Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving and Coming Home for Christmas

We left Eastern Shore Marina in Fairhope, Alabama one day later than anticipated—Wednesday, November 26th. Bella Luna’s water pressure system needed mechanical attention. In order to take showers and have water up in the cabin, the belt and pulley had to be replaced—after 14 years of good service. Louis had to get those two new parts “overnighted” (a $20 part cost $130 delivered!) —and with the greatly appreciated help of Larry and Robert, the pump was fixed in no time—it really helps having three sets of hands! While the guys were working on the boat that morning, the girls were able to sign up for the rental van just once more and make a quick dash to the nearby grocery, Winn-Dixie; after all, we would be at anchor that night and the day following was Thanksgiving. After the part was fixed, and with turkey and all the fixings on board, we crossed the wide body of water of Mobile Bay accompanied by dolphins and brown pelicans. The air smelled differently; crab pots were in the water—we were beginning to feel we were in somewhat familiar waters. Hooray! We looked over in the distance with our binoculars and saw several small oil rigs—the first I’d ever seen. It was a beautiful, calm morning—we joked about being able to water ski in the Bay that morning—it was just that slick calm.

So we crossed the Mobile Bay and took a 90 degree left turn—guess where we were then? The Gulf-ICW!! Silly me, I always thought the ICW (the Inter Coastal Waterway) started in Florida, but in actuality, it begins in Texas. And for the better part of our trip back to NC, we’ll be in the ICW continuously —having good and mostly reliable red and green markers leading our way, houses on both sides, dolphins feeding and jumping all around the boat, brown pelicans doing their kamikaze dives, a few restaurants actually waterside (for instance, Lulu’s—Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant right on the ICW), ocean on our starboard, marsh on our port, and traveling through “sounds” mostly on our way back home. All somewhat familiar to us—this is good.

We set our anchors in Ingram’s Bayou just before sunset—we were all three rafted together. Everyone climbed over to Bella Luna and we had wine and cheese on our bow—what a beautiful evening it was too—such tranquility, pink and blue clouds covering half of the sky, hearing a wolf howling in the distant marsh, fish jumping, brown pelicans perched on nearby broken down pilings, and hearing what-we-thought was an unseen alligator grunting somewhere very nearby. I made Creole Shrimp for dinner for the six us—none of the others had ever had it—what a treat for us all—thank you, Barbara E, for the recipe and Kay, for offering “C-Life” as a place for us to gather!

Thanksgiving morning, we pulled our anchors up, and headed for Pensacola, Florida. About 10am we crossed the “state line”—which sounds funny being on the water! Not too much further up either, the scenery magically changed as well—all of a sudden, there were white sand dunes and long stretches of beach on our starboard & pink and green houses—yep, we must be in Florida. In fact, we have a picture of a big blue sign at water’s edge, “Welcome to Florida”, which we took at the state line—the first one of those we’d seen on the water—and we’ve been in many states since crossing back into the US at Drummond Island, the top of Michigan. Even the types of boats in the marinas we were passing were different—we were now in the land of the Sea Rays, sport fishing, and go-fast boats—such a difference from the trawlers and sail boats we’ve mostly been traveling with for the past several months.

We arrived in Pensacola around 1pm—Happy Thanksgiving everyone! There was no activity in the marina at all—we had wisely chosen to fix our own big dinner and not try to find a restaurant—good thing too, there was no courtesy car at this marina. So we all gathered around 4pm on “Wanderin” L & M” and had our own big feast—complete with champagne, thanks Margie! Being on boats didn’t hamper us at all—everything was delicious and appropriate for the occasion too. Although not with our families for this holiday, it was a special one for each of us being with friends whom we’ve traveled with on this wonderful journey. We all six told each other what we were most thankful for—a special day indeed. TYJ.

Friday, the guys wanted to go the Naval Air Museum and they wanted to rent a car for the day. No such luck on the car, none were available at two different companies. So all three of them decided to take the city bus—an hour each way, plus a 20 minute walk to the bus stop from the marina. Needless to say, the girls opted out of that adventure and we decided to walk up the street several blocks, have lunch, and see what was happening in town. We each enjoyed our day—Louis saying it was the best museum he’d ever been in—although the guys were tired when they got back to the boats. After a cocktail hour though, we wound up going back up the street for dinner—found a sports bar—ate chicken wings, burgers, and such—and Kay and I took a turn at shooting pool. What a hoot—neither of us knew what we were doing and the “game” ended up being a long one too, but lots of fun—we laughed at the shots taken (and there were no side bets either—it was a miracle when any of the balls fell in any of the pockets—Kay won by my landing the 8 ball in the opposite corner—whew, it was finally over!). A really good time was had by all.

Saturday morning, after a two hour delay, we were underway bound for the free city dock at Fort Walton Beach. With rain clouds around us all day, we thankfully were able to get tied up alongside the dock just before the deluge hit us—and it would rain hard all night too. Obviously, it was not an afternoon/evening to venture from our boats, so we brought out all the leftovers from our Thanksgiving feast and finished them off. Still delicious too, and we sadly finished eating the rest of the caramel cake—thanks again Mimi & Frank! (You now have two “Yankee” converts—who took all the information and tin back to their boat!)

We are now underway, a long day of 70+ miles, towards Panama City—where the boat will be stationary for the month of December. It’s a gray, fairly chilly day too (Sunday)—Louis is up top driving the boat and I’m down in the cabin writing this last entry, for a while, to our blog. We hope to be in our marina, Bay Point, by late afternoon. We have a car rented for the month of December and plan to drive home with Kay and Robert, who live in Southport, NC. As soon as we both can get our boats ready to leave them for the month, pack the car, and squeeze ourselves in, we’ll be underway. We hope that will be Tuesday, so we’ll be home sometime later on in the week. We hate to say good bye to Margie and Larry, Lisa and Jim, Linda and Charlie, Peggy and Guy, Muriel and Bud and Shelly, but we’ll pick back up with them sometime mid-January as we continue on down the west coast of Florida. Both Louis and I are looking forward to being on dry land for a while, seeing family and friends, and having our precious family for several days during Christmas. I’ll be way too busy this year getting our house (which has been neglected for 7 months) cleaned and decorated and ready for our family to come, shopping, cooking, and visiting with friends. Short trips to Durham, Morehead City, Hyde County, and Williamsburg are also planned in that time frame as well as our immediate family’s own triangle of Cary, Oxford, and Hyco Lake—we’ll be “burning up the road” while we're home, for sure. We hope to return to the boat with Kay and Robert to theirs sometime around the 29th or 30th of December.

