Respect the Gulf, Part II

After we arrived in Marco Island and collected ourselves. We put the boat back together and set our sights on moving up the west coast of Florida.

Dorothy had been looking ahead for weather windows to do the big crossing from the upper west coast of Florida to the panhandle. This is a long open water trip out of the sight of land for many hours including traveling overnight.

There was going to be a period of high pressure across the upper gulf in about 3 days. The wind and waves were predicted to be light for a period of 48 hours or more. This was great news because you may have to wait for days to get a good crossing window.  However, we had to get moving up the west coast to be in position to cross the Gulf.  Unfortunately this meant missing visits with our friends along the way.  We traveled 120 miles in 2 long days to Sarasota, Fl and grabbed a mooring ball for the night. The weather window was looking good starting the next day.

We decided to cross from Sarasota, FL to Apalachicola, FL in one shot. The route was 240 miles and would take 24 to 26 hours. We prepped the boat, checked all the safety equipment and filed a float plan with the boys. At first light we were wide awake and ready to go.

Sunrise over Sarasota, a great start to the day

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Less than 200 miles to go.

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This time as predicted the entire crossing was perfect. Light winds and calm seas the entire way.

We are half way across the route.

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The boat ran great and we hardly touched the autohelm. We saw dolphins, sea turtles, and two large squadrons of Manta Rays.  We actually split one of the squadrons with the boat.  Awesome. When Manta Rays swim and feed together they travel in a SQUADRON.

A pre-sunset show

Dinner underway, Dorothy made a ham and scalloped potatoes in the oven. Delish.

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Sunset on the gulf.

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The stars at night were awesome with out light pollution. The next morning we anchored off the city of Apalachicola, FL and just enjoyed the rest of the day on the hook.

Sunrise as we approach land.

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Celebrating our safe passage after we anchored. Apalachicola in the background.

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Respect the Gulf

We did our homework, honest we did! We checked all of the regular weather resources and listened to VHF weather radio.

Our trip from Marathon, Florida to Marco Island anchorage is about 100 miles. Our heading was almost due north. We went past the Everglades and the furthest we would be offshore is 30 miles. The first 5 hours of the 10 hour trip went as planned.  Southeast winds with 1 to 2 foot following seas and clear skies. The next 5 hours of our journey was anything but pleasant. On the horizon ahead was an ominous black shelf cloud that stretched as far as you could see from left to right.  It was moving right at us and we were driving right into it. We were the furthest point from shore and a safe harbor for the trip.

Dorothy and I have seen these shelf clouds on Lake Michigan and we knew what was coming. So we battened down the hatches, secured everything, and moved to the lower helm station to drive from inside.

Boats head into shore as storm clouds move along the coast towards the city of Sydney, Australia

This photo is from the internet. This is what we saw.

At first the winds clocked to the north and picked up to 40 mph. The seas were relatively flat with small white caps. Wind on the bow is good in a trawler. We were handling the storm front as it passed over us. Then the wind really picked up. Our wind reading peaked at 57 mph true plus we were moving into the gusts at 8 mph. The real feel or apparent wind on the boat was 65 mph. Then the seas became ANGRY my friends. The waves built and fortunately for us they were coming from the north. This is the direction we wanted to go so we took them head on.  (For non boaters we would’ve had to turn the boat into the waves to ride out the storm no matter the direction. Trawlers do no handle big waves from the sides or from behind very well.)

The seas built to 6 to 8 breaking waves with short periods, in other words the waves were very close together. The trawler would launch off the back of a wave and then crash into the next one. At least twice we buried the entire bow pulpit into a wave and the decks were awash with Gulf water. SEASONS handled it like a champ and just keep steaming along. The crew did not manage so well. Both Dorothy and I became seasick, I think it was because we had been in a marina to long and lost our seas legs.

After about 2 hours of a fun house ride things began to settle down. The winds lightened and seas laid down to 3 to 4 foot waves.  Land started to appear and we started to feel a little better.

After Anchoring  by Marco Island we began to access the boat and ourselves. That is when we discovered the upper canvas did not fair so well. At some point the top came loose and the only thing stopping it from completely coming off was the mast.

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We had the upper deck decorated with crab floats we found and Dorothy painted. The damage is fairly light. Some zippers and snaps will have to be repaired. The frame work is fine and all the crab floats survived.

