Sunday, June 22, 2014

Overnight Mandeville, LA

Even during the hottest days, such as any day in the New Orleans summer, there's an urge to get away on Aventura, our 37' Lagoon Catamaran. George, our fellow cat owner and marina neighbor, went along for the ride. We left early morning for the 3 1/2 hr. crossing of Lake Pontchartrain, from the "south shore" to the "north shore." That is, from New Orleans to Mandeville, La. There are several communities around the Lake that make it a nice short trip, and they are all pleasant to visit. For example: Slidell, Bayou Lacombe, Mandeville, Madisonville, and a couple of points along the New Orleans lake shore. These are communities that have a history and share the love for fishing and boating. That makes for good eating, good stories and good landscapes. If you visit the area, they are interesting enough to spend time at each one. Mandeville offers a free dock by the Yacht Club. Three nights maximum and you sign up at the Yacht Club. Water and electricity included. Walking or biking along the shore reveals a lovely neighborhood of southern homes, restaurants and other small businesses. There's even a biking trail called the Abita Trail that brings you to the closeby town of Abita with a well-loved brewery. Try it some time. Until next time, keep on sailing!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

New Orleans Eastbound III

Knowing we had a long day ahead, we left Barber Marina on the AL Canal early, around 8 a.m. An unencumbered day for travel -- temperatures in the upper '70s, and mild. We motored to Dauphin Is., AL, passing Wolf Bay, The Wharf Marina complex, Lulu's Restaurant and Homeport Marina (she is Jimmy Buffet's sister)along the AL Canal. Then we crossed Mobile Bay, turning south at Dauphin Is., working our way to Pelican Passage, an anchorage at the underbelly of the Island. Our first time there, it proved to be an acceptable cove and very popular for locals. We rowed to shore, splashed around in the water for a while before retiring for sunset and dinner. This anchorage offers very little protection from weather, but the Windfinder indicated good conditions through the night. By the way, if there was any passage or cut through before, there isn't now, which makes for a longer trip when leaving to go westward. Maybe locals ought to refer to it as Pelican Cove. Location: 30 deg. 14.634 N/ 88 deg 06.902 W

Weather conditions continued mild. So headed for the next island west of Dauphin called Petit Bois, and it's across the state line in Mississippi. If you're from the area you call it "Petiboi," a little bit of a departure from its French root, but who's challenging that. It did take a while to reach the northeastern part of Petit Bois from the southern part of Dauphin, also because there's no real channel between the two islands. So, you pick your way through very carefully, watching the depth meter intently. It seems that the whole string of Mississippi islands plus Dauphin Is., AL are slowly moving westward, so scientists say, and the continuous shoaling makes any chart outdated. We arrived at Petit Bois in the early afternoon, a destination we're familiar with and like. Again, limited protection, as are the rest of the Barrier Islands off the Mississippi coastline. In this case, there was no boat nearby, which made it a peaceful anchorage. We dropped the dinghy and this time the motor worked! So we made it to shore and walked around a bit plus swam. Time to break out one of the DVD's we had bought at a garage sale or somewhere like that, pop popcorn on the propane stove and enjoy the evening. Even watching a DVD on a battery powered, 7 in. screen can be fun when in the "camping" mode. Beside that, I have my Nook and Mike his reading material, too. No cell phone connection. The VHF would cover communications with another boat or the Coast Guard, or hear weather reports. But otherwise, it was just our floating cabin in the natural setting. OK by us. Location: 30 deg. 12.261 N/ 88 deg 26.679 W

