Welcome to the blog of Fred and Julaine as we chronicle our adventures traveling the "Great Loop" on Boreas, our Carver 405.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Days 142 through 146 – Bay Point Marina, Panama City Beach, FL - November 25-29, 2011

We are still at Bay Point Marina waiting for the Gulf of Mexico to calm down enough for us to make our crossing to either Tarpon Springs or Clearwater.  Fred spends time each morning and evening on three different wind and weather sites looking for that perfect (or at this point just slightly less than perfect) weather window.  The past few days have seen 25 to 30 knot winds and 9 to 11 foot waves out on the Gulf – these are conditions that no one should be out in.  Our ideal crossing weather would be wind less than 10 knots and waves less than 2 feet.  We were tracking what looked like a good window for either Wednesday or Thursday, but now we’re not so sure.  We keep telling ourselves that we are not on any type of schedule and that we can just wait for the right weather.  Unfortunately the longer you stay in one spot, the more frustrated you get with not moving and the more likely you are to venture out in less than great conditions.

In between the rain showers here in Panama City Beach, we have been able to explore the whole Bay Point Resort complex on bikes.  This complex is extremely large and includes not only the marina but two 18 hole golf courses (one a Jack Nicklaus design), four restaurants, three hotel/timeshare buildings (by Marriott, Wyndham and Holiday Inn), condominiums, villas and private homes.

John and Rita from Brandy IV have joined us again.  They rented a car yesterday and we went with them to the Pier Park outdoor mall and did a bit of shopping and took in a movie. 

             Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Days 140 & 141 – Bay Point Marina, Panama City Beach, FL - November 23-24, 2011

We made the move to Bay Point Marina and are very happy.  The people here at the marina are terrific and it is a very protected location.

We had a great Thanksgiving dinner here on the boat.  Our five pound turkey breast was just the perfect size for the boat’s oven.  We completed our meal with mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn and Jell-O salad.  We don’t have the mixer here on the boat so we couldn’t have Fred’s favorite fruit salad – I also wasn’t prepared to do both a turkey and pies in the oven, so we skipped the pie (but don’t worry, we had milk and Oreos for dessert).  Perhaps I’ll get brave and make a pie for Christmas.

            Miles: 1.2        Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

Day 139 – Lighthouse Marina, Panama City Beach, FL - November 22, 2011

We borrowed the marina’s courtesy car and did our grocery shopping today.  We thought we might go out to a local restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, but instead decided to get a turkey breast and some of our favorite fixings.  We also checked out another marina on Grand Lagoon.  The Lighthouse Marina is a bit unprotected and we have been rocking and rolling some in our slip.  The weather is supposed to be quite windy for the next few days and we would like to be more protected.  After our tour of Bay Point Marina, we decided we’d make the switch the next morning.
            Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

Day 138 – Fort Walton Beach, FL to Lighthouse Marina, Panama City Beach, FL - November 21, 2011

We had a lot of miles to cover today, so we were up early and moving down the Intercoastal by 6:45am.  We started the day by crossing Choctawhatchee Bay.  The bay is almost thirty miles long and in places as much as five miles wide.  We have the perfect travel day as there is almost no wind and bright sun.  Almost as soon as we enter the bay we are visited by more dolphins.  The first group started with five dolphins and grew to eight or more before they left us.  We had five dolphins swimming under the bow at one time.  When the dolphins got tired of hanging out at the bow, many of them moved to the side of the boat to play in the wake.  We were traveling over 9 miles per hour today and it was amazing how the dolphins were able to keep up.  As we crossed the bay many different groups of dolphins swam along with us – most of them starting at the bow as the first group did and then ending up swimming along side.  I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching these graceful animals interact with the boat.

At the end of the Choctawhatchee Bay is the land cut (that means it is a man made channel) known as the “Grand Canyon”.  Before entering this section we joked that the name “Grand Canyon” might be a bit of a stretch, but we were pleasantly surprised that it was quite a beautiful area with reasonably high cliffs.

We finished today’s travels by going through West Bay and St. Andrews Bay (where Panama City is located) and finally into Grand Lagoon.  Grand Lagoon is in Panama City Beach.  We will stay here until we see a weather window opening up for crossing the Gulf.  Then we’ll head to Apalachicola and Carrabelle and get ready for our crossing.

             Miles: 68.5      Bridges: 5        Locks: 0
dolphins playing in our wake...

...and swimming under the bow

more playing under the bow...

...and more playing in the boat's wake

in the "Grand Canyon"

more interesting sand cliffs in the "Grand Canyon"

a military vessel in St. Andrews Bay

These are the most interesting jelly fish.  They look like large white softballs.
Each one of these jellies had tiny little fish swimming around their tentacles.

This is a blowup shot of the above jellies.  It isn't the clearest picture,
but you can see the little fish swimming around.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 137 – Orange Beach Marina to Fort Walton Beach, FL - November 20, 2011

We had breakfast at Waffle House with Bill and Margo this morning and then they headed north, back home toward Holland while we departed Orange Beach Marina, heading further east.  We weren’t exactly sure how far we wanted to travel today, so we looked through our cruising guides and selected a couple of marinas and anchorages along our route with plans to check them out and decide as we went by.