So this is my last posting until we return to the boat, and this will be our best-as-it-will-get 2008 Christmas card for this special and wonderful year in our lives—we wish for our friends and family: peace, good health, safe travels, prosperity and good fortune.

God bless our troops.

Merry Christmas!

Love, Diane and Louis

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mobile Bay, Alabama

We crossed Mobile Bay on a calm, beautiful, late November Saturday afternoon—it had been so rough the day before, as we were told, with boaters fighting five foot waves—we were again, “lucky”. Coming from absolutely the middle of nowhere for five days (since Demopolis), we saw the skyline of Mobile (civilization!) and came into the busy port terminal where we saw cruise ships, navy and cargo ships, tall cranes, coal barges, and lots of people—yes! We crossed through what is known as the “shipping channel” with no difficulty. TYJ. We were on our way across Mobile Bay (a nice wide body of salt water) for a three night stay at Eastern Shore Marina—which was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina—everyone watching the horrible news on TV during that storm saw the destruction this place specifically suffered. The sailing Yacht Club also right here in front of us was, in fact, completely and tragically destroyed by Katrina—now a new and beautiful clubhouse has just been completed and overlooks our boat, as I am writing this.

We had just left the busy port in Mobile, and were out in the Bay when almost on cue, a pod of dolphins came right up out of the water on our starboard side—what a glorious sight—I’ve missed the wonders and beauty of salt water. (I’ve always said I was a salt water girl who happened to marry a fresh water guy!) But we arrived at the marina around 2pm, and had Linda and Charlie (Freedom’s Turn) waiting to catch our lines—they were two days ahead of us and we’ve missed being with them. Also at the marina were Lisa and Jim (Kismet) whom we’ve missed as well. BTW—Happy Birthday, Lisa—albeit a week early! We had several hours to catch back up with each of them—exchanging hugs and information—both boats were leaving here the next morning. We surely hope we’ll see them both somewhere on down the line before we leave for home, family, and Christmas.

The nearby town here, Fairhope, is absolutely precious. The marina has a courtesy van, which the guys—Larry, Robert, and Louis—quickly all signed up for on Sunday for two hour intervals. The quaint little town and shops were having their first-of-the-season Sunday Christmas Open House (complete with cookies, punch, and extras)—most of the shops, if not all, regularly are not open on Sundays at all. (Interesting fact: The super Wal-Mart closes at 6pm on Sundays here, every Sunday!) After a delicious lunch (gumbo, shrimp & oyster poor-boys) with the guys, Margie, Kay, and I spent four fabulous hours just wandering the shops downtown—enjoying a much-needed girl’s retail-therapy afternoon. I want to remember especially about Fairhope: the huge arrays of flowers at every corner, the heavily lighted tailored trees which beautifully line both sides of the streets at night, the welcoming “Azalea Girls” in their pastel antebellum hoop-skirted dresses, and the youthful adorable ballerinas in their light-pink leotards & tutus, touting “The Nutcracker”, which will begin here next week. It’s a magical and beautiful small, coastal town—almost with a “Pleasantville” atmosphere and attitude—I could easily live here (except I’d be way too far from our children and grandchildren). Then, as a perfect ending to a special day, we all went to a Chinese restaurant/buffet and stuffed ourselves miserably.

Monday morning was spent with Louis changing the zincs (I had done laundry the day before) and Louis chasing down a problem with our auto-pilot (which with greatly appreciated help, he fixed!) and afterwards, we got the courtesy van again and went to Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, Boater’s World, & Michaels. Margie has taught me a wonderful new craft (I’m not telling yet!), and I especially needed more supplies. The guys went one way, the girls the other! We’re getting very adept at getting in & out of the mostly awkward courtesty vans, shopping expediously, and being back at the marinas “on time”.

“Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Blue Max” pulled into the marina late this afternoon(Monday)—we had just enough time to get hugs from them, wish Shelly a Happy Birthday!, and give those three boats information we’ve learned since being here—sound familiar? Heavy rain is expected here tonight, so each of us has decided to stay on our boats (we’re all so spread out here anyway) and get to bed early. We’re on the move tomorrow—headed by boat to Lulu’s for lunch (Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant--another Looper favorite) and then to an anchorage, and then on to a marina in Pensacola, Florida for Wednesday and Thursday nights—which is Thanksgiving evening. We plan to be in Panama City sometime over the weekend—where we’ll leave the boat for a month and drive home for Christmas. Kay & Robert Creech (“C-Life”) who live in Southport, NC, are also leaving their boat in Panama City for a month—so we’ll rent a car & drive home together—then drive back to our boats sometime shortly after Christmas to continue on with our Loop. We hope to be back home @ December 3rd—after seven months of being on the water and going roughly 4300 miles, we’re both very excited to be coming home to "dry land" for a good long visit. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lower Black Warrior River to Mobile Bay

Wednesday, November 19th, we left Demopolis, Alabama and were headed for Mobile—our last “leg” of the river system. We would be traveling all the way down in what is called the Lower Black Warrior-Tombigbee River. Our just-around the-corner and early morning lock was crowded; all ten “pins” held a boat. The lockmaster there was extremely concerned with the positions and names and documentation of all ten boats, so it took a long time to get everyone situated on his terms—then there was the exiting of his lock—again, still agonizingly slow. But we all did get through safely (I believe/know we were more experienced at locking “pleasure” boats than he was!), and we were underway by 8am. Whew. We had a long day to go—about 70 miles—and to a small anchorage—we were dubious if all of us could get into the reported small anchorage. Luckily, 7 boats were able to get in the anchorage—with rafting—we set our anchors just at dusk and were all tired.

“C-Life”, “Wanderin’ L & M”, and “Bella Luna” decided several nights prior to leaving Demopolis that the three nights it would take—on anchor—to get to Mobile, we would raft together each night and each boat take a night to cook dinner and share it with the other two. First night was Kay and Robert’s; they decided to make a Frogmore Stew. Delicious it was too—and with North Carolina shrimp, no less! Thanks, Kay and Robert! We ate early, and turned in early too—these next few days will be long—with no chance really to get “off boat”, except at Bobby's Fish Camp which is out in the middle of nowhere!

