Turning North on the AICW

We crossed the Okochobee Waterway and started our journey north on the Atlantic ICW last Tuesday (4/5), leaving behind locks for awhile and numerous smoky fires from burning off the sugar cane fields prior to harvest. (It’s an ag practice that’s been discontinued nearly everywhere in the world due to its ill health and pollution effects, but still occurs in the Florida glades.

One of many polluting fires from burning off sugar cane fields

Our first of many marina stops to come on the Atlantic ICW was Ft Pierce at Mile Marker 965. MM 0 is at Norfolk VA, so we will be counting down the miles as we head north over the next few months.

On Thursday we raced an incoming thunderstorm as we docked at the Titusville Marina just 4 miles from Cape Canaveral where the SpaceX Axiom rocket would launch Friday morning. Though not fans of the “billionaires race to space”, seeing a manned rocket launch from that proximity was pretty cool!

One of Titusville’s Many Space-related Stops
View of SpaceX manned launch from the Titusville Marina

Friday was a “free” day as we traveled only 26 miles after the launch to New Smyrna Beach. We intended to anchor out but the blustery winds 15-18 mph made us nervous…fortunately the city’s “free dock” in the downtown area was wide open. A sign indicated a 5 hr limit but a city employee told us we could overnight if we left in the morning. It was a great, safe spot in front of their civic center with easy on/off access for Zeke and much appreciated!

New Smyrna Beach North City Dock

We planned to arrive in St. Augustine on Sunday (4/10) and stay a few days at the Municipal Marina after traveling for 7 days in a row, much of it in strong winds. The marina is located on the waterfront in the old historic part of the city and we learned that a traditional Palm Sunday ceremony “the Blessing of the Fleet” was occurring at the marina from 12-3pm.

We planned to arrive in time to watch the procession of boats being individually blessed and sprinkled with holy water by the local bishop as they passed by an elevated stand on the dock. But..as the last boat passed us, we decided to join the line and be “blessed” also. We hope it helps to keep us and ’tis Grand safe and seaworthy as we continue our journey!

BTW, St Augustine is a great city to explore on foot and by bike, so much history here!

The Blessing of the Fleet by the Bishop – note the ladies in Spanish colonial garb too
Small boat approaching the dock for a blessing
The historical Bridge of Lions
One of the two lions fronting the bridge
Loop boats ’tis Grand from Ashland and Superior Passage from Duluth (in forefront)
Exploring St Augustine with friends who visited from Gainesville

On the Move in ’22- leaving the Gulf

We are on the move after a 3-month hiatus to spend some time in Cable reconnecting with family and friends, XC skiing and snowshoeing.  ’tis Grand got a new coat of anti-fouling bottom paint while resting in the shade, on the hard.

Safe Cove boat storage in Port Charlotte FL

After being relaunched and prepared for travel, we took her on a 71-mile “shake-down” cruise to Ft. Meyers.  That wasn’t the original intent or plan, but several upcoming days of 20-25mph winds convinced us to get inside and up the Caloosahatchee River ahead of schedule! Flexibility is always the name of the game!  Zeke weathered his first day back on the water well.  He was calm and collected all day until we entered the marina at dusk when his excitement for going ashore gave way to lots of barking. He definitely loves his marina stays…. He’s just not too pleased with the 88 degree temps!

Too hot!!

Tomorrow we head east upriver toward Lake Okochobee.  There will be locks and bridges to contend with as we make our way to the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, as well as lots of alligators, pelicans and muddy shoals.  We will try to keep Zeke safe and mud-free!

Grateful

We are in a great marina in Sarasota FL celebrating Thanksgiving 2021.  Our assigned parking spot is in amongst the “Big Girls”. 

Marina Jacks, Sarasota FL
More Big Girls as the day wore on…

Over the past 3+ weeks we have traveled into and across portions of the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway to quite a few ports, including Panama City, Pensacola, Apalachicola, Crystal River, Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota, and several others. It has been a wonderful journey filled with playful dolphins, Blue Angels, manatees, yummy seafood of all varieties, interesting walks and the occasional company of good friends.

