Having Boats On Two Coasts: Are We Crazy? We had an idea, really a whim – not a plan, to have a boat that was east of the Mississippi River that we would go to and do parts of the Great Loop again and explore places that we had passed over three years earlier. We liked the way that Rich and Cheryl have used their Ranger Tug 25. Though it is kept in Michigan, they trailer it around North America and do trips of 4 to 12 weeks. Listening to their latest adventure and the one they are planning to do, the notion of keeping a boat on a trailer and moving it as desired crystalized for us. The idea became an unexpected swift reality during a trip to Florida to see friends, take advantage of cheap airfares and to attend a rendezvous of Ranger Tug owners in SW Florida. We have owned 7 cruising boats over nearly 30 years and I had taken the lead on finding and purchasing all of them but this would be different - Laurie did this one.. The criteria was simple: a boat that was movable by either trailer or affordably moved by a professional and the price was under $100K. In four days, we looked at a Camano 31, a Rosborough, a C-Dory 25, a Tomcat, and this Ranger 27. Rather than looking for and finding a boat, this 2012 Ranger tug boat found us by speaking to both Laurie and I, The nameTrilogy would come after the sale was chosen as the name because this was our third Ranger Tug and our third adventure on the east coast. It also symbolizes the continuation of our boating adventures. The tug was found and purchased in February, possession happened in March and it was moved to Save Cove Boat Yard and Storage in Port Charlotte where it was under cover and plugged into power. In May, a four-day sprint of repairs and improvements were done with the huge help of Paul and Stacy and then the boat was towed on its trailer to a storage yard in Ringgold, Georgia that is close to Chattanooga to get it out of the hurricane zone and to position it for a fall trip on the Tennessee River. When the river trip ended in Mobile, Alabama, it was left in storage yard in nearby Saraland, Alabama. The following February, it was moved to St. Petersburg for the South Florida Trip and when that trip ended in Titusville, it was moved to a storage yard near Charlotte, North Carolina.
Why We Like This Boat =Sleeps two in the V-berth, sits 4 for dinner, and accommodates 6 for cocktails in the cockpit. -The Yanmar 180 HP diesel has a quiet slow cruising speed of 7..4 knots and will run all day at 15 knots. -Fuel Mileage: 4 MPG at slow cruising, 2.2 MPG at fast cruising, -The 100 gallon tank gives an easy cruising range of 200 to 300 miles with a reserve. -The inside is comfortable, warm and protected -The galley and the head spaces are huge for the size of the boat -There is always space at a marina for a 27 foot boat and always a place to anchor because of the 25 inch draft -The water capacity (40 gallons) and the hold tank capacity (30 gallons) creates at least 5 days of self-sufficiency -Launching, towing and retrieving is very easy
Repairs and Improvements: A Sampling We are very comfortable at taking a good platform and tweaking it to our desires and tastes. This boat was cared for by the previous owners and we are glad to have her. In 8 months, 50 minor repairs or improvements were accomplished. The highlights are:
The Float-On brand of aluminum trailer was re-built with new tires and new caliper brakes. When the brackets holding the taillights broke or cracked from metal fatigue, new ones of welded brackets were custom made.
The Garmin VHF radio was replaced with an Icom brand that receives AIS signals and when it was connected to the NEMA 2000 network, the vessels transmitting AIS are seen on the chart plotter. Also, the radio was moved to a more convenient location to the top of the dash cabinet. A bonus feature: the microphone has a built-in speaker.
The propane system was nearly completely rebuilt with new tanks, new electric solenoid switch, and the box that held these was re-designed to be more water tight and have better drainage. In addition, the stove and the burners were repaired to be operational.
The anchor system was modified with a new Rocna Anchor, the 200' of line was reduced to 100' and when added to the 50' of chain would handle all of our anchoring situations of 40' of depth or less. Shackles and a swivel were added and the prior anchor was moved to a spare anchor status with its own 13" of chain and 50' of line.
The entertainment system was modified by installing a replacement to the Fusion radio, adding Sirius XM radio docking station for a portable control head that we use in Tribute and our 19' Escape Trailer. When the audio on the Majestic DVD player had performance issues, movies were played on our laptop with the sound moved through the Fusion radio.
The water system was cleaned and flushed and the low pressure issues in the galley and the head were solved by removing construction debris in the hoses and taking the out the screens at the water supply connections.
Opened up the space in the "Cave" by removing the wood lid, repairing the coat rack, and carpeting the space.
Added features for more livability: two folding white resin deck chairs that store well in the cockpit, installed the cockpit table and added a stabilizing leg, knife rack, false floor to galley cabinet for more storage, mug holder at the Navigator's chair, sunshades to all of the hatches, a digital weather station and clock, created a comprehensive first kit, distress kit with electronic visual signal rather than flares, mounted the BBQ, and re-stitched the Bimini canvas,
Lines and fenders: repaired the line to chain connection on the main rode, created a jack-line with a D-ring that simulates a mid-cleat for securing to locks and doubles as a heavy duty anchor snubber line, created a light weight anchor snubber line that doubles as a anchor tie-down line, added two ball fenders, created a "Looper's loop" line with length of hose for securing to locks and lassoing dock cleats.
Created a file system for all the manuals that came with the tug to create an easy to use reference library.
The electrical system was upgraded with a new thruster battery, the addition of a Xantrex battery monitor that improved the ground wire system and a smart plug was added to the shore power cord.
Photos from left to right: use file folders with broad headings to gather and organize the many manuals; the VHF radio and labels of important information that any person on the boat would need to know and a line level that is used to help trim the tug from side to side; white resin chairs secured in the cockpit; the storage under the port step-engine parts in the white box, lines in the black box and emergency signaling kit under the white box; storage under starboard hatch; and throwable cushion that is hung on snaps to the cockpit wall - out of the way, out of the rain and yet very accessible.
Strategies And Ideas Of Having A Boat Away From Home
With truck rentals being round trip only, fly to the desired destination where a truck can be rented. Then, drive to the boat/trailer and tow it back to start the trip. At the finish, either store it or take it to the next destination by renting a truck and bring the boat/trailer to there.
Truck rentals: Enterprise is the only one that was found, so far, that rents 3/4 ton trucks and allows towing. Bring a hitch and ball.
Storage yard: use yellow pages.com for a good set of lists and call them with your criteria. Then tour the top ones to see if they meet the criteria. Physical security is essential with good fences. Live on-site employees is a plus. More importantly is the kind of employees: friendly, helpful and interested are necessary because they will be willing to respond to a phone, receive a package, and give up dates when storms have happened.
Storing: Under cover where there is heavy rain, hail or snow. Power is desired for the battery charger and dehumidifier that are left on. Dehumidifier is set to 60% and has a drainage hose that is routed to the galley sink. Hang a "trouble light" with an LED bulb that can be seen from the outside to verify that power is on. Cover all windows for UV protection.
Tools: a good set is necessary to leave on the boat. Tools are kept in two soft sided tool bags. Harbor Freight is a good source because when the tool is lost over aboard there is no crying about the loss.
Traveling: Travel light and with no luggage because there is no room for a suitcase on board. We use duffel bags with the clothes in cubes made of mesh material. The cubes leave the bag and go on the shelf of the V-berth. Bring clothes for 7 days, layers and a good rain coat.
These are the adventures and trips that Trilogy has taken: These are in chronological order and all on this page. Just keep scrolling down.
The Inland River System: Tennessee River & Tenn-Tom Waterway: 19 days of travel and 741 miles in the Fall
Tuesday, October 17 Stacy and Paul dropped us at the Enterprise Truck Rental in downtown Chattanooga soon after it opened and 30 minutes later the 2017 Ford F250 was headed toward the storage yard in nearby Ringgold, Georgia to hook up the boat trailer.
The Ford F250 easily and comfortably took us to the boat ramp. Away from the ramp, truck and trailer were parked to do the final prep. The tower was put up and one of the guy wire fittings had come apart 5 months earlier but all the pieces were still present. The zippers on the cockpit canvas did not make the project work list and were crusted with Florida salt. 20 minutes of cleaning with vinegar and water and liquid soap and picking with a sharp point cleaned out the issue. Some seams on the canvas were breaking and a repair job would be needed.
Another check was made that the transom plug was in and the seawater cock was open. We were not going to be one of those boaters whose boat starts to sink at the launch ramp. The old brain cells of trailering and backing down the ramp kicked in and 17 years of experience took over and Trilogy was eased down the ramp in one approach and slid off the trailer where Laurie and Paul secured her to the cleats.
The engine had not been started since March, so there was some apprehension if the Yanmar 180 horsepower 4-cylinder block made by BMW would come to life. The key start switch has two positions and the first is activating the electric fuel pump. When the red light on the dash turns off, the fuel pressure is ready for starting. The light went off in about two seconds, the key was turned to the second position and engine turned over and came to life. With water being pumped out of the transom, the alternator creating 14 volts, forward and reverse gears worked and the two thrusters came to life, the initial systems were all good.
We would have lingered at the dock to say slow good-byes to Stacy and Paul and continue to acknowledge the gratitude of helping us but a bass boat was waiting in the river to use the ramp. After another hug and handshake, reverse gear took Trilogy into the river current and pushed us the five miles to the dock at Chattanooga that took 35 minutes but felt like an hour. The feel of the wheel, being on Tennessee River again, enjoying the two-knot current and the sound and vibration of the engine and the water on the hull was exhilarating.
At the center and heart of Chattanooga is a floating dock that is nearly under the foot and bicycle bridge. There were four boats flying the gold AGLCA flag signifying that they had completed the loop. Trilogy was flying the white looper flag saying that the 6,000-mile trip was in-progress. Well, that is not entirely true. We had completed the loop in 2014 on our Ranger 29 Tug, Andiamo. Hearing that gold loopers are often ignored by white flag loopers because they had “done it” and were not “doing it,” we wanted to be more welcomed and because Trilogy had not done the loop.
Trilogy continued past the dock and down the river only because we were not ready to stop. When we did, the tug was pointed back into the current and eased into the dock with the use of thrusters. Loopers pay .75 a foot versus the $1.25 for others and get 10 cents off a gallon of diesel. After tying up and plugging in, a short walk took us to the Tennessee Aquarium where an Uber driver did a pick up to deliver us back to the truck and trailer. Uber is very easy and convenient and is another improvement from 9 years earlier. The trailer was then returned to its place under the steel roof in Ringgold, Georgia. What to do with the ball and hitch? If we take it back to the boat but leave the boat on the hard, then another one would be needed. With no secure way to lock it to the trailer, we hid it in plain sight hoping that it would be there when we see it again.
Another trip to Walmart finished the provisioning and 10 gallons of fuel took the truck’s fuel gauge past the point that we got it. With 15 minutes before Enterprise closed, the truck was returned and the helpful sales associate took as back to Trilogy. Walking down the dock, the crews of the four other boats were already into docktails, a long-standing tradition among loopers to bring your bottle or can and to share munchies. Laurie was tired, feeling the very beginnings of a cold virus that she caught on the flight out, and hesitated until we received a personal invitation from the group.
We did not bring folding chairs for Trilogy because the cockpit seating is perfectly adequate for two but docktails requires that you bring your own seating. Looper hospitality is nearly always really good, where people accept you for what you are, not what you have done, how much money earned or the size of your boat. Quickly, two chairs were provided and we immediately decided these resin chairs from Amazon would make a good addition to Trilogy.
Boater cards were passed around and very quickly we needed to have some. Our Tribute card would be tonight’s substitute. Gary and Colleen are from Little Rock, Arkansas and are in the chapter of how much living aboard versus living in a home will they do. Jim and Kim are from Welaka that is on the St. John’s River and a place that we had been. Tim and Anne are full time cruisers with a homeport in Florida. Scott and Lorrie are full-time live aboards. Stories were told and after much laughter, the sunset sent everyone back to their boats. An attempt to watch a movie on the 12-volt TV/DVD combo found that the audio was very low and then started to cut out. A second movie showed the same result. Laurie’s cold had fully blossomed and she was in bed early.
Wednesday, October 18 Dawn brought a scene of heavy fog on the Tennessee River that would lift quickly as the morning sun climbed above the surrounding hills. Laurie’s cold had taken a heavy toll on her but she rallied after breakfast to clean the inside of the tug while the exterior received its first wash since March. Long time stains were effectively removed with an acid-based cleaning product but it also caused a dozen pin-sized holes in the pants when it splattered on them. With two pairs of pants, the holes will be seen again. The lines were washed before lunch that yielded three buckets of dirty water. Old Florida salt was brushed from the window screen and the remainder was dissolved with vinegar and water.
The harbor host for AGLCA, Hal, came down to the dock and greeted us. An email to him earlier resulted in finding the launch at the Tennessee River Park. Now, there was a hunt on for a DVD player cleaning disc and audio cables to run the sound from the TV through the Fusion sound system. Hal said the closest place and the only place within walking distance was a Walgreen’s that was across the footbridge. Laurie found all that she was looking for and I settled for a second tier replacement audio part. On the way back, a stop at the Tennessee Aquarium found a sweatshirt for Laurie.
The hunt for parts and products showed that much of the retail inventory that was available 8 years ago has been replaced by delivery from Amazon. Now, our Amazon list had grown to chairs, a fender, DVD player cleaner, and an audio cord. It was enough to commit to place to be at a certain day, so the order was made.
Outfitting Trilogy and learning her systems also meant learning the perimeters of the engine performance such as temperature, oil pressure, and voltage. What good is data from gauges if there is no meaning or context? Much of the afternoon was researching the product manuals and creating useful labels that were attached to the dash.
Gary and Colleen came to Trilogy for docktails as the other boats had left earlier. They enjoyed the 15 second tour of a small floor plan and took us to their 46 foot Carver. We had a good time listening to their chapter of their lives: recently retired law school professor and a physician who retired 10 years ago, how they use technology for TV, streaming and internet, and how they make the choices to stay or go and the marinas they wintered at. Laurie posted on Facebook what we were doing and was dubbed by her friend Maureen as being “bi-coastal boaters.” After dinner of mushroom ravioli, Laurie faded to bed while I did billable hours and created a boater card for Trilogy.
Thursday, October 19 The slight morning chill evaporated when the tug’s Webasto diesel furnace came to life. Brown paw prints in the cockpit and in morning dew showed a visit by a local raccoon. This adventure is more than a remembrance trip of something we did in 2008; it is also a shakedown trip for this tug. Showers aboard were a first and we learned about adapting to the low water pressure. A call and an email to a local printer resulted in a boater card for this tug. The mile long walk to pick up the cards through downtown at the beginning of a business day and under clear blue skies was thoroughly enjoyable.
The talk of going east and upriver ended with the reality that Laurie was too sick to take on the Chickamauga Lock in the next 30 minutes and that the most desired destination of traveling the length of the Little Tennessee River would take a week to get there. Add that to the week to get back, we decided to head west and go downstream.