Thursday, we left our anchorage after the first raft behind us had broken apart—around 8am. We were headed down river –about 25 miles—to Bobby’s Fish Camp—this is a must stop for all Loopers. As we were making our way down river, we noticed for the first time Spanish moss in the trees—and I saw a few Palmetto palms up in the banks as well—we must be getting to warmer weather! It’s been very chilly lately, cold even—all of us are ready to get south and back into shorts.

Bobby’s Fish Camp is about 4 miles north of the Coffeeville Lock, having nothing but a short dock just alongside the river. Each boat pays $1 a foot—no electricity, no cable, nothing available but a delicious dinner (for an additional price), served family style, up the bank at Bobby’s Fish Camp beginning at 4pm. By the end of the afternoon, there were 10 boats rafted up to the Camp’s short dock—3, 3, and 4 at the back. It was impossible to get a picture of all 10 of us, but what a pretty one it would have been if we could have just talked someone into taking their dinghy down and going out in the river to snap it. (Just like us, everyone deemed it too much trouble!) So, just as the sun set, we all walked up the hill and had a really delicious dinner of fried river catfish and seafood. Interesting note: beers were $2.50 apiece or you could order an ice-chilled-in-the-bucket-six-pack for $6.00! Guess what our table of six ordered? (Hint-it’s been a long time since I’ve ordered a six-pack!)

The largest boat in our three rafts, a 59 foot Marquis, came in later in the day and happened to be alongside the dock (in the back raft) with 3 other boats tied to him. This particular boat was being delivered to Mobile—and the Captains of that boat wanted to get it to Mobile on Friday (burning the owner’s gas, they would waste no time in getting there either). They had contacted the nearby lock and requested a 6am locking—so we all went with him—no sense in wasting a lock on just one boat—and with all the tows on the river, if we could get through, let’s go! Rising at 5:30am, we were underway at a dark dawn of 6am (our earliest departure on this whole trip)—with all our navigational lights on, it looked like a parade! But we all got through the Coffeville Lock—our last one of the whole trip. How ironic too—the Coffeeville Lock and we hadn’t even had our first cup of coffee yet. “C-Life” and “Bella Luna” took several pictures of each other documenting our last lock—what an accomplishment for us both with all the locking we’ve done (over 130!)—and TYJ, we’ve had no accidents, incidents, or problems.

The second night at anchor was Bella Luna’s turn to cook dinner—we had homemade chicken and dumplings—a nice hearty dinner on what-would-be our coldest night on the water. Sure enough, the next morning, it was 26 degrees outside—even Robert’s bow anchor-wash-off hose froze and broke! Margie and Larry will be cooking for us tonight—their turn.

From Chicago to Mobile Bay is approximately 1200 miles. With our side trip to Chattanooga adding another 400 miles, we’ve come a long way in just two months. Seeing the skyline of Mobile today was exciting—yes! civilization—we’ve been in the river system long enough—time for a change. Salt water, warm weather, Florida, and the Keys—here we come!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Demopolis, Mississippi

The afternoon before we left Columbus Marina, Bill from "Tortuga" had asked if he could follow our three boats down river for a while. Of course!, we said, four boats is manageable and good--we were glad to have him! So, we four left the marina in Columbus, Mississippi very early (6:30am!) Sunday, November 16th. We had a long day ahead of us and hopefully two locks—you either “get lucky” with the timing of the openings in the locks or you “get stuck” and have to wait as much as 3 hours. Like Robert (from “C-Life”) has always said, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good!’” Amen to that, Robert. We took the first lock just after we left the marina and never slowed down—that was “lucky”. We had a fairly uneventful day, not seeing any waterfowl or much else to note here—a fairly boring, but beautiful day. We wound up getting “lucky” again in the second lock late in the day, and pulled into a great little anchorage just down river of the lock— “Tortuga” rafted with the three of us (“C-Life” and “Wanderin’ L & M”). We all were invited over to see “Tortuga”—so we fixed drinks and appetizers and had a great couple of hours on his 1984, 38 foot beautifully restored boat. Thank you, Bill! We had another long day ahead of us on Monday, so we all went to bed early.

Waking up to ice/heavy frost on the boat has been an interesting and different experience for Louis and me. Thank goodness we have heat in the cabin (and Louis has rigged us a propane heater on the flybridge too!). But the generator on “Tortuga” had quit sometime early on in the evening, so Bill was really, really cold when he woke up the next morning—poor thing. Plugging his coffee pot into our galley and filling him with a nice hot breakfast helped his disposition greatly! (I’m sure he was glad he had rafted with us!) We were underway and half-frozen from pulling our anchors, but by 7am we were headed for Demopolis, Alabama—thanks to "lucky" locking yesterday, no locks today—but 43 winding miles. We figured we went in and out of Mississippi 3 times as the river took us on its meandering course—but what a pretty ride it was that day. We went through two long separate stretches where there were white cliffs rising straight up out of the water—almost like being in the Grand Canyon—beautiful, especially with the sun shining so brightly on them. And we saw several ospreys carrying fish in their feet (talons?), plus we saw another beautiful, mature eagle. I will never tire of that.

We got to Demopolis, Alabama fairly early in the afternoon, fueled at $2.89, and signed up for the courtesy car for several hours (Robert at 2pm, Larry at 4pm, and Louis at 6pm!). We toured by car some of the more historic and pretty old homes in Demopolis (just a small town), and made the customary trip to W-M. For dinner, we went to a great local place, The Red Barn. Red it was from top to bottom, rustic and good food too—another “lucky” and wise decision on the part of our Captains.