You notice how we alternate between the nature experience and the town experience? If water tanks are full, there's plenty of provisions, boat operations systems are working well, and there's no issue with weather, then there's a choice. Choosing nature takes you to a simple state of body and mind, best for introspection, and feelings that develop from a natural setting. Marinas, hence city life, feeds the addictions: technology, places, foods, entertainment. Our addictions were calling. So, we headed for Point Cadet Marina at the eastern tip of Biloxi, across the bay from Ocean Springs, and across a narrow channel to Deer Is. We left early and made the approx. 30 nm run in less than 5 hrs., motor sailing. The Golden Nugget Casino is next door to the marina. Gambling and the gambling environment is not for us, but the Starbuck's inside was. In fact, the Hard Rock Casino, about 1 mi. down the beach, also had a Starbuck's, and we visited that as well. Guess it's true that Starbuck's is everywhere. We did the usual biking, looking for the historic area, grocery shopping, and taking in any breeze we could. It was getting hotter by the day. We also looked in on the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, which is much better located if you're biking, but they discourage (or so we thought) pleasure boats in favor of commercial boats. It's full of fishing vessels, and some sell fish/seafood off the boats during certain seasons. Many Asians involved, which is a usual sight along the Gulf Coast. So, that means Asian stores and restaurants, too, which adds texture to towns. A good thing.

We left Point Cadet and made the 3-hr. run to Gulfport Harbor Marina where we stayed for a couple of nights, while waiting to rendezvous with our friends at Ship Is. on the 24th. No casino visits, but yes biking and the usual. Gulfport Harbor Marina is first class and most of the boats are pleasure boats. A totally different atmosphere from the Biloxi marinas, as we saw it. Otherwise, the town has an historic area, restaurants and coffee nearby, just like Biloxi. The big difference in the towns is that Biloxi has become synonymous with casino life, though it was a fishing town (many tournaments available for you sports fishermen) and historic town way before the casinos.

We were eager to meet up with George and family at Ship Is., which in and of itself is an attractive destination. So, we left mid-morning for the 2 1/2 hr. straight run down to the northern part of the island where Fort Massachusetts is and the better anchorages. It's also where anchorage spots are closest to shore for exploration. Though a popular island, this was Memorial Day Weekend, and the sailboats/motorboats abounded. George's cat, a Privelege 39, was in a perfect spot, and we dropped anchor nearby. Saturday and Sunday were days to visit, share meals, go ashore, swim and generally frolic. If you're ever in the area, don't hesitate to visit Fort Massachusetts and the Gulf beach area of the island. Very nice, so much so that there are several daily excursions back and forth from Gulfport, and maybe from other towns. All in all, this was a wonderful way to put the finishing touches on a trip that was meant to relax and did.

This was a 3-week plus sailing trip that started out with no plan. We stopped where we wanted and moved at the speed we chose at the time, and it worked well for us. Weather, as well as boat and body functioning cooperated to make it a memorable trip. We visited new places: Pass Christian Harbor Marina, Lake Yazoo, Redfish Point and The Cut on Big Lagoon, Paradise Inn anchorage, Pelican Pass/Dauphin Is., and Point Cadet Marina. We revisited places we already knew and liked: Ingram Bayou, Palafox Marina/Pensacola, Barber Marina/AL Canal, Petit Bois, Gulfport, and Ship Is. Sailing for us is all about exploring and relaxing, and this trip delivered. Even when the weather is inclement, as in last trip (November 2013), there's always something to remember warmly. Memories that keep us going in life.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

