Monday, December 2, 2013

New Orleans to Apalachicola, FL IV

But for the kindness of strangers....

11/24/2013  Nothing like grey, cold (really cold) and dreary days to dampen one's spirits.  Having to duck out of nasty weather again and again is one way to feel loss of control.  We stayed in Mary Walker Marina in Gautier, MS for several more nights while waiting for a chance to enter the Gulf of Mexico on our way home.  Optimism did prevail, however, and we found a way to enjoy ourselves.  Long walks through the neighborhoods of Gautier, another couple of DVDs (with popcorn, of course), another meal at Tiki Restaurant, reading, chores, and good talks filled our days.

Yet it's people that made this last portion of our trip memorable.  Sylvia, the manager, that loaned us her car for grocery shopping, also invited us for Thanksgiving dinner, were we to stay on.  And a neighbor sailor just down a couple of slips from us, a liveaboard, knocked on the side of our boat, Aventura, to say that he had a space heater he wished to loan us for the cold nights to come (in the 20s!).  With his and our small space heater, would be comfortable enough.  Yes, we took him up on it and were heart-warmed to have perfect strangers extending a hand.  And, when we finally did take off for the Gulf and then on to our last stop, Long Beach Marina, a couple invited us for Thanksgiving dinner on their boat.

It was Thanksgiving Day when we left early morning for the Gulf.  Passing through Mary Walker Bayou, following the Pascagoula River to the Gulf got us in a good mood.  We motored and then motor-sailed the Mississippi Sound, passing the barrier islands of Petit Bois, Horn Island, and Ship Island. When we had Cat Island on our port beam, we took a sharp turn towards north and entered Long Beach Marina for the night.  Why not anchor off one of the barrier islands?  Winds from the north and we needed shore power for our one space heater.  That was fortuitous, that we should go into the Marina because there we met Ken and Marty on their liveaboard, Carolina.  We had a full Thanksgiving dinner replete with wine, turkey, yam, peas, stuffing, cranberry sauce, apple pie with ice cream....lovely company, and very comfortable on their motorsailer, a Sea Trader.  And these boats are a work of art, with their hand carved doors, magnificent wood accessories, good distribution of space...a real home, Ken and Marty's home.

11/29  We left early for New Orleans, along the Mississippi Sound, into the Rigolets, then Lake Pontchartrain, finalizing with a magnificent sunset on a calm Lake with the New Orleans skyline in the background.  A great homecoming, what we felt we deserved.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Orleans to Apalachicola, FL III

Waiting for a weather window....

11/17/2013 We knew we ought to leave Panama City Marina before 7a.m. to deal with a rambunctious Gulf of Mexico and make it through the tricky entrance to Destin Harbor before dark.  Winds were from the NE at 14 knots, and waves 4 - 6 ft. knocking Aventura on her stern quarter.  Getting slapped around drained us both.  Destin Harbor has great anchorages.  Exactly what we needed to turn in for the night early with an expectation we'd be able to play tourist the next day.  Maybe dinghy in to one of the many restaurants and take a walk around.  I woke up to rain and had to move my yoga practice inside (mostly use the cockpit for daily yoga), and it rained all day.  A time to read, make soup, watch Oceans Eleven and putter around.

11/19 We left Destin Harbor before 7 a.m. for an early start to Pensacola Bay.  Finally, a beautiful day and beautiful for sailing.  Winds were out of the NE at 18 - 23 knots, and we slid along on a beam reach at 7.5 - 8.5 knots most of the way.  It was exhilarating!  Probably all sailors would want to sail more and motor less, but, alas, this is not the case. 

We decided to go into Palafox Marina in Pensacola, a great marina and close to much.  We took turns on the bike getting groceries, went for coffee, walked the streets, took care of laundry and other maintenance on our cat, and enjoyed Pensacola. 