Tuesday, today, for me has been spent doing laundry, cleaning and computer blogging/e-mails. Louis has been busy organizing his tools and cleaning/polishing the windows up top. He gave “Bella Luna” a good “vinegar” bath yesterday—to get all the stubborn stains off her hull from the hard water we’ve been in recently. We’re both glad to have had this day to rest—rather—stop off the water. (There’s no “rest” on this trip for any of us!) We have 217 miles left to get to Mobile, which we think will mean three, long, 70 mile, days each one. We’ll be at anchor for those three nights in a row, somewhere just off the river in hopefully a quiet cove, and probably won’t have much cell phone service—much less any wireless. We’ll have just two more locks—amazingly, the last two of our whole trip. That’s so hard for me to believe—the locks have been such an important part of planning each day—now I wish I had counted them all. We figure the number of locks we’ve been through is somewhere around 130—beginning with our first, the small one in Elizabeth City, NC—and without each and every one of them, this whole trip of ours would have been impossible. We love locks!!!!
***More from Mobile in a few days.

Columbus, Mississippi

We arrived in the Columbus Marina Friday afternoon, November 14th, along with 9 other Looper boats. Several of us had to raft off each other to be able to fit in the marina, but we were all able to get power and water—that’s the important thing! “Freedom’s Turn” was rafted to us, and just behind us were “Little David” and “Gill Raker”, who were rafted together as well. We were all scattered around the marina, but there was continuous action on the end of “B” dock!

Friday afternoon was spent catching up on e-mails, visiting other boats, and laundry. Louis secured the courtesy van for dinner, and Margie & Larry, Kay & Robert and Louis and I went to a great local restaurant, J Brussard’s—simply wonderful. It was so nice to have linen tablecloths, pretty candles, great hot bread, gourmet food, and experienced waitresses----for a change! (Most places we’ve been recently have been either “family” restaurants or pub/bar food-------“OK, who’s got the ribs?” coming from our order taker, no less!)

Saturday morning, we sadly said good-by to "Freedom's Turn"--Charlie and Linda are a few days behind their schedule and want to catch up with "Kismet"--besides, 9 (or more, in some instances) Looper boats overwhelm most of these marinas and anchorages along the river--the marinas are not big enough to handle us all together. As much as we hated not traveling with them and Lisa and Jim, we all felt the realization/need to spread apart for a few days--at least until the waters get wide again.

Getting back to Saturday morning, we were able to get the courtesy van again, and the above six of us took off to do some sightseeing in Columbus—but we had to get the van back by 2pm (hustle, hustle, everyone!)—someone else had signed up for the much-appreciated courtesy transportation too. Our destinations that day were: The Tennessee Williams House, Friendship Cemetery, and Waverly Plantation (and maybe if time allowed, a trip to W-M!).

Born in Columbus in 1911, Tennessee Williams was one of the most important American playwrights ever. He wrote the Pulitzer prizewinning “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ and “A Streetcar Named Desire”. He also wrote “The Glass Menagerie”, “Sweet Bird of Youth”, “The Night of The Iguana”, and “Summer and Smoke”. One quote I particularly enjoyed of his was: “Home is where you hang your childhood, and Mississippi to me is the beauty spot of creation, a dark, wide spacious land that you can breathe in.” A several time Tony Award winning writer, he died in New York City in 1983, and from official reports succumbed from choking on a bottle cap.

We were also able to pick up information at his house on a self-guided car tour of nearby/downtown antebellum homes. We rode through the area, and saw some magnificent ones too—so nicely restored and maintained—the grounds were spectacular too. (These particular homes were spared by Union and Confederate soldiers because the area was used primarily as hospitals by both armies during the war.) The Magnolia trees there in Columbus were the largest/prettiest I’ve ever seen—we figured most of them must have been well over a hundred and fifty years old!

For all of us, the Friendship Cemetery was the most meaningful place we went all day. A huge area of land located within the city limits, it has several sections where Confederate soldiers are buried—a few named, but mostly the markers were “Unknown Soldier”. It was a somber but comforting feeling to see all those hundreds and hundreds of small white stones—we had been left with a bitter taste after being told in Shiloh that fallen Confederate soldiers could/would not be returned to their families from their mass graves for “proper burial” (military orders from General U S Grant). Small American flags dotted the graves of the soldiers and having Veteran’s Day just a few days back, we all were honored to be there. There was also another grave site which is very famous in the cemetery—a full sized granite carving of an angel kneeling on the headstone with her head resting there and arm draped over the front—it is titled “Even Angels Wept”—it is too precious for words—and I do have several pictures of it. We drove several times around the small narrow dirt paths in the cemetery—quietly and reverently taking it all in.
Founded in 1849, the cemetery was the site of the first Memorial Day Celebration in 1866.

Built in 1852, Waverly Plantation was about 5 miles out of town. Having been abandoned and left vacant around 1916, and left completely unattended for 50 years, it has been owned privately for the past 45 years by a devoted family who have been restoring it ever since. The four-story home once stood on 50,000 acres stretching from the river back. The foyer of the home rose 65 feet to a huge belvedere on top (reading this, Frank?!) where the entire plantation could be looked over—it was hard to imagine that piece of information—we were not allowed to go all the way up there! The original family had 10 children and over a thousand sharecroppers or slaves who worked the land—it was a completely self-sufficient “city” unto itself—even having its own post office! Most impressive there to me were the moldings, mantles, and mirrors—which all miraculously escaped theft in those 50 years of the house being left wide open and vacant. But I think each one of us was disappointed that the house and grounds were not in even better shape than we had hoped or expected—the furniture was lovely but not original to the house (the pieces were mostly “period accurate”). But glaring to us all, the house itself needed major, major work done both inside and outside to bring it up to others we’ve seen before--grounds too. Our tour guide was Marjorie who lives there with her elderly father; she told us some dear stories about her growing up in the house and the ghost who has been heard and seen for years there as well—a sweet young girl. I hope that some kind of a Preservation Society can take it on as a project and do justice to it, but there seem to be many antebellum homes all around here. Wonder what the qualifications for acquisition require?

We had “just enough time” to get in yet-another quick trip to Wal-Mart & Subway (love that tuna!) before getting the van back to the marina by 2pm. Christmas is all over that store now and is really upon us--boats in this marina are already decorated for the season! Since I haven’t even thought about it yet (much less started shopping), I guess I’ll need to hit the ground running when we get home the first week of December. (Or maybe we’ll just keep it simple this year—how ‘bout it, girls?!) We got back to our boats just in time for Louis to complete a major charging project on the boat's batteries, and for me to get started on this blog.

