OUR PLAN

We are writing this blog for one reason and one reason only. To provide a vehicle to make it easier to remain in touch with our family and friends back home.

Our plan is simple. Depart our home port of Goderich Ontario in the Summer of 2011. Cruise Georgian Bay and the North Channel of Lake Huron while visiting some of the ports and anchorages we have missed over the years. As well as revisiting some of our favourite haunts hopefully with some of our very good friends with whom we have cruised with many times before. All the while adding up the miles and gaining experience with our new trawler. Our first and only self imposed deadline is to be in the Chicago area around Labour Day. South of Chicago, weather and circumstances will guide us!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

11/20/11 POINT CADET MARINA IN BILOXI MS. TO ORLEANS MARINA ON LAKE PONCHATRAIN IN NEW ORLEANS LA

0500 I was wide awake and ready to go.  Problem is we still had almost two hours of darkness to burn off and Terri’s alarm did not sound until 0530.  There was a little bit of fog but I figured visibility to be about 2.5 miles which is well within tolerance.  So back to bed I went and rested until the alarm sounded.  Like clockwork the alarm did sound and I was up and making preps.  There was a light showing on Spirit Dancer next to us so they were also awake and making preps.  Terri looked out the window and gave a little grunt.  Fog eh!   Just a little I said and continued making preps.  I went on deck to start rolling up the water hose and I saw Kemba next door and she verbally re-enforced her sincere dislike for travelling in fog.  Then Bob popped his head out and looked at the same land mass off to the East that I used to get a range of visibility.  He formed his own opinion regarding visibility and more or less agreed with me.  Terri appeared and we had an impromptu captains meeting.  The VHF radio weather report advised that there was a fog warning until 0900.  It doesn’t look that bad so we all agree to leave at first light.   A few minutes earlier Terri had heard another looper friend, Gemini at a different marina on the VHF talking to the harbour master about the fog, but Steve and Beth decide to depart as well.  As it turned out Gemini departed their dock about the same time as us and led Spirit Dancer and Terrmar South then West down the channel. 
SPIRIT DANCER FOLLOWING GEMINI OUT OF  THE CHANNEL

BILOXI MS.

Before we were out of the channel and before Terri had the lines and fenders stowed, the dolphins were playing with our bow wave.  Terri was thrilled and her huge smile warmed my heart.   Steve on Gemini tells us of a short cut that he has worked out with the help of a local boater.   With a quick check of the charts we concur and agree to follow suit.  As we were the third boat in our little flotilla we probably had the easiest job of the three boats.  We all had agreed on the same course and speed so this should be a rather uneventful day.  I had the other two boats identified on Radar and Gemini has an AIS transponder.  My biggest challenge today would be boredom.  We see a fog bank ahead and soon Gemini about ½ a mile in front of us has disappeared and soon Spirit Dancer about ¼ mile a head follows into the mist.  We were now relying on our Chart Plotter, Radar and our AIS receiver.  We have been in fog before and Terri and I know the drill.   The fog thickens.  Hey, wait a minute the weather report promised clear weather by 0900, but we have long ago given up trusting weather forecasts.