New Orleans Eastbound II

Pensacola, easy to get around the historic downtown and bayfront. Not only did we follow the coastline on bikes, and roam around interesting neighborhoods, but we also satiated ourselves with dining out, coffeehouses, frozen yogurt treat, and a visit to the Saturday arts & farmer's market. The market was a surprise, but it takes place every Saturday on the neutral ground of Palafox St., a leisurely walk from Palafox Marina. Can't beat the package of a first-class marina in the historic district and at the right price.
Visiting fun towns has its pluses, but we were itching for other experiences, too. What happened with anchoring out and communing with nature? Well, on that urge we left for parts unknown mid Monday morning, crossing Pensacola Bay, entering the Sta. Rosa Sound and heading East. Finally we were able to sail without motoring at speeds between 6 and 7 kts. Not a rush feeling but lovely not to have to hear the engines churning. Just after passing under the Pensacola Bridge, we made our way towards the beach areas, picking a spot definitely not near a high-rise. Instead we dropped the hook less than 1/4 mi. from a funky little bar/grill on the sand facing the Sound. We rowed to the dock of Paradise Inn, took a walk to the boardwalk down the beach, and returned for a laid-back dinner looking out on Aventura, the golden rays of the setting sun, and people watching. It was delightful. Location: 30 deg.20.23 N/87 deg.8.05 W
As wonderful as it was to sail, bob on the boat when at rest and enjoy the view, this wasn't exactly the "communing with nature" full fledged experience. After all, we had once again ventured into a human-made environment. It was time for the total OM. We weighed anchor mid morning and crossed back over Pensacola Bay, doing 7 kts motorsailing in 13 kt. winds. We headed straight for "The Cut" over in Big Lagoon. It lies between Sand Island and Perdido Key and is known as the McRae Cove anchorage (as in Fort McRae). "The Cut" is appropriately nicknamed so because it leads to the channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico with Pensacola Bay. Too bad the winds were picking up for it was too choppy to row to shore and see what's left of Fort McRae. We hadn't tried the outboard engine since it failed days ago. No use trying to fight wind and waves. Great anchorage. Location: 30 deg. 19.65 N/87 deg. 19.24 W
The expected forcast for the next couple of days was not good for poorly protected waters. We weighed anchor at 8:30 a.m. and took off for Ingram Bayou, one of the best storm holes we have experienced along the northern Gulf. I was apprehensive that the place would be full, given it's popularity. But, arriving around noon, we were pleasantly surprised to find only one small sailboat, leaving us plenty of room to hunker down and ride the bad weather. Others appeared later, but we got a good spot early. Protected from all sides, Mike nonetheless put out two anchors, our 45 lb. Manson at the bow and a 25 lb. Fortress at the stern so as to reduce swing. The howling of the wind through the trees and the sound of rain accompanied us for a couple of days. Reading, popcorn and a movie kept us in a good mood.
The sun came out, but the wind was still smacking us at 20 kts. We decided to go into a marina for a couple of nights: laundry, groceries....But before heading for Barber Marina on the AL Canal, we decided to take a tour of upper Wolf Bay. We had anchored there before but closer to its mouth. Now we moved toward its northeastern corner called Hammock Creek. Depths OK, around 7-9 ft. Nice homes on the shore. An acceptable cove to duck into when enroute. Then off to Barber Marina, which has its uniqueness, right off the ICW, but far away from towns. In fact, it is a part of several thousand acres of land, mostly just manicured and park-like, all belonging to the Barber family, a very prominent family in Alabama. The Marina is clean, large, first-class, and can fit any size boat. Plus there's a significant dry dock storage area, and other ancillary services. On the land just behind the businesses, there's a kind of mini Jurasic Park recreation: life size fiberglass dinosaurs. There's also a copy of Stonehenge. Not to mention stone sculptures of other animals placed here and there throughout. Interesting, yes, but curious. Until we saw a family with kids visiting the dinosaurs. Leaving tomorrow for the Mississippi Barrier Islands. Stay tuned! And don't forget to double click on the slideshow to get a better view.

Friday, May 9, 2014

New Orleans Eastbound I

Sat. 5/3 – Mon. 5/5/2014

We say our last goodbyes to our friend and pier pal, George, as we head out into choppy waters and nippy winds (15-18 kts.) on Lake Pontchartrain.  It’s 8:00 a.m. and the weather is exhilarating (sunny skies, highs to reach mid ‘70s), foretelling adventures and good times as we move foreward.  Unlike all our past trips, there is no plan.  The plan is no plan, just to head east. 

We decide to try Pass Christian Harbor & Marina, MS.  I’m itching to play tourist with our Dahon Speed Uno bikes and just ramble for a couple of days.  The town is easy to navigate, and it’s great to see how well it’s been recovering from Hurricane Katrina (2005) when it was hit really hard.  Plus you can’t beat $21.40/night including all taxes and fees.  And, what can I say, we love the ritual of the coffeehouse.  Cat Island Coffeehouse & Pass Christian Bookstore was perfect.  If you venture there, be sure to ride your bikes along Scenic Drive with a long row of beautiful antebellum homes on one side, and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.  Nice!