We had dinner Sunday—as did everyone else in our group (19?) at the marina’s restaurant, “Woody’s”. A cold front had stormed through Mississippi during the previous night with winds of 45 mph, and it had turned really cold outside, so when we walked the very long way over (in the cold dark too) to the restaurant and saw a fire burning in the cozy fireplace, color us ALL happy!—it was a fun evening with most everyone there and great food too. Sadly, we said our good-bys to “Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Blue Max”—they will be coming a few days behind us, so we’ll all be able to get in the small and few anchorages as we make our way down to Mobile—about 350 more miles. More from Demopolis, Alabama.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Tenn Tom Waterway

We left Joe Wheeler State Park on Saturday morning, November 8th, headed down the Tennessee River on our next “river leg” towards Mobile Bay and salt water. We left with four other boats: “C-Life”, “Wanderin’ L & M”, “Freedom’s Turn”, and “Sunshine”. We were all headed towards an anchorage that we had been to about a month earlier when we diverted and went “up river” to get to the fall rendezvous at Joe Wheeler. (A side trip to Chattanooga also took up two weeks in that month.)

We did indeed get to the anchorage and rafted up, but it was just at dusk and we were all tired—it had been a long day on the water. We each pulled out left-overs and had an early evening get-together on “C-Life”. We were anchored right across the river from Grand Harbor Marina in Yellow Creek and were now officially at the head of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Mississippi, the Tenn-Tom Canal as everyone calls it. It is a 253 mile man-made stretch of water, begun in 1972 and completed in 1985. This mammoth Army Corps of Engineers project moved more dirt than was moved to build the Panama Canal and it cost more than 2 billion dollars to complete. This Tenn-Tom Waterway is relatively unknown throughout the US to the general public, but its use saves travelers as much as 720 miles and the swift currents of the Mississippi River. There are 10 locks, 9 of which will take us down about 30 feet at each lock, and one will take us down another 84 feet—the Jamie Whitten Lock—the largest on the waterway. Commercial traffic on the Tenn-Tom has never reached the level that was originally envisioned, and it is doubtful it will ever “turn a profit” (thank you, Skipper Bob!). But we are mighty gratefull that we didn't have to do any more of the Mississippi than was necessary!

Sunday we left one anchorage for another—we would be just upstream of the largest lock and fairly early in the afternoon, we all decided we would wait for an early morning lock-through on Monday. There were 2 large barges ahead of us Sunday afternoon waiting to lock down, and we knew we would be behind them for the next few miles before we could get to our predetermined anchorage. With always a "Plan B", we turned into a nice cove and this time we all five rafted together--and early enough to enjoy the beautiful fall afternoon. Linda, from “Freedom’s Turn”, had all the ladies (5) over to her boat for a lovely and special “Michigan” wine tasting party and the guys went over to “C-Life” and watched the televised NASCAR race—drinking beer and smoking cigars! Thank you, Linda and Robert!

Monday, November 10th we all were headed to Midway Marina, located about 20 miles from Tupelo, Mississippi. After we got our boats secured, all 10 of us piled into the courtesy van and headed about 4 miles away into the nearby town, Fulton, to the only restaurant open that night—Mexican—and it was surely the best we’ve had so far—what a delicious surprise! Back at the marina, our boat was tied alongside the outside dock, and looking out our saloon window we had a beautiful view of a cypress filled marsh/swamp. There were thousands and thousands of coots swimming and feeding not 12 feet from us all day long, and I spent 30 minutes early one morning (with coffee and blessed silence) watching a majestic, beautiful eagle perched at the top of a dead cypress tree just outside our window. Color Diane, quiet and happy.

Tuesday, Charlie from “Freedom’s Turn” rented a 15 person, four row, “church van” and we all took off for Tupelo—wanting to see the huge antique car museum, a federal fish hatchery, Elvis’s birthplace, and the ever-needed stop at Wal-Mart. The car museum was very impressive with around 200 old cars dating back to the very first ones made, a collection belonging to just one man and donated by him to the city of Tupelo. By chance, for only two weeks, there happened to be a small mini-showing of street rods in the collection—color Louis happy! We all were given cards to vote on our favorite car and my vote went quickly to a black 1929 Duisenberg—all original and in outstanding shape. The federally operated fish hatchery was closed, due to it being Veteran’s Day—so was the Visitor’s Center, which we tried to take in as well. But not Elvis’s birthplace!!! We each had received a complimentary coupon at the car museum to get into the old, wooden, white house, on the actual spot, where Elvis lived until he was three years old. Built by Elvis’s father for $180.00, it was a very small, two room house (just a bedroom and a kitchen)—still with a few original furnishings, wallpaper, and linoleum flooring—a very depressing sight, in my estimation—I’m glad we didn’t actually have to pay to see it. There was an elderly lady sitting in an old chair in the bedroom (behind the roping) talking about the house there, answering questions, and obviously very much still in love with Elvis—I had to quickly get away from her and out of there! But I did enjoy the tranquil settings and grounds which were beautifully landscaped and groomed, with bronze life-like statues of Elvis as a young boy spaced here and there. In addition, there was a memorial chapel, which you had to purchase a ticket to enter and none of us chose to see the inside of that. And of course there was a new, large brick building that had all sorts of things to buy that were Elvis related—poor thing, people are still making big bucks off him anyway they can--he'll never "rest in peace".

Wednesday we had planned to leave Midway Marina, but with the impending forecast of 1-2 inches of rain we decided to remain there one more day. It gave us all a day to do laundry, defrost the freezers, and catch up on odds and ends—much needed too—and I actually got a couple of hours to get on “Wanderin’ L & M” and do a crafting project of Christmas ornaments with Margie. That was fun, thanks Margie for showing me how! (As a postscript in remembering Midway Marina, can any one of us ever forget the millions upon millions of tiny bugs that decended upon our boats in those three days?! Will we ever get them all off?!!)

