This blog is as much for us as it is to share our adventure with others. We figure when we get old (no comments, please), it will be a good way to reminisce about the trip. So the first couple of paragraphs are a summary of this two-week stay on the boat. If you find yourself totally captivated and want to know more details, continue reading. (Note, all our pictures are links to larger images.)
1/31 – 2/13/15 – Summary: We returned to the boat with a short list of things which needed to be done before we left Pensacola, and were ready in 2 days, but the weather was not. So we stayed an extra day and headed east on the ICW on our 4th day. We spent the next several days traveling through “the ditch” and anchoring at little nooks and crannies along the way. One night was in Hogtown Bayou, and another in a creek in a swamp. We traveled from 10 to 50 miles a day, enjoying the sights along the way, including many dolphin sightings.
We had hoped to make the crossing to Tampa, an 18-hour all-night affair, but we ended up with mechanical problems and the weather was not good anyway. Three days in a repair marina to fix mostly electrical issues was not really in our plan for this trip, but we did get several things fixed and are now better prepared to make the crossing next time. So Life’s TraVails is tied up in a slip in Carrabelle, FL, where we will return in late March for the next leg of our adventure.
(This is where you quit if you are bored already, but thanks for stopping by!)
1/31 – 2/4/15 – We returned to the boat, but not with the impellers! (See last post for details.) They should have arrived a couple of days before we left, but a snowstorm on the east coast held them up and they arrived about 3 hours after we left home. So the decision was made to move anyway and change the transmission oil at a later time.
We got those few “must do’s” off the list and were ready to depart on 2/2, but the weather held us up, with cold temps (high 30s in the morning), rain, and wind 20 gusting to 35 MPH. So…another day in the slip and a few more work items accomplished.
We motored along Santa Rosa Sound and then traveled for a long time through what was called “The Narrows,” some of which was less than 50 yards wide. Fortunately, we passed no big barges and saw very little traffic (only 3 boats all day) as we continued east at about 7 knots. Paula did have several dolphin sightings (10 in total) and loved watching them play in the bow wave.
We had planned to anchor in a small cove called Jone’s Bayou less than a half mile off the ICW, but just as we turned in the direction of the cove (and thankfully had throttled down), we had our first grounding. Fortunately it was in soft mud, and we were going slowly. A little reverse throttle and we were free, and headed instead to the next anchorage another hour away. We ended up driving 50 miles total (about 10 more than planned) and arrived just before sunset. By the time we had the anchor set, the sun had fallen below the horizon, but we were tucked away in Hogtown Bayou. Yep, really. Hogtown, and not a hog in sight.
By the time we went to bed it was raining, and it rained all night. In the morning, it was still raining with a prediction of rain all day, so we decided on a layover day. And it was a good thing we did, because it was also “Gremlin Day.” We already had enough on the list to keep us busy, but the gremlins moved in and started breaking things. Tom found a leak on the fuel polishing pump. Fortunately, he found a spare, and with some phone help from the factory rep, got it fixed. But in the middle of that job, the smoke alarm went off. Turned out one of the engine room blowers had burned up. It got so hot before tripping the circuit breaker that it melted the plastic housing. Late in the day, one of the kitchen lights developed a short, tripping another circuit breaker. And finally, Tom found a leak in the 8KW generator’s saltwater cooling system after dinner, so we had to run the larger 12.5KW generator for the night. Oh boy. More things on the list to fix and to buy.
2-5-15 – We woke to a clear, but cold, and windy day. Tom fixed the leak on the generator and we were “anchor up” by 9:30 and headed back out to the magenta line, a line on the nautical chart showing the channel of the ICW. By day’s end, we had moved 36 miles, much of it in “the ditch” – where the ICW is a narrow channel carved out as a shipping waterway. The ditch is continually dredged to ensure the water is deep enough for commercial traffic and we, the recreational boater, reap the benefits. Interestingly, Tom has spent over 30 years working in the Grand Canyon, also often referred to as “the ditch;” and Life’s TraVails travels about 7 to 8 miles per hour, the same as his raft did in the canyon.
The day was cool, but we were able to drive from the flybridge all day, the first time since we began. We watched more dolphins, a few fishermen, but mostly enjoyed the somewhat deserted banks of the ICW. Got to Burnt Mill Creek (total 36 miles) about 3:00 PM, dropped anchor, and enjoyed the calm. Unfortunately, Paula was studying for her annual training and on the computer most of the evening, but that gave Tom blogging time to burn up the keyboard of his iPad with his 2 typing fingers.
2-6-15 – We woke up to a beautiful sunrise. It was a short day – only 16 miles to Panama City and we anchored just out from a marina in Massilina Bayou. Actually had to radio the bridgetender and get him to raise the 6’ bridge just for us to get in! Kinda cool. A neighboring sailboater rowed by in his dinghy for a chat on his way back from town and told us about the dinghy dock near Joe’s Bayou restaurant. We got off the boat for the first time in 5 days (after Tom swapped
out the dead battery on our dinghy) and dinghied in. Walked to town to the PO, 2 marine stores (neither of which had the socket Tom needed for the light) and stopped by The Bagel Maker on 4th Street, but they were out of blueberry bagels. The super-friendly owner would not let us leave sad and empty-handed, and gave us two plain bagels. Then we had very good pizza mid-afternoon at Trigo restaurant on Harrison Ave. in Panama City’s quaint old downtown, eating out on their patio. On the way back to the boat, Paula took her first turn at the helm of Life’s Lift, our dinghy, as we toured the marina area. Back at the boat, Tom had installed the solar panel on the dinghy battery by sunset. Hopefully, no more dead dinghy batteries!
