Wednesday, April 30, 2008 — Alabama Cut

April 30th, 2008 john

The Tombigbee

Now it was time to start the last leg of our journey.  We left Dog River and went north through the city of Mobile.  It is the nation/s eighth largest port.  We were dodging ships, coastguard cutters, towboats and barges.  There were dozens of shipyards with entire ships in dry-dock.  There was a brand new US Navy ship that had be launched the previous day.  It looked like something out of star wars. (See pictures on this web site.)  This ride through the port made for a very interesting start of the day. 

The channel north then leads from the port of Mobile into the Mobile river, the start of the Tombigbee waterway which connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Tennessee river.  We will follow this waterway up the Mobile river, then the Black Warrior River, then up the Ten-Tom to its terminus on the Tennessee river. That juncture will be one mile from Emery El’s new home port at Aqua Yacht Harbor.

The first part of the river systems is nothing but curves, back and forth, back and forth.  We proceeded for another 30 miles not seeing a house or anything but nature but quite a few towboats with barges.  It can be quite tense meeting one of the tows with 9 barges (3 wide) coming at you from around a sharp bend in the river.  As soon as you see them you have to get on the radio and contact the captain and asked him where he wants you to be.  Don’t think for a moment that they can stop.  And of course to make it more exciting, they speak a different language which out of necessity you quickly learn.   For example and common reply from the towboat captain would be “I’ll meet you on the two.”  Technically what he is saying is that he would like for the two boats to pass on the two whistle side.  This comes from the days before radios and they used whistle signals.  By the way “two whistle” means that he is requesting us to pass starboard to starboard.  (My right side against his right side).  Believe me, whatever he says you do.  To make it a bit more interesting, most of the tow boat captains are Cajun.  Like I said, you have to learn a completely new language.

There are no marinas on the lower half of the Tombigbee so I had planned to anchor out at a recommended side cut call Alabama Cut.  We found it well before sunset, pulled off the river into the little cut and dropped the anchor in 12 foot of water.   I anchored off to the side of the cut to give plenty of room to any small fishing boats that could wonder in. To prevent the boat from swinging out into the cut or against the bank, I also put down a stern anchor.  Unfortunately I did not have a proper stern anchor, which is normally small, so I manhandled the spare 55 lbs fortress from the bow and used it.

 We sat beautifully with fish jumping and birds singing.  We popped our end of day can of beer, sat on the porch and enjoyed the sunset.  (Who am I kidding, “cans” of beer).  We fired up our generator to charge the batteries and cooked a fine meal of steaks, baked potatoes and salad.   This is roughing it, at its best.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008 — Mobile

April 29th, 2008 john

On to Mobile

We were on to Mobile.  For another four plus hours we proceeded West on the ICW then entered onto the bay.  Mobile bay looks so small on the map, but it is very large in a boat.  It took us five more hours to cruise our way across the bay to our next stop at Dog River Marina, about eight miles south of the city of Mobile.  The wind became stiff in the afternoon as forecasted with speeds up to 30 mph, but the Emery El just activated her stabilizers and on we went.  It really was a very smooth ride.

I called my sister who lives in Gulfport MS and she came over to the marina and had dinner with us.  She then spent the night in our guest room (the fold out sofa) and then left in the morning.  We ended up staying at Dog River an extra day, waiting for a part to arrive for the boat. It was a good rest and a very friendly place to stay.  They let us use a courtesy car to re-supply and to go out for supper.


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Sunday, April 27, 2008 — Orange Beach Alabama

April 27th, 2008 john

Entering Alabama

With my new crew, Reese A. we were off for another week of adventure still heading west along the Fl coast.    

Another beautiful day but the wind was again on our nose so I decided to stop in late afternoon at the Wharf Marina in Orange Beach AL.  Yes, a milestone, we were out of Florida. 

The Wharf was a beautiful new marina with only three boats in it.  It was attached to a resort community with a modern shopping plaza, movie theater, restaurants, and even a cigar bar.  It was a little too yuppie for us.  We walked back to the marina’s tiki-bar and had more seafood.  As we looked down across the harbor one of the other boats, a Norhaven 62, hailed from Memphis TN.  So after dinner we walked over and introduced ourselves.  They were a very nice couple from Memphis and the husband insisted that he recognized me just couldn’t place it.  After a hour of drinks and conversation he realized that he had unsuccessfully presented a business proposal to me when I was an executive in the corporate world.  We had a good laugh, but it truly is a small world.


