Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bear Point to Dog River Marina Mobile AL

On 18 August, we untied Viridian from the pilings at Bear Point as a huge tug with 6 barges churned past us heading west.  These rigs are made up of a big tugboat lashed up to 6 barges that form a 75-foot wide by 600 foot long rectangle weighing up to 10,000 tons, not including the tug.  They are short on looks but long on authority.  They are slow to get moving and slow to get stopped.  They are able to turn about 5-6 kts max speedwise.  Since we turn about 6.5 kts we will eventually overtake one of these things and have to pass it or stay behind it all day and maybe not get to where we want to be.  We caught up with this tug about 8 miles west of the marina where she was stopped in the narrow GICW in a 45 deg turn to starboard.  The tug crew was tying a huge diameter (4") rope to the starboard forward corner barge.  The other end was tied to a big oak tree on the bank.  I radioed the captain and asked how he would advise Viridian to pass him.  He said that he was tying up so that an eastbound tug of the same size could pass him.  The tug captain then advised us to stay put behind him till the eastbound Tug passed by.  I shifted Viridian into neutral and used the bow thrusters to keep her pointed westward.  We monitored CH-13 and heard the captains of both tugs coordinate their passing.  Soon the eastbound tug rounded the bend and squeezed passed the westbound tug and us and tied to the bank.  Once the Eastbound tug cleared, I radioed for clearance to pass and got permission to do so.   Once we had past, we continued to monitor CH-13 and heard the westbound tug tell the eastbound tug that he had wound a large rope around his propeller shaft and would be a while getting going again.  Ouch!

We idled past Lu Lu's restaurant and all the eateries lining the banks in the Gulf Shores metro region.  As we approached the mouth of the Portage River looking into the big water of Mobile Bay, we saw a woman waving at us on the north bank.  It turned out to be our neighbor's (at home) sister who we talked with before we started our journey.  We told her we would be going past her condo but didn't know what time of day it would be.  It turned out that as we were passing under the bridge she was driving over it and saw our boat.  She hurried home and made it to the bank in time to wave at us.  What are the odds?

Our weather radar showed several thunderstorms drifting NNW across the bay.  It appeared that we could avoid them by keeping a steady course and speed as we cruised west across the Bay.  The view of a big thunderstorm on one side of the boat and a sunny blue sky on the other side was a stark contrast.  The water was a rich aqua (viridian) color where the sun shone and a dark green where the storm was.

We split the red and green channel marker buoys as we made our way westward toward the commercial shipping channel that went north to Mobile from the Gulf.  A fast moving yacht overtook us.  It slowed down long enough to pass us then took off again leaving a deep ditch in the water off our starboard side.  I turned Viridian hard starboard and attempted to go bow first into the hole.  She didn't get turned fast enough to avoid a large roll to the right and then back to the left before she settled out.  We both thought we were turning over!

Turning north into the commercial shipping lane, we finally picked up a breeze for the first time on the entire voyage.  It felt good as we got in line with several other vessels churning northward.  A Coast Guard ship was stopped at the buoy that marked the approach channel to Dog River.  As we got closer it took off.  Looked like it was replacing a lost buoy.  We navigated the channel into Dog River, under the Dauphin Island Parkway Bridge and took the channel just past Turner Marina, and slid alongside the fuel dock and tied Viridian to a pillar.  We topped off the fuel tanks and gave a list of repairs to the mechanics that we wanted done while we took 3 weeks off to plan our cruise up the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  Our son William drove our car down the next day.  Since it was his birthday, we took him to Original Oyster House and Seafood Restaurant in Spanish Fort Mobile.  He spent the night with us on board Viridian, and we all drove home to Lacey's Spring the next day.  We would return to Dog River with a Tenn-Tom cruise plan and complete the second half of our voyage north via the Tennessee River and then east to Ditto Landing.

That's the news and here's the views:

We are here

Route from Bear Point Marina to Dog River Marina Mobile AL

Dog River Marina

View aft entering Mobile Bay

View forward entering Mobile Bay

Dodging the storms on Mobile Bay

Tied to the fuel dock at Dog River Marina-Mobile, AL

Felica (who is male) is the official welcoming committee at Dog River.  He expects to be invited to supper on every boat that docks there.