Thursday, we had two locks to go through to get to the marina in Aberdeen—a must stop for all Loopers—and about a half mile off the river and up a winding, narrow, cypress lined ditch. On our 6 hour trip down river, we saw 5 mature eagles—still a thrill! All of us had been waiting to buy fuel in Aberdeen, which was selling in that marina for $2.69 a gallon—a welcomed relief from the fuel in Canada of over $6.00 a gallon—and the least we would be paying for fuel since leaving in May! The Aberdeen Marina is actually a family-owned “community” convenience store selling fuel at the same price for cars as well as boats—unheard of in the boating world! Plus, we had heard about their famous fried chicken and chicken livers cooked right there in the marina store—but we needed to get there before 2pm, because that was when the cooks “left for the day”. Fearing we wouldn’t make it by 2pm, Louis got an order in for all 9 boats, and our boxes were waiting for us when we arrived. As promised, it was delicious—even at 3pm! We all fueled (which took several hours to complete), and with the time change and it getting dark around 5pm, everyone just stayed at the picnic tables under the marina’s waterside overhang until bedtime—enjoying Susan’s and Jeff’s and Granddaddy Kelly’s unbelievable hospitality. More stories, more laughs, more cigars, and more alcohol were brought out over the course of the evening—even Kelly’s dark “shine” was passed around. (Make note—neither Louis nor I smoke, especially stinky cigars!) But most surprising was that cute, Granddaddy Kelly was up bright and early the next morning to cook for us all his famous southern breakfast—complete with country ham, eggs, grits (with garlic & cheese, no less), biscuits, and red-eye gravy. This was a truly-great charming spot which does a tremendous amount of local business too (for instance, selling over 90,000 cases of beer just last year!)—everyone of us wished we could have stayed more than just one night. I don’t believe we’ll find another marina half as much fun as there in Aberdeen!

Friday morning we were enveloped in dense fog—delaying our departure until around 9:30am. But as soon as the fog lifted, we called the lock (which will not lock anyone through in fog and was right at the turn-off for the Aberdeen marina) and the lockmaster said there were no tows waiting—making our only lock of the day very quick and easy. (We’ve had to wait at some locks as much as 3 hours for the tows to get through!) After the lock, we had a quiet/dull 4 ½ hour ride down the canal to the Columbus Marina—seeing no eagles, few waterfowl, no turtles, no towns, and maybe 3 houses total. It is here now-4pm-Columbus Marina-that I’m writing this week-long blog, and we’ll be here for two nights—seeing several antebellum homes tomorrow (Waverly being the most famous). More later, after this weekend.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chattanooga Back to Joe Wheeler

The 3 “marinas” in Chattanooga are all just floating docks right alongside the river—all 3 owned by the city and run by River Max. Employees use golf carts to run back and forth between the marinas, which are just 1 ½ miles apart. There are no showers or laundry facilities—ugh. But the location of our “marina” was otherwise perfect—we were almost at the base of the aquarium—right in the “official park” area. We had arrived mid-afternoon on Wednesday, too late to take in the huge aquarium with its’ freshwater side and other saltwater side—we understand you should spend a whole day there. Louis tried to get a rental car, but being so late in the day, it would have to wait until early the next morning.

Early Thursday morning, Louis got us a sporty rental car and we were off to do laundry—2 miles away and across the river. We had accumulated a weeks’ worth of dirties, and had “company” flying into Chattanooga Friday mid-day (we’ve really got to get the boat ship-shape now). Our dear friends, Mimi and Frank Liggett, were coming to spend almost a week with us! Knowing Frank’s rules for visiting other people, we were truly thrilled that they would take the extended time and extra energy to visit us. They had never been in these parts before and they wanted to experience the river system here with the all pretty fall foliage. We were also having a Halloween Looper gathering on our dock the next evening—complete with a pumpkin decorating/carving contest—another excuse for a party! Frank and Mimi would be the judges (they had no idea what was ahead of them!) and Louis and I would furnish the prizes!

After the great Halloween party (the Liggetts decided everyone was a winner!), the four of us walked up to “Sticky Fingers” for a delicious dinner—the restaurant is famous for its ribs, chicken, and bar-b-que. It was a fairly long walk up and upon leaving the restaurant; Louis spied one of the marina’s golf carts taking another couple back. It was cold outside—we were tired and full—and the street was festive and alive with costumed ‘young-uns’. Sooooo, we hailed the golf cart and all six of us piled on and had a welcomed-relief ride back to our boat. Happy Halloween everyone!

Saturday, November 1st was Frank’s birthday and our 39th wedding anniversary—time to celebrate again! Before breakfast, we brought out a chilled bottle of pink champagne and all had congratulatory hugs and cards from our fellow Loopers—what fun—and early too. We had to vacate our spots at the marina because there was a competition of high school and college scullers/rowers—out in the river just beside us and taking up the whole area in the park. It was so interesting to see all those long, skinny boats—we were told they were around 900 of them. Among the hundreds of competitors, we were lucky enough to see boats from UNC, Wake Forest, and Duke—they would be racing Saturday and Sunday in different categories and with different sizes of boats. It was the “Festival of the Hooch 2008”—a huge event—and multiple tents were set up within the park selling food stuff, tee shirts, and rowing gear. Huge speakers were blaring hip music and traffic was halted at each end of the park. Boats were piled on hundreds of racks sometime four high and eight long. Spectators and competitors were everywhere enjoying the beautiful clear morning—it was quite an event to pull off—the organizational aspect alone was awesome.

We left the dock and traveled a short distance (around 4 hours) to our anchorage near Nickajack lock and dam. We rafted with “Wanderin’ L & M”, “C-Life”, and “Kismet”. The others--“Sunshine”, “Freedom’s Turn”, and “Annie” chose to anchor nearby. To celebrate our anniversary and Frank’s birthday, Lisa and Jim had us over for her delicious Bloody Mary’s (complete with blue cheese stuffed olives!) on “Kismet’s” fly bridge. We watched a beautiful sunset on an equally beautiful boat—a Fathom—thanks Lisa and Jim! It was Saturday evening and Daylight Savings Time would be going off after midnight—ugh—our days on the water would be getting shorter and shorter and our nights longer. Little did we know how the time change accompanied with entering a different time zone would mess all our systems up!

Because it was now dark just past 5 (for the rest of the week) the four of us were hardly able to keep our eyes open past 7pm—and we were rising around 5am—an awful mess! It’s one thing to be on the water and not know the day, but coupled with not knowing the time is surreal. We just laughed a lot about the changes we all were experiencing and ate when we were hungry and slept when we were tired! (It’s now six days later and my body hasn’t caught up yet!)