11/23 Then on to Ingram Bayou, one of our favorite anchorages. Location:  30 deg. 19.167' N/ 87 deg. 33. 298' W.  A great storm hole along the Alabama Canal (ICW).  Never ever tired of Ingram Bayou.  Beautiful, small and intimate feeling.
Weather forecasts have been worsening as time goes on.  After much deliberation, we decided to head for the Pascagoula, MS area, the first place we could duck into for a several-days nasty weather block.   We left Ingram Bayou before dawn, around 4:30 a.m., and headed for Mary Walker Marina, Gautier, MS.  We wanted to have time while still light to negotiate the new-to-us Pascagoula River.  61 NM later, we made it, but not without some drama.  Fog set in during our crossing in the Mississippi Sound, and the Pascagoula River wormed its way around, with plenty of little tributaries that would have led us into dead ends in the swamp. Plus a slight grounding which Mike backed out of.  On the exit, we will take the shortcut along a canal that crosses the marsh to take us back to N. Pascagoula River and out into the Gulf. That's the way to get to Mary Walker Marina: just past the Hwy 90 bridge (80 ft. clearance) at the entrance to the River, cross the marsh, turn north into Mary Walker Bayou, the Marina is on the south side. It's really simple.

Now at Mary Walker Marina we feel safe from the strong winds, currents, cold and rain.  The Marina is part of Gautier, MS, just across from Pascagoula.  The people at the Marina couldn't be nicer, especially the manager, Sylvia.  She even loaned us her car to get groceries down the street.  Tiki Bar & Restaurant is just a block away.  Good food at a good price.  We have taken walks that included George Martin City Park with its piers that jut out into the marsh.  The view from our cat, which is snugly ensconced in a slip wide enough for us (20.3 ft. beam)...what a surprise!  And the weather window has been pushed back...we have to wait for a window, then on to Gulfport or Long Beach Marina as a last stop before New Orleans, our home port.  Weather!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Orleans to Apalachicola, FL II

From Apalachicola, we headed back to St. Joseph Bay via the inland Intercoastal Waterway (ICW).  As Mike slowly pulled out from Apalachicola Marina, I took pictures of the town's wharfs, buildings, boats and river traffic to illustrate what this area of "Old Florida" is about.  The ICW was its usual enchanting self with wilderness all around and an occasional vessel meandering through or fishermen stalking their prey.  White City was again a nice stop-over.  We met trawlers heading for the western coast of Florida both going and coming back from Apalachicola.  They all have interesting tales of how, when, where and what it means to travel inland America and the coastal waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico and up the eastern seaboard.

White City is approximately 3 1/2 hrs. from Apalachicola and 1 1/2 hrs. from St. Joseph Bay motoring at 5.5 - 6.5 knots.  Aside from good tie-up and depth, there's a clean bathroom and water.  And a country store, namely the Wimico Country Store, about .5 mi. from the dock, and a sign that says "Beer, Bait and Ammo."  That pretty much sums up priorities and perspectives for the region (author's opinion). 

Early morning we witnessed the start of a fishermen's race.  Then on to St. Andrew Bay, which was a day's journey.  Once we crossed St. Joseph Bay and entered the Gulf, we motorsailed to the entrance of St. Andrew Bay with winds on the beam or aft quarter and clocking 6 - 7 knots.  Nice weather invited us to anchor in Bunker's Cove, just east of  the Panama City Marina.  Location:
30 deg 8.406'N/85 deg 38.979'W.  This is where some of the 1% live judging from their boats and homes.  We got into the dinghy and motored/rowed around the get the lay of the land and then settled into a calm overnight. 

We had hoped to explore another anchorage we've been wanting to try out, namely Smack Bayou, just across the way.  But, alas, no water left in the tanks!  There's always something happening to remind you that boats are like independent islands that require much work in keeping them afloat and functional, which includes the necessary power, water, food and other supplies, and the list goes on.  So we headed for Panama City Marina.  And that's where we are for a week because unkind weather has delayed a departure.  For those occasions, shift into tourist mode and turn your vessel into the proverbial "cabin on the water."  Besides, the Marina offers deals for weeklongs; so, ask. 