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Saturday, April 26, 2008 — Pensacola FL

April 26th, 2008 john

On to Pensacola

The morning brought us a fog over the basin as the sun was rising.  We had hoped for an early start but decided to wait to see if the fog would lift.  We planned to cruise to Pensacola Fl today where we will have a crew change.  Andy N will be leaving and Reese A will be taking his place.

We made it to Pensacola with no incident, that is, until we reached the marina.  It was a beautiful day again; warm, sun shinning.  In mid-afternoon we passed a sailboat that we recognized.  We had been alerted to their presence on the ICW by Gary and Linda the previous day and were on the lookout for them.  They were two other members of the Memphis Power Squadron, which now makes 9 members that we have seen boating in FL this trip. After a few minutes exchanging greetings we were off in opposite directions.  We were heading West and they were cruising East.

We arrived Palafox Pier Yacht Basin in Pensacola in the late afternoon. This marina is located right downtown Pensacola.  It has two concrete breakwaters and I was a bit anxious about squeezing through the opening, (it was really quite wide).  I had to drive up to the opening, turn 90 degrees then drive in. Only one problem, when you are going at idle speed you can no longer use your steering wheel, you have to use your engines by putting one in forward and the other in reverse to turn.  Well all did not go well.  I tried to make the right turn but the boat would not turn. Naturally the wind had picked up to 26 mph to make it harder, so I backed up and tried it again.  This time gave it more port throttle.  Still it would not turn.  People are standing on the breakwater watching and I felt very silly. (I could think of a few other words but I am trying to keep this clean.)  I came down off the fly bridge and went back into the pilothouse and then looked down at all my gages.  I have a rudder position gage and the rudder was all the way over to the port.   No wonder it would not turn.  Remember I said that you do not use the wheel to steer in close quarters.  Right, but you should leave the wheel centered.  Lessen 43.  With that problem solved I pulled right into the marina and into my slip.  This time no apple, just beer.

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Friday, April 25, 2008 — Niceville, FL

April 25th, 2008 john

Niceville, FL — 53 miles

We departed Panama City today and cruised 53 miles to Bluewater Bay Marina, just east of Destin Fl. 

Bluewater Bay Marina is located on the North shore of Choctawhatchee Bay, 3 miles North of the ICW and 7.5 miles Northeast of Destin FL. It is only protected by a small spit of land so the wind blows directly across the marina.  When we radioed our arrival they directed us down a very small channel, then a 90 degrees turn to the right, followed with another 90 turn to the left (with boats of all sizes tied up all around us.)  This wouldn’t have been too bad except we had 20 knot winds blowing us all over the place.  The Emery El has 21 feet of air-draft, so the wind does affect it. 

Then to top it off, we had to back into the slip in order to be able to get off the boat.  It took two tries and three dockhands to help, but we made it in.  Although I must admit, despite the conditions, the more I do this the better I get.  Only had one apple yesterday and that was for lunch.  After we were tied up from four pilings, the wind no longer bothered us and we were ready for a beer.  The marina is beautiful with a very good seafood restaurant overlooking the yacht basin and also a Tiki Bar.  Everyone was very friendly.  We had a good meal and then that was enough for us. 

Must be getting old.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008 — Panaman City Fl

April 24th, 2008 john

Onward to the West — 61 miles

We left when the sun was rising.  We knew we had a long day ahead of us, trying to get to Panama City.  We really would have liked to stayed in Apalachicola one more day.  There were some great nautical antique stores and plenty of other places to eat.  And the town looked like it had a lot of history which we missed due to our schedule.

Normally, when you cruise, you have a plan, but never a schedule.   You really want to be flexible and not in a hurry, not to mentioned you don’t want to be tempted to move on when the weather may not be optimal. In my case I had bought myself into somewhat of a schedule.  I had bought the boat and by law had 90 days to get it out of Fl, otherwise I would be taxed.  Also my wife had long since planned a trip to Disney World with the grandkids, out first trip with them.  So I had a deadline.  I had mentally committed that if I could not make it home in time, I would simply dock the boat and leave it for a week, have my wife pick me up and off to see Mickey.  So anyway, we could not stay the extra day and off we went.

