The Journey North (and our blog) Begins Again

After 10 weeks off for a family emergency, we’ve continued our travels north on the Atlantic ICW.  We are well behind our fellow Loopers and there are advantages and disadvantages to that.  We miss their company and occasional docktail sessions, but there is little competition for limited slips. There was also the huge problem of mid-summer heat and humidity limiting our sleep but we remedied that a few days ago by buying and installing a “window AC unit” in our aft bdrm hatch. Best boating decision of 2022 so far!!

Leaving Jacksonville where the boat spent 10 weeks at the Ortega River Marina was a welcome change, but the dock master Paul, crew member Clay and other boat buddies will be long remembered for their kindnesses and kinship. North of JAX, we began entering the salt marshes of coastal GA and SC. They were beautiful and endless (and best of all, free of new housing developments)! Loved the town/marina at Brunswick Landing, the fresh shrimp at Sunbury Crab Co., And the history and beautiful waterfront in Beaufort SC (say B-you-fert) where we spent 4 days.

Salt marsh views
At anchor on July 4th in our own serene spot on Steamboat Creek.

We had our own quiet 4th at anchor and then headed into Charleston for several days. It’s a great city, but our chosen marina wasn’t really pedestrian or dog friendly and we were docked among several “mega yachts” – more than 125′ in length. Nevertheless, we put on lots of miles walking the downtown and nearby residential areas. We moved on to tiny Maclellanville with its huge shrimp boat fleet, historic, picturesque Georgetown SC, passed quickly through the over-developed Myrtle Beach area, and on into North Carolina.

Charleston post-4th festivities
Part of the McClellanville shrimp fleet
Storm clouds brewing in Georgetown SC
Zeke admiring the tranquil scene and watching squirrels play in the live oak tree.
Moonrise in Southport NC

We and Zeke are enjoying the mix of cedars, cypress, and salt marshes along the ICW and are now seeing more sandy beaches. Carolina Beach, where we hooked onto our first mooring ball for the night and dinghied to shore several times, even allowed dogs on the beach! We are now in Beaufort NC (say Bo-fert), another very walkable town with a historic waterfront and wonderful homes with huge porches.

Early morning at Carolina Beach

From here in Beaufort (at Mile Marker 203 along the Atlantic ICW) we’ll have a few more beautiful NC stops and then we’ll be making a major decision to either travel through the Dismal Swamp to reach Norfolk VA or take the traditional ICW route to that destination at Mile Marker 0. After Norfolk, we’ll be plotting our own route north through Chesapeake Bay for awhile. It should be beautiful, but it can also be tricky due to weather conditions that can run the gamut from wind, rain, fog, to sunny skies in a matter of hours. More adventure awaits!

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!