Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wednesday, October 27: "Dangerous Deadlines!"

We’ve learned from experience that while cruising, deadlines are dangerous. You set yourself up to make bad decisions based on the deadline instead of the more important issues… weather. In 2008, we made a bad call on the brutal North Atlantic because we wanted to get to Long Beach Island for Mom’s birthday. Last year, we rushed across Lake Michigan to get Nick James back to his Princess (and work) and dealt with terrible conditions. This year, we promised, NO deadlines! Except, Chas had to be in St. Louis by October 9. And Bob and Mary Jane and Brad and Chis had condos rented in Destin. Can we make it there by the end of October? Sure! Another deadline snuck out of nowhere and off we rushed down the Tenn-Tom Waterway. This year, though, everything went in our favor. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. We did not see a cloud or a drop of rain from Mackinaw City to Mobile Alabama. We did not munch on one single Triple Ginger Snap to deal with rough and rolly seas. It was warm and sunny and perfect cruising. Backtracking to the first lock on the Tenn-Tom, the Jamie Whitten was a drop of 84 feet.  In a previous lock, Gary noticed someone had stuck an advertisement in the floating bollard.  Since he had so much time on his hands in the Whitten, he went down below and grabbed a sharpie.  I thought he was writing "TESSA was here", but instead he was being wonderfully romantic, writing “Gary loves Lori”.  I love my Captain!   That night we stayed at Midway Marina and enjoyed a relaxing evening on Taken Care of Business. I fried up some wonderful catfish with a side of home grown black eyed peas, compliments of Bill Magers. Delicious!   Sunday we made it to Columbus Marina, where we were greeted by Jacob, who invited us all over "to his wooden houseboat across the dock" for a cocktail after dinner. He should have said "come over and see my classic Trumpe Yacht that looks like a magazine spread for lifestyles of the rich and famous."  He has spent seven years restoring her, and Aurora is stunning. The next night was our Demopolis layover, where we met some great people on board a power yacht named Duet. Here is where Walt and Vickie departed with no ice on board, from my previous short update. From Demopolis, it is a long haul (217 miles) to Mobile, which requires anchoring out three nights in a row. The first night was uneventful. The second day, we needed to get through the Coffeeville Lock and make it to Three Rivers Lake, where we enjoyed our hurricane hole last year. Except our timing was a bit off. We first had to wait for a barge to pass our previous night’s anchorage so that we could pull out into the river without interruption. Next we had to wait at the lock for 45 minutes. Our window of daylight was severely compromised. The miles ticked by, the sunlight faded, and Gary called out how many minutes until sunset. We searched anxiously for a cut-off prior to Three Rivers that we KNEW was there somewhere….having seen other cruisers holed up there last year. We did not want to run down the river in the dark. Walt and Vickie stayed close behind, and I was sure they were cussing up a storm as Tessa led them into the river darkness. We both used our spotlights to point out big steel red and green buoys that could sink us if hit. Where was the darn cut-off? We had to have passed it, as the chart showed we were now close to Three Rivers Lake. Shortly, Gary advised that we were there, we should see the entry, but it was so dark that even the high powered spotlight wasn’t picking up any cut in the riverbank. Suddenly, I saw lights from boats at anchor, and screamed to Gary “There it is!” He cautiously steered to starboard and eased into the mouth of the cut, as Walt and Vickie followed. It was such a relief to drop the anchor and call it a night, although difficult to block out