Herds (pods) of dolphins all day long…
Panama City Public beach
Pensacola  downtown
Into the abyss… 86 miles from Carabelle to Steinhatchee. Chop gradually turned to glass about 20 from the finish.  That made it easier to dodge the mine fields of crab pots!
Sunset from Roy’s in Steinhatchee
Scallops, crab, grouper plate – Steinhatchee
St Pete’s skyline from our boat in the marina
Street art St Pete’s

And we are thankful for all of it it ….pleasures-both big and small, our family,  friends (new and old), our health, our boat’s great running condition and all the workers everywhere who supply goods, services and knowledge to make our life and everyone’s life possible and better.

Eating our T-day dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes, cranberries and salad on the upper helm as the sun sets

We are winding down this leg of our journey soon.  We’ll check out Venice this coming Saturday, then head to Cayo Costa (a FL state park accessible only by boat) to anchor out for 2 nites and then on to Ft. Meyers to visit with family and friends for 3 days.  Within a few days after that, ’tis Grand will be hauled out and stored under cover on the hard until we return next spring.  A new coat of bottom paint to repel the barnacles will be applied before she’s launched for the 2022 run up the Atlantic coast.  We are looking forward to seeing family and friends back in WI by mid-December.  Zeke is dreaming of running free in Cable Woods and leaving his leash behind on the boat for several months!

Moving On…from River Currents to Tide Currents

We’ve been cruising the “Rivers” for about 6 weeks now and are nearing the end of that phase of our journey. We have learned much, enjoyed many fair weather days, met new friends and endured a few hiccups requiring some boat maintenance.

Our confidence in picking good anchorage spots and our anchoring skills have greatly improved as we’ve had to “drop the hook” a considerable number of nights on these rivers. The shallow water depths on the Illinois, the heavy commercial boat traffic on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and the rural, remote location of much of the TomBigee Waterway has meant marinas were often scarce. The Land Between the Lakes (Kentucky Lake) and upper Tennessee River were exceptions – there are great state parks with marinas on those stretches in addition to beautiful coves for anchoring.

Pickwick,TN state park marina near Shiloh

We spend a minimum of 12 hrs per day outside..its where we eat most of our meals, drink our morning coffee, have an afternoon beer and/or evening glass of wine. We always drive the boat from the fly bridge and have only been driven to the inside lower helm by short spells of rain on 2 occasions. On nearly a daily basis we’ve enjoyed sunrises, sunsets, and moonrises. We’ve passed through more than 2 dozen locks (one with an 87-ft drop), rolled past the “Arch”, tugs with our names, the White Cliffs of Epes, wanna-be castles, a variety of landscapes, and today in Mobile AL…cargo ships too large to fathom.

Sharing the lock with a tug. This was the only one in which they told us to “float” rather than tie to the wall.

Old feedmill still standing out in Kentucky Lake.

Along the Tennessee River south of Clifton.

White Cliff of Epes in AL. Formed at the same time as the White Cliffs of Dover in the UK.

Each “box” is the size of a semitailer.

Our favorite surprise on this leg was a chance to meet up briefly with our friend Bunkie who was traveling back to Cable from visiting family and friends in TN. She texted us to say she was stopping in Paducah for gas, were we in the area? Indeed!! We were about 2 miles away from pulling up to the city docks for the evening after 4 nights of anchoring out on the Mississippi and a hard upstream pull on the Ohio. It was a brief, but spectacular visit as Bunkie had to drive to Milwaukee yet that night!

Our worst surprise was finding out we had a leak or disconnection in our fresh water system 2 days before reaching Paducah and all of our fresh water (200 gallons) for dishes, flushing, washing up, etc had slowly emptied into our forward bilge and been pumped out into the Mississippi. Fortunately, we always fill and carry along 8 gallon jugs with fresh water for drinking. So we survived, used buckets of river water for flushing and some dishes stacked up in the sink until Ned quickly replaced a hose connection after a bike ride to the local Lowes in Paducah.

Zeke, our ever present companion, probably misses his daily runs in the Cable Woods or North End trails, but he is adapting to boat life too. He knows the anchoring out routine and pleads with us to lower the dinghy and head to shore once we’ve set the hook. He prefers river water over our clean water for drinking and has mastered the descent to the dinghy and reboarding the boat without knocking Ned or I in the water (so far). People in marinas and outdoor restaurants all love him and will remember his name and friendly manner long after they forget us! In fact, he made many new friends last nite when he broke out of the boat by opening the lever handle door and met us at the marina restaurant where we we were enjoying a patio dinner. Needless to say, he was invited to stay by the staff and received pets (for his naughtiness) by several other diners!