CROSBY EXPLORER THE TOW IN THE FOG


 LADY GAYLE MARIE TRAVELLING AT 11 KNOTS WITH BIG HORNS


Well past noon and the fog is still there and we must overtake a tow.  He is doing about 7 mph and we are doing 9 mph.  We have done this often and it should be routine.   But the fog is the wild card.  We have the tow identified on Radar and AIS but I would still like a visual for reference.  Gemini, a mile or so ahead of us passed this tow earlier.   Spirit Dancer, just ahead of us has just completed this maneuver.  So as usual, we contact the Tow Boat Captain and discuss where and when to overtake him.   See you on the two whistle, we both agree.   This means we will overtake him, our Port to his Starboard.   Okay here we go!   Finally I get a visual on him.   I was almost up his Tater Basket (Tow Boat slang for very close to his stern).   Okay, this is a narrow channel and I can’t leave the channel too far for fear of running aground.   The tow boat captain has cooperated and is holding his course and speed as far to the other side of the channel as he dares, but he keeps fading in and out of the fog.  Finally, we are ahead of him and out of danger of any collision with him.  I can now slowly come back to the center of the channel.   The VHF radio springs to life “Terrmar- Spirit Dancer, there is a shrimp boat out here, we almost hit him and he is headed your way.”    But why don’t I see his AIS signal on my chart plotter?   Surely he is equipped with one???   Then Terri saw him emerge out of the fog.  He is coming towards us from the 1 o’clock and the Tug Boat Captain, in his relentless pursuit of our own Tater Basket, from about the 5 o’clock.   I am between a Tow who can’t stop or turn without great effort and a Shrimp Boat working in or near the channel.   Choices, while there are not too many, it is plain to see, there is only one really.   Remember my Fighter Pilot maneuver back on the Illinois River?   That’s it!   I will again need all of the 380 HP we paid for.   The turbo charger kicks in and we show 14 mph on the plotter.   Slowly, the Radar return of the tug behind us is falling off.   Simultaneously, the Shrimp Boat holds his course and speed and Terrmar runs a bit of a button hook maneuver from the left side of the channel over to the right.   Spirit Dancer is on the radio again warning of another Shrimp Boat.   Again we see no AIS signal.   Like the previous Shrimper, the Radar Return is very hard to distinguish between the shrimp boat and a channel marker.   We never did see the second Shrimp Boat.   Our eyes are getting tired from the constant peering into fog looking for buoys or wayward Shrimp Boats.   We heard that, not always is there someone on watch in the wheel house of a Shrimp Boat and that the captain and crew are all at work on deck.   For the sake of a $200 AIS transponder all of this could have been prevented.
The balance of the day, save for the last hour and a half of the trip, was shrouded in fog.   We had reached Lake Ponchatrain LA. and were now only about 20 miles from New Orleans.   We moved up to the Fly-Bridge (steering station up top) because it gave us a better view of the dozens of Crab Pots and their rather ambiguous looking markers.   Many of these markers were black buoys about the size of a Volley Ball or smaller.   Who thought up that colour scheme?   They were becoming increasingly harder to see in the setting sun.   Did I say sun?   Yes, and the last hour of our trip was indeed wonderful.   We left most of the crab pots behind and watched the sun retreat to the west and Spirit Dancer follow from the East.
 
FIRST VIEW OF NEW ORLEANS

"SPIRIT DANCER" AGAIN IS SHE PASSING OR BEING PASSED?  REGARDLESS A BEAUTIFUL BOAT

We arrived at the end of the day with just enough daylight to maneuver.   We, were exhilarated and now had another bullet to put into our gun holster.   We had another first and the next time it would certainly be less intimidating.
Bring on the Big Easy!
Mark

11/18-19/11- DOG RIVER MARINA, AL. TO POINT CADET MARINA IN BILOXI, MS.

The day has arrived to set off for our much anticipated side trip to New Orleans (pronounced N’awlins by the locals).  The weather, waves, wind forecasts and charts have been studied to death.  The decision is made and we set off with Spirit Dancer to our first leg destination, Point Cadet, Biloxi, MS.  Another long day planned and the conditions are not too bad in Mobile Bay.  The further south we traveled the higher the wind and waves seemed to get and Terrmar started rolling with the beam seas.  A tad uncomfortable, shall I say!  Poor Smudge was sea sick, but after we changed direction to west everyone was able to enjoy the ride including Smudge.  Dolphin watching helped pass the time.  Both black and grey dolphins were seen gracefully playing in our boat wake, however too quick to get a picture.

SHRIMP BOAT

POINT CADET MARINA REBUILT AFTER DESTROYED BY KATRINA

NAME SAKE BOAT?