After pulling away from the dock and leaving Chattanooga, a discrepancy was found between two readings of the tug’s fuel level. The fuel level is calculated, not observed or the volume measured, by the Garmin chartplotter by subtracting the volume of added fuel by the rate of fuel used by the engine. It is a good system that had earned my trust on Andiamo. But on two different displays were two very different readings, one showed 67% of the 100 gallon tank remained, the other showed 35 gallons left. For 10 minutes of westbound travel and getting further away from a fuel dock, I trusted the percentage of fuel remained. Then, I heard the message that the angels and ancestors that watch over me – go back and fuel up.
A radio call to the fuel dock was also a first for the VHF radio. When the fuel pump went past 40 gallons, I started to wonder if there was fuel spilling into the bilge but there was none. At 60 gallons, I looked again but it was dry. The pump stopped at 80 gallons and we were amazed. If we had continued on, Trilogy would have run out of fuel between marinas. Now, the baseline was made and the two discrepancies have been corrected.
This is Trilogy’s third engine, which is another story, and this one only has 24 hours on it. Therefore, the engine is in the middle of its 50-hour break-in period. The engine manual is clear that the engine must be run fully loaded meaning about 80% of its speed and the RPM’s varied. Rather than sedately cruising at 6.5 knots at 1,700 RPM, the tug would be run at 2800 to 3400 RPM or 10 to 13 knots. The 30 mile run to the anchorage at Cedar Creek was easily done in 3 hours but the noise is loud and not something that we would like to do all the time.
Boaters recommend Cedar Creek for its anchorage and when we arrived, the memory returned of anchoring here in 2008. Tim and Anne were anchored also and waves were exchanged. The tug’s rode looked very new and may have been never used before. The new Rocna anchor bit quick and secure in 5 feet of water. The moment of uncertainty happened when the 50-foot chain that was before the 200 feet of rope had no markings of length. Then, the anchoring was calculated: depth plus (keel and bow height which is 7 on Trilogy) times 3 to 4. In other words, most of the time, all of the chain will go out. The BBQ was new and still in the box when we bought the tug and grilling pork chops was the first use. After dinner, we did the formal name changing ceremony complete with gratitude to the gods of the sea and wind, offering Tennessee Honey Whiskey as an offering and a toast. Trilogy is now in the records of Neptune and Poseidon.
Friday-Saturday-Sunday, October 20-21-22 Misty and waving fog on the river welcomed the day. The house battery bank was at 12.6 volts or nearly at a full charge. The Webasto heater brought that down to 12.4 during the 30 minutes of heating to take the chill out the air. Of three other Looper boats in this small cove, two were gone within two hours of sunrise. We waited for the fog to completely lift before heading downriver because our first lock and dam, Nickajack, was just around the bend.
Locking is often a source of anxiety for new boaters and those, like us, who come from places where they are never dealt with. Locking downstream is always easier because the water in the lock drops and therefore there is very little turbulence. Locking is easier if the boat has a mid-cleat to tie the floating bollard to and two round fenders, one at the bow and the other at the stern.
Ranger Tugs do not have a mid-cleat, an oversight that causes annoyance, and must be overcome. Experience taught us to rig a taut and stout line along the side of the tug and attach a hefty D-ring where the mid-cleat should be. Then, a line with a loop that is kept open by threading the line through a 39" length of hose,is put over the lock’s floating bollard, run through the D-ring, pulled tight and cleated in the cockpit; a slick system that works well. Over the next three days, Trilogy would go through two locks and each one was uneventful and was the only boat in these massive chambers.
The boating was fun, easy and the tug performed well. Doing the break-in period correctly meant going much faster than we would normally do and constantly varying the engine’s speed. Each morning the engine was checked; oil was fine and the coolant once needed a cup added to the reservoir. During each day, temperature readings were gathered from the driveshaft where it enters the drip seal, and the temperature of the coolant and oil was read.
The river was broad, about a mile across to less than a ¼ mile. There were stretches with no houses or indications of humans. Then, there were clusters of million dollar homes with custom docks and trams that went up the hillside. The autumn colors were not present. Apparently, it has been to warm.
Familiar places and marinas were passed by, as the adventure is to see new places.
At the end of the second day out of Chattanooga, Trilogy anchored in Jones Creek, a large embayment with a depth of 8 feet that is frequented by the bass fisherman and whose entrance is not for the faint of heart – three boat widths wide with depths that dropped to 3 feet under Trilogy’s keel. The anchor was dropped in 5 feet of water near the old Boy Scout Camp. The afternoon was spent organizing and cleaning tools and hardware supplies and coating the tools with Boeshield to keep the corrosion at bay. The clear blue skies had given way to high clouds, a foretelling of a cold front coming up from the south that would arrive in a day or two. A slight breeze rippled the water as the tug headed south and west in Guntersville Lake. Early afternoon and about 10 Loopers headed past us headed to Chattanooga. One of them was a claret red hull, Ranger 25 whose Captain had contacted Laurie via Facebook. Another eastbound Ranger 27 called on the radio and we learned that they knew some of the same Ranger owners that we knew and had taken his tug up the Inside Passage to Alaska.
A stop at the free town dock in Guntersville was a good place to stretch out legs and we elected to stay the night. An antique truck show was happening in the adjacent city park and was dominated by about twenty-five18-wheelers on display. The small town feel of this northern Alabama place was pleasant. The working class families with small kids in tow enjoyed the trucks and some stopped at the tug to ask questions like, “Are you really from Washington State?”
A search for the corner market in the small downtown core found the store was closed on Saturday. A ½ mile walk to the farmer’s market revealed that the market was another 1.5 miles away and may not be operating because the website was not specific. The Episcopal Church was a 36-minute walk away and the decision was made to go the following morning. The afternoon was spent examining the side-curtains of the cockpit canvas, cleaning zippers and marking them. We may never use them, but they are carried aboard.
A good phone call with Rich, Laurie talked to her mom, showers for all, and this day was closed with billable hours.
Sunday brought heavier cloud cover and the decision to go to church was changed because the 10:30 start time for the service could pose a problem getting to Ditto Landing Marina. Though only 25 miles away, the unknown was transiting Guntersville Lock and the weather front was approaching. More eastbound Looper boats flying their white and gold burgees were seen. Another first, Laurie talked to an eastbound tow and barge that was met in a bend in the river. Trilogy receives AIS signals from boats that have this device, so we knew about the barge though he did not know about us. But, being small in the world of boating allows us more options on getting out the way.
Three hours later and at about noon, Trilogy arrived at the half empty marina. The tug had traveled 133 miles from Chattanooga and the engine break-in period had 10 hours to go. Gary and Colleen were getting fuel and pumping out. Anne and Tim were buffing their boat. The marina staff said that a trip was planned to Walmart if we needed to go. Fifteen minutes later, we were off to do a medium sized provisioning chore.
Back at the tug, two of the four boxes from the Amazon order had arrived. The afternoon was spent doing a list of small things: adding a knob to the glove box door, finding a place for the new deck chairs, interpreting the operating manual of the new VHF radio and programming it, researching the engine display and selecting the information needed and making labels with data that was not to be forgotten.
The weather front with moderate wind and heavy rain was watched on Weatherbug. The weather will strike the tug on the beam so additional lines were put out to keep the tug off of the dock. The day was closed with writing and research and waiting for the rain to come, which started at 2115 hours. 24 miles were covered in under 3 hours.
Monday-Tuesday, October 23-24, The heavy rain, like a fire hose spraying the tug, woke up Laurie at 0400 hours. The Weatherbug app showed yellow and red colored rain cells going over our location and continuing north. Just after sunrise, the rain and clouds were gone and the still air was the green light for Anne/Tim and Gary/Colleen to leave and continue west. Waiting for packages and the wind to lie down would keep us in harbor for two more days; a reminder that there are other forces that have control over plans. Adaptation and acceptance is a mindset that can create peace.
Thinking about spending the day in Huntsville was shelved when the 20-minute long Uber ride was $57 one way, the Enterprise car rental was $70 and the marina staff was unable to provide a ride. That theme would repeat itself the following day only Enterprise would not have any cars available – an oddity since it was the low season.
Walks were done through the campground and along the walking trail that followed a very shallow slough and through a forest of maples and sweet gum trees that would break into meadow that was a former diary and now was a housing development. We were nearly alone except for the occasional bicyclist who was exercising their dog or the solo jogger.
Laurie baked muffins and made homemade chicken soup/chili. The marina’s Wi-Fi was used. Low pressure at the water faucets was cured by the removal or cleaning of screens in the supply line and at the faucet. Measurements were taken and labels made to record the air draft of the antenna up, tower up and tower down. The operation of the searchlight was learned and labeled at its control panel. The windows and window screens were cleaned of old Florida salt and the two layers Rainex were applied to the windshield. The water tank was filled and lasted 5 days. The holding tank is ¾ full. Like the Laurie Ann and Andiamo, Trilogy’s holding and water tanks are pumped or re-filled at the same time. Trilogy’s exterior was washed and wax, a chore that only took 3.5 hours; another plus of a small boat.
A Ranger Tug 21 was found in the marina and we saw it leave and then come back. Tom is the owner and he came to Trilogy to meet the cousin of his boat, “Miss Baker.” Friendly and talkative, he retired from Los Angeles and his Ranger 21 is his first boat. Afterwards, Laurie introduced the notion of adding New Orleans to the Trilogy adventure that would start in mid-February. Enterprise Truck Rental would cost about $150 for a two-day rental to get the trailer from Georgia and bring it to Mobile, Alabama. Trilogy would stay in the Mobile area on her trailer at the end of this trip. Power and covered storage would not be mandatory for three months. Megabus has a shuttle from Mobile to New Orleans for $28 a person and Alaska Airlines has a non-stop flight to Seattle.
Wednesday, October 25 Trilogy left Ditto Landing at about 0830 hours under clear skies and still air. The engine performance display was changed to show the 80% of load and the turbo-charger’s PSI pressure and the discovery was made that 3700 to 3900 RPM brought the tug up to the 80% at speed of 14 to 15 knots and at 2.2 miles per gallon. Trilogy was going to fly down the river and finish this break-in period strong.
Soon, the faster speed and feel of the pace of travel seem quite comfortable. At Decatur, the river widened out and the wind picked up to have white caps on the bow with a 1 to 2 foot high chop. The higher speed and raising the trim tabs to bring the bow up made the ride smoother and less spray hitting the windshield. The chartplotter showed a collection of AIS – transmitting tugs clustered on both sides of the railroad bridge because it was lowered for a long train to cross the river. After the train, the bridge rose for the passing tugs and started to lower again because the bridge operator did see Trilogy coming. The bridge’s vertical clearance was 10 feet. Laurie called the bridge on the VHF radio and without a response; the lowering of the bridge stopped and raised a few feet. Trilogy easily passed under.
Continuing westward toward the Wheeler Lock and Dam, the William Hank tug was pushing a set of barges that were three wide and 6 barges long at 5.9 knots. Trilogy called the captain to say what was planned and then went around the barge and barreled down the lake to get to the lock. If we arrived soon enough, the lockmaster would be able to lock us down and turn the lock around in enough time to not hold up the William Hank. In the world of locks, commercial traffic has priority over recreational vessels. Otherwise, Trilogy would have to wait for the William Hank to get into the lock, go down and then the lockmaster would raise the lock again for this recreational vessel. A wait would likely take at least two hours.
At Wheeler Dam, Trilogy glided in was quickly lowered with a good ride in the lock. The lock is an oasis from wind and chop but when the doors opened 20 minutes later, the wind was still moderate at a sustained speed of 13 MPH.
Now in Wilson Lake, we blasted over the 15 miles of chop and whitecaps toward the dam that was under repair. The lockmaster said to wait at a nearby cove and wait to be called. Trilogy arrived at the cove at 1430 hours, dropped anchor in 10 feet of water at the end of the cove with tree leaning toward the tug and the closed up houses on the hillside. We settled in for a long wait because the crews can work to 6PM, however, the radio came to life an hour later and Trilogy was soon in a lock that had nearly a 9-story drop. The descent was quite calm and very entertaining as this massive piece of engineering, construction and huge operating costs performed only for this 27-foot pleasure craft and its two occupants.
At 1630 hours, Trilogy arrived at the nearby Florence Harbor Marina, took on 75 gallons of diesel and tied up near Gary and Colleen. Quickly, we met Bud and Sue who had started the loop in July after selling everything they had in Iowa. Over docktails on Gary and Colleen’s boat, Bud announced that today was his 69th birthday and invited everyone to join him for dinner at a nearby restaurant. On a PDQ catamaran, were Nellie and Jacques who were from France and had come to the U.S. to expressly buy a boat to do the Great Loop. They were on their last leg as they had started in Clearwater, Florida. They wanted to know a lot more about boating on a trailerable boat and exploring the Pacific Northwest. We agreed to meet up later.
At the restaurant, the evening was full of stories, laughter and sharing. Sharing a special birthday moment with new friends was a special treat. Sue made the observation that Loopers are like college students who come from different places with one thing in common and friendships are easily made. 75 miles were covered in 7.5 hours.
Thursday-Friday, October 26-27 Jacques and Nellie left after breakfast and we made an intention to meet up later on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Gary and Colleen left shortly afterwards. After showers, two loads of laundry were done and this was followed by a trip to Walmart using the marina’s courtesy car, an ancient Ford Aerostar van with 142000 miles on. But it was free and adequate for the chore at hand. Bud and Sue had an issue on their boat where a water hose came loose and now the starboard engine would not turn over. I suggested that an examination of the ground wires at the starter would be good place to look and Bud quickly found a loose wire that was probably caused by knocking it as water was being cleaned up. We said our good-byes with hope that we will see them again.
Trilogy pulled away at noon and ran westbound for 43 miles to the Grand Harbor Marina at 15 to 17 miles per hour as the break-in period was finished. At Grand Harbor, packages from Amazon were picked up and we felt obligated to buy some fuel for their trouble. Boats were coming in fast and the marina staff did not blink when we opted to anchor out at Zippy Cove, a 30 minute run from Grand Harbor, Trilogy idled past Gary/Colleen and Tim/Anne in their boats and anchored in 10 feet of water. The packages were like Christmas: a new DVD player for the laptop, an electronic distress that is better than flares and a battery operated weather station.
Trilogy covered 43 miles about 4 hours.
The next day and just past dawn, Gary and Colleen were already gone. When not “buddy boating” there is no expectation of communication or shared destinations. Every sighting of a friend on the water is just a gift. By 0830 hours, the anchor was up and Trilogy headed out under cloudy skies, a moderate breeze that rippled the water and air temperature was in the high 40’s and warming. So far on this trip has been the coolest temperature we had experienced. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, commonly called the Tenn-Tom, is a collection of rivers, creeks, and lakes that are connected by a man-made ditch. About 450 miles long, it stretches north and south and is always a short distance from the Alabama-Mississippi border. Locations are referred to by the their statute mile.