We did our homework on the weather, but you always have to be ready for anything. Dorothy and I were calm thru the whole affair. I contribute that to our years of sailing on the Great Lakes. We have been in these conditions before. We had our safety equipment available and SEASONS was well prepared. I wish I had taken some photos during the storm, but I was a little busy.

This is a story we will remember and tell many times over.

We are on the Move, Bittersweet

Dorothy and I left our safe harbor at Marlin Bay Resort in Marathon, Florida on April 30th. We had been there sheltering in Place since March 1st. Our original plan was to stop there a short time and then start moving up the east coast and on to finish our second loop. Do to the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided it was best to stay put. The Marina is gated and they stopped all new boaters and guests from entering. We felt very safe during our stay.

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The sweet part is we are on the move again. After all its all about seeing new places, traveling by boat, and meeting new people. The bitter part is the fact we have decided to abandon our quest for a Platinum flag. This signifies you have completed 2 or more Great loop Routes. Our goal now is to get “SEASONS” back to Milwaukee anyway we can.

For several reasons we are not going to travel up the east coast of the US. 1. large population areas with Covid-19 issues. 2. Services are currently limited or restricted. 3. The Erie barge canal across New York is closed and may not fully open this summer. 4. Canadian border is closed. We are going to miss a lot of our friends along the way.

We have decided the best way home is to travel backwards on the route we came. Which means we are going up the west coast of Florida, across the gulf, then north bound on the river system. We will probably have the boat trucked from Grand Rivers, Kentucky to Milwaukee.  Because of the high water on Lake Michigan, we are going to put “SEASONS” right into storage. Our slip at South Shore Yacht Club is not usable in the near future do to a storm earlier this year.

We are limiting all exposure as we travel. “SEASONS” is set up to be self sufficient for 10 to 14 days. We will anchor as long as we can and only touch land when we need fuel, water and to empty the holding tanks.

It seems like the best plan for now given the the current state of the world.

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Yellow Submarine

A couple of locals in Marathon, FL told us about a yellow submarine deep in the mangroves of Boot Key. Dorothy and I had calm seas the other day, so we launched the tender and stocked up on some minor provisions. We mentioned our quest to a dock neighbor, Tom and Paula on “Life’sTraVails”, and they joined us in their tender. We traveled to the Atlantic side of Marathon Key and our search for the hidden entrance to the mangroves of Boot Key. After some searching along the shoreline we spotted some white PVC pipes stuck into the shallow waters. This was the indicator we were looking for. After traveling a little ways into the mangroves the channel opened up a little and there it was. The locally famous yellow submarine.

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At first I though it was just a large fuel tank that someone had painted yellow. But one end was tapered to a point were a propeller would be located. Once we returned to SEASONS Dorothy did her research and found out its a true story. See below

Yellow submarine waits to sail under sky of blue, sea of green

Rob Busweiler, Key West Citizen ORLANDO SENTINEL 2008

BOOT KEY — No one lives in this yellow submarine, but Marathon resident Duane Shelton hopes that one day his homemade underwater vessel will be ready to explore depths of up to 1,500 feet.

Tucked away in the protected canals of Boot Key, the bright yellow submarine sticks out among the rustic fishing docks and mangrove forests on the mostly uninhabited island. The submarine’s color is not a tribute to the classic Beatles song; Shelton simply got a deal on some surplus paint.

An engineer for Sea Air Land Technologies in Marathon, Shelton is accustomed to creating products such as solar panels and wind generators.

But for 11 years, he has spent his free time working on an entirely different project: a 92-foot, 100-ton steel submarine.

Shelton said he is nearing the final stages of his project. Ask him when he first started thinking about submarines and you’ll get a response that dates back to his childhood.

“When I was a little kid, I used to fill my bathtub up to the top and use a hose to breathe under water,” Shelton said. “Since then I have always been thinking about submarines.”

On weekends when the weather is fair, Shelton rows across Boot Key channel on a homemade raft.

“I’ve made it across seven times and, God willing, hopefully today will be eight,” Shelton said before hopping on the raft.

Shelton has had to face a series of twists and turns in his journey to complete the submarine. Just getting the pressure vessel that would wind up being the hull was an adventure. The scrap yard in Chicago wanted more than $100,000 for the steel tube, but he talked them down to about $10,000.