WORKING SHRIMP BOATS AT MARINA

UP CLOSE

We arrived at Point Cadet Marina located in Biloxi, MS. as the sun was beginning to set.  Exhausted from the long day we decided to treat ourselves to dinner and a casino with Spirit Dancer.  The meal was wonderful!  Armed with $20 each we set out for the casino a short walk away.  Kemba was winning at the slot machines and then wandered over to a black jack table.  None of us had ever played but we decided to give it a try.  Crash course from the black jack dealer and game on!  It was a lighthearted game and Mark and I broke even, not so for Kemba and Bob – sorry, but we all lasted through 2 ½ decks of cards and after had a drink while listening to a live band.  So-o-o much fun!

THE ISLE CASINO NEXT TO MARINA


Next day Mark and I went back to the casino for lunch and to try our luck again at the black jack table.  As we sat down and explained to the dealer that we were novices, another player sat down and plunked a $100 bill on the table.  Fair warning, we told him in case he was the, much- too -serious type.   No problem, he replied, but I guess it was a problem for the dealer.  She zeroed in on my every move with lectures and chastising.  The karma was definitely not as great as the night before.   Finally, having had enough “fun”, I placed all my money on one deal, win or lose, I was out of there!  To my great pleasure, my hand won, we left the table even and walked away as the dealer was tripping over her apologizes, realizing that she just chased us and more importantly our gambling money away.  Just as well, early to bed for N’awlins beckons us tomorrow.
Terri

11/15-17/11 THREE RIVERS LAKE AL.TO DOG RIVER MARINA AL.

After a perfect anchorage in Three Rivers Lake it was time to go. This day would be a long one of almost 80 miles and so again we departed at 0600. The fog delayed us a bit but not too much. Bob let me lead the way out of this anchorage (he had shown the way in) and back to the river. Gee thanks Bob! As usual I had laid down a track on the chart plotter when we entered the anchorage the previous evening. So, leaving is just a matter of reversing my track and following it out. Funny thing though. I had erased the track for some reason and memory and eye site were our only tools. Terri is very good at this and I was glad to have her eyes and sixth sense. It was still dark and a bit foggy, but we did manage to find the hole in the trees where we had entered. Once we had found that, it was just a matter of not hitting any trees that had fallen into the river or not touching bottom. We did both and were glad of it. This little trip out to the river took us 30 minutes which could be a very valuable 30 minutes of daylight at the end of the day.

LEAVING IN THE EARLY DAYLIGHT
Mobile AL. was a big city and we would traverse through the very busy industrial port. Bob on Spirit Dancer was stationed here for a year in his Coast Guard days. He gave us a VHF tour of the highlights as we wound our way through the channel.
BRAND NEW CONTAINER FACILITY

BIG INDUSTRY JUST AROUND THE BEND


HOW MANY PORTABLE TOILETS DOES ONE TUG NEED?


BRAND NEW BRIDGE NOT EVEN IN OPERATION YET?


SPIRIT DANCER, ARE THEY PASSING OR BEING PASSED? LOL!


MOBILE AL.

THE LATEST IN U.S. NAVY MIGHT! A MODULAR SHIP THAT CHANGES MODULES TO SUIT THE SITUATION

We saw our first working Shrimp boats after we had left Mobile on our way to Dog River Marina. There were all different sizes from a full crew to smaller vessels of only two crew members. One thing they all had in common was that they figured they owned the bay and the narrow channel. They seemed to want to work in areas that were supposed to be navigation channels. No law against this I suppose, but it just didn’t make sense to me. They had the whole bay! Maybe the shrimp were concentrated in the area of heavy boat traffic. Regardless we managed to work around them like everybody else and all was well.

CONVENTION CENTER IN MOBILE AL.


SHIP IN DRY DOCK


SPIRIT DANCER DWARFED BY OCEAN GOING VESSELS


LEAVING MOBILE BAY

FIRST SHRIMP BOAT


MUCH SMALLER SHRIMPER STILL IN THE CHANNEL THOUGH

PELICAN TAKING FLIGHT


CIRCA JULY 2010 WHEN ALL THESE GOOD PEOPLE AGREED THAT MY BALLS JUST WERE NOT  BIG ENOUGH
L TO R GLENN, GREG, MIKE, SOLANGE, MARK


TURNS OUT THEY WERE CORRECT LOOK AT ME NOW!!