After leaving Zippy Cove on Pickwick Lake, the markers took the tug to a southerly arm of the lake. At the end of this arm started a 24-mile long ditch that was mostly straight, dredged to 18 feet with a uniform width. Some boaters complain about the Tenn-Tom because of the ditches and the isolation – there are very few towns and is wilderness boating in the south with few services and marinas. But the topography, the ecology and the natural wonders are beautiful in their own way.
The ditch gave way to Blue Springs Lake that is caused by Whitten Dam and Lock. Tows and barges were using the lock so the tug was anchored in the same small cove that our Andiamo did in 2014 and where we met Ken and Pauline. Mid-afternoon and after an hour of billable hours, the lockmaster called on the radio that the lock was available. We elected to go knowing that the weather was turning to more wind and rain during the evening.
After Whitten Dam was the short run to Montgomery Dam and the tow that we waited for at Whitten, was waited for at Montgomery to get ahead of us. After Montgomery, Trilogy was powered up to 15 knots and caught up to the tow and passed it about 4 miles before the Rankin Lock and Dam. We listened as the lockmaster at Rankin and the tow captain discussed where Trilogy would be in the order of locking. The lockmaster said that he could get us locked down and the lock turned around in time for the tow to not wait too long; we would go first and that would save us about an hour in the late afternoon. All of the locks to this point, Trilogy was only one using them.
After Rankin Lock, the skies turned very dark. The weather radar on the Weatherbug app showed heavy rain to our immediate west with the system angling to the northeast. It would be upon us soon. The next available anchorage was 90 minutes away and was very exposed to the weather. We opted to change plans and to stay at the Midway Marina that was an hour from the lock. The marina was more protected and tying up was better than anchoring with exposure to the building wind. In the dwindling light, Trilogy was placed on the leeward sidelong dock that whose windward side was full of tall and long yachts. We glided in and tied opposite to Gary and Colleen, just as the wind ratcheted up another notch. We were happy to pay the $41 for moorage and power.
Four men were on a 63-foot Hatteras yacht and wanted to see Trilogy. They all crammed aboard and peppered us with great questions about the boat. Their story: All of them had retired in the past few months having lived in Pittsburg. The boat was going to the U.S. Virgin Islands but would likely stay in Florida until the islands had come back from being battered by this season’s hurricanes. Some knew nothing about boating and everyone was uncomfortable with anchoring, which was one topic of their questions because anchoring is usually a necessity before arriving in Mobile.
They left for dinner at the nearby restaurant and we made dinner and streamed another episode of Madam Secretary on the laptop. The rain came and dumped during the night. 57 miles were boated in just over 7 hours.
Saturday, October 28 The morning was calm and still with a light fog on the river and the air temperature at 48 degrees. Gary said the nearby lockmaster at the Fulton Dam and Lock reported that there were two tows going through and 0800 hours would be a good time to lock through. Being 0730, at first we said that we would take the next time slot. At this part of the Tenn-Tom, the lockmasters dictate the pace of travel by grouping together the recreational vessels and locking the group through.
With three boats leaving the marina, Laurie pronounced that Trilogy would join them. With no time to argue a counter-point, the power cord was coiled up and the lines released after the engine was started. The group had to wait for the lock to be turned around.
The next lock was the Wilkins Dam and Lock and the group had to wait for 90 minutes. Gary/Colleen and Trilogy anchored in the shallow embayment on the east side, the same place that our Laurie Ann had anchored for the night 9 years ago. When the lock was ready, two other fast yachts appeared from the north. Now the group was six boats. There is often a rude boat in every group and the addition of the blue hull express cruiser with a Nassau registration was ours.
The blue go-fast vessel was the last to join but the first to enter the lock to stake out his preference and was the most aggressive on the radio. Like most boaters when this happens, we just ignore him and adapt. When he took the closest bollard to the gate and radioed the lockmaster that he needed to change locations because the lock doors would smash his boat when they opened, we adjusted by taking that position because Trilogy fits that spot quite nicely.
With six boats and all running close together to the next lock, Trilogy powered up, stretched her legs to exercise the turbo and left behind nearly everyone, except the blue hull cruiser. After Amory Lock, we had decided to leave the pack before the next lock on Aberdeen Lake and anchor or stay at the free dock at Blue Bluff Park. Everyone else was making the long day to stay at the Columbus Marina. Trilogy enjoyed the 7.4 knots at 2300 RPM as the trees changed and the water wilderness of Mississippi was revealed with white egrets, white herons and blue herons. The group got bunched up at Aberdeen Lock as a tow was just getting in. The tow captain had a coarse tone with the blue hulled cruiser because the cruiser was not completely out of the way.
Our destination was Blue Bluff Park, an Army Corps of Engineers recreation area of a campground, picnic ground, swimming beach and a free T-dock that connects to a grassy hillside. We had been to this place in the Laurie Ann and often repeated the story where Boots, our cat, had a swimming lesson when she thought lily pads could be walked on.
The approach from the north and to the park from the channel is marked and described as shallow but do-able. The writers of this description were just wrong. The depth went from 5 feet to zero and then the tug slid across a mud hump, raising the boat 6 inches before finding depth again. Trilogy was going dead slow and never stopped but we did our part to dredge that channel. Again, I was thankful for the choice to have a boat where the propeller and the rudder are fully protected behind the keel. Later, did I learn that there are a north AND a south approach channels. Apparently, the south one is better.
The free dock was empty and Trilogy was tied to the end in 4 feet of water. A walk was taken to the boat launch and the picnic area. On our way back, a vehicle stopped on the shoulder and parked. A woman quickly got out of the passenger side and walked quickly away and down the shoulder, her head held high, back straight and arms swinging – she was on a mission or pissed off. A man got of the driver’s side, head down, back slumped in defeat and he shuffled toward the woman. Non-verbally, the meaning seemed clear: she was mad as hell and he was wrong.
Back at the boat, one of Trilogy’s black fenders was floating away and being carried south in the stiff wind. A fender rescue operation was mounted. The idea of using the boat to get the fender was considered for about 5 seconds but discarded when Laurie was not yet out of the shower and the depth was shallow and unknown. A $40 fender is not worth the risk. The fender stopped at the edge of a small peninsula that jutted out from the swimming area. A land operation was attempted with Laurie acting as spotter and I treaded my way through the forest, dodged more litter than expected and found the fender had stopped on a pad of river vegetation about 50 feet from shore. The decision was made to wait until morning when perhaps the night breeze would push it further to shore or perhaps a bass boat would get it for us. If one attempt at wading out did not get it back easily, then another would be ordered on Amazon and it would be waiting for us in Demopolis.
After a dinner of grilled chicken and roasted potatoes and a great sunset, a 70-foot long paddle wheeler came in and took the other side of the dock. The Pickwick Belle had been sold and was being moved to the west coast of Florida by a delivery captain and crew. This boat is propelled by a set of real paddle wheels. We had a nice chat with them. The captain lives at Grand Harbor Marina and has two other stern-wheelers. Their generator ran all night but our fatigue closed out the whole world. We would travel 37 miles in nearly 5 hours.
Sunday, October 29, 2017 Before dawn, the paddle wheeler was pulling away and heading south. At dawn, the parking lot at the boat launch was strangely empty and our hope for the passing fisherman to retrieve the fender faded out. Perhaps it was too cold for the fish to be biting or maybe they were all in church or perhaps the spouse put their foot down about fishing on last day of this weekend. An hour later, the river fog had lifted enough to see that the fender had not moved. A land operation was started with the intention to wade out to if the water was shallow enough. It wasn’t. As steps were made through the floating bottles and the grass gave way to over two feet deep but it was the cold of the water that aborted the mission four steps into it. The depth of the water gave hope that a water rescue from Trilogy was a possibility, which was successfully done with Laurie on the swimstep with the long boat hook and the tug was backed up to the fender.
The exit out of the Blue Bluff Park by the south channel was done at dead slow and watching not the digital numbers but rather using the sonar display because the sonar reads through the grass and picks up the fish that are deeper than the digital display which is a judgment value, not data. Aberdeen Dam and Lock is immediately next to the anchorage and we waited for 30 minutes while the lockmaster turned the lock around for Trilogy. Columbus Marina was an easy run of 24 miles and we arrived about noon. The long-time manager/owner “T” Maxwell greeted us at the fuel dock and we learned that the marina does not open until noon on Sunday and we would be his first customers. We really did not need fuel and could have made it to the next fuel stop a Demopolis 150 miles away, but that would require careful monitoring.
After lunch, changing the oil was carefully done. This was Trilogy’s first oil change on this new engine, it was our first time on this engine, and a record of the procedure would be made so we did not have learn it again next year or when 250 more engine hours happened. The process was done without incident or mistake and we had all the right tools and supplies aboard. Trilogy always carries an empty oil container for waste oil; a lesson learned on our Andiamo in Canada.
We used the marina’s courtesy car for the hour-long errand to replace supplies and provision at the local Kroger’s store. BBQ ribs and slaw were obtained at the store’s deli and these were enjoyed at dinner. Bud and Sue in Odyssey arrived and a 2014 version of our tug arrived as the sun went down. They moored behind Trilogy and it looked like boat twins. The owner and his friend were from Indiana and were delivering the boat to the Gulf Coast for the winter. Their vibe was immediately off, complaining about the boat and throwing the other person under the bus. They were acting like new boaters and we opted to just be polite. The evening was closed with the ribs and a movie.
A short day with 24 miles done in under just over 3 hours.
Monday, October 30, 2017 The chill of 45 degrees in the cabin was the wake up alarm at 0600 hours but an hour later the furnace had warmed the cabin to a pleasant 70 degrees. Three boats, including Trilogy’s twin, headed to the Stennis lock for a 0730 locking. We were up and could have joined the group but Laurie was moving slowly. The fuse to the propane’s electric shut-off valve had burned out and finding the blown fuse and replacing it was a 10-minute deal. The fuse was under-sized, 1 amp instead of a 3 amp and the cold was probably an additional factor. How many boaters who do not own a screwdriver would have stayed in the marina and called an electrician?
We killed 90 minutes as the lockmaster said we could lock down in 90 minutes. Trilogy fell into a pattern of slow cruising at 2300 RPM for 80% of the hour and then fast cruising at 15 knots for 20%. The tug averaged 10 miles an hour and burned 3 gallons an hour and achieved 3 miles to the gallon. The river was flat calm and a light breeze came from the south keeping the temperature in the low 70’s.
Nearing Bellville Dam and Lock, a tow with a barge of construction equipment was passed. The lockmaster told us that we would wait the 90 minutes while that tow went through so we tied up at the very short dock that almost too short for Trilogy. When the tow captain said they were not coming for a while, the lockmaster told us to come in.
The afternoon was pleasant boating down the Tombigbee River and through its lakes. Most of the time the river was about 100-200 yards wide, with no current and a fresh breeze from the south. Cypress trees were replaced by groves of pine trees that harbored beautiful campgrounds and well-kept summerhouses and these yielded to farms and fields in the low lands. The destination was Sumpter, a small cove that could protect about dozen boats. Arriving at about 1700 hours, we found the three boats that left Columbus Marina at dawn swinging at anchor. The anchor was dropped hear the head of the cove in 6 feet. One of them was Trilogy’s cousin, only a 2014 version.
Laurie prepared another great dinner of ham heated in the oven, fresh biscuits and salad. 75 miles were done in nearly 8 hours.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017 At 0700 hours, the VHF radio cracked to life with the other Ranger Tug saying that the nearby Heflin Lock would be ready in 20 minutes. We opted to leave and have breakfast while underway. The morning was calm and still with a light morning fog hovering on the rivers mirror surface. The lock was not ready for us and another lesson was learned again: Do your own research and verify the data before acting on someone else’s message because they may have it wrong. Soon the lock was ready but we would wait another 30 minutes for other boats to arrive, which is fine but not at the cost of a preventable delay in breakfast.
Four of the boats in the Heflin Lock would head out and rocket down to Demopolis. There would be two groups of boaters: the hare and the tortoise. Letting the hares go and get out of the way and leaving the river flat and calm was an easy choice. Soon, Trilogy was alone and doing this part of the Great Loop at her speed.
Another difference from boating in the northwest, Channel 16 is used by commercial boats and by recreational boaters to chitchat. There is no Coast Guard voice telling boaters that Channel 16 is for hailing and emergencies and to take conversations to another working channel. The bends in the river became more frequent and more pronounced and evolved into total wandering oxbows. Then came the Epis cliffs, with its white mineral rising about 75 feet above the water and trimmed at the tops with autumn colors. These cliffs were created about the same time as the Dover Cliffs in England.
Trilogy caught up with the Pickwick Belle, the paddle wheeler that stayed the night with us in Blue Bluff Park near Aberdeen. The tug was doing a turbo-cleansing run, slowed to pass the paddle wheeler and the whole crew came out to wave at us. Then, the tug awed them by pulling away at 17 MPH. Around a bend, we caught up to a Gemini 105 catamaran sailboat that was mast-less and running at its maximum speed of 6.5 knots on its solo diesel engine with a propeller on an arm mounted on the centerline between the hulls. Trilogy was on another 17 MPH run and though we slowed to pass them, the tug blew by them.
Just before Demopolis, a huge 80-foot yacht running at 25 knots with a 4-foot wake by a delivery crew passed us and took most of the fuel dock. Trilogy was able to slide into the shallow dock and take on 33 gallons that would be more than enough to get to Mobile. The employee was a jokester and made it all fun. This fuel dock pumps over 100,000 gallons of diesel a day to the towboats. The old marina is vacant as the new one provides all the services. We took a 40 foot covered slip for $1.25 a foot. The harbormaster, Ann Marie, was in costume as a witch and easily circulated around the docks on a bicycle and a golf cart. Demopolis Yacht Basin is 90% transient boaters, some longer than others because Demopolis is not a destination – it is a way station with a good-sized boat yard. The marina is the center of economic activity since farming and ranching have fallen on hard times.
A floating building is a meeting room, hosted the Halloween Party, and has laundry, restrooms and showers so we never stepped on dry land for the next two days. We met Mark and Sandee who have a new-to-them Kadey Krogen 42 and we talked boats for over an hour and he was grateful for advice about changing the thruster batteries. Amy and Reg with their two teenagers were looping in the Gemini catamaran, Binary, we spent time with Amy as she told the story of getting repairs, shipping their mast, and how the family is going really, really well together on the trip.