A nice place to eat.... if Sonny invites you

The Original Oyster House and Seafood Restaurant in Mobile at Spanish Fort

What's on the  menu at The Original Oyster House and Seafood Restaurant

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blue Water Bay to Bear Point Marina

On the morning of 17 August Viridian departed at first light carefully feeling our way out through the shallow path we came in on.  Our voyage to Bear Point Marina was a 70-mile cruise that took us by familiar vacation spots that we had visited in our past.  Heading southwest in Choctawhatchee Bay, we approached Ft. Walton Beach, FL where the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is located.  My first visit to this location was when I was about 5 years old with my Dad and Grandfather.  We were staying at a beach house in Laguna Beach, FL and they took me to see the sea creatures and the entire mysterious ocean -related things one would expect to see on the coast.  This was probably my first trip to the ocean shore.  Since then, I have always had an attraction for the salty ways of life.  Later in life, Meg and I took our boys to the beach for the first time at Ft. Walton and stayed at a place called the El Matador.  We drove our boys over to the Gulfarium one day.  It was the first time I had been back since I was 5.

Heading west, we passed under the Brooks Bridge where the Miracle Strip Parkway connects the mainland to Santa Rosa Island.  For 30 miles we passed familiar landmarks such as Mary Esther, Navarre Beach and Gulf Breeze.  As we cruised along this route, we had to overtake our first tug that was pushing a single barge that had a large crane on it.  Her name was Tugboat Baby.  I felt awkward hailing it on the radio but it worked and we were able to pass her with ease.  Tugboat Baby wanted us to give him a wave height report once we got to the commercial pass.  As it turned out, once we went under the Pensacola Beach Road Bridge, the water became almost flat due the wind being blocked by the bridge.  I reported this back to Tugboat Baby and he was relieved.  After passing Gulf Breeze, we entered Pensacola Bay at the commercial/military pass at Ft. Pickens State Park.  The captain and crew of Viridian had to be alert to spot the buoy switchover that happens in this particular situation.  If you miss this navigation detail you could end up out of the channel and stuck in the mud.

West of the pass we entered into Big Lagoon where the Blue Angel Highway runs along the north bank, south of Pensacola Naval Air Station.  In 1981, I spent 12 weeks at the NAS as a candidate in the Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School, Class 2981.  My drill instructor was GSGT "Buck" Welcher.  He had a cameo appearance in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman.  His job was to coach Lewis Gossett Jr. on how to be a bad a$$ drill instructor.  He had just returned from Hollywood when he took my class.  That was quite an experience!  As an added treat, we got to see the Blue Angels put on an air show for the 30 miles we made going west along Santa Rosa Island.

The GICW narrows once again for about 5 miles till it crosses the Alabama/Florida state line.  We turned north for a couple of miles and then rounded Bear Point.  Bearing to the west, we found the marina on our port side.  This was a significant milestone in our journey.  We had to be out of the state of Florida within the 90-day window we had that started on the day we purchased our boat.  Otherwise, we would have to pay a 6% sales tax to Florida.  We also had to prove we were out of Florida by purchasing fuel and/or slip fees in the state of Alabama.  Bear Point Marina was the place to do all this.  This is also a location we have visited several times in the past when vacationing at Orange Beach.  We were looking forward to eating at Flipper’s Restaurant and chilling out for the evening.  Once we got into a slip and tied up for the night, we saw Tugboat Baby churn past on her way to an anchorage on the north bank just past Bear Point.

That's the news and here's the views:

We are here

Route from Bluewater Bay to Bear Point Marina

Bear Point Marina Alabama

Okaloosa County Water Tank

El Matador Condos on Santa Rosa Island FWB

Leaving Fort Walton

 Contrails from Blue Angles Jets

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Panama City to Blue Water Bay Marina

On 16 August we departed Panama City Marina and headed west along the GICW for Blue Water Bay Marina, approximately 62 miles.  Leaving PC Marina, we steamed under Hathaway Bridge that spans the eastern entrance to Grand Lagoon and West Bay.  West bBay opens into big water for about 15 miles till it necks down to the man made canal at a little community called West Bay, Fl.  This canal winds for 30 miles through a conservation area called the Point Washington State Forest then connects with another big water bay called Choctawhatchee Bay.  At the west end of Choctawhatchee Bay, we turned north after passing under the Mid Bay Bridge and steered toward the town of Niceville, FL where we stopped for the day at Blue Water Bay Marina.  The entrance to BWBM was marked, but our depth sounder alarm kept going off and causing the crew of Viridian to become a little nervous.  The nice lady at the marina office talked us in, and we tied up to the wooden docks and made our way up the planked walkway to the office.  We were given the keys to a loaner vehicle so we could drive into town and get supplies for the next day.  After returning the car, we bought fresh ice and took our supplies to the boat and settled in for supper.  There was a full moon that night and the sunset over the marina was beautiful.

That's the news and here's the views:

We are here
62 mile rout from PC Marina to Bluewater Bay Marina in Niceville, FL

Chilling out as the sun sets

View from the stern of Viridian at Blue Water Bay

Bluewater Bay

One more Pic

Sunset at BWBM

Full Moon rising over the Bay

Monday, August 15, 2016

Panama City Marina

Panama City Florida Marina

We stayed two days in PC, probably one of the best marinas on the Gulf Coast.  The staff was extremely helpful and went the extra mile helping us get settled.  Restaurants were within walking distance, and the facilities were first class.