On the way I had to stop the boat one time as we were navigating to examine the charts.  We are following the Inter-Coastal Waterway buoys and when your heading West you keep the red buoys to your right.     However, sometimes your course intersects what is called a sea channel, and the rule there is to keep the red bouys to your right when you are returning from sea.  We had been keeping the red nun buoys to our starboard and the green can buoys to our port but all of a sudden they switched.  Now my course told me to keep the red buoy to our left.  Had I made a mistake when I plotted the course or what?  So, good seamanship says, stop.  After pulling out a manual chart and looking at the bigger picture I confirmed that we were entering a seaward channel and that in this case we were heading toward the sea.  Red was now on our left for a short duration.  After confirming on our chart off we went safely. 

At Panama City we stayed at St Andrews Marina, a quaint little protected harbor that I would call a working harbor.  There were as many commercial fishing boats, shrimp boats, and crabbing boats as there were private yachts.  It was neat to walk down the dock and have them try to sell you fresh shrimp and fish from their boats.   However, being the adventurers that we are, we opted for beer and mahi-mahi at “Hunts” a local haunt a couple of blocks away.  This had been our longest day, 63 miles, so it was to bed early.  I am quickly getting into the sunrise get up and sunset go to sleep mode.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008 — Apalachicola, FL

April 23rd, 2008 john

On the Move Again

We set off west on the Inter-coastal Waterway (ICW) on Wednesday morning.  It was beautiful, sunny, etc.

We wound thru several bays and behind dozens of island.  It was a full time job just navigating, especially on waters you have never viewed before. Believe me it is anything but straight, and the markers can be very confusing. Someone must have forgotten to paint the dotted yellow line down the middle.  We have a fancy electronic chart plotter, but it is still up to me to set the silly course.  When I first plotted our route out, it took a lot more time then I realized. Our target port for the day was Apalachicola FL, just 35 miles to the West.  Andy N, my current crew mate really wanted to see this quaint town.

After calling ahead and obtaining a reservation at a marina, off we went.  The trip was successful, no major events, (a good thing).   We arrived at Apalachicola at around 3:00 in the afternoon and had to turn into a small creek to get to our marina.  There was one small buoy in the start of the creek and it was green.   Normally when you are going upstream you keep the green ones to your port (left) but it turned out this was a local buoy and they must have ran out of red ones.   As I felt the bottom start to scrape I gunned it and make it over a small sand bar and back to the left into the channel.  Thank goodness it was high tide.  Later that evening I went up to a shrimp boat and asked the captain about the buoy.  He laughed and said that strangers run aground there all the time.  (Wonder why!)  It turns out it is green because it is considered a bouy for the ICW not the creek. (even though it is a different size and more in the creek then in the ICW.)  Anyway I stayed around to watch and sure enough all of the shrimp boats were leaving it to their other side.  I think I will do the same in the morning when we leave.

Andy and I decided to do the town.  We first walked to another marina with a ship’s store.  We found some additional charts that were needed for our journey west and also some great gifts for the grandkids. Next door was a local haunt called “Papa Joes”.  We went in and ordered a dozen oysters each and beers.   The bar-keep shucked the oysters right in front of us and with the deepest southern drawl said. “we never did learn to count” and gave us 18 each.

Next we walked into town, just about a mile and visited a few shops before they closed for the evening.  We found one which had just reopened in a historic building.  They had just gotten a permit to harvest natural sponges, the first time in 84 years.  Well of course the Emery El needed a sponge.  We ventured over to a locally recommended restaurant right on the waterfront called “Bosses”.  It was local but it was great.  We sat on the outside deck 30 feet from the boats that caught our dinner.  There was a good crowd of people there and the food was fantastic.  After a pound of peel-and-eat shrimp and a small bowl of cheese grits, I was set for the night.  Andy was committed to seeing the town, so afterwards we waddled next door to check out the town nightspot, but on Wednesday night at 7:00 we were the only ones there, so off to the boat for one last beer and a good night’s sleep.

Capt John

From the Decks of the Emery el

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008 — Carrabelle FL

April 22nd, 2008 john

Carrabelle Fl — 0 Miles

Well, Gary and Linda left this morning (Tuesday) to continue their journey west along the FL coast and here we sit. 

I wanted to scrub down the boat after the gulf crossing.  You could see salt crystals on the teak handrails.  Next I wanted to figure out how to transfer fuel from one tank to another in an attempt to balance the boat.  I had burned fuel from the port side tanks so far that trip and the boat was listing about 8 degrees.  That took and while to figure out, but mission accomplished and boat is balanced.

I really hate to keep this entry so short, but my fingers are getting tired and I think it is time for a nap.  I’m on boat time anyway.