On the other side of the socio-economic spectrum was a brief meeting with an owner of a new Grand Harbor 37. With his expensive haircut, Ralph Lauren shirt, the made-to-order sunglasses and the off-hand remark that his thruster was going to be fixed while he was away on another trip, it was an easy encounter to leave behind. When you ask all the questions and they have no interest in anything but themselves, then leave them in the company they love: themselves.
Small world: met Shane who is rebuilding his Chris craft and discovered that he skippered the Hat Express, the ferry between Everett and Hat Island in 2010 and knew people that we knew. After dinner was the Halloween Party that some of the transient boaters attended. We stayed for an hour and though I tried to make conversation with the owner of Trilogy’s cousin, there was just no common ground and his attitude and disposition was, simply a bore. The really cute costumes were red and green buoys and salt and peppershakers. 43 miles were traveled in less than 7 hours.
Wednesday-Thursday, November 1-2 After moving everyday since Ditto Landing that is near Huntsville, it felt good to have a down day and simply stay in one place. The weather was breezy, heavy cloud cover and the rain would come in the afternoon. After breakfast, the whole morning was spent taking apart the anchoring system on the dock, removing 100 feet of line from the 200 feet that was crammed into the anchor locker, re-tying the knot that affixed the line to the 50 feet of chain and marking the line in 25-foot segments. It was a good project because the line snagged in the anchor locker. A total of 250 feet of rode was overkill and unnecessary for the cruising that we would do. On the Inside Passage, only once did we deploy nearly 200 feet of rode. The spare line was stowed forward in the rarely used storage area.
Every afternoon there is a meeting of the skippers who are leaving the marina in the morning. Maybe there was suppose to be a leader or a speaker but after waiting around for 10 minutes with the other boaters, I told our story of how this is done: the lock is called in the morning, the message is passed on by VHF radio and we go on to our destinations. I volunteered to be the communicator the next morning and everyone was satisfied.
Dinner was mushroom ravioli, vegies and wine and the evening was closed with a movie on the laptop with the sound through the boat’s speakers.
The next day, a brief rain shower precluded the alarm that went off at 0630 hours. The day was warm, humid and with a thick ceiling of clouds. A phone call to the Demopolis Lock at 0645 revealed that a tow was about to enter the lock and perhaps the lock would be ready at 0800 hours. A call on channel 69 15 minutes before the agreed upon time and everyone was waiting. The dock was a buzz of anxious activity and many were waiting by their radios for the word. However, the lockmaster called us at 0730 hours and said the lock will be ready soon and to come on down. Within minutes, 11 boats were pulling away from the yacht basin and heading to the lock that was 3 miles away . Exiting the lock at the huge spillway and sliding away from a tow and set of barges that were waiting for the recreational vessels to leave, the go-fast boats jockeyed for position as they had over 100 miles to go to Bobby’s Fish Camp – the only place with a dock, fuel and restaurant food before Mobile. Four of the 11 would go there. Typically about 1/4 of the loopers will not anchor or will not pass up an opportunity for a restaurant; that is their way of doing the loop.
Trilogy would take advantage of a 1.5-knot current and run close to 9.5 MPH and pass by the common anchorage at Bashi Creek and go on for a total of 93 miles to Okatuppa Creek. A long day that was do-able and safe because of the conditions and how fast this boat will go when needed. That would leave 6 boats to cram into that small anchorage that was now more limited because a tree had fallen into the small embayment. During this part of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, the designated anchorages are very few.
The day was routine of frequent turns on the river, counting the blue and white herons, wondering where the raptor birds were until a few Turkey Vultures were seen, long stretches of no houses, no bridges and no power lines, enjoying 50 minutes of every hour at 9 MPH and the balance at 17 miles per hour. Still, the tug earned 3+ miles per gallon. The local country FM radio station was enjoyed because there is no NPR radio station in this part of Alabama. There probably were not enough liberals to support one. Laurie talked to nine northbound towboats and barges to arrange passing maneuvers and they had names like DB Quebodeaux, Three Rivers, Gretchen C, Captain Anthony, Gunner, and Ms. Nicole.
The afternoon remained warm at 81 degrees and humid.. At 1715 hours, the anchor was dropped in 5 feet of water in a creek that feeds a wider and larger fishing area. A stern anchor was dropped to keep the tug from blocking the 80-foot wide creek. When the anchor light was found to have burned out, an LED cockpit light was left on. 93 miles was done in nearly 10 hours.
Friday-Saturday, November 3-4 0700 hours and like clockwork, three bass fishing boats cruised by Trilogy that caused enough of a roll that it woke us up. Later, another boat came by only slower and was occupied by two men who were in camouflage gear from head to food. “How y’all doin’?” “Fine, how are you this morning? “Going to kill some squirrels. Nice boat!”
We headed south as the last of the mist evaporated off of the river. Past the deserted docks at Bobby’s Fish Camp and to the last dam and lock on the river system, Coffeeville Dam. There was a tow pushing a barge that the AIS displayed as being about 5 miles away. The Coffeeville Lockmaster said to come on down and he would turn the lock around for us. As the gates were approached, they opened, the light turned green and Trilogy idled on in. The descent on this dam was quiet and smooth. The gates opened to the first mixture of fresh and salt water and where the tidal influence from the Gulf of Mexico had the potential of being felt. This was the last lock and dam for this trip and the moment was savored.
On this day, the southbound current would continue to carry us through the flat land that was forested under clear skies and warming temperatures. Through the morning, more rattles and vibrations were found inside the boat and were dealt with. At the Jackson Railroad Bridge, Trilogy caught up with the Pickwick Belle for the last time.
The river was rarely straight for more than two miles and there were more oxbows. There were lots of mileage but less distance traveled. Mid-afternoon brought temperatures into the mid-80’s. We pushed on to the anchorage at the Tensaw River that was wide, had a mild current flowing to the east and was already occupied by 4 boats that had been in front of us for the past two days. They had no doubt had run faster and used a lot more fuel than Trilogy. We anchored in 25 feet and the evening was quiet with a great sunset. We had covered 86 miles in nearly 9 hours.
The next day, just a few minutes before sunrise, half a dozen bass boats were running fast and close to each other like an invading force, going at least 40 miles per hour. The other trawlers that were anchored with us left about an hour before we did. Trilogy was on the last leg to Mobile and the destination was Turner’s Marina on Dog River. We were in no hurry to cover the last 55 miles. This part of the river was great as the forest yielded to the saltwater marsh and the vegetation was typical for a bayou.
At the I-65 highway bridge, the rules of the water seemed to change as the chitchat on Channel 16 was caught off by the Coast Guard radio dispatcher. The tow barges talked less and the chatter from the pleasure boats was gone. At the 14-mile railroad bridge that was 5 feet above the water, the bridge was closed and we waited 15 minutes for the train to come and cross over.
The protected wetland was entered and the amount of wildlife increased. A heavy concentration of tows and barges announced the end of wilderness boating as the busy Mobile harbor was entered. Trilogy slowed for the huge freighter Clipper Marlene to turn around in the harbor and then followed her out, past the Carnival Cruise ship with the police boat providing security. The horizon to the south was only water of the Gulf of Mexico; we were truly out of the inland river system.
Miles out of downtown Mobile, we caught up to the boats from the Tensaw River anchorage an we all turned to the west to follow the channel markers to Dog River. Laurie had chosen Turner’s Marine that was immediately past the Dauphin Highway Bridge. The other boats continued to the adjacent Dog River Marina. Turner’s was predominately sailboats but there were a few loopers there. The short fixed docks with wooden poles were another first for this trip and required an adaptation to the normal docking process but it was all done. We arrived at about 1400 hours, secured the lines, established shore power and then paid for two nights at the bargain price of $15 a night. The PDQ catamaran, Magic with Jacques and Nellie who were from France was close-by. We had hoped to see them and talk about boating in the Pacific Northwest and would visit for about an hour before they had to finish repairs so they could leave in the morning. The nearby West Marine Express had a few items that needed and more of the to-do list was accomplished.
Sunday-Saturday, November 5-11; Wrap-up and Lessons Learned The loss of Daylight Savings Time happened overnight and sunrise brought us awake at 0600 hours with a heavy fog that would last until 1000 hours. Being All Saints Day and St. Andrews Church an easy Uber ride away, we arrived 45 minutes before the 1030 service and were the first persons there. The 25 attendees were the nicest people. Laurie was able to sing her heart out with familiar hymns and made an impression with her well-developed alto voice. Afterwards, a brunch as served in the Parish Hall and they all sang Happy Birthday to Laurie. We got a ride back to the boat and spent the afternoon assessing the inverter and finally learned that low voltage without a load on it is perfectly normal. Binary, the Gemini catamaran arrived and Laurie was able to talk again with Amy.
Monday was the first day of the full-time prep work. A nearby canvas shop was available to re-stitch the Bimini top and the work would be done by Wednesday. The price was twice what was paid back home because we were just passing through. Most of the morning was spent working a list from Yellowpages.com of RV and boat storage businesses. 30 businesses were called and only one was willing to accommodate our desire to have power to the boat to run the battery charger and the de-humidifier. The further away from the water, the lower the monthly rent. We settled on doing a tour of storage business in Saraland, AL.
The storage business was new and the hungry owner was very accommodating as we wanted the tug secure, but not in the back secluded back corner or in the front row next to the street. The $35 a month was also the best price and less than Florida or Georgia. A stop at Harbor Freight Tools was necessary to prep for the next project: measuring and aligning the prop shaft that was part of the engine break-in period. Then, the hunt was on for a boat ramp that was suitable for a 39 foot trailer and a boat with a 2-½ foot draft. Three ramps were examined; one failed the depth test, one was gone and probably destroyed by one of the hurricanes and the other had potential until Laurie talked to a nearby owner of a sailboat and learned the concrete ramp was way too short for our trailer. Without a viable ramp, the only option was having the tug lifted out by a travel-lift at a marina.
The next day was warm and the afternoon would be hot. The nearby Dog River Marina could do the lift on Thursday for $10 a foot. Turner Marina was really busy stepping masts on sailboats. The husband and wife ownership team huddled and their best offer was maybe they could possibly do the lift on Friday morning for $7 a foot. When asked about a viable boat ramp, they suggested looking at Fowl River Marina that is down the bay by about 10 miles.
Information technology has made it easy to get information but it also has made us lazy about asking questions. Learning about boat ramps was another example of how the apps do not have accurate information and the charts can be misleading. Answers from real people is the most reliable or it provides leads. Dog River Marina provided directions to the business to refill the 5-pound propane tank. After 21 days, it was nearly empty. But their information was flawed because the business does not fill the small tanks. However, asking the right question revealed a nearby business that did.
Fowl River Marina is a small marina for residents, has a popular restaurant and a double lane boat ramp. The presence of double axle boat trailers pulled by ¾ ton trucks was the seal of approval. Without anyone around to answer our questions about depth and length, a second visit was necessary to make our own measurements. However, there was confidence that spending over $200 for a $50 service was not going to be necessary.
The prop shaft alignment project was methodically done after lunch. Several phone calls with Rich, who had done the research and did the alignment on his Ranger Tug, made the project easier. The initial measurements of the gap between the transmission coupler and the prop shaft showed it was within specifications. Working in the engine compartment also accomplished cleaning the sea strainer and tightening a dozen hose clamps.
Wednesday was a marathon driving day that started at 0730 at the Enterprise Truck Rental where a 2017 Dodge ¾ ton with a Cummins diesel was rented for the 350 mile trip to get the boat trailer. The drive to the storage yard in Ringgold, Georgia was easy, the trailer was in fine shape and after finishing the wiring repair in the 45-degree chill caused by a cold front from the north, we were back on the freeway. The trip back was longer because of rush hour through Birmingham and the need for more breaks and we arrived back at the tug at 2300 hours.
All of the weather apps would be correct on Thursday with a cold north wind blowing 15 to 20 knots that would last all day. The middle of Mobile Bay where the channel was had more wind and the chop was 1 to 2 feet. All of this plus not moving for nearly a week created some mild anxiety about moving to Fowl River. The truck and trailer were moved to the Fowl River Marina. The marina/ramp harbormaster was in her office as we measured the ramp and used the boat hook to measure the depth. She said the ramp would work fine for the tug and offered that there was plenty of depth outside of the main Mobile Bay channel and where the wind was lighter. Armed with good information, there was confidence in the next step.
The lines were cast off from Turner Marina at 1100 and immediately encountered a comfortable following sea of 2 foot swells once the channel was left. The easiest speed was nearly 15 MPH. The depth was 4-6 feet under keel and Fowl River Marina was made at 1230 hours with less than a 1 foot under the keel at low tide. The tug easily floated on to the trailer with some power used to get it up to the bow support. Then, the next hour was used to put the tug to bed on the trailer. The tug was delivered to the storage yard were final preparations were finished by following the checklist that was developed.
The rental truck was returned by 4PM and we enjoyed a great rate of $62 a day with unlimited mileage. An hour later, we were checked into a hotel in Gulfport, MS Most of Friday was spent driving Highway 90, the scenic road along the water that included a short stay at Gulf Shores National Seashore. After lunch on the coast, the staff at the Louisiana Welcome Center was very helpful about how to explore the French Quarter in New Orleans and where to park. Finding a hotel in New Orleans was by accident. This was our first visit to New Orleans and there were no surprises. The city was a mixture of vibrant energy, great music, and was loud, dirty, and smelly. The homeless were eating food out of trash cans, 9 year olds were hustling the tourists for cash after their drumming, Bourbon Street had broken glass from beer bottle and the smell of trash filled the alleys and the music was amazing. By mid-afternoon, we had toured the Garden District and returned the mini-van to the airport. The flight to Seattle was on-time and full.
St. Petersburg to Titusville: A Winter Cruise In South Florida
Summary of Trip Data: 26 days, 638 miles, anchored 6 nights plus many lunch stops, 73 engine hours, averaged cost was $92 a day while traveling, averaged 8.73 miles per hour or 7.4 knots, and diesel fuel – 3.1 miles per gallon and 2.8 gallons per hour.
This would be the first trip that was planned around a theatre performance. Typically, dates are set around airfares, to meet with friends or to attend a boating rendezvous. But, the Broadway production of Hamilton was coming to Seattle and our season tickets to the Paramount Theater in Seattle gave us one opportunity. The show was spectacular and Rich teased us relentlessly because we missed the Southwest Florida Tug Rendezvous that had grown from a few boats to over 50.
Once the dates were picked, our calendars loaded up with obligations, duties and dates on both ends. In addition to Laurie’s on-going involvement with visiting and monitoring her 90 year old mother, Margaret, we would work nearly full-time for pay almost right up to the departure date and two projects would be waiting for our return. In addition, each of us had taken on leadership responsibilities at St. John’s. Laurie was on the Vestry and had reluctantly taken on the job as Junior Warden. Her phone and email was buzzing with communication on tasks to do and problems to solve. I was the chair of the capital campaign, a one-time effort to raise money to renovate and add on to the church building. There were committees to organize and monitor and communicating to be done. All these would bleed over into this trip.