Mon. 5/5 – Tue. 5/6/2014

We left Pass Christian early and hoped to either anchor at one of the Barrier Islands off the Mississippi Coast or Lake Yazoo in the Pascagoula area.  The winds would have to be just right for either Horn or Petit Bois islands; so, we put our sights on Lake Yazoo, which we hadn’t been to before.  It was a slow crossing with hardly any wind from behind and hot.  Not a memorable day, but we were pleasantly surprised with Lake Yazoo, a tiny oasis in the midst of industrial activity.  Ingall’s Shipyard, with its massive building contracts for the navy, and oil refineries engulf the area.  But Yazoo is surrounded by high end residences and smart boats.  There were others anchoring there as well.  A good storm hole between Biloxi and the Alabama Canal.  Location: 30°20.85N/88°33.52W

Tues. 5/6 – Wed. 5/7/2014

Given that high winds are expected by Thursday, we bypass another new anchorage spot, which is on the south side of Dauphin Is. in favor of reaching the Alabama Canal.  From Yazoo we motor-sailed past Dauphin Is., across Mobile Bay and into a part of the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW), which is both protected and beautiful.  That’s where the trip acquires texture.  Surrounded by lush vegetation, interesting homes and a few marine businesses, not to mention people bustling about, there’s more to see and appreciate. 

One of our favorite anchorages is Ingram Bayou, nestled between Wolf River and Perdido Bay.  No signage.  You just have to know where to turn in.  A little secret but, alas, not only ours.  There were already three boats anchored; so, we nudged our way in and settled for the night.  We had hoped to stay a couple of nights at least.  And we’ll probably do that on the return because the attraction to Ingram is that you are surrounded only by the sounds of nature.  Nothing artificial.  And you could almost reach out and touch the foliage on shore; your boat is that close. Plus, doing my yoga first thing in the morning to the sounds of birds and occasional dolphins that enter the bayou is most gratifying.  Location: 30°19.27N/87°33.41

Wed. 5/7 – Thu. 5/8/2014

In between Perdido Bay and Pensacola Bay there’s a long body of water called Big Lagoon.  We headed for it and decided on an anchorage in a wide open space with the Gulf Shores Nature Conservancy providing protection from the open Gulf. The best spots are near Redfish Point. 

We got in the dinghy to go explore the sand dunes and look out into the Gulf.  The motor didn’t cooperate but we took turns rowing.  And we swam.  A beautiful sunset and meal.  What’s not to like about that?  Location: 30°19.19N/87°20.21W

Thu. 5/8/2014

Well, it’s time to duck into a marina again.  Palafox Marina in Pensacola is great.  Not only is it a first-class marina at reasonable rates (for Boat U.S. members), but it’s smack in the middle of the historic section of town.  On the agenda:  groceries, eat out at least one meal, laundry, biking, more biking, odd jobs, coffeehouse….We’ll probably be here through Sunday, given rains and high winds forecasting.  Not sure where we’re going next.  Stay tuned!

Be sure to double click on the slideshow for larger format viewing. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Book Club Goes Sailing

Saturday, 4-26-2014

A Book Club Party on Pontchartrain Lake

It's fun to host a group of friends on Aventura, our 37 ft. Lagoon catamaran.  Especially when the weather is just right:  clear day, upper '70s, winds out of the SE at 12-18 kts.  We beam reached toward the East, pleasantly talking, laughing, eating and simply enjoying each other's company.  Most of my book club friends haven't sailed.  And they were happy but also tired by the end, as being out in nature tends to do to you.  Some tried their hand at the wheel.  Others just hung out in the cockpit, our "back porch."

As Cap'n Mike and I prepare for our May trip along the Gulf Coast, we are reminded of how much pleasure a sailing vessel can provide.  Getting away from it all is important, even for those who live in quirky, funky, wild and crazy New Orleans.  Enough festivals and city life!  Let's go commune with nature, I say!

Look for our upcoming May adventures.  We have added foldable bikes to our equipment and, therefore, our options.  More texture to our sailing trips.  Hasta luego, amigos.

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!