What is there to do besides chores?  Plenty. In terms of chores, the usual:  laundry, cleaning, maintenance, use electricity and great Internet plus Cable, grocery, turning the cockpit into our back porch, checking in with other boaters, etc.  In terms of what else: 
  • walks through the historic downtown and nearby neighborhoods
  • buying fresh fish at a nearby fish market
  • coffee and poking heads into small shops and bookstore
  • take the special Panama City Bay Town Trolley to Panama City Beach and St. Andrew Marina/community
  • bike
  • eat a few meals out but also fix wholesome meals in
  • enjoy our cabin on the water with cockpit/back porch and great sunsets
We're looking at weather windows to depart Sun. 11/17 either for another anchorage or Destin Harbor, which requires heading out into the Gulf, a full day's run.

As one sailing acquaintance once said, "It's all good," meaning relax and make the best use of your time away.  So, double click on the slideshow to get a better view.  And, of course, stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Orleans to Apalachicola, FL I

New Orleans to Apalachicola, FL I

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

This was supposed to be our trip to Tarpon Springs, FL and points south. But making plans where Nature is heavily involved is subject to change.  Oh well! Weather has gotten in the way and we'll just have to adapt.  Sailors and boaters in general seem to know that and don't get unnerved by changes in plans.  In fact, they tend to not have rigid plans.

I arrived in Port St. Joe, FL to meet up with Mike, who had started out from New Orleans with our friend George.  Ina, George's and our friend, helped me drive the 8 hr. trip from NOLA to Port St. Joe.  No problema.  We had a great time together.  Eating, sharing stories and spending a day in Apalachicola (easy 25 mi. straight shot away).  George and Ina left, and we decided to enjoy Port St. Joe before heading off.

We took the Intercoastal Waterway that leads from St. Joseph Bay to Apalachicola Bay via inland.  Normally a 5 hr. trip through swampy areas full of birds and natural beauty.  It kind of reminds us of the Tchefuncte River in Louisiana (off of Lake Pontchartrain).  Instead of motoring straight through in one day, we decided to spend the night in White City.  Not much there except that the town offers a free public dock, period.  It's in the middle of all this nature.  Just a few docks, some picnic tables, and yes a bathroom facility.  We ran into a couple with a trawler that does the loop of inland waterways, hence the name "Loopers" to refer to these types of people.  And there are plenty of those coming down from America's heartland, taking a share turn to the east when reaching the Gulf of Mexico, heading for Florida and up the eastern seaboard, thus closing the circle.  More or less.  Interesting folks.  Great tales.

Now we're in Apalachicola, enjoying a town we haven't tired of yet.  It's old Florida.  A fishing town with nice architectural structures and salt of the earth people.  But it's also trending upwards with the number of visitors that pass through, whether for the seafood festivities or the word has gotten out that there's character in this town.  Art galleries, theater, plenty of restaurants and inns.  There aren't many boat slips, and definitely not much for multihulls like ours.  Though small as catamarans go (Lagoon 37), our Aventura, we have a hard time finding a slip.  And tides/depths are a problem.  But we enjoy this part of Americana very much.

Next we are heading towards New Orleans but plan to stop in some new places. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mississippi Coast

Road trip to the Mississippi Coast: Scouting for nearby getaways

June 11-13, 2013

The drive from New Orleans was pleasant and quick.  We reached Waveland within 1 1/2 hrs, taking the I-10 from New Orleans to Bay St. Louis and then State Highway 607 past NASA’s Space Stennis Center and Buccaneer State Park.  Waveland is a backyard to Bay St. Louis.  All the Mississippi Coast area suffered dramatically from Hurricane Katrina in late August, 2005.  But much of the coastline from Waveland, Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian were the hardest hit.  Those areas are coming back but they're not yet there.  See post-Katrina, post-BP Oil Spill 