Monday, February 19 An artic cold blast came in the day before this departure date and the heavy rains turned to snow and fortunately would melt in the afternoon. The night before leaving from Sea-Tac Airport, we had dinner with Karen and Lisa in Ballard, dropped the Pruis at the Litchfield’s in Kirkland and Ben took us to the LaQuinta Inn that was near the terminal. We had learned that getting a hotel room is far better than getting up at 0400 and experiencing the crapshoot of Seattle’s freeways.
Travis was on-duty in Sea-Tac and picked us up at the hotel in his patrol car, as he was about to end his shift. This was another first of riding in the back of a patrol car as a ride to the airport. To the casual observer at the terminal, it looked like the police were giving the nice older couple some assistance – maybe their car had broken down.
We travel light with only a small backpack and a 24” long duffel bag each. When the boat or the trailer is set up right, we only need a week’s worth of clothing and the personal essentials to travel. 5-1/2 hours later another miracle of jet travel happened with 2,500 miles behind us, 50 degrees warmer and there was still time in the day to use. A short Uber ride to the Enterprise Truck Rental and our reservation was waiting. In 30 minutes, we were northbound in a 2017 Dodge ¾ ton pickup with our portable Garmin GPS named “Penelope” that is brought on all trips as a guide.
Florida’s freeways are wide and good shape, somehow they have the funding piece figured out. Penelope took us up the coastal route and included a toll road and half dozen small towns with speed zones, signals and local construction. The drive was easy with a burger stop in Crystal River, the FM stations were either country or religion and the traffic was very light. The route was easy and interesting for the 4 hour run to Tallahassee but the return trip with the boat and trailer would be by Interstate 75. Two hours out, Laurie found a hotel for $135 a night and took the last room available. The AARP discount typically puts us on the first floor or in a disable person’s room but the price break is nice and we try not to feel too old and feeble. Arriving at 9:30, the parking lot was full and the building was quiet, people go to bed early here.
Tuesday and Wednesday, February 20-21 Now on Interstate 10, the route had turned west with more traffic in Tallahassee and later in both Pensacola and Mobile. The truck was very comfortable at 75 MPH, running with the traffic flow and getting 21 miles to the diesel fuel gallon. 4 hours later we were in Mobile and the suburb of Saraland where Trilogy was left on her trailer at the EZN Storage. A lunch stop was done nearby because navigating a restaurant with 60 feet of truck and trailer not only limits the options but also can be disconcerting.
The tug was in good shape with the long extension cord providing power to the battery charger and the dehumidifier. The outside was appropriately dirty from three months of rains and storms. The inside was in great shape with no sign of mildew. The digital thermometer showed the record outside temperature was 104 and the lowest was 14 degrees. There was much concern about damage from freezing because the boat was not winterized because the advice of locals and research did not support the need. This winter was unusual with quick periods of bitter cold and some short-lived snow. A quick visual inspection showed no tell tale signs of freezing like crack water lines, coolant stains, or a empty water tank. However, the thorough testing for damage would come later. This was the time of driving, moving, delivery to Tampa and finding a storage place for the trailer.
45 minutes later the tug and trailer was eased out of the lot and into the traffic heading east. The nearly 11,000 pounds of boat and trailer changed the driving and handling characteristics of the truck. Mileage dropped to 11 MPG but was way better than a gas engine and though the truck was capable of pulling the load faster, anything more than 65 MPH was more susceptible to sway that was often triggered when the 18 wheeler passed by at 70+ MPH and sucked us into their air draft.
Stacy and Paul Brannon, our angels of the southeast, were down from Athens, Georgia to work on their old boat and were headed back home. We agreed to meet for breakfast the following day. After 5 hours of driving east from Mobile, Laurie found a Quality Inn in Lake City, Florida that was quite nice.
The next day, Stacy and Paul were met at about 10 AM at a Pilot Truck Stop for coffee and catch up. When Paul learned that the materials were brought to finish the wiring project he started in October, he said that he had the tools with him and offered to finish the re-routing of the heavy ground cables. An hour was spent under the hot blazing sun, sweating, cutting battery cables, crimping on lugs, and attaching the new re-designed ground wire system.
After lunch and back on the road after noon, the destination to launch the tug was St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. A question asked on the AGLCA forum, and on the Ranger Tug owner’s forum brought four possibilities. St. Petersburg had the closest marina to the boat launch and the immediate available of services should repairs be needed. A look at the satellite photo of the launch confirmed the choice. Being slowed by the heavy traffic through Tampa, the boat launch was arrived at 3 PM.
The afternoon was hot and nearly record breaking and very unusual with highs in upper 80’s and the humidity was a close match. Cloudless and hot, it was quite a change from Seattle’s mid-30’s and snow showers.
Though the approach to the ramp was short and needed more maneuvering, the ramp itself was great. Concerned about freeze damage to the engine, the engine was started while the boat was in the water but remained on the trailer. The BMW engine block quickly jumped to life, cooling water was pumped out and there was no indication of any damage. Trilogy would have easily floated off the trailer if the transom straps that held the boat to the trailer had been removed. Once that was done, the tug was free of the trailer.
Laurie had paid for two nights and the nearby slip was found. Our first docking of Florida’s fixed docks was a bit rough: when and how to get lines to the pilings and adjusting them for the short tidal range would get better with repetition that would come later. At the dock and hooked to shore power, we started the fine assessment and making shopping lists. The fresh water pump had very little pressure and a bit of research revealed that the problem was a damaged diagram that was likely caused by freezing because the fresh water pump is outside the cabin and the engine compartment and located against the hull. The tug has a separate wash-down pump that is nearly identical to the damage pump, so an hour was used to swap the damaged pump for the wash-down pump.
That solution did not last long. Great water pressure and verification that the waterlines were undamaged but the breaker tripped. The operative word here is “nearly identical” because the wash-down pump uses a 15 amp motor and the damaged pump had a 7.5 amp motor which matched the 10 amp breaker nicely. The remedy was to find a replacement pump. An Internet check of brands, models, the correct specifications and availability in the area found the solution: the West Marine store in Bradenton, about 21 miles away and the model was closest to the damaged pump. That solution would happen tomorrow. A huge provisioning trip to the nearby Publix Store was done that included a take-out dinner of chicken and beer. We decided to keep the truck for the entire three-day period to run errands.
Thursday, February 22 The day was busy and packed with a run to West Marine and back, the installation of the new water pump, the wash down of Trilogy’s exterior cabin and half of the hull, the total cleaning of the interior, the water tank and lines were flushed with water and bleach and cleansed, and finishing checking the status of the tug’s systems and another shopping trip to Publix. The faucet in the galley developed an un-repairable leak that meant a trip to Home Depot to replace it. This is not the first boat or RV that we have had that developed this problem and the best fix was a $30 replacement and the luck of finding a similar looking replacement.
The truck was returned by 4PM and the bill was more than was estimated during the initial research. The price of nearly $500 for three days and 1,100 miles was because Enterprise had changed its pricing model in the past year to add a daily fee for towing and less free miles. Another Uber ride for $26 returned us back to the marina. Tacos were the first meal cooked aboard while the laundry was done and the first movie seen aboard followed.
Friday, February 23 The demands of the business of living in Seattle and the new obligations at the church dominated the morning. At 10:30, the decision was made to stay another night and to make the transition from delivering, prepping and repairing to enjoying and keeping the life in Puget Sound more in the background. Canvas was set up, the roof and cockpit were polished and shined, a trip to the fuel dock for 66 gallons of diesel at 1968 total miles and 109 engine hours, and the boat was backed in to clean the other side of the hull.
A leisurely walk through downtown, other trip to Publix, changing the anchor light to LED, and re-organizing the box of supplies closed the afternoon. Laurie wants to anchor out for a couple of nights so dinner was out at Hops and Props, a craft beer bar and good/reasonable food. Downtown St. Petersburg is humming with cars and pedestrians because there is another festival, this time jazz and art.
Saturday, February 24 A clear, blue sky with temperatures in low 70’s and thoughts are about how come every January and February are not spent in here? Laurie is slow to rise because of a sleeping pill that was intended to reduce fatigue and improve her ability to track and focus. The sound of water boiling and the smell of coffee brought her back to the living. After breakfast, the water tank was filled to its 40 gallon capacity, the gate key was returned to the marina office, garbage was taken to the dumpster and on the way out, the holding tank was pumped out. With all of this, the departure time was 0945 hours.
The wind predictions for Tampa Bay were just wrong. Instead of 5 to 10 MPH from the east it was 10 to 15 from the south causing 2-foot swells with white caps that crossed the width of this huge bay. Trilogy ran at its fast cruising speed and sliced through at a quartering angle at 14 miles per hour that caused spray over the roof. The marked channel was closely followed and this was the introductory course to running the ICW and staying between the red and green markers. Continuing under the Skyway Bridge with huge freighters looming in the distance, Trilogy turned south to join the ICW. The speed was reduced to the comfortable cruising speed of 8 miles per hour after 22 miles and the first of many bridges was encountered where Ann Marie Key started.
Saturday afternoon, in high season, under hot clear skies meant lots and lots of boats on the water. Trilogy was passed many, many times by boats twice or three times its speed and about a boat length away. The tug was repeatedly rocked hard from side to side by steep and close wakes. Things never fell over and modifications were made later at anchor. A lunch stop at the north end of Long Boat Key was made by anchoring for the first time on this trip in 5 feet of water.
The Navionics app was running on the iPad has a resource for Laurie. The application is consumer of battery power and Trilogy’s inverter was tested and verified that all is well. Past Sarasota, the expensive marina and the mooring field, Laurie had found an anchorage using Skipper Bob’s Cruising The Gulf Coast. Before, we would have used Active Captain but that crowd sourcing app and website had been sold to Garmin and the service was still dead to us.
A lapse in attention and not paying close enough attention to staying within the narrow ICW, took the tug off-course and the depth dropped to zero and then negative -.05. The stern of the boat rose slightly out of the water as the keel and the protected prop and rudder slid over a mud hump.
A good anchorage was described at Robert’s Bay that is west of the ICW and behind a small wooded island. Trilogy had just gone under the Siesta Key Bridge when it was caught in a congested traffic jam, at 5 knots, involving five boats that were sandwiched between the shallow water on each side of the channel. Just past the green marker 79, a turn was made to the west and the tug slowed to navigate the 3.5 feet of water under the keel and went around the north point of the island to anchor against the far shore at 3 PM and away from the entrance to a small boat channel.
Robert’s Bay was active with boats leaving and returning to the small boat channel that feeds a larger grid of waterways that are ringed with houses and docks. For next 2 ½ hours, we were entertained by high school aged kids driving their parents newer go-fast boats that pulled skiers and tubes of screaming friends. A day of innocence that one-day will likely be colored by unexplainable tragedy like a car crash, sudden illness and death, a boating accident, or diving into a shallow pool. They would likely be dealt cards the horrible and unexplainable realities that chip away at youthfulness; lessons fueled by agony that shape character and values into adulthood.
Trilogy’s engine had heated the water and showers were taken. In the waning rays of daylight, the BBQ heated the chicken burgers and these were served with a fresh salad. Small boat traffic continued intermittently for the next three hours as the wind dropped off and the water turned to glass. Trilogy had travelled 44 miles in 5 hours.
"Sunday-Monday, February 25-26 Watching the house battery voltage was part of learning the boat’s systems. At bedtime the house bank was 12.6 volts or about 80%. At breakfast, it was 12.25 volts or about 50%. The refrigerator, the fans, the electric head and water pump were the big users. Green herons, white and brown pelicans, and dolphins would be the morning treat after leaving the anchorage at 0845 hours in flat water, a light southerly breeze and little boat traffic. By 1000 hours, that would all change as the floodgates of weekend boaters filled the channel. 1030 hours and the channels of Venice were transited. The only damage observed that was caused by the recent hurricanes were several boats still aground; probably no insurance and the owners cannot be found and a conscious decision to leave the problem for the community to deal with.
After the slow speed of Venice, Trilogy did another 10 minute long cleansing run at 14 knots that took us to the narrow key that separated the ICW from the Gulf of Mexico. Past Manasota Key and Lemon Key and into Lemon Sound, under bridges that the 15 foot air draft of the tug could easily clear, Trilogy went past her long time home at Palm Island Marina near Englewood. A Carver yacht name Q’s Cabin, called us on the VHF as they were flying their gold AGLCA burgee and we had our first conversation with another looper on this trip. The anchor was dropped in a small bay in Cape Haze that was ringed with multi-million dollar homes and with a blue water sailboat for a lunch break.
The destination was Cayo Costa State Park and the route took us the length of Gasparilla Sound, past Boca Grande Entrance, and to Pelican Bay that is on the northern tip of Cayo Costa Island. The entrance to the bay is shallow but do-able and on this later Sunday afternoon, there were about 50 go-fast center console boats beached on the shore and another 50 yachts, trawlers and large sailboats swinging at anchor in the deeper portion of the bay.
The state park has 10 slips for boats under 30 feet and five were available. At nearly 4 PM, Trilogy was easily backed into the fixed dock and secured, 6 hours and 49 miles of traveling.
The battery for the thruster and windlass was very weak even though it was fully charged; a sure sign that the battery was toast and this was not a surprise as a load test done a year ago showed only 50% of its reserve capacity. The park rangers said that park use has increased between 20 and 40% per year for the last 4 years. When the last ferry had left at 5PM, the park was quiet and the mile long trail to the beach was walked to enjoy the beach on the gulf side. Dinner was ravioli and salad with movie following.
The still and warm air next to the mangroves brought out the no-see-ums and the tug’s screens that were designed to keep out mosquitos offered little protection. Windows were mostly closed, curtains closed to minimize the attraction, and a paper towel with vinegar was used to smash and collect dozens of the bugs with some carrying our blood cells.
The next morning the house battery was at 13.1 volts at bedtime and this time the DC breakers to the trim tabs, the chartplotter and the NMEA backbone were shut off. The result was much better morning voltage of 12.6 volts even with a fan and the refrigerator running. Surprising how much voltage is used to keep a circuit energized.
During breakfast, a text from Joe and Connie in Fort Myers with an invitation for dinner revealed that Trilogy could easily get to Fort Myers in a few hours. This is how we do boating and camping: one or two days at a time and seizing the serendipity that arises. Pulling away from the state park dock at 8:40 AM under blue skies and partly cloudy skies to the south with temperatures in the high 70’s, the water was flat because the breeze had dropped away. Past Cabbage Key, Pine Island and Captive Island, the water was calm with an occasional other boat.