“Then I had to figure out how to get it down here,” he said.

By train, truck and barge, it found its way to Shelton’s dock space on Boot Key. The physics major then found out it would cost at least $750,000 just to apply for the federal application needed to use it as a commercial and educational enterprise. He plans to take it to Honduras and operate dive and educational tours there.

Shelton’s sub will have no windows. Instead, he plans to mount cameras on the outside of the vessel and beam those images to flat-screen TVs inside the giant tube. The back of the sub will have a pressurized chamber to allow for deep-sea launching and retrieving of scuba divers.

 

This story is from 2008. I doubt you’ll find us signing for trip anytime soon or never. I think his dream is long past gone. Fun outing for us though.

Groundhog Day in Marathon, FL

COVID-19 Sheltering in place makes everyday seem like Groundhog day.

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I thought I would write a little about our days activity. Just like Bill Murray in the movie we wake up every day as the sun pokes his head through our front windows. 1st up a cup of coffee, then its time to catch up on news , weather, emails, Social media.  All via the internet of course. TV reception is terrible in Marathon Key.  Breakfast happens at some point. At 9 am on VHF marine radio channel 68 is something called Boot Key Cruisers Net for local boating related news and activities.  There is a designated moderator and boaters in the are talk about current issues a and if they need help. This lasts for about an hour. While we listen Dorothy and I are doing various projects around the boat. For us boat projects are best undertaken before noon. In the afternoon the sun really heats up with quite a bit of humidity. Projects fall into categories of cleaning, maintenance, improvements and other stuff.  We usually have a light lunch on the boat. I will most often take a short nap after lunch.  In the afternoon if the water in the bay is calm we take the dingy out and run around sightseeing. Other times we head to swimming pool to socialize at a safe distance and cool off.  Then its back to the boat for an evening cocktail and to get ready for sunset. We social distance and catch up with some of the other boaters in the marina. I have become known for blowing a conch shell at sunset. I am getting pretty good at it. For dinner we mostly make a meal on the boat, but once in awhile we will order take out to try and support the local restaurants.

We rarely leave the marina. Sometimes we’ll take an early morning walk or bike ride. We have groceries and liquor delivered on Tuesdays. A laundry service will come to the marina and do pick-up and delivery  all our clean stuff. Amazon delivers just about anything else we might need.

You may noticed by now I skipped a large part of the trip down to Florida. I have been transferring files, photos and videos to a cloud service. Somewhere along the line in the transfer process, I lost about 1000 photos and some other stuff. Most all from this 2019-2020 Loop trip. After going round and round with the cloud company it seems to be a step I did incorrectly. As you can imagine it was a bummer, but not super critical.

Some current projects we are working on.

Dorothy is making new curtains for our aft stateroom

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I have been varnishing various teak parts on the boat.

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We have been collecting lost crab floats from the shoreline and Mangroves. Dorothy paints them for decoration.

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I have also completed a bunch of small engine room projects.

I have become a boat bum these days. The beard and hair are out of control and Dorothy is chasing me with scissors.

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Sunset photos

The haze in the photo is from Cuba burning the sugar cane fields to get ready for the next growing season. We could smell the smoke for a day or two.

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I will end this one with my sunset serenade.

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Belly Rub and a Ding

November 2019, Once again we hauled the boat out of the water at Saunders Yacht works in Orange Beach, AL after finishing the rivers. We did a routine bottom wash and inspection of the underside. Every thing looked good until we discovered a ding on the leading edge of the starboard prop about the size of a quarter.  There was no vibration while we were underway but we decided to have it repaired. The local Prop repair shop said they could fix in 24 hours. So an overnight stay in the boatyard was in place. We took advantage to wash and wax the sides of the boat, touch up the bottom paint and replace the sacrificial anodes.

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Reconditioned shiny prop on the right.

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Saunders in a Great Marine Yard to work with very professional help.

Sorry for the break in posting on the blog. I will try to get caught up over the next couple of weeks.

 

 

End of the Rivers

The Great Loop Trip requires every one to transit the western rivers. These various rivers are interesting the first time around because its a fresh experience. This time Dorothy and I just wanted to get south and if Dorothy had her way she would have skipped the river portion of the Loop altogether. So this Blog will highlight some of the things we observed traveling the Tombigbee Waterway from Kentucky to Mobile Bay.