St. Louis Bay, where Bay St. Louis town is located, was new to us in terms of anchorage options.  The marked channel guides boats through the 13 ft. CSX Railroad (swing) Bridge and the Hwy. 90 fixed 85 ft. St Louis Bridge.  From there three possible anchorage areas depart from the channel:  Bayou Portage, Wolf River, and the Jourdan River.  We had followed the western shore of St. Louis Bay, through quaint downtown Bay St. Louis, crossed the intersection of Hwy 90 and continued along the shore to the Bay Waveland Yacht Club & Marina and onward to and along the Jourdan River.
The Yacht Club & Marina accepts transients and allows boats to anchor there.  It's just that the depths are constantly low, around 5 ft.  Continuing on, we came upon the newly renamed Hollywood Casino with a small marina, boasting depths of 10 ft. This might be a refuge from stormy weather, in addition to offering the casino/hotel services.  We would probably aim for anchoring on the Jourdan River as a first objective, however.  The Jourdan River presents sufficient depths, 6-6 ½ ft. depths within channel.  This is the west side of St. Louis Bay.

If one would rather enter immediately into a protected area from the Hwy. 90 Bridge, turn right into Bayou Portage.  Navigating Portage and the Wolf River might represent more of a challenge because there is little in the way of marked channels and depths are tricky at best.  Though, as one sailor reminded us, touching bottom means mud rather than rock.  In other words, not catastrophic.  But the scenery and ability to duck oncoming troublesome weather might be worth a try.  We will certainly give this area a try during these summer months and a prediction of active storms/hurricanes.  These opportunities are but a day's sail/motor from our New Orleans harbor.  Close enough  for a brief getaway and quick return if a major storm is brewing.

Just around the corner of the eastern bend of St. Louis Bay, on the Gulf of Mexico, is the town of Pass Christian and its marina.  There are a lot of pluses to making this a stopover.  Most of the little town is within walking distance from the marina, therefore shops and eateries, plus a great restaurant right on site   It’s an attractive town that was once the main vacation spot for New Orleanians back when.  The price at the marina is just right:  a flat fee of roughly $25/night including water and electricity (30 or 50 amp).  Transient slips are inside the wall and measure 36 ft. by 27 ft.  Depths are 8-9 ft. throughout.  Bathrooms, laundry, pump out, WiFi and other services will be coming online sometime soon, we're told. Long Beach is the next community when travelling west to east.  It’s easy to negotiate the entrance.  Depths are 9 ft.  Transients use a back wall and dock alongside.  At $1/ft. one gets good level services: water, power, bath/showers, access to laundry room.  The marina is working on fuel and pump out.  There are restaurants within walking distance but other shops and eateries are roughly a mile away.

We had stayed at the Gulfport Small Craft Marina, which is the best of the marinas mentioned here.  See last two postings regarding our truncated trip to Western Florida.  We stayed at this Marina for two nights while trying to retrieve our anchor and chain lost to the Gulf of Mexico during a storm.  The Marina couldn’t have been a better choice.  Management was attentive, the services – slip, electricity, water, bath/showers, laundry, ease of entry, one free pump out – are fantastic.  The Marina is working on WiFi.  This is a newly refurbished marina, part of the Gulfport Harbor Complex that includes daily departures for Ship Is. for the day and a Large Craft Harbor.  I walked to a coffee shop for Internet connection and saw that there are plenty of eateries within a mile.
Follow us on our upcoming first trip to St. Louis Bay and beyond.  We will embark on our trip to Western Florida in the Fall.  After the storm season and after the intense heat that envelops the Northern Gulf. 


Friday, June 7, 2013

New Orleans to W. FL II

New Orleans to W. FL II

Fri., June 7, 2013

Sorry, readers, but we have returned to Home Port, Louisiana. Just temporarily to regroup.  Absolutely we will travel again, and very soon, but first we have to solve the anchor problem and reconsider travel plans during this active storm season.  Follow me on the steps we’ve taken so far.