2/7/15 – As we headed out of the harbor, we called the bridgetender and asked for the bridge to be raised to let us out (see video). We motored the short remainder of West Bay, 12 miles across East Bay (with quite a few dolphins), into Watappo Creek and back into a long stretch of “the ditch.” At one point where Gulf County Canal intersected, there were quite a few fishing and recreational boaters. We discovered we like it much better boating peacefully by ourselves and not having to navigate around other boats and their wakes. We also saw a number of derelict boats, both along the ICW and in the side channels, but they didn’t cause much of a problem.
It was finally warm enough for Paula to try out the NordicTrack on the flybridge while traveling. She says NordicTracking across boat wakes adds a whole new dimension to one’s workout. She could even drive the boat while doing it by using the autopilot remote control. We pulled into another oxbow on the north side where we finally, on our 5th attempt, got the anchor to hold. Then a stern line to a tree (as our swing area was not very wide) essentially blocked off the entrance to the oxbow. No matter…we seemed to be the only Loopers this far north in FL; from the time we set anchor until we pulled it up again in the morning, only a couple of boats went by. Tom took a short dinghy ride around the oxbow, looking for the ‘gaters one review in Active Captain mentioned. None…much to Paula’s relief. Following a beautiful sunset, we heard an owl or two later that evening.
2/8/15 – As the next forecast for potentially good crossing weather from Carrabelle to Tampa was not for 3 days, we decided to break up the remainder of our distance to Carrabelle into 2 days, leaving a short day of just 10 miles. We lazily “anchored up” around 11:00 AM heading east on the ICW, through Lake Wimico, where we were the only boat in sight (ahhhh), and then back into “the ditch.” At Saul Creek, we made a left turn and drove in about a mile to find a spot for the night. Another anchor on the bow and the stern tied to a tree and we were set . It was finally warm enough to have lunch on the sundeck, followed by a dinghy ride for a couple of miles up the creek. We saw a half-sunken shrimp boat, some sunning turtles and several small houses on floats. Boy, there are certainly some hermits who like remote hideouts in the middle of a swamp!
Tom then discovered he had not fixed the leak in the small generator and that the water pump needed to be rebuilt. But then, the water pump for the large generator did not seem to be working either. Isn’t boating fun? Tom took time to troubleshoot the Wi-Fi extender and found and fixed the problem, hopefully allowing us to get Wi-Fi as much as 5 miles from a hotspot. He also exchanged a loose door handle, and we inventoried some more of the boat. With both generators on the fritz, we decided to find a repair facility in Carrabelle and still try to be ready for the crossing should a weather window open up.
2/9/15 – We were up early (7:00 AM, which was becoming “boat early” for us) to a rainy day. After breakfast, we weathered the rain and headed out of Saul Creek for the 30-mile run to Carrabelle. While underway, Tom did some research on repair facilities and chose MS Dockside Marina based on the Active Captain reviews.
As we approached the marina, Tom idled back and the port engine died…not a big deal, just restart it! NOT! She was dead, and now we were down to one engine and a 15′ slip (the only one they had available) into which we needed to squeeze our 14.5′ boat – not an easy task for a seasoned pilot, let alone a rookie. Fortunately, Eric, the owner, got in a skiff and came out to help. After troubleshooting for a few minutes, the problem was not obvious so he backed it into the slip with the help of the 2 of us on the boat and 4 guys on the dock handling lines. It would have made a great video.
Once secured, Eric and Tom spent some time in the engine room figuring out the problems. The bottom line: the water pump on the small generator needed to be rebuilt/replaced, the big generator was not creating power at all, and the starting battery for the port engine was dead as a doornail.
Over the next 3 days, a new water pump was ordered (as rebuild kits were no longer available), the big generator was diagnosed as having a couple of bad brushes and they were ordered, the battery combiner switch on the port engine was diagnosed as bad causing the battery to be drained one too many times, both needing to be replaced. And while figuring out the battery problem, we found the alternator on the other engine was not working and needed to be replaced as well. Carrabelle is a nice little harbor with friendly folks.
Other items on the list were attacked while we waited for parts to be delivered. And it turned out the weather was not conducive for the crossing anyway. Paula did some studying for her annual testing (likely her last), repaired and rehung the curtains in the main stateroom, customized the new sheets to fit the mattress, along with some boat inventorying, of course.
MS Dockside Marina turned out to be a really good choice! Eric and his crew, which included 2 of his sons, were very knowledgeable, easy to work with, and even helpful with advice on Tom’s other projects. Eric was willing to sit down and help Tom better understand some of the electrical systems on the boat, which is one of his weak areas. By the end of day 3, we had 2 generators running, a new battery installed, a battery combiner switch being sent by the manufacture (for free), an alternator on order, and Tom feeling much better about his understanding of the electrical system.
2/13/15 – At 7:15 AM, we heard a knock on our boat, and though we thought we had another 45 minutes before it was time to move the boat to another marina with a wider slip, it turned out we had been in Carrabelle for 3 days with our clocks an hour off! Fortunately the marina was only about half a mile up the river and Eric had, unbeknownst to us, arranged for one of his guys to help us move the boat. (Guess he thought we needed it!) But Tom made his first solo docking and didn’t even hit anything…Praise the Lord! And Paula knew she was really going to like this place as there was a dolphin in our slip as we pulled in! We had done most of the “go home” checklist the night before (fortunately), and were ready to go when the driver showed up to take us to the Tallahassee airport, 1 hour north. So we left Life’s TraVails tied in a slip in Carrabelle and headed home, hoping to return in late March.