Meg was suffering from an earache so we called a taxi to take us to the doctor's office in downtown PC to get some meds.  The clinic happened to be next door to a Target grocery store so we loaded up with supplies.  Just as we called our taxi, the bottom fell out from under a strong thunderstorm and let loose a hard rain.  By the time we got back to Viridian, the sun was out and so was the heat.

PC Marina must be a hot spot for Poky Mon Zombies.  All day and especially at night, these "hunters" crept around, bent over their phones like an army of hunchbacks.  We had to zigzag through them to get to the shower house.

That's the news and here's a view:

Ready to set sail for our next stop at Bluewater Bay Marina!

Apalachicola to Panama City Marina

On the morning of 14 August 2016, we plotted a course from Apalachicola, FL to Panama City Marina.  As the sun began to rise in a clear sky, we eased out of our slip and made a sharp port turn into the Apalachicola River that serves as the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW).  The 62-mile cruise will take us up the Apalachicola River past an old rusty railroad swing bridge and into Lake Wimico.  This area looks like it must have looked 300 years ago.  You feel like there is no one around for miles, and there wasn't.  Lake Wimico necked down to a narrow, winding canal with cypress trees, palm trees and mangroves so thick you couldn't see past them.  The water was the color of tea. Every now and then a slough would appear, and tucked back into the shadows you could see a flat roof shack on pilings that could only be accessed by water.  We convinced ourselves that there is no way a barge could navigate this path.  Nevertheless, I crept around every bend expecting to see the bow of a tow heading towards us.

We passed the canal that takes you to Port St. Joe, another good place to stay in the area.  At 40 miles into our journey we sailed into East Bay and stretched our eyeballs as the banks opened into bigger water.  Dolphins came alongside us and escorted us as we looked for the red nun buoys that marked the channel.

The GICW made some lazy turns as we passed under the Hwy 98 Bridge next to the Raptor Ranch at Tyndall AFB.  Heading north and between Ferry Pt. and Parker Pt. we turned due west for a few miles then headed NW to Bunkers Pt.   From there we could see Panama City Marina to the north.  We called on channel 16 and the dock master switched us to channel 12 and gave us instructions on how to enter and where to turn to get to the fuel doc.  After some maneuvering in the busy harbor, we got tied up to the fuel dock and topped off the tanks.  The dock master had us move alongside the transient dock for our stay, so we plugged into the 50-amp pedestal, turned on the A/C and relaxed with a cool drink and a map of the area so we could plan our exploration of Panama City.

That's the news and here's the views:

We are here

The 62 mile route from Apalachicola to Panama City, FL along the GICW

Early morning departure from the Water Street Marina and Hotel in Apalachicola, FL

Looking back at where we stayed as we rounded the green and red divider buoy taking us into the GICW
Goodbye Apalachicola

The old rusty railroad swingbridge just up the GICW from Apalachicola

Entering into Lake Wimico

 A floating fish camp in the middle of nowhere

Churning along in "The Ditch"

These guys were around every day

The view from the transient dock in Panama City Marina

Lots of good the fake owl does

Show me the FOOD!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Apalachicola Florida

Friday, August 12, our trip across the Gulf of Mexico ended in a small slip in the Scipio Creek just off the ICW (Apalachicola River) and behind the Water Street Hotel and Marina.  My brother parked his car there on the way down and would drive home early the next morning.  But first, long hot showers were long overdue and would be followed by a walk along the waterfront to some seafood and exploring.

Papa Joe's Oyster Bar and Grill is famous for, you guessed it.. oysters!  If you like seafood it doesn't get any fresher than this.  It was also scallop season, so we pigged out on seafood like we hadn't eaten in 30 hours; wait, we really hadn't eaten, not much anyway.  So we made up for it!  Yep, seafood coma here we come.

We decided to stay an extra day and explore the area more.  Where was that ice cream shop?? Apalachicola is a unique place in Florida because it was established in the 1830’s and has not been hit by a hurricane, so lots of old houses, stores and fishing ports are well preserved.

We did find ice cream and another fabulous seafood restaurant.  Satisfied, we walked back to Viridian and hit the sack so we could set sail at first light for Panama City Marina.

That's the news and here's the views:

We are here
Apalachicola, FL

Viridian docked at Waterfront Marina and Hotel in Apalachicola, FL.

