was once again floating, Tom pulled the stern anchor up and we were able to back toward the channel and get the main anchor up. We were looking like complete novices again!!! Paula actually remarked that she wasn’t sure she liked flying the gold AGLCA flag (which meant we had completed one Great Loop), as it would make people think we knew what we were doing! We were proving the exact opposite lately, but the good news was we were the only ones who knew we were stuck. Tom remarked that we never had trouble setting a stern anchor on the river systems, but…the current didn’t change in the rivers.
We started out with 1-foot chop, then the ride deteriorated with 2 to 3-foot swells and whitecaps. It was uncomfortable. Besides that, the water was strewn with crab pots, making navigation feel like trying to pick one’s way through a minefield. (Catching a crab pot line in the prop would not be a good thing!) And it was hard to spot the white balls (let alone the black, red, or green ones) with the whitecaps all around. But we made it through and finally had about 30 miles of our 51 without their hassle until getting within about 10 miles from Cedar Key, our destination. Enroute, Tom caught a pretty, 7-pound fish of unknown identification. We were so excited as it was Tom’s first edible fish of either Loop and Paula quickly planned a dinner of fish and rice. But we wanted to be sure what it was first.
The channel into Cedar Key was very shallow and, with the tide just 1 foot off low, we bumped softly (Tom was going very slowly) but made it through. We anchored in front of the town next to a sailboat, as there was no marina with more than a 1.5-foot depth (we need 4.5).
As soon as we were settled, we kayaked in to see town (3 blocks long), as rain was expected the next day. Asking around and calling our Alabama fisherman friend, Tom Smitherman, we found out the fish Tom caught was a Bluefish. “How do we cook it?” Tom said… “Don’t. I don’t eat them.” A charter captain also said, “Not my favorite fish. Soak it in milk for 24 hours, then fry it” which is code for “this is a really fishy fish and you really don’t want to taste it.” Disappointed, we ate instead at the twice-recommended Steamers and had a lovely meal of crab trio – snow crab claw (one of Paula’s favorites), crab cake (delicious), and fried soft-shell crab.
We knew from the forecast we were likely going to have a layover day in Cedar Key. It ended up being 2 layover days. We slept well the first night but awoke feeling like a cork in an ocean. Our anchorage was a good one but unprotected from the direction the wind was now blowing (with gusts up to 32 mph) and whitecaps were all around. Fortunately, it smoothed out after about 2 hours and we only experienced that 1 more time in the 3 days. It rained intermittently and was windy, so we did boat chores. The second evening, a short time after Tom started the 8K generator, Paula heard water rushing. When Paula opened the engine room door, she’d found the source and saw a steamy mist. Tom took over and after shutting down the generator, found a broken exhaust elbow – corroded through. He started the 12.5K gen which ran a while, then shut itself down. This time the engine room was smoky and when Tom checked the fuel solenoid, it was very hot (336°)! Not good. Now we had no generator, and 2 more things added to the list.
The next day, we could finally move. We started shortly after daylight for our long 70-mile off-shore, out-of-sight-of-land day. After passing the Anclote River, we were finally back into the GIWW (Gulf Intracoastal Waterway) for 10 miles before arriving at Dunedin. Now for you non-Floridians, it’s pronounced “Done Eden.” (We don’t want you to get laughed at like Paula did. Personally, she thinks if they wanted it pronounced that way, they should have made it 2 words and spelled it that way!)
We saw 9 dolphins before we were even out of our departure channel and 15 more before the day was over, as well as 1 large turtle and possibly a manatee. There were intermittent lines of crab pots to avoid even after we were several miles offshore, but at least they were easier to see than our previous offshore day, as the ride was very flat and nice.
We discovered our good friends Thad and Cindy on Glorious Dei (“In celebration of a day on the water…and in praise of the One who created it”) were in Dunedin (though a different marina) and as soon as we got the boat washed down, they picked us up and we were off to a lovely dinner together at Lucky Lobster in downtown Dunedin.
After returning to our boat later in the evening, we heard, “Help, help.” We rushed out to the neighboring boat. While Tom climbed aboard and provided medical attention to the husband who was unconscious on the floor beside the bed and bleeding, Paula called 911. While 911 was on the way, Paula went to the front of the marina to lead the EMTs directly to the boat (as far away from the entrance as possible in a big marina) and by the time they arrived, Matt was sitting up. He had not been feeling well after eating some shrimp earlier in the day, had a tingling lip, and had evidently passed out and cut his head. That was our introduction to Matt and Vicky Bissell, with whom we had a nicer visit a few days later when they gave us some great tips on cruising in the Keys.
Saturday was a full day. We got LC off and rode to the Dunedin Downtown Market and got great produce from Kilpatrick Produce (Paula’s maiden name). There were jewelry and clothing tents and wonderful food vendors. We split a delicious veggie pesto crepe followed by an all-natural fruit smoothie. Paula bought a set of crocheted wire earring that match the pretty dolphin necklace given to her by our Sunday school class for a service project she had managed for 17 years. We also bought some cantaloupe jam we intend to use as a fish topping (yes, sounds weird, but it was really good) and also some “miracle” cleaning cloths. (We’re suckers for such things.) While stopping at a thrift store on our way back to the boat, we realized we had been there before. Turned out, even though we had not had the boat at Dunedin on our first Loop, we had driven there to attend Kirk Church.
Dunedin had about a 6-block downtown with a few more shops along the Pinellas Trail (a 36-mile walking/bike path that runs from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs). We stopped at Rainbows End Quilt Shoppe with more quilt fabrics than we had ever seen in one store before. When we went to pay, we discovered we had Thad’s credit card from the evening before – the waitress had swapped our cards, and Thad and Cindy had already left Dunedin! We would have to figure out how to get them swapped back.
Back at the marina, Tom did 4 loads of clothes at the marina (it was a long walk for Paula’s sore knee) as we hadn’t done laundry in 15 days. While he was up at the office, he saw a guy cleaning his day’s catch. The fisherman had 3 old canvas ice bags. Tom pointed to the large cooler which we had put on the dock earlier in the day to sell and said, “You need a big cooler like that one for your fish.” He said, “I sure do.” Tom said, “Well that’s my cooler and it’s for sale for $25.” Mr. Fisherman whipped out his wallet without ever looking at the cooler and with a sad face said, “I only have $20.” Tom said, “How about $20 and half that fish you’re fileting?” Tom put a big smile on Paula’s face when he returned with $20 and our supper of red grouper. We had seen grouper for $18/pound at the fish market earlier in the day.
We stayed an extra day in Dunedin to go to Kirk Church and visit with Al and Dee Marks who lived about 45 minutes away. The message was on controlling the tongue, complete with props. We again got to see Ed Thomas, our air conditioner repairman who had invited us to that church 2 years earlier, and before lunch, Al, Dee and their friend Joy arrived, and we all had delicious grilled chicken salads at Benedicts near the church. Then Al kindly drove the 20 miles to Madiera Beach Marina where we retrieved our credit card from the Harveys.