thoughts of what could have happened. The last anchorage on the river was another bit of a challenge. We attempted to raft off to Taken Care of Business , but the current fought us and we aborted the mission. We agreed it best to anchor separately, except Tessa’s anchor windlass moter disagreed. Our spirits sunk as we suspected another blown windlass motor, which we just paid $800.00 for in 2008. Gary muscled out the back-up Fortress, tossed it overboard, and collapsed in fatigue and frustration. As the sun set, we chatted with Walt and Vickie on the VHF, to compensate for our planned evening of dining and drinking together. Next morning, we departed at dawn and were on our way to Mobile Bay and Dog River Marina. It was a beautiful trip, sun sparkling off the water, and we were thrilled to see Captain Sid, the shrimper boat we made friends with last year, shrimping on Mobile Bay. The staff at Dog River were welcoming as we fueled up and pumped out. Duet was also there, and we all enjoyed a great dinner at the Mobile Yacht Club. The following day we moved next door to Turner Marine, where Gary and I spent a very enjoyable, economical week last fall. Boat chores had piled up aboard Tessa and Taken Care of Business. We briefly crossed paths as we worked, and stopped in the evenings to cook some great meals. Fresh flounder stuffed with freshly picked crabmeat, and grilled shrimp for night two. The weather was balmy and humid and the no-see-ums drove us all crazy. I layered bug spray constantly, and thankfully escaped with only a dozen bites. This morning, we headed south down Mobile Bay toward the FloriBama Intracoastal, with Taken Care of Business in the lead. Another brilliant sunny day, with brisk winds and agreeable seas. Both Walt and Vickie have exhibited a tendency to play chicken with barges. As a big one approached in the distance, we watched in amazement as Taken Care of Business’s silhouette lined up perfectly in it’s path, just like the closing scene in Captain Ron. The closer they got to each other, the harder we laughed…until the barge blew a loud one-whistle warning and Walt scooted out of his way. To hear what that Captain in the bridge was saying would be priceless! Later this morning, we saw our first dolphin after many months of missing them. It is hard to describe the feeling of finally seeing a dolphin after a long saltwater absence, but suffice to say we CHEERED! Tonight we are in a peaceful anchorage called the “Big Lagoon” where we enjoyed a great meal with Walt and Vickie. Tomorrow,off to Destin, to see our friends before they head north. So far, this does not appear to be yet another dangerous deadline….but nothing is for certain until the dock lines are securly tied at Harbor Walk Marina in Destin! And then we have to be in Carrabelle to pick up Bryan Diveto on November 6………

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This morning we left Demopolis for what everyone considers the last leg of the trip to the Gulf. There are no marinas until Mobile, so we have three nights of anchoring out ahead of us. Last year we recall many scenic peaceful spots with enough water for Tessa. This year the water is way down and the guys at Demopolis warned us that we have just a few choices to drop the hook. Walt and Vickie are following us. Even though they draw only 4 1/2 feet, they have expensive props that extend below that. All we have is a lead keel to worry about. I would prefer they went first, but they always get their way. Walt is the one who encouraged us to put an icemaker on board, but decided they didn't have enough room for theirs this trip. He just hailed us on the radio to advise that they left Demopolis without ice. If they hadn't just given us a bottle of bourbon, I would gouge the heck of of them at the anchorage tonight. FREE ICE TOMORROW! Today, five bucks a bag!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thirteen Locks down, Nine to go!