View Looking up the Scipio Creek

The Gulf ICW (Apalachicola River)  is just beyond the tall grass

Fried softshell crab at Joe's Oyster Bar

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Crossing The Gulf

Wednesday, August 3, 2016 we picked up our one-way rental van, packed it to the ceiling with stuff and headed south to St. Petersburg, FL where Viridian was waiting at Embree Marine Boat Yard with fresh new fuel tanks and upgraded navigation electronics.  My brother Richard drove his car to Apalachicola, FL where we swung by, stuffed him and his stuff in the van and proceeded to a hotel just north of St. Petersburg FL.  On Saturday, Richard and I boarded Viridian and sailed 3 miles north to St. Petersburg Municipal Marina while Meg drove the van to the marina and met us there.  We unloaded our gear, food, etc. and began making Viridian ready for her journey north to Huntsville, AL.

After shocking the fresh water system on the boat and stowing all the gear, we hired a captain to spend 24 hours with us to teach docking, anchoring and basic seamanship skills.  This was money well spent.  We felt much more confident in our boat and in ourselves.  We also got a list of things that needed attention but could wait till we got to Mobile.

We finally got a weather window to leave the marina but my brother's annual leave was spent sitting in the rain so we planned a day trip to Clearwater, FL where he could rent a car and drive to Apalachicola to get his car and go back to work.  We set sail on 11 August and intended to go to Clearwater via the ICW.  Unfortunately, I charted a course that took us up a canal that had a bridge too low to pass under.  We backtracked out into Tampa Bay and decided to run off shore to Clearwater.  However, once in the Gulf we discussed going ahead and making the crossing.  The weather was great and we got independent confirmation from trusted sources, so I set a heading of 330 degrees NNW for East Pass.

We watched Clearwater, FL slide over the horizon as we headed north at 8 mph in Viridian.  The sun set on our port side, and we settled in for a long trip.  Later that night the wave action increased and was still coming in on the port quarter-bow, making the ride kind of like being on a mechanical bull in slow motion.  We had to hold onto anything we could just to move around on deck, so we stayed put on the fly bridge unless we absolutely had to go below.  The night sky began to fill with patchy clouds and the deepest darkness surrounded us, seeming to suck any light away that we threw into it.  The spreader lights were burning on the mast to light the stairway below but only illuminated just beyond Viridian’s hull.  Flying fish could be seen launching from the waves ahead of the bow only to be swallowed up by the darkness of the sea.  Dolphins went on a feeding frenzy around our boat, chasing down food at lightning speed with their fins slashing the water as they made quick turns right and left.

Around 2 AM, the captain became seasick and the crew was beginning to wonder if we had made a mistake taking on such a long and lonely journey for our first-ever voyage in our new boat.

Pressing on, we followed the GPS rum line all night using stars, clouds, the moon or anything we could fix a reference on to steer a steady course.  Viridian rumbled smoothly along the electronic path doing what she was built to do while we held on and watched for signs of other boats in our path.

The sun rose in a blue sky with white fluffy clouds on the horizon.  East Bay finally rolled up over the horizon and we were able to get cell phone coverage and call our people to close out our cruise plan and announce we had arrived safely on schedule.

East Pass opened in front of us with a boat sitting still just out of the channel.  They had engine trouble and radioed us to see if we would tow them in.  We were in no condition to deal with that and told them we were sorry but we were not configured for towing and unless they were sinking they should hail a professional towboat to get them in.  We later heard radio traffic indicating they were being towed to safety.

Viridian turned west after clearing East Pass and sailed into the sun for 25 miles to our dock in Apalachicola, Fl.  Along the way, a half dozen flying fish were tossed overboard after crash landing on our deck over night.  The captain hosed down the decks to clean off the contents resulting from several seasick episodes hurled from the fly bridge during the night.  After 30 hours of rocking and rolling, the crew of Viridian was ready for showers, naps and food!

That's the news and here's the views:

We are here

Approximately 230 miles over all that included the backtracking due to low bridge.

Arriving at Embree Marine to take Viridian to St. Petersburg Municipal Marina

The Crew!

Our slip in St. Petersburg Marina

This was the weather most of our stay at St. Petersburg

The Captain is expected to do the dirty work.  Rebuilding the toilet in the master head.

Waiting for the weather to break so we can set sail across the Gulf of Mexico

The park next to the Marina

Is that blue sky we see?

Finally the rain stops and a high pressure system moves into the Gulf!!

My brother checking the weather

Heading out of Tampa Bay into the open Gulf

Turning NNW to 330 deg we see Clearwater to our starboard

Steaming North

No land in sight

View from Salon

Meg takes the helm

Water water everywhere!

Into the Night
The radar is a must for this leg of the journey.  We detected all kinds of vessels and had to make a course correction to avoid them.

Early next morning

Docked in Apalachicola where the A/C was immediately turned on in Viridian.