That all changed at about 10:30 AM and just north of Sanibel Island when about half-dozen 50 to 70 foot long yachts, running at 20+ knots blew by us with only one slowing to cut down their 4 foot high wake in half. Then, turning to the east and beginning up the Caloosahatchee River, came groups and dozens of newer go-fast day boats heading west. For the next 90 minutes and going past Cape Coral and the “miserable mile” of a narrow winding part of the ICW channel with its appropriate slow speed, about 50 oncoming boats were counted. The density of the boats was surprising; on a Monday, and under sunny skies; clearly the economy was healthy.
At 12:45 PM, the Fort Myers Yacht Basin was arrived having traveled 40 miles in about 4 hours. Earlier in the day, Laurie had made a reservation and now the marina was over 95% full. The talk that the Florida marinas were mostly full was true for both St. Petersburg and Fort Myers. Making reservations the morning of has worked for us so far. Connie met us after lunch and said Joe was playing golf. The decision was made to replace the Interstate AGM thruster battery that was less than two years old. The local dealership had one in stock for $300 and Connie offered to take us. The batteries were photographed and the wiring carefully diagramed. Then, the engine start battery was removed to get to the thruster battery.
At the retail dealer, the manager had an employee do several tests and the battery tested fine. But, the manager accepted my story of its performance and said that a fully charged battery will be difficult to properly assess. He provided a brand new one at no charge. An hour later, the new battery was in and all the wiring had been re-installed with the system checking our correctly.
Charts, weather, and destinations were being studied when Eddy and Linda came down the dock wearing an AGLCA shirt. Eddy had led us and a group of 14 other boats on an overnight crossing of the gulf to Tarpon Springs in 2014 and continues to provide weather forecasting for loopers. His words about going south to the everglades and Marathon: use the Wind Finder app, wind speeds under 12 knots are desirable and no more than 45 degrees off the bow or stern. He described the cruise to the south as “benign” in comparison to the “armpit" of Florida.
The weather forecast would make us leave Fort Myers a day earlier because a cold front was coming that would make boaters settle in for the next three to four days. There was more discussion about whether to get a dinghy for this trip. 5 PM is the time for looper docktails everywhere and beer was taken to the dock near Joe and Connie’s Krogen Manatee Chesapeake to join 8 others for stories, smiles and laughter. Connie had prepared an amazing dinner, which was shared with Russ and Janice whom we had met the year before in Fort Myers. The day was closed with a conference call at 9 PM with the leadership team of the church’s fund raising committee that ended at 10:15 PM.
Tuesday, February 27 The morning was used for showers, laundry, researching, loading apps, bookmarking websites and writing. The predicted cold front would require a stable place to be and the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City was the likely choice because they are open, have dock space at $1.50 a foot and the tiny town is rich with local history and character. A search for a new dinghy quickly put that issue aside: there were no compatible ones for Trilogy in any of the West Marine stores in the region – simply they had no inventory. Craigslist did not have any of the smaller inflatable ones in Fort Myers.
After lunch, an Uber ride was taken to the large sporting goods store that is outside the downtown core. For Laurie, a long-sleeve shirt of ultra-light material was chosen, a better hat, an effective mosquito repellent system was obtained and an additional cooling collar was found. Another Uber ride was taken to the grocery store nearest the marina for provisioning because the choices may be limited for the next 7 days. Then, a free electric shuttle service that serves the historic downtown core was used to return to the boat.
The tug’s water tank was filled, notice was given to the marina office of our leaving and diesel would be purchased tomorrow on our way out. Another docktails was enjoyed at 5 PM and stories from Henry and Debbie and their Great Harbor 47 that they have lived aboard for 10 years and will be selling it soon. Joe and Connie invited us to share dinner out with their long time friends and fellow Manatee owners Ted and Sarah who have a dock near Goodland. A wonderful 3-hour dinner of pizza, beer and stories were told. Ted and Sarah bought their Krogen Manatee new in 1982, have taken it 140,000 miles and now have their 4th engine. They are major Krogen Manatee rock stars.
Wednesday, February 28 Trilogy was at the fuel dock when it opened at 8 AM and took 40.7 gallons of diesel and then headed west down the river, with the current, a light breeze and few boats. Knowing this could be long travel day, the fast cruising speed was used when it was comfortable. Almost 90 minutes after leaving the marina, the tug left the comfort of the magenta line on the chart that designated the ICW and headed south toward the gulf, under the Sanibel Bridge, past the last marker and we watched Fort Myers Beach slide by to the east.
In the hazy distance was the huge towers that were erected north of Naples and that would be the landmark to focus on. The pattern of mostly slow cruising with 10-minute intervals of fast cruising continued throughout the day. Trilogy was about 2 to 3 miles off shore and the water depth remained about 20 feet. Closer to Naples, a Ranger Tug 29 was seen in the distance, then the distinctive shape of Krogen Manatee was seen with the brilliant orange hull, orange stabilizing sail and massive orange dinghy that was Ted and Sarah’s.
The waves and the wakes had grown and we were glad to get off the gulf by entering Gordon Pass with it’s access to Naples at 1 PM where a quick couple of turns revealed a thick group exclusive multimillion dollar homes with docks and boats. In an elbow, the anchor was dropped in 5 feet and lunch was enjoyed. Afterwards, Trilogy was taken deep into Naples until the route was obstructed by a low clearance bridge. It was odd that that the owners of the million+ dollar homes had not succeeded in lowering the speed limit from 30 MPH and of course, the drivers of those go-fast boats were likely other owners of million+ dollar homes.
With nothing in Naples calling us to stay and the mooring field closed – probably to keep the cheap live aboards out, we continued southward on the inside route. Trilogy had already traveled over 40 miles. The inside route was narrow, shallow but perfectly fine as a preview of what this part of the trip would be: 30 foot tall mangroves and skinny water. The horizon was huge, the water still and the buzz of rental go-fast boats returning to Naples would keep us on our toes.
Marco Island was like Naples; interesting from the point of view of seeing it once and that would be good enough. The playground of the wealthy with exclusive access, new shiny boxes that housed people who worked at taking money from those who had it. Marco Island’s development is new, going higher and yet thin; just as quickly as it rose from the mangroves, it was gone and behind us.
Goodland was about 7 miles from Marco Island and Goodland locals passed Trilogy in the pontoon boats laden with supplies. Goodland is very different from Marco Island and Naples. It is located on an island with marinas, businesses, and residents on the shore and extending to the center. Small, genuine, not flashy and authentic in flavor. Though there was evidence of wealth, there were also normal residents who were making a living in this rural part of southwest Florida. Ted and Sarah’s Manatee was waiting for us at anchor as their slip had been destroyed by Hurricane Irma, as was about a quarter of the docks. The anchor was dropped in 10 feet of water in Blue Hill Creek, just west of the marina at 4:50 PM ending the travel day at 133 engine hours and 76 travel miles. I did a conference call with a client for nearly an hour and then BBQ chicken kabobs were served for dinner. The sunset brought out the swarms of no-see-ums in the 80-degree air with 75% humidity. During a movie, a brief light rain came and went.
Thursday, March 1, The planning notion was a short travel day to Everglades City, but a change in the wind forecast and the resulting chop showed a two-day travel window and then four days of no traveling. There was no rain; the skies were clear, blue, with temperatures in the low 80’s and cooling down from the record heat. The decision was made to adapt to the changes and spend the four or so down-days in Marathon. A phone call to Blackfin Marina was another example of serendipity: they are nearly always booked up but they just had a cancelation and had room for Trilogy. Goodland would not be explored, Everglades City would be passed by and today’s destination would be the Little Shark River in Everglades National Park.
The anchor was raised at 9:45 AM and we said good-bye to Ted and Sarah by telephone. Using Eddy’s recommendation, the Windfinder app was exclusively used and that would prove to be a mistake because their forecast was wrong for the Ten Thousand Islands. The Windy app did get it right: 10 to 15 knot winds from the southwest with waves 1 to 2 feet with an occasional 3 footer; all at 2 second intervals. Dolphins were playing on the edge of the mangroves. The depth past Coon Key did not get above 3 feet for 5 miles.
In 2007, this ride of short and tight waves would be uncomfortable and not tolerated. Our comfort zone is now wider and we are more tolerant and patient because the comfort zone had been exercised by being used, pushed and learning has happened. Comfort zones are like fitness: use it and grow it or lose it. The longer the boat stays at the dock, the harder it is to leave it. Over time and quicker than expected, it is just easier to stay, not go, and have the same life. Leaving meant venturing and gaining.
The faster speed of 15 to 16 miles per hour provided a smoother ride. So rather than going this for 10 minutes per hour, it was increased to 15 to 30 minutes. 12:30 PM and Trilogy entered Everglades National Park and would stay inside the park boundary to avoid the crab and lobster pots. At 2:45 PM, the tug had rounded the marker into Little Shark River, past the huge yacht anchored outside, and made the S-turn following the markers into the wide river.
The anchor was dropped in 10 feet of water and away from two large sailboats and a Carver yacht. The fresh cooling breeze was enjoyed as the dried salt was cleaned from the front windows and Rain-ex was re-applied. Dinner was enjoyed in the cockpit as the breeze faded with the sunset. Then the conditions quickly changed: thousands of no-see-ums forced us into the sealed cabin where the 85- degree temperature and 80% humidity made it difficult to bear. Dozens of bugs were squished with a finger as they hovered at the salon lights and cards were played to divert our attention away from the conditions. Finished with 138 hours, 2233 miles or 56 travel miles
Friday, March 2 Up at sunrise for an early crossing to Marathon. As the sun was rising, the moon set in the northwest. As I went forward to prepare the anchor for raising and to remove the windshield canvas, thousands of no-see-ums attacked the face, arms and hands. The edges of panic were felt coming on. Laurie almost came outside but heeded the warnings to stay inside. At 7 AM, we headed out during a very low tide that brought depths of two to three feet under Trilogy’s keel for nearly 10 miles.
At 8 AM, and near Sandy Point, the tug headed due south on autopilot to Marathon. The wind and the waves were behind the tug and at 9:15 AM and 17 miles from Marathon, so many crab or lobster pots were encountered that these would be constant companion for the next two hours. At 11:30 AM a fuel stop was made at Faro Blanco Marina and Resort where 62 gallons were taken.
30 minutes and about a mile to the east, Trilogy found the Blackfin Marina and backed in to the last spot. Immediately, long-time tug owners and boating friends, Mike Rizzo and Jim and Lisa Favors came over. The marina has a quiet, low-key feel about it because it is small – maybe 20 boats total, 90% of the boats are 30 feet and under, most of the users are here for at least a month, the marina is associated with a motel and a restaurant and is on the main highway.
We paid for 4 nights, which is the same as the weekly rate, “Buy for 4 nights and stay a week.” Jim and Lisa invited us for dinner on their boat, a 2017 Ranger 29S that we had seen in Des Moines, WA last fall. Ended with 143 hours and 2278 miles or 43 travel miles
Saturday-Monday, March 3-5 The wind blew through the evening causing small swells that gently rocked the tug. Before sunrise, a blanket was needed in the v-berth to stay warm. Laurie had a rough night with mosquito bites that kept her awake for three hours after midnight. The fatigue would play into her mood and quality of living for the first half of the day.
The winds did not blow as predicted and eased off before lunch. The morning was eggs, cleaning up, a phone call with Rich, walking to the nearby Home Depot to research portable air conditioners and buy a mosquito combat and prevention strategy. Wanting to stretch the legs and get some much needed exercise, the intention was to walk the 15 minutes to Publix and perhaps the Walgreen’s drug store but Laurie took a detour into the T-shirt shop and was drawn into the 50% sale. Back at the boat and a snack later, the boat was washed, scrubbed and rinsed. The tug was turned around with the bow facing west to finish scrubbing the hull. The afternoon was talking about air conditioning, cleaning the stainless rails, talking to a couple from New Jersey who had a Nimble trailerable boat, and taking a dip in the pool. After a light dinner, a movie was watched on the laptop. The winds howled after midnight and twice the guy wires to the radar tower became loose and had to be tightened. While on the roof, the warm wind picked at the skin and the fix was easy to do with the full moon illuminating the marina. The next boat over had a full patio setup with table, BBQ, workbench and an umbrella, which broke and fell over.
The next day, breakfast was after sunrise. The day would be clear skies and the perfect temperature of the mid-70’s. A trip toward the Publix store found the directional sign to the Episcopal Church – one that was not found in a search of, “Episcopal Churches near me.” The traditional 9AM service was just ending and the contemporary service at 11 AM would be starting in 45 minutes. The Publix store near by was walked to and the short list was taken care of. The store was packed with people – a surprise for a sunny Sunday morning.
The worship service was another example of serendipity that brought the opportunity to meet local people, catch a glimpse into their lives, the struggles and projects. The praise service was different, the contemporary music from the live band was unknown, but the message and the structure were familiar. The people were genuinely friendly and hearing about their response to the needs of those hurting from the hurricane was valuable. The afternoon was conversations with Mike and Jim, finishing the project of installing and calibrating the new battery monitor, and adjusting the guy wire cables on the tower. Sunset was spent at the point with friends and Jim’s drone where we brought out jackets for the first time and enjoyed being chilly. The day was closed with steaks grilled on the BBQ.
Monday was another glorious day with temperatures in the mid to high 70’s. The fresh air in the morning would lie down in the afternoon and stay down through the evening. After a breakfast of oatmeal, the return air flight was booked out of Orlando. This created the stick in the sand that other planning would pivot around and it also created a mental finish line that created some sadness.
With exploring the area to the west, a walk on A1A to the west part of Marathon showed the whole spectrum repair from the hurricane. The eye doctor and surgeon business still had the heavy metal shutters on the windows and doors, the new section of highway with new curbs, gutters and sidewalks in front of the local and state offices of government and the power cooperative and water provider, and just off of the highway was the sea of motorhomes, trailers, cargo containers, and dump trucks moving debris. The first destination was Boot Key, a large protected bay with a huge mooring field that is run by the City of Marathon. We had been here years before by car and noticed the difference from the hurricane. The mooring field was filled with boats, and noted that 75% were large sailboats, the large dinghy dock that had extended out into the bay was broken and gone with concrete pilings snapped just above the water level from the storm surge.
On the side docks were heavy steel boatlifts and one was substantially bent by the storm surge. A conversation with the manager revealed the pain and exhaustion in his voice, 6 months after the storm, about the immense task of rebuilding. The handful of city employees did nearly all of the work of cleanup and rebuilding. The federal aid is on a reimbursement basis and therefore the city of 10,000 with limited financial resources pays first and hopes for aid later.
The walk took us to the West Marine Store and an art gallery before stopping at Banana Bay Marina to see Carl and Vicki who are tug owners from Portland, Oregon. Vicki had made side and stern curtains for their tug and we liked the idea of what she had done. Back at Trilogy by noon for lunch and the flight back to Seattle was booked which created the date to pivot and plan around. We have 13 days to use, enjoy, and explore the east coast of Florida to Orlando.