Tomorrow we move onward to the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway! A new landscape, to be sure. We’ll get a crash course in learning how to read and use tide/current charts to avoid running aground, smacking other boats while docking (Dave and Kasse T!!), Or tipping our boat over during the nite if we tie off too tight and the water drops 3-4 feet! And Zeke will learn that salt water is not for drinking!

Rollin’ Down the Rivers

We’ve been rollin’ down the Rivers (Illinois and a tiny bit of the big Miss) for a little over a week. After Joliet, we Stopped in a marina in Ottawa IL for 2 nites and found the sculpture memorial for the “Radium Girls–America’s Shining Women” (an interesting read about early corporate America’s greed and disregard for its employees) and the Tangled Roots Brew Pub.

Next stop at the “Wall “in Henry IL also included a history lesson. The wall is part of the first lock and dam on the Illinois River.  Commissioned in 1870, it’s no longer functioning in that capacity, but was a great overnight stay with new owners that are very helpful and personable. Rafts of pelicans and a flock of Pekin ducks entertained us and Zeke at dusk and early morning.

After the next night’s anchor out behind Lower Henry Island, we went on to Peoria where we tied up for a night at a free downtown city dock w/ electric service. Good food ((Blue Duck Barbecue) and craft beer (Rhodells) and live outdoor music in the evening near the dock to boot! Peoria was a very dog-friendly town…. it was a cool blustery day and Rhodells even invited us to sit inside their establishment w/ Zeke!

Free Peoria city dock

Later, after studying maps and taking into account the extremely low water levels in the Illinois River, we realized we’d have no more marina options available until we reached the Mississippi and that we’d be anchoring out 3-4 nights to get there. Anchoring out entails finding a safe (out-of-the-navigation-channel) location to drop anchor and spend the night w/o electric, restroom, shower, fuel, pumpout, wifi, etc services.   So…. We backtracked 6 miles to the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY)  to get a pump out and replenish our drinking water supply, and get a shower. It was a great overnight stop and as the Club has a dining room and full bar, I enjoyed a good brandy old-fashioned (first in many months) on the precise day Tony Evers designated as “Wisconsin Brandy OF Day”!

Moonrise at the IVY Club

After leaving IVY, we had fine anchorages at Quiver Island and Valley City (basically just a wide spot in the river behind a RR bridge w/ 4 other boats). The third night we were able to tie up at Mel’s Dockside Restaurant w/ two other Looper boats (no services for an overnight stay) but an easy on/off the boat to get Zeke to shore for duty and play. (Anchoring out involves 2-3 dinghy rides to shore for Zeke and lots of gray, fine mud/silt accumulating on our boat deck, dinghy and shoes). Often Zeke is instructed to swim back to the boat to clean him off a bit! Another bonus to staying at Mel’s was the extraordinary catfish fillets and fritters we enjoyed!

The lower Illinois River was surprisingly scenic with fewer barges, limestone cliff backdrops and several interesting older man-made structures that have become part of the landscape.

Tonight I’m writing this from the Alton Marina on the Mississippi where we’ve been since Sunday afternoon and will be until Friday morning.  We’re staying a few extra days to catch up on some  boat maintenance and avoid being caught up in an onslaught of Looper boats (20+) traveling downriver with no marina and few anchorage options for the next 3-5 days due to dredging operations and lower water levels. Because of Covid and the lock closures on the Illinois River last year, the number of”Loopers” is probably twice or more what it’s been in previous years.  We enjoy the company of traveling with a few boats, but not an armada! (In the Nebo photo below each Looper boat is represented by looper flag emblem and boat name.) Many are enroute to a Great Loop Rendezvous event in mid-October on the Tennessee River or doing side river trips on the Cumberland or Tennessee River to visit Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, etc. so that should spread things out a bit also.  We are fully  fueled now and ready to spend Friday thru Monday anchored out on the muddy Mississippi and Ohio Rivers until reaching Paducah next Tuesday.

Mississippi and Illinois Rivers confluence near Grafton
Alton Marina minus the 8 looper boats that left today.
Alton IL Marina