Saturday, October 16 This morning we departed the Tennessee River at Yellow Creek and began the trek down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. It has taken us a week to travel down the Mississippi, then up the Ohio, and the Tennessee River. Oh, what a glorious ride it has been! Tessa screamed down the Mighty Mississippi doing 12 knots, challenging Captain Gary to dodge river debris. We shot past the lock wall at the the Kaskaskia River where we spent two nights last year waiting out torrential rain. We anchored in the Little River Diversion Channel, close to “Taken Care of Business”, and Gary grilled some delicious duck breasts for dinner. Two boats came by to welcome us to Missouri with warm southern hospitality. Soon we were snuggled in our bunk, listening to the night sounds and the hum of tug motors pushing barges past our anchorage. The next day we exited the Mississippi and headed upriver on the Ohio River. It was a smooth trip with little current and we just kicked back and soaked up the warm sunshine all the way to the next anchorage before Lock 52. The following morning at dawn we were told to head to the lock immediately or risk not getting through the rest of the day. Both boats weighed anchor in a mad rush and hurried to the lock entrance. Five miles later, we were heading up the Tennessee River toward the next lock at the entrance to Kentucky Lake. Here we were greeted with really bad news. The wait to enter the lock was predicted to be two and a half hours! We passed the time circling while Taken Care of Business anchored and grilled burgers. Once that frustrating delay was over, we thoroughly enjoyed crossing Kentucky Lake. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon with lots of sunshine and blue skies. We grinned from ear to ear as we broke out the bathing suits in place of the layers of foul weather gear we piled on during the last two trips south. Taken Care of Business crossed the Barkley Canal toward a marina they wanted to visit. We continued on to Kenlake State Park Marina for an overnight stop. As we approached the face dock, the people on their houseboats went inside instead of grabbing a dock line, which was a first in all of our travels. They appeared put out by our arrival, perhaps because we blocked their evening view. Whatever the reason, we just quietly got our dock lines in order and then took a walk before dinner. There was no socializing in our future that night. Pebble Isle Marina certainly made up for that the next night. Several guys ran toward the dock and grabbed for lines, introduced themselves, and invited us to the happy hour party that was already in progress. At least twenty chairs lined the dock, filled with jolly “loopers” all swapping stories and boat cards. We had a wonderful evening making new cruising friends. Since Clifton Marina was to be our next stop, we told everyone about the great time we had last year and encouraged them to stop there. Little did I know that I almost talked us right out of dock space! Instead of anchoring out the next night like they had planned, they all went to Clifton….and beat us there! Sonya was in a panic to fit us all in, so we suggested that Taken Care of Business raft off to Tessa. Our first order of business was to find Bill Magers and give him a big hug! Soon everyone was gathered together having drinks and grilled burgers. It was great to be back together with all of our Clifton friends, and our new cruising friends fit in perfectly. The next day we were looking forward to a lunch date with Bill. Bill Magers is the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. But he didn’t stop there! He gave us two shirts! And food out of his freezer, beer out of his cooler, arrowheads from his collection, AND a Billy Bob beer couzie! The best gift of all was the memorable day we spent together, touring the Tennessee hills surrounding the river and hearing a funny or fascinating story around every turn. We returned to the marina just in time for happy hour. Sonya squeezed in a record breaking number of boats and still had time to prepare chicken & dumplings, white beans, cole slaw, and fried cornbread. Another wonderful evening in Clifton spent with good friends. Bill came by the following morning to deliver country ham biscuits and to see us off. As we sat in the cockpit having coffee, I had a bright idea. “Hey Bill, you should call your daughter and tell her to pick you up at Aqua Yacht Harbor and cruise down there with us. Y’anto?” Better yet, give me her number and I’ll call her! We hadn’t met Bridget yet, but I assumed she would have a sense of humor to match her father’s. So when she answered the phone, I said “If you ever want to see your Daddy again, show up at Aqua Yacht Harbor tonight with $50,000 or the deed to your riverfront property.” After a stunned silence she started laughing and later told us her first thought was “What is he up to now?” We informed everyone at the marina that we were kidnapping Bill, he offered the keys to his truck to fellow cruisers who were staying another day, and off we went down the river. We