We had passed Pensacola Beach before noon, so we decided to continue on.  Our cruising speed would put us at Fort Walton Beach before sunset, but there were also a few anchorages to check out along the way.  The anchorage that looked the best on the chart was a bit intimidating when we arrived.  We were concerned about water depth as the description on how to enter read “sound your way in”.  It was quite cloudy by the time we reached this anchorage and we were concerned we couldn’t see well enough to add a visual inspection to “sounding our way in”.  We were also a bit worried about getting back out of the anchorage in the morning when we would have to contend with the sun’s glare off the water.  Fortunately we decided to continue on – I say fortunately because we had an absolutely amazing dolphin encounter shortly after checking out the anchorage.

We saw a dolphin pop up in front of the boat a couple of times and then disappear.  Fred then saw an unusual splash almost under the bow of the boat, so I went on deck to check it out and see if the dolphin might be swimming with us as we have heard they do – and yes, he was swimming with us – right under the bow – so close his dorsal fin was just about touching the boat.  After a few minutes, Fred handed me the camera so I could try and get some pictures.  I kneeled on the bow and talked to the dolphin and snapped pictures.  We were traveling at just over 7 mile per hour and the dolphin was leading us along.  He was so graceful in the water it looked like he wasn’t even working hard (and he probably wasn’t).  He would swim back and forth from one side to the other and often roll over on his side, almost like he was looking up at the boat to make sure it was still following him.  At one point he swam just off the port side and did a leap into the air – with his full body out of the water just like in a dolphin show.  We thought he left, but all of a sudden he did two more leaps into the air on the starboard side and then back under the bow for more swimming.  After staying with us for well over a mile, he gave us one more good-bye leap out of the water and left us to continue our travels.

We arrived in Fort Walton Beach and scoped out the area trying to figure out where the various marinas were and where we might stay for the night.  We ended up at The Boat Boathouse and Marina (at least we think that’s where we are).  There is no one around at any of the marinas we passed – we assume that’s because it is a Sunday evening in the fall.  Hopefully we can locate someone tomorrow morning so we can pay for our slip.

            Miles: 60.6      Bridges: 3        Locks: 0

this is what the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway looks like just after
we leave Orange Beach - lots of homes along the water with docks
and covered boat slips

These appear to be radar domes near Eglin Air Force Base.  Although
we can't find any information about them we assume that's what they are.

another radar dome - this one is just slightly taller
than the others in the area

you can just see the nose of the dolphin under the bow
of Boreas - that's the anchor you see on the far right of
the picture

I was lucky enough to get a few shots when the dolphin
came out of the water to breathe

Isn't he beautiful?

more splashing at the bow

the dolphin and the anchor - what appears
to be the corner cut off the picture is
actually the bow of the boat

one last picture

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Days 132-136 – at Orange Beach Marina, Orange Beach, AL - November 15-19, 2011

On our first full day at Orange Beach we washed the salt off the boat and did laundry.  Then we borrowed the courtesy car and visited the beach, the grocery store and the local West Marine.  The beach here is absolutely beautiful with the most amazing white sand.

On Wednesday (our second full day here), Bill and Margo arrive from Holland. MI.  The weather is very rainy and windy so we hang around the boat and then have dinner at Lulu’s.  Bill and Margo have decided that they’d like to travel with us, so we review our cruising guides and choose Sabine Marina in Pensacola Beach as the spot we’ll travel to.  Since we have use of a courtesy car, on Thursday we take Bill and Margo’s car to Sabine Marina and use the courtesy car to get back to Orange Beach Marina.  That gives us two possible travel days, Friday and Saturday – Friday doesn’t look great because of strong winds, but Saturday doesn’t look too bad.

As predicted, it is very windy on Friday.  We decide that Saturday will be the better travel day, so instead of moving we use the courtesy car again and head to the beach for a beach walk.  We also do a bit of touring in the Orange Beach area.  The wind calms down on Friday night and we are convinced we have chosen our travel day correctly.

Unfortunately we wake up on Saturday to strong wind and lots of rain.  Although we are hopeful it will clear up so we can depart in the later morning, that doesn’t happen.  We again borrow the courtesy car and go back to Sabine Marina to pick up the car.  We haven’t had this many poor travel days in a row in a long time – it is too bad that it has happened when we have visitors.

We have been thrilled with our stay at Orange Beach Marina.  Their location is extremely well protected and their facilities are second to none.  We are in a covered slip with 39’ air clearance.  The bathrooms and showers are close to our slip and very well maintained with a washer and dryer at the same building.  Not only that, they have two courtesy cars and we have been fortunate to be able to use them any time we needed to.  This would definitely be a place we would stop at again and we would recommend it to anyone traveling this way.

Bill and Margo will be heading home on Sunday and if the weather is good, we will depart Orange Beach Marina and begin heading east again.

             Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

clams hiding in the sand along the edge of the ocean

up close and personal with one of the clams

looking down the beach toward Gulf Shores, Alabama

the fishing pier at Orange Beach

a heron enjoying the beach

one of the few perks of a rainy day is a beautiful rainbow

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 131 – Eastern Shore Marine to Orange Beach Marina, Orange Beach, AL - November 14, 2011

We headed off this morning at 7:00am.  We decided we wanted to stay at a marina where we could walk or ride our bikes to the beach and the short term weather forecast indicated that it was depart today or stay put for three or four days.  The wind was light when we departed and Mobile Bay was relatively calm.  It was different to be off a river and on a wider body of water – almost like being back on Saginaw Bay.  Then before we knew it, we were in the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GIWW) – where we saw our first dolphins!  I wish I had pictures, but the dolphins are just too quick.  All I would have caught on camera was the splash of water as they disappeared from sight.  Although the dolphins didn’t swim along beside the boat like we have heard they sometimes do, we did see them a number of times just in front of the boat.  I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing them; they are so beautiful and graceful.

The bays and bayous here are tricky to navigate.  The water is quite shallow and there are lots of areas where there is shoaling.  The channels are well marked, but you do need to pay attention to the markers.  You also need to pay attention to the type of channel you are traveling in – is it a GIWW channel or a channel out to the ocean or into a bay or bayou – are you traveling in or out – are you traveling east or west.  You must know all this information to know how you should be passing the marks.

Orange Beach Marina is beautiful and we are happy to be here.  We will be staying for a few days while we wait for our friends Bill and Margo to arrive.  They will be staying with us on Boreas and perhaps traveling with us further east on the GIWW.

            Miles: 46.5      Bridges: 2        Locks: 0
our first mark on the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GIWW)

our first look down the GIWW

this is what the first few miles of the GIWW looks like

another view of the shoreline along the GIWW

we were welcomed to the Orange Beach Marina by some fairly
large jellyfish (about 12 inches across) swimming in the slip next to us

jellyfish hanging out at Orange Beach Marina

Day 130 – at Eastern Shore Marine, Fairhope, AL - November 13, 2011

We spent a second day at Eastern Shore Marine.  We used the courtesy car and checked out the town of Fairhope.  Unfortunately since it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed, but we did have a chance to do a bit of window shopping.  Since the shopping trip was short, we took a quick ride up to the top of the bay to check things out from the roadway (since we’d already seen it from the waterway).  We took the dinghy across Fly Creek to the Fly Creek CafĂ© with all the other Loopers who are staying here at Eastern Shore Marine.  We had a great time and enjoyed swapping stories with everyone.
            Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0
we took a dinghy ride up Fly Creek

Fly Creek

shrimp boats in their slips in Fly Creek

Boreas tied up at Eastern Shore Marine

Day 129 – anchorage at Alabama River Cut-off to Eastern Shore Marine, Fairhope, AL - November 12, 2011

Today is our last day on the Tenn-Tom.  After a slightly delayed start due to fog, we departed our anchorage and headed toward Mobile.

Shortly after we started, we passed by the Barry Steam Plant.  They are doing some serious building on their site and the construction manager in Fred was intrigued.  It was interesting to see the new technology they have installed at their unloading dock.

Since we are through all the locks on the waterway, we are now in a tidal area.  We traveled today mostly on an outgoing tide, so we got an extra few tenths of speed from the tidal flow.  As we are approaching Mobile, the waterway is very swampy.  Because we are traveling at low tide, we aren’t seeing the swampy parts at their most interesting, but it is still beautiful.

As we begin to emerge from the swamp, we start to see the Mobile skyline in the distance.  The Mobile harbor is a very busy one.  Each year more than 40 million tons move through this port; we see tows with barges as well as ocean going vessels.  There is lots to see and quite a bit of traffic, but we get through without any issues. We then follow the marked channel a few miles before turning to the east toward Eastern Shore Marine.  Mobile Bay is very shallow and we see depth readings from seven feet to twelve feet as we make our way across the bay.  We are tied up by 3:00pm and have a chance to visit with some Loopers we haven’t seen since the rendezvous at Joe Wheeler.

            Miles: 55.3      Bridges: 2        Locks: 0
channel markers just visible in the fog

new construction at the Barry Steam Plant

the old crane at the Barry Steam Plant

the new cranes now in use at the Barry Steam Plant
the new crane in use

the new crane at the Barry Steam Plant

This is one of the spans of the old 14 Mile Railroad bridge.  The old swing bridge
was recently replaced with a new lift bridge.  The final work was done so that
the railroad was only closed for three days while the new bridge was completed
and this span was removed.

This is the first of the spans of the old 14 Mile Railroad Bridge that has been
removed.  Workers are continuing to dismantle the old bridge.

This is the new 14 Mile Railroad Bridge.

two pelicans hanging out on a green channel marker

one of the pelicans swallowing a fish

the swamp area near Mobile Bay
downtown Mobile

an aluminum tri-hulled littoral combat ship being
built for the U.S. Navy by Anstal USA

a cargo ship getting work done in dry dock

ship loading equipment in the Mobile harbor

seagulls follow Boreas as we cross Mobile Bay - they are hoping we stir
up some fish so they can dive in for a quick meal