We arrived in Dog River Marina armed with reservations. But they were indeed full up and all they had left for us was the fuel dock. Not a big deal really it just might be busy. Oh well we were only going to stay a day or two and then be gone. As it turned out we had the best spot. It seems like we were on the corner of “busy street” and “smart ass street”. A lot of the loopers had to go past our location in order to leave the marina or whatever. It seems like I can’t do anything like fill the water tanks or wash the boat without some smart ass looper offering me tips and telling me what I was doing wrong. I loved it, but I just can’t understand why they all were picking on me. Lol!

THIS POOR DOVE FLATTENED HIS BEAK TRYING TO FLY THROUGH OUR WINDOW. HE HUNG AROUND FOR A COUPLE HOURS RE-COOPERATING

VIEW OF MOBILE BAY BEHIND MARINA

TERRMAR AT DOG RIVER MARINA FUEL DOCK

We haven’t seen Frank and Carrie from Once Around since Green Turtle Bay and again we enjoyed a pleasant hour on their boat. They had invited us to dinner but Terri and I were just too pooped. But the visit and catching up with them was fun and we learned that Carrie will be flying home to complete a mother of the bride task. That being, to help daughter pick out her wedding dress. Frank will be all alone here for three days. What ever will he do? Check their blog frankncare.blogspot.com to see what a Captain does when the first mate is away. Way to go Frank!
Other than grocery shopping, a trip to West Marine, and a quick bite to eat at a wonderful BBQ Restaurant Dog River Marina was very uneventful. We ended up staying an extra day here as the weather promised a more pleasant trip to Biloxi MS. If we were patient
Cheers, Mark

11/13-14/11 DEMOPOLIS AL. TO BASHI CREEK AL. TO THREE RIVERS LAKE AL.

DEPARTING DEMOPOLIS
It was an early departure from Demopolis, AL with Spirit Dancer leading, down river to the Demopolis Lock and Dam.  The plan was to coordinate with other boats going in the same direction, all arriving for a lock down together.  Plan proceeding, all boats tied securely to the lock wall, doors were closing, great!  Then we hear a radio call to the lock master pleading from a straggler boat requesting a hold on locking down until he could arrive.  Best laid plans…..
An extra half hour wait and off we went down the beautiful, serpentine section of the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway.  Commercial traffic light, but we did spot an interesting homemade river raft made with plastic water bottles for floats.
RIVER BENDS ON THE CHART PLOTTER

SAILING RIVER RAFT

SLANTY SHANTY
We were warned that this part of the river can be challenging because parts are narrow, lots of twists and turns and very few safe places to stop.  It was helpful to listen to advice from those gone before us and especially fortunate travelling with Spirit Dancer who had previously experienced this part of the Great Loop.
Terrmar and Spirit Dancer settled at anchorage late afternoon at Bashi Creek and luckily both boats managed to squeeze in. The river raft “Slanty Shanty” showed up at the same anchorage wanting to collect on a promise made previously by Mark.  Mark forked over $20 and a couple beers for pictures taken of their vessel while passing them previously.  Was interesting chatting with the young couple and wished them luck. 



SPIRIT DANCER ANCHORED IN BASHI CREEK


TERRMAR CHATTING WITH SLANTY SHANTY COUPLE

SLANTY SHANTY COUPLE COLLECTING ON PROMISE

MARK CHECKING DEPTHS IN BASHI CREEK

APPEARS WE HAD PROTECTION AT BASHI CREEK


Again an early morning rise, enjoying the amazing scenery in all its autumn glory!  Finally locking down at Cofeeville Lock and Dam, the last lock on the rivers from Chicago, IL to Mobile,AL.  From this point south we will have brackish water and tidal challenges.  After a long day, we entered our anchorage at Three Rivers Lake, a quiet peaceful respite with Spirit Dancer.  

REFLECTION 1

REFLECTION 2

REFLECTION 3

WE ANCHORED INSTEAD OF DOCKING @ BOBBIES FISH CAMP

COFFEEVILLE LOCK-LAST ON THE RIVERS

SPIRIT DANCER LEADING ON BLACK WARRIOR RIVER

WILD PIGS ON SANDY GRASSLAND

SPIRIT DANCER ENTERS 3 RIVERS LAKE @ DUSK
Sweet Dreams
Terri


11/10-12/11 SUMTER LANDING AL. TO DEMOPOLIS AL.