Wildlife

Among the large variety of birds We observed there where many Bald eagles.

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A pair of Eagles fishing the river banks

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Squadron of Pelicans.

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This Heron is one smart bird. He knows when the lock chamber is cycling and waits for the water to lower.

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Then he flys down to the cavities in the gates. He knows there will be small fish trapped in the cavities of the doors.

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Success.

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An otter taking a early morning swim at our anchorage near James Whitten Lock. There were several otters swimming by the boat and every time I grabbed the camera and focused they ducked underwater.

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Tornado Damage near Clifton, Tennessee.

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The Tenn-Tom also provides access to over 34 million acres of commercial forests. Industries that utilize these natural resources have found the waterway to be their most cost-efficient mode of transportation. This is the largest wood pulp terminal we saw on the entire system in Alabama.

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Locking with a group of boats in the James Whitten Lock which has a a drop of 84 feet. In Sept 2019 the lock was closed for 18 days because of a crude oil spill. When we locked through there was no sign of oil anywhere.

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Baking bread  and muffins underway

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We worked on this puzzle as we worked our way down the rivers.

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Snow and ice on the decks in Mississippi

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Fall colors at anchor.

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These white cliffs are located on the Tombigbee River at Epes near Demopolis, AL. They are part of the Selma Chalk formations which were deposited at about the same time as England’s famous White Cliffs of Dover.

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Scenes from Mobile Bay, AL

Your tax dollars at work, The latest in Navy Ship construction. The US Navy’s Expeditionary Fast Transport (T-EPF) program is procuring 14 high-speed transport vessels from Austal for the fast, intra-theater transportation of troops, military vehicles and equipment with aviation support. Top speed 35mph.

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Offshore oil rig

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Early morning start in the mist.

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And a couple of Sunsets

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Roll’in down the River

With the Illinois river behind us we head down the Mighty Mississippi River. The power of this river is amazing. Our full attention is required navigating buoys, steering around debris, spinning in whirlpools, interacting with commercial traffic and negotiating some of the busiest locks in America all while being pushed at 4 to 5 miles an hour.

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The top number on our chart plotter is our GPS speed 16.6 mph. The second number is a paddle wheel under the boat show how fast the water is moving pass our hull. 8.5 mph. The difference of 8.1 mph is the highest current push we recorded on the Mississippi.

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You would think navigating on the river would be easy because it wide and deep. Many times the buoys are moved out of place by rushing water or tow barges hitting them. They may even be missing altogether.

The debris was not as bad this year as last. Its the small stuff we really need to be on the lookout for. A small stick poking up from the water could be attached to something much larger underwater (think Titanic). I bumped something twice when I was driving, no damage though. We have met several boaters who have prop damage from debris and required new props.  A big tree near St Louis.

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There are very deep areas on the river bottom up to 100′ deep. I can tell when we approach these because they create large boiling or whirlpools on the surface of the water. As you drive through them they will spin the boat sideways requiring some quick turning of the wheel.

Commercial Traffic rules the river. Boaters are referred to as Pleasure Craft which includes sailboat, power boats, fishing boats and anything else that is small and floats.  We are just something for the Tow Captain’s to be annoyed by. Most of the Captains are very professional and great to talk to on the VHF marine radio. Down-bound (tows heading with the current pushing them) have right of way over Up-bound traffic. This photo shows a Up-bound tow pulled over on the river bank while a down-bound passes him. We had to wait until the pass was complete so we could pass the large tow with his permission.

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One of the larger tows we passed on the river. Rock and gravel barges 6 wide by 4 long for a total of 24. This equals 1382 Semi truck and trailers on the road. End to end they would stretch for 58.8 miles.  And best thing is if a rock bounces off the barge it does not hit your windshield.

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These Captains really have their hands full driving these filled barges. Its a little hard to tell, but this set of barges is sliding sideways around a curve in the river.

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St Louis has no Recreational docks for pleasure boaters. The commercial marine companies own most of the shore line.

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Eads Bridge is the oldest bridge on the Mississippi river still in use. Built in 1867.