Capt John

From the Decks of the Emery el


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Monday, April 21, 2008 — Carrebelle FL

April 21st, 2008 john

The Big Jump

It was time for our first crew change.  John C. had been with me for two weeks and needed to get back to Memphis, so another friend Andy N. from my home USPS squadron came down for a week.  He flew into Ft Myers, picked up my car and drove back north to Tampa Bay and the boat.  John C. left with the car the next morning and headed for home. 

We had planned for the next day to be a short day down to Clearwater Fl where we would wait for a weather window for the big crossing of the gulf.  Cruisers usually make the jump from Clearwater FL down to Carrabelle on the north coast of FL.  The alternative it to take several additional weeks following the “Big Bend” and the water there is very, very shallow.  Our “resort marina”  where we were currently tied up was located about a mile from a very safe cut into the Gulf. The weather looked very favorable, so I spent some time early this morning calculating how much longer it would be for us to jump out into the Gulf now from Tampa, instead of taking a day to go to Clearwater first.  Because of the angles, the additional hours were minimal so we decided to take the plunge.  (Maybe I should consider a different metaphor.) 

We made an early morning run to Wal-Mart, before John C. left with the car and purchased a new battery for the dingy.  I had measured the battery level and it was low, recharged it and it was still low, so decided we did not need to take the chance.  With that done we made a perfect departure at 11:00 a.m. for the open Gulf.  I had plotted a course on our new chart plotter, also on my PC based chart plotter hooked to a separate GPS and also did a manual plot on paper charts.  I was not taking a chance.  The weather forecast was great for the next three days, so off we went.  The Emery el is at its best in these kinds of conditions.  It really is an open water boat.  Slow and steady, about 7.5 knots.  We followed the channel out, made a planned course change to bypass some hazards, then turned NW and headed out.  It was eerie leaving the site a land and then having it turn dark.  I had calculated that it would be a 26 hour trip and we had to leave in the daylight so that we could see and miss crab traps (up to 35 miles out) and then enter the northern coast in daylight for the same reason.

The weather was good, but the wind picked up to 20 knots.  This was ok, but it produced 2-3 foot waves with an occasional larger one, and the waves were on our nose.   We plowed right thought them but it caused a hobby-horse effect on the boat.  It is a good thing that this boat was designed for long distance cruising, it had handholds all over the place, even in the ceiling, and believe me you did not move without a grip on something.  We had a full moon which made the trip even more special.  Andy and I took turns taking little cat naps, but it was not bad at all and what a beautiful sunset and sunrise. And a full moon to boot.  Hard to put into words.  About 4:00 a.m. the wind shifted a little to the west which caused the waves to hit us on our port bow.  This was great because we turned on the boat’s stabilizers (fins that stick out under the sides of the boat to take away the roll).  They worked great. The ride was fairly smooth.

At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, 15  minutes behind schedule,  we pulled into the Moorings Marina at Carrabelle, FL.  And guess what.  They put us behind a boat from Germantown TN.  Yes we had caught up with Gary and Linda.  They were resting a day after having a rough last half of the crossing. I went to take a shower prior to us all going out for a seafood dinner.  I had felt fine through the whole voyage, but when I went ashore to use the marina’s shower the whole room started to move about 30 degrees.  I could not believe the effect. It was the same way at the start of dinner.  But a great dinner was had by all, and after a few pictures, we retired for an early evening and a good nights rest.



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Saturday, April 19, 2008 —- Sarasota to Tampa Bay

April 19th, 2008 john

Day2 — Sarasota to Tampa Bay

We said goodbye to Gary and Linda as they left early in the a.m.  As they have a cruiser and not a trawler, they travel much faster then we do, so we did not expect to see them again.  We departed an hour later, and had one of our many learning experiences. 

We no more got out of our slip and into the channel that leaves the marina and our engines died, first the starboard then the port. PROBLEM! 