so enjoyed having our own personal tour guide on board. Bill grew up on the river and had a story to tell at every bend. It was another wonderful, memorable day….until we arrived at the Pickwick Lock and were advised of a 2 ½ to 3 hour delay. Which meant that we would probably not lock through until after dark, which meant that we would have to cross Pickwick Lake to Aqua in the dark. Gary claims that the Garmin chart plotter paid for itself that night, as he followed our track from last year all the way across the dark lake and right to the marina without bumping into anything. Bill left us with some delicious homemade Brunswick Stew and headed for the hills, while we enjoyed a well deserved cocktail before calling it a night. The next day Gary, Walt, Vickie, Fred and I met Bill and Bridget at the well known “Hagy’s Catfish Hotel” for lunch. Most of us enjoyed all-u-can-eat catfish and coleslaw. Yummmm! Hagy’s is located in Shiloh National Park, the site of a bloody Civil War battle. After lunch we followed Bill around to some of the popular spots. Then Bill turned right and we were supposed to turn left to exit the park. Somehow, we got so turned around that we went in circles and ended up right back where we started. Vickie took control, grabbed the map, and finally got us back to the main road. We have all navigated boats from Lake Erie to Mississippi, and we had trouble finding our way out of a park. Funny! This morning as we enter the Tenn-Tom, we are a little sad to close the chapter on the river trip so far. It has truly been a wonderful experience. And we already miss Bill Magers! Such is the cruising life. You leave behind so many good friends and memories, but there is always another adventure awaiting with each new day.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 8th, 2010: "Empty Nesting"

We spent last night at the legendary Hoppies Marina, south of St. Louis. Chas picked a 16 oz rib eye for his last supper. We dined on Taken Care of Business and celebrated the arrival of their crewman Fred, while Gary and I secretly mourned the departure of our crewman. I offered a warm chocolate chip cookie to the crew of a big fancy powerboat at the dock. The captain asked in amazement "You cooked those on board a sailboat?" As though us cheap sailors wouldn't even spring for an oven on board! I wanted to snatch the cookies out of their greedy little fingers and tell them to go suck up some Dom Perignon on their upper deck. The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. this morning, a cruel reminder that it was time for Chas to leave. We said our tearful goodbyes and quietly walked back to a lonely Tessa. She truly feels empty without Chas' presence. He wakes up smiling, goes to bed smiling, and never stops smiling in between. He belongs on Tessa, and loves her and his Dad as much as I do. This is definitely going to take some getting used to after being together for over three weeks, 24/7. We tossed off the dock lines at dawn in order to make 100 statute miles downriver. The current is pushing Tessa along at 12 knots. Now that Chas is gone, I realize I can listen to Glen Beck without a battle, but it does not feel victorious. I no longer need to look over my shoulder while bringing in the bumpers and dock lines. There is no one accidentally-on-purpose threatening to push me overboard. This is boring! I will get the foul weather gear ready just in case Chas really did take the good weather with him. It is sunny and in the high 70's today....but he didn't predict the weather to change until tomorrow. I will try to remember to water my herbs, the way Chas did every day with tender loving care. Gary will go back to being unquestionably correct in everything he says and does on board, instead of being challenged daily by his extemely intelligent and talented son. And hopefully, sooner than later, Captain and I will stop missing Chas and just focus on the happy memories the three of us just made together!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday, October 4: Contrasts

We awoke in Peoria to blue skies, bright sun, and a soft breeze. Quite a contrast to last year, where we woke to below freezing temps, bitter winds, and dock lines frozen to the deck in chunks of ice. Most of the trip this year has contrasted significantly to last years experiences. Most good, some not so good. After we waited out the high winds in Mackinaw City until Sunday, September 27, the weather window dramitically improved. Gary and I were both dreading the trip down and across Lake Michigan, based on the horrible memories of last fall. This trip was a piece of cake! Sunshine during the days, moonlite nights, and calm seas. The Tessa crew and the Taken Care of Business crew agreed to keep going for 48 hours, all the way to Hammond Indiana, as long as Mother Nature was cooperating. We arranged to unstep the masts on Wednesday at Crowleys Boat Yard on the Cal-Sag Canal. Brother Bill, the great guy we became friends with on the river system last year, lives in Hammond. He was kind enough to run me all over town doing errands and provisioning, while