Monday and Tuesday we traveled the beautiful Tennessee River with glorious days—there were still the six of us who were all together since Chattanooga. “Annie” is a very special boat—a tug of sorts—and handmade by her owners, taking 16 years to complete. Unique and simply gorgeous, she has a calliope on her bridge and has serenaded us on several occasions—but the most special time was in the lock. After all the locks we’ve been through (somewhere around 130), I can honestly say this one lock was the most enjoyable and fun. We listened intently to the Southern songs as we descended the 60 feet and with a big blast of her “toot-toot” whistle, we all left the lock smiling.

We arrived at Joe Wheeler State Park Tuesday afternoon—in time to enjoy this area with Frank and Mimi before they had to fly home early Thursday morning. Louis had a few “projects” to do on our boat and Frank was a willing and knowledgeable helper. Mimi had caught “the cold” and needed to get some meds and rest, so it was good we came in a day earlier than scheduled. The two of them took the two of us out to dinner Wednesday night, and we all four “turned in” early to bed yet again. We have so enjoyed having the Liggetts along for the short week with us—our fellow Loopers have too. Maybe a Loop is in store for them when Frank finally retires—who knows, we may do this again if they do! Time will tell.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Up the Tennessee to Chattanooga

We left Joe Wheeler State Park Saturday morning along with “C-Life”, “Kismet”, “Wanderin’ L & M”, “Sunshine”, “Freedom’s Turn”, and “Going There”. We were all headed for the great city of Chattanooga—200 miles away from Florence, Alabama, up the Tennessee River. If all went well, we would be two nights at anchor and two nights in marinas. Our flotilla looked great as we all left the park, lined up like little ducks following their mother.

After traveling about 25 miles, our first stop was Riverwalk Marina in Decatur, Alabama. As we were approaching the narrow entrance to the canal leading into the marina, we all waited out in the river for the first boat to get into his slip. We were a very impressive sight all circling out in the river just past the huge bridge—a sight so impressive that an Alabama police boat came barreling up close to all of us to take a “look see”. Once he figured out we were not terrorists and were just waiting our turn to tuck into the marina, he left as quickly as he came—no lights flashing. Whew! We had dinner on premise at “The Hard Dock CafĂ©”—with Charlie and Linda getting a big boost as Michigan State beat Michigan.

Sunday morning we left for a 55 mile day plus a lock—we all knew it would be a long day. We had a beautiful ride and easy locking to get to the new, free docks at Guntersville, Alabama. We arrived fairly late in the afternoon, but still had time for everyone to get out their chairs and have an impromptu cocktail party on the docks—we had the dock all to ourselves and had passing cars honking their horns and waving to us as they passed by. Loopers do seem to draw attention!

Evidently, someone in a car had stopped by the local newspaper there in Guntersville and sent a reporter down not 20 minutes later on Monday morning to interview us—I think this will make the fourth time we’ve been in the papers so far. We find it so interesting that the locals find US so interesting—we would have thought they’d been used to seeing several boats traveling together by now. And I’ll bet with all the negative reporting that’s being done right now on the upcoming elections, a nice story about friends traveling great distances together is a refreshing storyline and welcomed relief to all readers!

As we were pulling away from the docks that morning, “Freedom’s Turn” evidently hit something under water—there was a big CLUNK as Charlie put the throttle in gear. Making a long story short, he and Linda turned away from our group and headed for the nearby marina where the boat was pulled, propeller taken off, and their boat will be out of commission until the prop is fixed. Also, “Going There” peeled off to go to the same marina—they’re having shaft problems. So now we were down to 5 boats—but not for long.

We arrived at Goose Pond Marina, near Scottsboro, Alabama around noon. Louis quickly secured two loaner cars for the 11 of us, and we took off for town—hoping to get to the famous “Unclaimed Baggage” store (stocked with lost airlines’ bags), a lunch stop, Wal-Mart, and CVS before we needed to be back by 4pm. After a lot of hype, the unclaimed baggage store was a disappointment for all of us—the prices were too high. We all felt we could find new things for almost what that store was selling its used things for—Louis was happy, I could check that store off my list!

When we returned to the marina, we found two more boats that would join us for at least these next few days—“Little David” and “Gill Raker”. Our ever-present, resourceful, transportation leader, Louis, called a nearby Italian restaurant, “Stevarino’s”, and he persuaded the owner to come get all 14 of us so we could eat with them—and then bring us back to the marina! Unexpectedly, it was a really delicious meal—with Steve’s unique “beach bread” being especially delicious—and we all had great leftovers to enjoy the next day. It was the coldest evening to date as we all hopped on our boats—tired, full, and happy. Weather reports said it would get down to 40 degrees that night.

Knowing it would be chilly the next morning, we had been promised during dinner that Tuesday morning we would all be treated to a warm breakfast—“Bud’s Buns” and “Kay’s Hams”—all 16 of us!! And sure enough, at 8am we all were gathered on “C-Life” with coffee in hand to enjoy Kay’s ham biscuits and Bud’ cinnamon buns—all homemade and perfect! We thank them both—what a way to start the day!

Tuesday, we traveled along the winding Tennessee to an anchorage just upstream of the Nickajack Lock and Dam. Rafting together in a group of six boats, we watched from our bow as the sun set in a beautiful and quiet cove—boy, it was getting cold. Splitting off into pairs, we had second-time-Loopers Lisa and Jim from “Kismet” over for a just-after-sunset early dinner.

Wednesday, we woke to the first-ever-this-trip of ice (heavy frost) on the boat!! We were slipping and sliding outside and laughing as Robert made a “snowball” and threw it at Larry. The fog, from the warm water, rising over the steep hills that morning was truly one of the prettiest scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone was taking pictures and I’m sure there will be some spectacular ones too. We were able to leave our cove around 9am.