The anchor was not retrieved from the bottom of the Mississippi Sound off Ship Is.  We knew the probability was low because neither Capt. Mike nor Capt. George had the necessary equipment and because of wind, currents, low visibility underwater, etc.  It was worth a try, nevertheless.  The day after our “misadventure” George, Mike and Nick made the two-hour run from Gulfport Small Craft Harbor & Marina to Ship Is. on George’s cat, AƱejo, to sweep the area surrounding our anchorage spot, roughly within a one-acre diameter.  They tried:  (1) using mask and snorkel but visibility was no more than 3 ft.; (2) they tried using the dinghy and dinghy anchor to snare the chain or rode to no avail; and (3) they tried using a heavy fishing pole with hooks and weights but only snagged weeds.  No luck!  One day somebody will stumble upon our 35 lb. Delta!

Should our cat, Aventura, proceed on its course to Western Florida with a secondary anchor, a 28 lb. Fortress with only 30 ft. of chain and 200 ft. of rode?  Even under good weather conditions, using a light anchor with a 14,000+ lb. fully loaded cat would represent an anchoring challenge.  Now, add in the probability of frequent thunderstorms and other low pressure phenomena, and that sounds like too high of a risk.  So, getting a new anchor became paramount.  In fact, getting a better anchor rose up on Capt. Mike’s priority list. 

Finally, given the prediction of a very active storm – read hurricane – season, we needed to rethink what trip(s) we could take nearby that would put us in close proximity to home port or other shelter. Yes, there are always the communities around Pontchartrain Lake, such as:  Madisonville/Tchefuncte River, Mandeville, Bayou Lacombe/town of Lacombe, and Oak Harbor/Slidell.  But in looking for places beyond the Lake, in the Gulf of Mexico, there are other interesting communities that pepper the Mississippi coastline, such as:  town of Bay St. Louis/St. Louis Bay, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi/back bay, and Ocean Springs.  Next week, we intend to take a car ride to these communities (while awaiting delivery of anchor and chain).  Of course, we know these communities.  Yet a lot has happened since Hurricane Katrina leveled many of them in 2005.  The information we will cull from Active Captain and our personal visits will show up in my next blog.

Stay tuned!  And, oh, I can truly say that the phrase “calm before the storm” has new, rich meaning for us! 

Monday, June 3, 2013

New Orleans to W. Florida I

New Orleans to W. FL I

Mon., June 3, 2013

Capt. Mike and I left New Orleans (finally) on Sat., June 1st.  Our marina neighbor and friend, George, and his apprentice, Nick, arranged to caravan with us part of the way on our trip to W. Florida.  So a Lagoon 37 and Privilege 39 set sail early with hopes to reach Ship Is., MS by evening.  That is with the cooperation of the winds and wind direction, mechanical health of the cats and its people, if, if, if.  That day would be memorable, as the next day would be too but in a very different way.  More like opposite way.

The first day held the thrill of starting out and hours of terrific sailing (not motoring) at a good clip.  The next day, however, surprised us with a sudden thunderstorm that initiated another kind of adrenaline rush accompanying the loss of our main anchor, running aground, and general misery.  We're all well and at the Gulfport Small Craft Marina.  I'm at a local coffee shop reporting on the experiences.  Meantime Capt. Mike is on Capt. George's boat gone to try to locate and retrieve our 35 lb. Delta anchor, possibly still attached to its 70 ft. of chain and some rode.

Day 1 was what most sailors look for:  favorable sailing conditions to speed along, in full harmony with Nature.  The winds were out of the southeast, maxing out at 18 kts.  Mike tuned the sails until we reached speeds of 7.9 kts without motoring.  Both cats reached the northern side of Ship Is. by 7:00 p.m. (Central).  We went to bed tired but content with expectations of exploring completely intact Fort Massachusetts and other points of interest  on Ship Is.  We had hoped to dinghy into shore, less than a quarter mile from our boat next morning before resuming our trip east.