Another river conquered, as we left the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and started on the Warrior-Tombigbee  River.  We arrived in Demopolis, Alabama, supposedly the last marina stop until Mobile where we can provision and prepare for the next leg of our journey.  Everything going well, catching up on office work, water tanks full, head pumped out, groceries bought and stowed – but maybe we better check on that pesky noise coming from the engine the day before.  Probably nothing, but is prudent to investigate while we are safe at a marina with service.   Outwardly everything seems in order, but perhaps best to contact marina mechanic, just to be sure. 
WHITE CLIFFS @ EPES

UP CLOSE

CYPRESS TREES ALONG THE TENN-TOM



FALL COLOURS


WINDING RIVER WITH BRIDGES


James arrived promptly and within minutes, after checking the engine, delivered his news.  Not a big deal, the idler bearing for the main serpentine engine belt was worn and needed to be replaced.   James was ready and willing to perform the task but the challenge will be to get the part shipped overnight, installed Saturday , on schedule for travel on Sunday, only a day delayed.   Arrangements are made quickly.
Nothing more to be done today, might as well take some chill time and go to the local marina restaurant with looper friends Bob and Kemba aboard Spirit Dancer who are willing to wait a day before continuing south.  The food (jambalaya and fried pickles) and company were great and Mark  was in rare form, ready for friendly banter and lots of laughs.  Seems the girls in the kitchen were ready too, especially when taking aim at their beloved football teams.  Mark met his match and definitely got as good as he dished.  I felt sorry for the Baptist preacher and his wife, who were not accustomed to Mark’s sense of humor (and that is all I will say about that).
Mark booked the courtesy car for 10:00 (2 hours) and Spirit Dancer graciously lent us their car  time (2 hours) so we could travel to Tuscaloosa (1 hour each way), to pick up the part at Fed X.  Maybe it was the Karma from the night before, but we got a hint of what the day was to bring, when arriving for the courtesy car.   Mark was met by 2 “good ole ’boys” lounging in a bass fishing boat.   Mark asked them if they knew where the marina employee was.  “Oh, that guy had to go pull a boat off a sand bar and he told us that we was to rob you!! “   Well it will take the both of you and then some, said Mark.  They looked at each other and said   “Awe, well, who cares what that guy said then” and they both started laughing. 
After finally getting the car we headed into Tuscaloosa, arriving in good time at the FedX office (on the way, getting an unwanted tour of Demopolis and  Tuscaloosa, traveling through parts hard hit by a Tornado in April, our directions incorrectly  taking us into the deep back woods).  Ok, let’s grab the part and scram.  Unfortunately no one gave us a tracking number for this package (we did not think to ask) and we just happened to get “miss employee who goes by the book with no exceptions”.   Nothing would budge her resolve, not a phone call from the marina owner, not the Fed X customer service rep, not pleading or begging!
Finally reached mechanic James who promised us he would track down the number, not easy to do on a Saturday.  Fortunately James came through and Mark retrieved the package, not a word from “Miss” except “have a good day” to which Mark replied, “and you”.
After 3 ½ hours waiting, not including traveling time we were on our way back, passing strange sculptures made of hay in the fields along the roadside.   These were actually part of the Hay Museum, we just happened to stumble upon.  James was true to his word and had the engine purring in no time.  We really appreciated his efforts especially after we learned that he “had a strip torn out of him” by his boss for allowing us to take the courtesy car out of town. We made sure to compensate James for his troubles.   I hope we are square with Karma once again.   As Bob has observed, not to worry, we won’t be traveling this way again!   Early to bed -  tomorrow we are traveling on down the river.


DEMOPOLIS YACHT BASIN PROJECT

SAILBOAT SCULPTURE @ HAY MUSEUM

LOCAL FARMER CO-OP

Sweet dreams
Terri