Most of the afternoon was spent with charts from Jim Favors, Navionics on the iPad, weather apps on the iPhones, and the Waterway Guides on their website with current marina information. The number of travel days in the next 6 days is predicted to be 2.5 days with the obstacle being waves on Biscayne Bay. Calls were made to marinas to stay tomorrow night and possible two more nights but phones were not answered and messages not returned until Laurie found one about 60 miles away from Marathon. Jim Favors came by and identified a number of anchorages that he had used between here and Stuart and this provided a high level of comfortable and optimism for the coming days. Jim’s willingness to offer this information and his friendship is a specific example of why we wanted to come back to the Great Loop. Laurie returned the marina key to the office while the boat’s systems were checked for tomorrow’s travel day. At 5 PM, a gathering of the tug owners happened at the viewpoint for drinks, food, laughter, and to watch the sunset. We said our good-byes, as the intention was to leave at sunrise.
Tuesday, March 6 The sun rose at 6:30 AM and Trilogy was eased out of its slip at 7:15 AM under clear skies and a light breeze. The ICW is a more of a magenta line on the charts with only a few markers in Florida Bay. Much of the day was spent looking for and dodging dark colored floats of either crab or lobster traps. The traps were in the ICW, which is unlike any other place where the floats are outside the channel and can often provide a marking of the channel’s boundary.
We went past Long Key with the autopilot doing the steering on an easy cruise. An attempt to use the radar as a training event revealed that the radar was not on the Garmin network. This may be as simple as a blown fuse or a loose connection or could be something more complex. Later, an attempt to find the simple solution found that Trilogy did not have the right owner’s manual, so a deeper assessment would be put off.
Many miles were spent either in Everglades National Park or just skirting the southern edges of the park as the transition was made from west side of Florida, around the southern point near Key Largo and turning to the northeast. Narrow channels or cuts were navigated through shallow water and between islets with names like Bowlegs, Cowpens, Barnes and Card.
The first option to stop was at John Pennekamp State Park that had anchorage, mooring balls and a transient dock. With the wind forecast of a moderate blow, having Trilogy on a dock was preferred. Laurie checked the state park’s website and found the hurricane damage to the mooring field and the docks were not yet repaired. The next option was Anchorage Resort and as the approach was made at 1:00 PM, the destination simply did not call us because it was exposed to heavy boat traffic, had a very commercial resort feel to it and the day was young.
In about 10 minutes of research, another option was found in Biscayne National Park at Elliott Bay Harbor. What was odd was the harbor did not show up on the 2011 version of the Garmin chartplotter. It was in the Maptech chartbook and a Google search showed it was part of the national park. A better read of the Waterways Guide found more information but it was unclear if it was open and what were the size limitations. A look at the satellite image showed the potential to be a good destination and a phone call to the park visitor center revealed that it did not have power but was open. That would be the preferred destination and Laurie had identified two other options, if needed.
Entering Barnes Sound brought a stiffer wind from the southwest and the predicted waves of 2+ feet. Trilogy quartered the following sea on its starboard corner and then ran at 15 miles per hour for a smoother ride. In Biscayne Bay proper, the tug hugged the 5-foot deep contour on the eastside of the bay and left the ICW magenta line for an easy ride to Elliott Bay Harbor. The approach was not easy to discern from the water and the depth went to about 2 feet under the keel until the harbor was entered and the depth increased to 4 feet. The intentional decision was made to tie on the north end of the harbor in preparation for northwest winds the following day and that decision would later be regretted as the southwest winds increased and made the night and next day more uncomfortable due to swells rocking the boat in its slip. Trilogy arrived at 3:30PM with 152 engine hours and traveled 83 miles.
Elliott Bay has large building that was a visitor center, a campground, coldwater showers and a bathroom. A high school group was out kayaking and three other campers were on-site. The harbor hosts, Curt and Marilyn, were on their days off and had their sailboat on the mainland. Karen, the park volunteer who was helping with the high school group, met us and shared her story. A retired teacher from Kentucky, on disability from a catastrophic car accident, she spends about 5 months a year as a park volunteer with her gentle dog, Spirit. The sunset was amazing and the breeze kept most of the bugs at bay. After dinner a Harry Potter movie was watched. During the night, the wind increased and rocked the boat – a foretelling of things to come.
Wednesday, March 7 Though there are several million people who live within view of this harbor, there is no strong Internet coverage and that made finding the update wind forecast problematic. After sunrise, the wind was fresh but not white caps that indicated 12 knots or higher. After breakfast, the muddy paw prints from a raccoon had tracked across the bow and along the cockpit. Curt and Marilyn had come on the Park Service boat and came by a park golf cart for a conversation about boating and volunteering. They are from North Dakota and had done the Great Loop in 2014-2015 in a Hunter 26 sailboat. They and Karen are ideal volunteers - being patient, friendly, chatty, engaging and knowledgeable.
The trail to the Atlantic Ocean side of the key was explored. In the absence of the noise of the wind, the dense grove of small trees and bushes were quiet. Where this east-west trail intersects with a north-south trail, a sign told the story of how a developer in the 1960’s was stopped in a court battle that created this park, had bulldozed a 7 lane wide highway down the middle of this key and was named “Spite Highway.” Today, only a two-person wide trail remains. The Atlantic coast does not have any surf and looks like an infinitely wide bay. Hurricane Irma caused the damage of uprooted trees, logs blown back into the mangroves, and sections of man-made boardwalk that used to be on the water’s edge were forced 200 yards inland along a trail.
This part of the park is starved for funding. Neglected maintenance has allowed well-engineered buildings to lose their value that would require more funds to bring them back. Informational signs needed repair and should have been replaced years ago and sends the message that we are not good stewards of the community’s property.
By 10 AM, the wind had risen to a steady 15 knots with gusts to about 20. Trilogy was taking 1 to 2 foot high chop on the port stern quarter and the tug rocked heavily side-to-side, straining at its lines, and more lines were added and adjusted. The park concession operates a 35-foot catamaran with twin 300 outboards, zigzagged across the wind-whipped bay and struggled to land in the wind to pickup the high school group. Soon, everyone except us and a lone camper had left the island. Several options were agreed upon: if the wind dropped before 5PM, the run to Miami would be done. If the wind dropped before sunset, the tug would be moved to the quieter part of the harbor and when it shifted again tomorrow – that would be dealt with at the time. Lunch was eaten under the cover of the old visitor center because Trilogy was too uncomfortable with the side-to-side rocking. Heavy clouds came from the southwest, missed Elliott Key and dropped heavy rain on Miami. Curt and Marilyn told us where a working power outlet could be found on the outside of the old visitor center so the electronic devices could be charged. The afternoon was spent reading, writing, adjusting lines and watching a flock of pelicans dive head first into the harbor to feed.
At about 3:30 PM, the wind started to change direction from the southwest to the northwest and by 4:00 PM the wind had lost much of its punch. The decision was made to leave for Miami and anchor at Stadium Marina Harbor. The two-hour and 23 mile ride was done at the fast cruising speed of 15 to 16 miles per hour. The second half was nearly calm as the wind was much lighter in the city. At about the exact spot where wilderness/park boating ended and high urban boating began, the streak of a go-fast boat with an orange hull came from the starboard side, came fast at the tug’s stern and then did a quick pivot and dropped speed to come nearly along side the port side. The law enforcement arm of the Coast Guard was about to board Trilogy. Laurie waved a greeting to the crew as they indicated to slow down with a blast from the siren. Two uniformed and armed officers stepped from their moving craft and onto the tug, and after a quick assessment of us and the boat, they asked to do a quick safety inspection. We had been boarded at least 6 other times on different boats and Laurie answered all the questions and showed them the items they asked for. She did all the talking and showed them all of the items requested which impressed the officers. In 10 minutes it was over and they were gone to stop another vessel. At 6:15 PM, the anchor was dropped in Stadium Marina Harbor in 5 feet of water. There were about 20 other boats and most were sailboats. Some were unoccupied, a few turned on an anchor light, and two boats were sunk in the harbor. In the fading light, a group of rowers from a teen rowing club did a work out in the bay. Hamburgers were grilled as the lights of the skyline created their own beauty as the airliners made their approach to the international airport.
Two Sunsets, one day and a world apart
Thursday-Friday, March 8-9 During the night, the wind came up and caused a sound that was a low and deep rumble that necessitated another 15 feet of rode and allowed for an easy sleep. At the close of the evening, the house battery had 88% of amp/hours capacity because it did not get a full charge from the alternator. In the morning and after dinner, dishes, a shower and a night of running the refrigerator, the new battery monitor showed 64%. The alternator would later take 4 hours to replenish the entire amps to make a full charge.
The anchor came up reluctantly at 8:00 AM and the next 90 minutes was entertaining as Trilogy traveled through the waterfront heart of downtown Miami. The bridges were choked with cars, an event was happening under a large tent that was put up in an open space, walkers and joggers filled the sidewalks near the high condos and apartments, and the cruise ships were guarded by security boats.
The skies stayed clear with temperatures in the high 70’s. The wind from the northeast was significant with small craft warnings. However, being on a narrow waterway, there was no fetch and therefore no significant swells or white caps and this made an acceptable travel day and was the reason that we left Marathon and Elliott Bay Harbor. Boaters on the large open water were typically kept in the harbor.
This would be slow travel day with speed restrictions caused by bridges and by signs saying, “minimum wake,” or “No wake” or “Idle Speed” or “15 inch high wake maximum.” Trilogy would travel for 6 hours, go under 19 bridges and average only a bit over 6 miles per hour and travel 38 miles. Loopers had complained about how slow and congested this section of the ICW can be but we found it to be interesting but that required full attention and very little use of the autopilot.
Most of the trip was through the richest communities on this coast. The meg-yachts against mega-priced building, the hundreds of multi-million dollar houses, and 95% of the boats and yachts were less than 5 years old. The economy is booming, disposable income among the richest is illustrated here, and the new status symbol is the 30-foot go-fast boat with four 400-horse power outboards hanging off the stern. Is there a correlation between the number of high horsepower outboards and the lack of penis size?
Trilogy continued through Miami Shores, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Hallendale Beach and Dania Beach. After Port Everglades with its container ships, cruise ships and the bored Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy on his go-fast patrol boat warning the rare boater (like us) to slow down, came Fort Lauderdale which took opulence and extreme wealth to a whole new level. Trilogy anchored in Lake Silvia with a dozen sailboats for a lunch break. Two pontoon boats with a gaggle of college kids on spring break from a snowy campus in the north arrived to dive in the water, scream and drink beer – it was time to leave. By the end of the day, 19 bridges were gone under and only one had a clearance that was less than the height of Trilogy’s tower of 13 feet. Rather than waiting the 20 minutes for the scheduled bridge opening, the tower was laid down. The destination was Lake Santa Barbara in the community of Pompano Beach. The anchor was dropped in a high-end neighborhood, near a live aboard sailboard that was in marginal condition and near a Marine Max facility that was commissioning high-end yachts and we watched two technicians spend two hours maneuvering and testing the propulsion systems on a multi-million dollar 66 foot yacht.
The next day, the coolness woke us an hour or two before sunrise and another blanket was added. The inside cabin temperature was 53 degrees and for a moment the idea of starting the diesel furnace was considered but a cup of coffee and a light coat was sufficient. The skies were overcast and Weatherbug showed the clouds could drop a light rain but they never did. After a bowl of oatmeal while listening to the local NPR station, the anchor came up at 8:15 AM and Trilogy headed north on the ICW continuing the high density, urban boating experience.
This day would be six hours of traveling and the speed would be a bit more than yesterday because of the longer stretches where the tug could stretch its legs and go the fast cruising speed of 16 MPH. 18 bridges were gone under and four of them needed to be opened for the tug because the bridge had less than a 14-foot clearance. All of these bridges opened on a schedule, either at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour or at the top and bottom of the hour. This is an acceptable necessity for the boater because the streets and bridges were typically choked with traffic.
One town and city melted into another with no discernable separation or boundary with names like Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, Highland Beach, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lantana, Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach, Palm Beach Shores and North Palm Beach. What did change was the number of multi-million homes at Lantana to more homes of “normal rich people.” The ICW also changed from being generally narrow in Boca Raton to being wider at Boynton Beach with the structures being further away. In West Palm Beach and at a boat ramp on the west side of the ICW, the anchor was dropped for a lunch stop. College students were stretched out on cots in the sun a few hundred yards away, the ramp was nearly empty except for a fisherman and the duck-boat that was full of wide-eyed tourists. The water was full of wakes from the passing boats.
Where West Palm Beach ends and Palm Beach Shores begin is a channel to the Atlantic Ocean and at that intersection is Peanut Island County Park. This used to be a Coast Guard Station and apparently had a bomb shelter for the Kennedy family. On the north end of the island, a narrow but deep enough channel led to about 200 feet of dock in a semi-circle. Trilogy easily slipped in but would be the largest boat that could fit in. An hour was spent walking the beautifully maintained park. There was a dock for larger boats on the east side but the ranger said it was for campers who used the campground. A set of pools and small jetties were built for snorkeling. The boat traffic both moving and anchored around Peanut Island was staggering on a Friday. The destination was the north end of Lake Worth, which was less than 4 miles away. There, the anchor was dropped in 15 feet with about 20 sailboats. The day was closed with emails, making decisions about the next two days, having a beer in the cockpit and grilling hamburgers before sunset. Trilogy had gone 45 miles, went through 18 bridges in 6 hours of motoring.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday, March 10, 11 and 12, 2018 The northeast wind had shifted to the east and southeast and the day was cloudy. Most of the cruising was done through the community of Jupiter and this was different from the high density of urban boating. Jupiter has huge estates with beaches and few sea walls. Jupiter likes its gates and no trespassing signs. The estates have long docks that reach out to the depth to store their boats. The opposing points of view about boats and the role of the ICW are quite evident in South Florida: Is the ICW a waterway for transit or is it a storage lot for property owners? Each community has answered that question in different ways.
Hobie Sound is a wider body of water and the narrowest sliver of land that separates it from the Atlantic Ocean. The first real significant elevation of about 40 feet was found and a mansion was perched on top of it. On through Jupiter Narrows and Hell’s Gate was the first expanse of undeveloped country and a huge national wildlife refuge. This emptied into the St. Lucie Inlet, which is the un-official boundary between south and central Florida. A short ways to the west, Trilogy turned into Manatee Pocket of the greater Stuart area, avoided a slew of fast and slow boats through the choppy water and quickly arrived at Sailfish Marina.
Laurie’s calls to marinas found they were booked full or had hurricane damage. Sailfish Marina is home to 40-foot long sportfishing boats. We hate them and they are called the enemy because of the 5-foot high wakes they make and the drivers are the most thoughtless of all boaters. But they had room because boats were gone fishing. Trilogy was backed into a 45 foot long slip of pilings and a 4 foot long fixed dock with a stiff wind blowing across its beam and sandwiched between two sportfishing boats.