Day 2 was what most sailors try to avoid:  a sudden and strong thunderstorm that catches you unaware and creates havoc.  May I also add havoc in an otherwise ideal environment?  We were up shortly after 6:00 a.m. and I commented how calm the waters were, almost flat with a beautiful shimmer.  A rainbow arched above George's boat.  The calm before the storm.  Then we noticed dark clouds building on the horizon but didn't react accordingly since the day before we had had a brief shower during our sail, and predictions were for several days of the same.  For the next hour or hour and a half we experienced up to 30 kt. winds and heavy chop.  We were not able to pull up anchor and push us away from shore in time.  It seems that the anchor rode got caught in one of the propellers while the waves were pushing us inevitably towards the shallows of the shore.  Though Mike wanted to cut the rode and attach a buoy to it for future retrieval, the propeller cut the rode first.  Before we could redirect the boat away from the shore, the waves had moved us onto the bottom.  We bumped several times on sandy bottom before finally being able to thrust the boat northward and point towards Gulfport, a couple of hours away.

Now Mike, George and Nick are trying to locate the anchor settled in up to 22 ft. of water in the approximate area around our anchorage, 30 deg. 13.061' N/ 88 deg. 58.208' W.   Stay tuned for Part II:  anchor retrieved or not.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Orleans to Florida V


Sun. 11/26
On the last stretch to home port, back to New Orleans, we experienced what probably other sailors do: a kind of bitter sweet feeling. On the one hand, we were a bit weary from the stresses of the trip and being alert 24/7.  On the other hand, we were sorry to put closure on an often exciting journey.  But we'll be off again sometime in the near future.  Winter is setting in; so, there's less in the long trips but more in terms of short weekender type jumps.

We left Barber Marina at around 8:00 a.m. and traveled the Alabama Canal (ICW) to Mobile Bay, crossing it and passing north of Dauphin Is., finally entering the Mississippi Sound (ICW).   It was still light, so we passed Petit Bois Is., part of the Mississippi barrier islands, and stopped for the night around mid-way across Horn Is., arriving roughly at around 5:00 p.m.  There we anchored around 1/2 mi. off shore.  Though light, the wind was out of the East where we had no protection. So there was plenty of rocking well into the night until the wind shifted.  Location:  30 deg. 14.227' N, 88 deg. 37.876' W

Mon. 11/27
We left Horn Is. at around 8:00 a.m. with winds pretty much on our back quarter.  SE 10-15 knots and seas 1-2 ft.  Thus we made great headway and, instead of anchoring out again at one of the Mississippi islands, we thought we'd try Rabbit Is. which is ensconced in an area at the entrance to the Rigolets, LA.  Still light, we decided to make it through the Rigolets and into Lake Pontchartrain, finally reaching home port at around 8:30 p.m.  Exhausted but safely home (for Aventura) at South Shore Marina.


Itinerary:  New Orleans - Cat Is., MS - Wolf Bay on Alabama Canal - Pensacola's Palafox Marina - Destin Harbor - St. Andrew's Bay State Park - Port St. Joe Marina - Apalachicola's Scipio Marina - Carrabelle's C Quarter Marina - Oxbow on ICW back to St. Joseph's Bay - Ingram Bayou on Alabama Canal - Horn Is., MS - New Orleans

We loved seeing some of our old favorites:
- The Alabama Canal with Perdido Bay and Big Lagoon
- Ingram Bayou
- Pensacola's Palafox Marina and quaint downtown  (arts festival and all)
- Port St. Joe's Marina

We added a new favorite:
- Apalachicola

We learned new skills:
- operating the vessel throughout the night on a multi-day schedule
- fixing mechanical problems along the way (Capt. Mike, that is)
- perfecting sailing on our relatively new Cat (a work in progress)

See New Orleans to Florida I - V.  Send comments.

Looking forward to continuing our adventures on Aventura!