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Here is a video of us making a left turn from the Mississippi River to the Ohio River. We make the turn at about 25 sec into the video. Notice the water calm down and our boat speed drops from 12 mph to 7 mph, because we are now going upstream with a 1 to 2 mph head current.

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Video with sound this time.

 

Glow effect around the sun from our anchorage on the Ohio River.

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Engine Woes

Boats like cars are mechanical devices. On a 30 year old boat which is maintained well things can still break once in while. While cruising down the river Dorothy noticed a strong oil smell when I checked the engine room, I found oil sprayed all over the port side of the engine room. I shut the port engine off to stop any damage from lack of oil. I wish I had taken a picture to show how bad it was. I finally found the oil fill cap had blown off. But what caused it? Checking the oil level in the engine it was way over the full mark on the dipstick and it was like water with a red tint and it smelled like diesel fuel. I determined diesel fuel had gotten into the oil so much that the crankcase pressure caused the oil cap to blow off.

I called an engine expert and he said the most common cause was a bad fuel pump. Great, I carry a brand new spare and it was easy to get to on the engine. We limped to a marina on the starboard engine. The next day was spent cleaning and replacing the fuel pump. I also had to remove the fuel oil from the crankcase. We took out 7 gallons of oil and fuel mix. The engine normally holds about 3 1/2 gallons of oil. Added new oil and ran the engines for a half hour. All seemed good. The next day while continuing down the river I shut the port engine down and checked the oil level. much to my dismay the level was way over the full mark once again. UGH!

Another call to the engine expert, he said the next place to look was the fuel return line on top of the engine.  I removed the rocker arm cover and inspected the steel line running from injector to injector. I discovered a leak on Injector number 1. OK great just tighten up and we will be good. Nope, it did not work, still leaking. I took it apart and inspected the fitting and I cleaned the surfaces and reassembled. Still leaking fuel. Call the expert, and he suggested sanding the surfaces with fine emery cloth. Take it apart, clean, reassemble, still leaking. Keep in mind I am doing all of this while Dorothy drives the boat down the river on one engine. I tried a copper washer at the fitting. Copper is soft and should conform to any uneven surfaces providing a tight seal. Still leaking fuel. We reached our next Marina and both of us were so discouraged,  we decided to sleep on it and get a fresh start in morning.

The movement of liquid in the bottom of the video is Diesel fuel dripping into the top of the head where oil should be.

 

After taking the fuel return line completely off I discovered that some where along the line I had cross threaded the top of the injector fitting. After some more phone calls we took the injector to a machine shop in the scary van and they tapped the threads straight. Back at the boat I carefully reassembled the engine and gave it a test run for an hour. No leaks, YIPPIE! Another oil change. The next day we did a short run of 2.5 hours down to the next marina. No leaks, YIPPIE!

Stripped threads in injector head.

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We have been traveling for several days with no issues. So we are regaining confidence the problem is corrected. Back to enjoying the scenery and sunsets.

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Running from the cold and *SNOW*

Running from the cold and snow, YIKES

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There are no snow shovels onboard SEASONS

Since this our second time around, we are working our way south down the river systems at a fairly steady pace. Our travel days are a little longer and the stops are shorter.

For the most part the rivers and locks have been pleasant with short wait times at the locks. Locking through with “Club Ed”.

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Passing a large tow and barges

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One advantage to the little later start this year are the fall colors along the shore line.  These  are the cliffs near Grafton, IL. This area is know as the winter home of Bald Eagles. It was a cold day as we passed and we didn’t see any activity.

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The changing landscape rolls by and is very enjoyable to watch.

Some Marinas offer a courtesy car to use to run into town for provisions, etc. Most are fairly nice, but this van at Grafton Harbor was a bit scary. The headliner was falling down and the steering was very very squirrely. No real complaints though it was free to use.

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Food highlight alert, for me this was a throwback to my childhood. When my Mom traveled out of town my Dad would be in charge of meals. I really liked fried bologna sandwiches with yellow mustard. This was on the menu at a little restaurant in Grafton. Smoked fried bologna sandwich, so I just had to have one and it was fantastic.

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Sunset at Hurricane Island anchorage on The Illinois River.

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The next photo was actually a sunrise from  several days ago. I wish it was just a little sharper. But the light cloud through the lens of the lighthouse is interesting.

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