the yard crew and Gary and Chas did the hard physical labor. Bill and I returned shortly after the work was finished. I love it when a plan comes together like that! Last year, we couldn't pile on enough clothes to stay warm. This year, we start off with jeans and a sweatshirt early in the morning. By noon, we've pealed those off and changed into shorts and t-shirts. Last year, Nick James and Don Dunn were so polite and appreciative of my cooking that I was constantly showered with compliments and praise. This year, I still receive thanks and praise, but not without impatient demands. One of the first mornings crossing Lake Michigan, I was exclaiming to Gary that we couldn't have asked for more perfect weather. Chas emerges from his stateroom and interrupts "What would be perfect is if you had my breakfast ready!" Or another morning, my "Good morning Chas!" was answered with "Feed me woman!" Once the breakfast dishes are washed and put away, the questions start. "What's for lunch?" "When is dinner?" "Is there any iced tea ready?" "Do we get chocolate chip cookies today?" And on it goes, day after day...... Last year when we stopped in Joliet, we utilized the restrooms in Harrah's casino like homeless people, trying to escape the elements and warm up. This year, our friends Jim and Jan Herrick joined us for dinner and gambling in the casino, just like regular tourists. Since it was so late in the season last fall, we had the Joliet dock all to ourselves. This year there were several other big power boats tied up in front of us. So Captain and I devised a scheme to quietly sneak away at dawn and beat them all to the first lock. This would give us enough of a lead to get a space for the night at the free city dock in Ottawa, which can accommodate two large boats. As a last resort, Walt and Vickie could raft off to us for the night. To our disappointment and much frustration, our timing was off. The lock was backed up with northbound barges, and a southbound barge was already waiting in front of us. Three and a half hours later, we were still not locked through. We watched angrily as all the big power boats (with well rested crews that got to sleep THREE MORE HOURS than we did) came into view behind us, just as the lock was ready to open. ARRRRRRRRGH!!! The second lock of the day was almost as frustrating. Walt and Vickie arrived first and dropped anchor when the lock master advised an hour and a half wait. We just circled around, waiting for the green light. Again, here comes the last minute arrival of the big power boats, zipping past both of us to be first in the lock. Everyone positioned like the start of a race, glaring at each other. GRRRRRRRRRR! We didn't remember having issues like that until Demopolis last year, where everyone was backed up due to the arrival of Hurricane Ida. Luckily, the big boys with the big boats have big money and were spending the night in a nice marina. They were not the least bit concerned about the freebie in Ottawa, so our two boats had no problem with space that evening. Once secured at the dock, we witnessed an Asian Carp frenzy. They were excited by the vibration of a speed boat, and came shooting up out of the water nearby. We weren't fast enough to capture it on film, but one poor guy landed on the dock and flopped around long enough for us to snap some pictures. Once again this year, Dave and Becky,the friendly and accommodating Ottawa Ambassadors, joined us for an interesting visit. The next morning, we looked forward to visiting the nice folks at Herman's Liquor Store. Then we were off to Henry Harbor. We like this stop because they have a nice bar and cute little town. Chas had such a good time at the nice bar that he didn't see much of the cute little town the next morning before we had to depart for Peoria. Peoria is a great river city with lots to offer, including Chas and Walt's favorite...Hooters. We had a fun evening and were happy that (the amazing) Amanda still works there. Not for long, though, as she is leaving to begin a nursing career. Hmmmmm...Hooters waitress to taking care of old and/or sick people. Not much of a stretch if you really think about it.... Tonight we hope to find a nice anchorage between Peoria and Grafton. The river level is down almost two feet, which is a concern for anchoring. Thankfully, unlike last year, the nice weather seems to holding out. Chas claims he will take it with him on Friday when he departs from St. Louis. It will be doom and gloom after that. Whether that happens or not, it truly will be gloomy without him and we are going to miss him terribly. He has added so much to this trip, not to mention how hard he has worked ON HIS VACATION!! He has reminded me of this dozens of times throughout each and every day, in between harassing me, changing my Talk Radio to the Blue Collar Comedy station, demanding more to eat, and attempting several times to push me overboard. Life as we have known it since Chas' arrival September 13th will be over on Friday. And in spite of all the harassment, I will be the first to admit that the time went by way too fast!