The tug had traveled 29 miles in 4 hours and went under 7 bridges. We were happy to pay only $2.00 a foot, buy diesel, fill with water, bathe the tug and use their Laundromat. The marina store was the best store for its size in any of our travels. 70% of the space was packed with all manner of fishing gear. The rest was the best selection of boat gear, hardware, stainless fasteners and even dive masks. The selection of beer included Pipeline Porter from the Kona Brewery and the best treat was their ice cream. The afternoon brought the first measurable rain on this trip as a front came through the keys, across the state and on out to the Atlantic. The party for the boat captain of the year had live music which lasted to 10 PM but with the windows closed and the sound track of the movie on the laptop put through the tug’s sound system, it was hardly noticeable. A thunderstorm cell with brief winds buffeted the boat for 20 minutes and then the air was still again.
The next day brought Daylight Savings Time and the sun was up at 7:30 AM. The air would be nearly still all day, with high humidity and Weatherbug provided the warning of thunderstorms for the morning. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church had a service at 9 and 11 AM and after breakfast it was too late to catch an Uber ride and make the 9 AM service.
Coupling a grocery store run with the 11 AM church service was a good use of time. This church has a campus of four major buildings over two blocks and is 5 times larger than our home church. The service was great but the people were remote and cool with no conversations and no overt welcoming. The leadership had a goal to increase the number of people who financially support the church by 10%. From an outsider’s point of view: good luck with that.
Within 15 minutes following service, the campus was oddly quiet and deserted. The Publix grocery store was a 28-minute walk away and a stop was made along the way for grilled chicken Panini sandwiches. The coming week’s worth of food was packed into two backpacks and two folding bags and another Uber ride was taken back to the boat. The still air brought high humidity and the tug’s inside temperature was 90 degrees and dropped 10 degrees in 5 hours. An evening of phone calls from friends and family. The evening brought cooler and a moderate breeze that intensified the following day and would last all day and into the evening. Two big boats on Trilogy’s port side left leaving the tug exposed to Manatee Pocket but the wind was from the west and buffeted the starboard side all day requiring several adjustments of the lines. Reservations were made to solidify the last phase of this trip with reservations for the truck rental and dockage at Fort Pierce, Vero Beach and Titusville. The tug would be put back on its trailer in Titusville. The majority of the day was doing billable hours for one of the two last projects for work.. The highlight was drinks and dinner with Kevin and Steve whom we met 4 years ago when their Great Loop trip was started and in Tampa at the end of our Great Loop. They had done the loop two years ago with a Nordic Tug 39 and now have a Selene 48 that they live on nearly full-time. The dinner was at the same restaurant, Shrimpers, that we had dinner with Tom and Pam in 2014.
Tuesday-Wednesday, March 13-14 The morning was cool and required the first use of the diesel furnace to take the chill out of the air. The destination was Fort Pierce City Marina a short run of 24 miles north on the Indian River. The river is wide and the ICW is about in the middle. Going outside the ICW, the river looks inviting to explore but it is shallow with depths of less than 3 feet. The northbound current was evident as the water raced to go out the Fort Pierce Inlet with the tide dropping. Trilogy dropped its RPM’s and took advantage of the force of nature. The fresh breeze of 10-15 knots caused a 1 to 2 foot chop.
At about noon, the tug made the tight 90-degree turn at the AIA highway bridge, went past the man-made rock islands that were made after the 2010 hurricane and into the protected harbor. The dockmaster put the tug on the end of a T-dock that fronted the main channel and in front of a sailboat. The marina was 98% full because of hurricane damage to other marinas and this was the season of northbound boaters.
The afternoon was spent re-acquainting with the area: the visitor center, manatee education center and walking the docks. Bud and Sue, who we first met in Florence last fall, arrived at the fuel dock and we made a point to connect with them later in the afternoon and catch up on the progress of their loop trip.
The next day, a walk was done through the area south of the marina along the water and into the revitalized part of downtown near the impressive courthouse. Several RV’s were by the visitor center and time was enjoyed with a Canadian couple from Quebec who have done a lot of RV traveling in the states. Then, billable hours were done to build the last exercise for Renton’s Sergeant promotional process. In the afternoon, Bud and Sue stopped by to see the boat. An agreement was made to meet at the boater’s lounge at 5PM for docktails. On the way there, a stop was made to enjoy the rare ice cream treat.
Drinks and appetizers were shared with 6 looping couples in the boater’s lounge. One couple was just finishing their loop in Fort Pierce and others were in various stages of being in the middle of their adventure. Enjoyed a long story from an owner of a 1995 43-foot Tollycraft who personally rebuilt an engine in Fort Myers two weeks ago. In-depth conversations with people who are newly met is one of the attractions of doing this adventure and two hours later, everyone left with the vague potential of meeting again somewhere along the route. The evening was closed by streaming two episodes of Blue Bloods with the hotspot, when the marina’s Wi-Fi was not strong enough.
Thursday-Friday, March 15-16 Another clear and cool morning where the diesel furnace saw another hour of use. Under a brilliant blue morning sky, the lines were released after breakfast and Trilogy had to fight the 1.5 knot current for a brief 20 minutes until the inlet to the Atlantic was passed. Then the tug rode with the current but opposed the 10 to 13 knot wind from the northeast. Wind over current creates a short and steep chop that resulted in some spray coming over the bow.
The destination was a short run to Vero Beach that was 15 miles and two hours away. Northward on the Indian River with Orchid Island on our starboard side and the island separates the river from the ocean. The marina is on the island and is adjacent to a modest residential area and separates the upscale business district that is on the beach. This is the wealthy side of Vero Beach because across the bridge to the west and a handful of miles later is the old, worn and somewhat tattered side of Vero Beach. The community ends at Interstate 95, then the country is an endless flat sample of citrus and cattle that does on for over 100 miles.
The dockmaster assigned the tug to a great spot on the south side of the small marina. After tying up to the fixed docks, we saw Rich on Roam a short distance away. With Rich was a long-time friend from his sailing days, Gary, who helped Rich bring the boat from Sanibel Island to Vero Beach because Cheryl was home in Michigan and caring for her father. Though we talk every couple of months and last saw each other a year ago, the friendship renewed itself very quickly.
The afternoon was a walk through the residential district, to businesses and to the beach. Spring break was still evident with groups of college-aged people in groups that were divided by sexes and working on their tans, job security for tomorrow’s dermatology doctors. The return walk was by a different route with new views of houses, yards, empty lots, flowers, and the yacht club. At 5PM, Rich and Gary came over for beer and munchies and afterwards we went out to dinner for Mexican food; lots of laughter and stories. The evening was closed with some billable hours and church work.
The next day, was a continuing repeat of clear blue skies yet cool. After breakfast, the nearly empty propane tank was removed and the propane locker was cleaned. Rich and Gary came by about 10AM and Rich announced that Gary’s transportation plans back to St. Petersburg had changed from private airplane to ground transportation. Rich was going to drive Gary and asked if I wanted to go along and then bring back our boat trailer. This would be another example of serendipity and opportunities to help friends.
Laurie stayed on the boat, handling a minor medical issue with her mother by many phone calls, did cleaning, organizing and some reading. I did 8 ½ hours of riding in a truck and did almost half of the driving and all the driving with the boat trailer. Rich is in that place where Cheryl is dealing with her father’s last chapter that is dominated by dementia. Rich is waiting for Cheryl to re-join their life together. Decisions are day-to-day, plans are soft, and waiting and patience is practiced again and again.
In Titusville, the boat launch is immediately adjacent to the marina and is perfect for Trilogy. The question was where to drop the trailer for a few days when there are no trailers at the ramp without a vehicle. A small parking area was nearby and had two large trailers on the grass that were tucked into the edge of the foliage. Would anyone really notice a third one? With the marina office closed, the chance was taken and the trailer was dropped. 90 minutes later, we were back at the Vero Beach Marina. Rich came by and we all went to dinner at a pizza spot and told stories.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday, March 17, 18, 19 Rich met us before his daily 5K run and we said our good-byes. There is always faith and optimism that our paths will cross again, even if it takes time and planning.
A near perfect cruising day with clear, blue skies, temperatures in mid-70’s and a following breeze in the single digits that caused a whole day of flat water. The boat traffic was surprisingly light, perhaps they were preparing for the St. Patrick’s Day partying that would happen later.
Over 7 hours Trilogy traveled 74 miles and it was both relaxing and engaging. Traveling past the towns of Sebastian, Melbourne, Cocoa, and Port St. John to the destination of the Titusville Municipal Marina, the tug traveled at either 8.5 MPH or 17 MPH in a mild current that went with us the whole way.
The only exception to the light traffic was at the end of day when four big yachts with Jupiter, Florida on their transoms roared past at 20+ knots in tight formation and only two boat lengths away that caused 4-foot high wakes. Jupiter is a haven for the ultra-snooty yachties who believe that their lack of boating knowledge, skill and courtesy is compensated by the depth of the checkbooks. This group of boat-drivers (they are not boaters) would be the source of complaints from boats at anchor and on mooring balls, they would not follow the directions of the marina staff, and their owners would watch helplessly as the marina staff tied their lines and plug their craft into the shore power.
Arriving at the hottest part of the day at 3:30PM, Trilogy was backed into its short slip and the bow was tied to the two pilings. The live-aboard on the sailboat next door was nice and chatty and gave tips about enjoying Titusville. I confessed to the marina supervisor about what I did with the boat trailer and he appreciated knowing and said not to worry about it and he would deflect the concerns his boss that would probably happen on Monday.
The evening was closed with showers, pork chop on the BBQ and a movie.
Sunday morning was bright and clear. Laurie had found St. Gabriel Episcopal Church and the convenient 15-minute walk from the boat. The parish is 150 years old and the building is almost 100 years old of wood beams, roof and walls and all in a dark stain. Arriving fashionably early at 9:45 AM, the church is larger than it looks from the outside with four sections of pews and like most Episcopalians, 2/3 will sit in the back half. The service was familiar, the sermon was great and the people were friendly – more so than ones in Stuart. The demographic is all Caucasian and 70% over 60 years old. We stayed through coffee hour in the Parish Hall for the opportunity to meet local people. The afternoon was washing Trilogy’s salt off and doing small projects like the wobble in the salon table, a nut missing on a coat rack, ordering a Smart Plug and a Carbon Monoxide detector from Amazon; small projects that are added to the next trip list. Pamela lives aboard her Pacific Seacraft 34 foot Crealock named Meander that was two boats down from Trilogy. Talkative, she was drawn to Laurie – like most people and told her story of being new to sailing and loving it and life aboard with her dog and husband who travels for on business. Later, came the owner/builder of a unique sailing catamaran who told Laurie his story of building the boat and living aboard. Getting ice cream at the marina store, the marina supervisor who gave me forgiveness for parking the trailer, told the story of the Hurricane Irma that missed the marina but the winds were substantial. The marina was full of boats because of the storm. Those who chose to stay aboard their boats were told to wear a white T-shirt with their name and the name and phone number of their next of kin. It was not a joke because no one would be there to protect or rescue them – during the storm everyone was on their own. The marina escaped nearly unscathed and some boats received minor damage. The owners of older boats were disappointed that their boats were not destroyed so they could collect the insurance money and start over with a different boat.
The research was started on finding a storage yard in the greater Charlotte region. We look for the local business in a small town that does not have a robust website because they are likely to be more affordable and flexible. Chain stores with lots of marketing typically means higher overhead and therefore higher prices.
Laurie put together a fine dinner by mixing leftovers. A movie on the laptop closed the evening.
Monday morning was still and overcast but a look at the radar on Weatherbug showed a fire hose of rain stretching from Mobile to just south of Jacksonville. The updated hourly forecast had the potential of wind and thunderstorms during the day. The wind forecast for tomorrow morning brought consideration of pulling the tug today. A phone call to the Enterprise Truck Rental in Cocoa changed the reservation and the only truck available was a 1-ton with dual rear tires for the same daily rate.
Starting at 9 AM phone calls were made to the nearly 15 RV storage businesses in the Charlotte North Carolina region. In about 45 minutes the list was done to 2 possibilities because either the business was full or they did not have room for a 40-foot long trailer/boat combination.
Pockets of rain followed by episodes of calm and stillness came throughout the day. During the calm, Trilogy was prepped for the road trip by following the checklist. Two loads of laundry were done, the refrigerator was defrosted and canvas was stowed. The tug has two small propane tanks and each will last 3 to 4 weeks of use. The oldest one was empty and I had a mildly frustrating walking trip to find the propane supplier. The supplier was a welding gas supplier and after being directed to the back lot and under an awning by an attractive woman, I found a well dressed man holding a clipboard who said the guy who fills the propane tanks will be back in hour. Then, he took a look at the older tank with its pockets of rust on the bottom edge and said they would not fill the tank. After considering the walk back to the boat with an un-fillable tank, I asked the white-collar supervisor if he would dispose of the tank for me and he agreed.
By mid-afternoon, a Lyft ride to the Cocoa Enterprise Truck Rental secured a 1-ton 2018 Ford truck that would turn out to be a great truck for towing: solid, quiet and would not be impacted by the wind of nature or truckers. Back at the marina, the atmosphere was volatile with storm clouds and the morning forecast was moderate winds. Taking advantage of a lull and still water, the trailer was hooked to the truck and the tug was moved to the ramp after one last emptying of the holding tank and rinsing with fresh water. Trilogy re-joined the trailer easily. Laurie worked the truck and the bow tie-down and after a false start did the job well. 45 minutes later, the tug was nearly road ready. The plan was to stay the night on the tug and be northbound on I-95 at first light. That would all change by one phone call.
In the last half hour of sunlight, we walked to a nearby restaurant and had beer and seafood as the wind and heavy rain pounded the area. Laurie’s phone rang with a call from her mom's assisted living residence in Edmonds, WA. The nurse was sounding the alarm due to repeated falling; constant observation and assistance was required. Within an hour, daughter Karen stepped up for the night shift and Laurie booked a flight home in the morning. Not only was the trip over, but also the looming weight of the work back home was bearing down.
In a downpour, we walked back to the tug sitting massive on her trailer and the combination of truck and trailer was over 60 feet long. The plan was to find a Home Depot parking lot near the Orlando airport where we could quietly sleep and then she would take a Lyft ride to the terminal. The 45 minute run to the airport in a new truck, pulling a long and heavy load, on a strange road and in the dark and intermittent rain showers made for a focused and quiet drive.
Laurie flew out the next morning. I drove the 11 hours and 550 miles to the storage yard north of Charlotte, North Carolina, returned the truck the next day back to Cocoa, FL and flew home.
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