Just prior to departing I had changed several of the fuel flow valves so that we were running from a different fuel tank, and for some reason it did not work.  I had even started the engines and let it run for a few minutes before leaving the dock to make sure all was ok.  Now, here we were adrift in the channel of this BEAUTIFUL marina.  I kept thinking about the 65,000 lbs.   We walked quickly to the bow to drop the anchor, which is the seamanship thing to do.  Another mistake?  It was right to drop the anchor, but we should have practiced dropping the anchor before we left.  Did not know how it worked.  I won’t bore you with extreme detail, but with a little effort (more like a Chinese fire drill) we loosen the anchor windless clutch, (a little too loose) and down went the 100 lb anchor followed my its chain with a lot of noise.  I then beat it to the engine room to check the valves that I had turned.  I double checked and I thought they were right, but due to the moment I quickly reversed what I had done and got it back to the way we were running the previously day (9 values).  I ran up to the pilothouse and Varoom,… the engines started.  Thank goodness that they are self bleeding engines, or I would have been in deep trouble.  They started, so out we went to get the anchor up and make our getaway. 

Ah, now it was time to learn how to raise the anchor.  It took us a few tense minutes but up it came.  And we still had all of our fingers and toes.  And out we went.  I never even looked back at the docks.  After all of that tension, it was time for an apple.  An apple is my cure to calm myself down. I would have preferred a beer, but did not think it would be wise to mix beer into the situation right now.  By the way, this is the kind of boat that I always wanted.  Just walk to the fridge and get an apple.  We have a full size refrigerator/freezer with ice and water in the door. (I always wanted a fridge with water in the door, just did not know they cost so much,)

We ventured calmly out into Sarasota bay.   It was very pretty, big houses and lots of boats out on a Saturday morning.  So what do I do?  Silly me, I said to my traveling partner, let’s try the fuel thing again.  We have to be able to switch from one tank to another. I had spent 2 hours the night before diagramming the complex fuel management system.  There are 21 valves controlling the fuel.  So I went back to the engine room, rechecked my diagram and this time I switched to another tank. I thought maybe the one tank had a problem.  I no more then get up to the pilothouse and the starboard (right) engine started to cough. I had already learned that from my previous lesson that the starboard goes first, then the port.  I quickly retraced my steps to the engine room and started flipping values back again. (I had planned for this event this time)  I went back to the pilothouse and the starboard engine had died with the alarm sounding, but the port engine was back running fine.  It had never quite stopped.    So naturally I tried to start back up the starboard engine.  Would not start.  PROBLEM!!!

I was aware that unlike in a car, you can’t keep trying to start a diesel engine; it will fry the starter. (From my USPS Diesel mechanics course taken last winter).  All I could think to say was Oh Shit!!  We were ok, the port engine was running and we could compensate by steering, but I sure was not looking forward to trying to dock with one engine.  I was just learning how to master it with two.  I went back to the engine room and all looked well.  Then back to the pilothouse (by the way I am loosing weight) and pulled out the engine manuals.   I was confident that I had developed and vapor lock in the fuel line to the engine.  HOW TO BLEED AN ENGINE!   Well it was not that easy, I couldn’t even identify some of the parts that the manual referenced.  I jotted a note for future training.  Then I decided to swallow crow and call Gary on the other boat.  Thank goodness for cell phones.  I was embarrassed enough but can you imagine having this type of conversation over and open VHF radio for all to hear.  Gary was experienced and also suspected a vapor lock.  After that call I was trying to figure out what I was going to do.  We were running out of Sarasota bay and the next leg would be in a lot of traffic and tight spaces.  As I sat there considering the alternatives, I looked up and noticed that the starboard transmission lever was still in gear.  AH, from my course I remembered that a good diesel design will not allow a engine to start while still in gear.  When it died, I ran down stairs and never put in into neutral.  Popped it into neutral, and Varoom…, we were back in business.  Lesson number ## (I’ve lost count).  Gary got a good laugh out of that.

I then went back into the engine and started using my noggin.  I followed the fuels lines back to the actual tanks and low and behold, there were four more cutoff values that I had missed, one at the bottom of each tank.  Problem solved.  Not to be chicken, I tried it again and all went well.  Amazing.    The bad news: I was already starting to run low on apples.

We left Sarasota bay and the islands that surround it and entered into Tampa Bay.  From the water it looked like an ocean.  We were passed by our first freighter who was outbound for sea.  Needless to say I granted him the right-of-way.  It is a long trek through Tampa Bay due the shallow depth of the water. You have to actually follow the ship channel under the Sunshine Causeway then turn north for several miles then back under the causeway again paralleling the North shore. That night we pulled into Tierra Verde Resort Marina, just North of Tampa Bay.  After all the time I had spent “in class” that day we needed to find a place to stop and it is difficult with my size and depth requirements.  The “resort” marina turned out to be a joke.  The resort part was condemned and the marina was not far behind. Won’t stay there again.

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