Making the last few miles to Chattanooga was surely the prettiest part of the Tennessee. We had only 12 miles to go by “as the crow flies” chart, but it took almost 36 miles of winding around these canyons to get there. In fact, the locals call this the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee River—and grand it was—narrow and deep too. This trip up to Chattanooga is just a “side trip” and is not considered part of the Loop. But Fall is the best time to be doing this river, and about 16 Looper boats decided it was not to be missed—we don’t know if “Bella Luna” will ever be near here again! I’m really glad we have the opportunity to turn around and go back—all 200 miles of it—this is just too pretty to only see once! Paddle wheel boats, beautiful homes, wildlife (we saw several turkey families!), tree covered mountains, tall gorgeous rock cliff formations, and changing leaves make for a great October ride up the Tennessee River. More from Chattanooga.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Week at Joe Wheeler

The Fall Rendezvous of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA) was held October 21st through the 24th at Joe Wheeler State Park near Florence, Alabama. This event has been held here for the past several years and we now can see why. The park covers about 1,500 acres and is beautiful in its wide open and colorful simplicity. There were close to 170 people and 55 boats present for the four days of meetings, dinners, and fellowship. It was fun catching back up with some of the boats we have been traveling with over these past several months—and sad to witness as some of these same people have “crossed their wakes” meaning they are now finished with Looping and are going home. It’s hard to believe that Louis and I are just a little over half done ourselves—but coming from North Carolina through Canada down Michigan to Alabama is a daunting task just in itself.

We had a lot of laughs, good food and jokes, and gathered valuable information for going south along the Gulf and then Florida and the Keys. One of the more interesting things to happen to us while we were at Joe Wheeler was our first night in the marina. We had been warned upon check-in that there were lots of raccoons wandering around at night who were not shy in the least about getting on any boat. We made sure nothing “foodwise” was out down anywhere below that raccoons could get into and we secured our flybridge too. Feeling all was well, we turned in for the night. Lo and behold, the next morning we had a surprise waiting for us “up top”.

About mid-morning, I climbed our ladder to get a soft drink out of our dorm refrigerator which is on the flybridge, I unzipped the door curtain, and couldn't believe what I saw. Evidently and unbelievably, several raccoons had made themselves at home during the night feasting on our Tupperware locked box of snacks! Cheetos and Nekots being their favorites, there was paper mess everywhere—and not a speck or crumb left anywhere. I just didn't think that raccoons could/would climb our steep ladder of 8 steps—much less be able to unlock our plastic container!! There were small, very distinguishable footprints all over the deck—so we knew exactly who made the mess—and who had left us two “piles” as a calling card. By the time the week was over, every boat we checked with had been visited during the night—and several Loopers saw them out wandering the docks too—six at a time, at last count.

Sometime during the period we went home, both Louis and I picked up colds—so we were definitely not the life of the party at the rendezvous. We would race back to the boat after sessions to grab a quick nap, re-medicate ourselves, stuff our pockets with more tissues and cough drops, and we would always be the first ones to turn in at night—not the norm for either of us. But it was a great time to be with special friends in a quiet setting and if we had to both be sick, it was the ideal spot to be in.

Our mentors and home-port friends at Joe Wheeler and “gold flag” Loopers, Liz and Bob Stagg, graciously hosted all of us and made us feel so comfortable all week—lending their car for much needed runs to the grocery and pharmacy and answering tons of questions for all of us. They even rounded up a van and took a group on Friday—post rendezvous—to their hometown of Huntsville, Alabama for a day long tour. The group went to the Space Center, the Botanical Gardens, Harrison Brothers famous hardware store, toured the pre Civil War homes that were left standing by Union soldiers, and had some famous Alabama bar-b-que for dinner. The whole group was so appreciative for the time, enthusiasm, and energy it took for Liz and Bob to arrange all this—they’re both very special people!!

Saturday morning was sunny, cool and crisp as 7 boats departed Joe Wheeler bound for Chattanooga—“C-Life”, “Wanderin L & M”, “Kismet”, “Sunshine”, “Freedom’s Turn”, and “Going There”—it will take us four nights and 200 miles to get up river. We’ll have two nights in marinas and two at anchor, but the leaves will be pretty and it should be a smooth and gentle run with interesting stops along the way. More later from Chattanooga

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sneaking Home

After going through two huge locks (80 feet plus!) on the Tennessee River, we arrived in Joe Wheeler State Park Marina on Tuesday afternoon, October 12th. We had an easy time with locking (we’re old hats at this now!) and our transit up the river to here was a beautiful ride on a perfect fall day. We were traveling with “C-Life” and “Freedom’s Turn” and had a good time taking pictures of each other’s boats in front of the mammoth locking doors—what pictures we’ll have to share once we get home!

Wednesday morning, Louis was immediately able to secure a rental car and that accomplished, we decided we had just enough time to go home for a few days—we had until Monday noon at which time the Fall AGLCA Rendezvous would begin here at this marina. Others were making plans to go by car to either Nashville or Memphis, but we hadn’t seen our children in almost six months! I was way overdue in needing hugs and kisses from our precious grandchildren—and the last couple of weeks have taken their toll on us as we have talked with them on the phone about Halloween costumes, pumpkins, school doings, scouts, and the State Fair. Without a doubt, it was time to “sneak home”.

We had inquired a few days earlier about our children’s plans for the weekend, not letting them know we were even contemplating coming home—so we knew they both would be at their respective houses during the time span we had available to surprise them—they would not be camping, having evening parties to go to, having company, birthday parties, going out of town, etc. We knew it would take one full day of traveling (just about 620 miles to our lake house) and then one whole day (ugh!) to get back to the boat, but we didn’t care how far it was—we were grabbing the time and going home specifically to see all our children. Yippee!! So, with lots of help from friends here, we got the boat off-loaded with lots of stuff and the car loaded down and we were underway at just past 1pm when we texted a message to Geni and Catherine saying what our surprise was. Everyone was jubilant—me especially!

We arrived safely home just after midnight Eastern Time—boy, what a great feeling to see that everything was all right there. We were tired after a 12 hour driving trip—but still so excited to be home that it took another two hours for me to calm down and get to sleep! Louis hit the big bed immediately and had no trouble at all falling asleep—lucky him. We had (earlier in the afternoon) made impromptu plans to spend Thursday afternoon/night in Cary with Catherine and her family—then drive over to Oxford for the same on Friday afternoon/evening with Geni and her family. We would spend Saturday night back at home and leave for our return to the boat early Sunday morning—“o dark” 5-ish—we wanted to get back to the boat before dark. Whew—it was Wednesday, we’d be back Sunday afternoon—a lot to accomplish in just a few days. Around 1400 miles--no problem, “Let’s go!”

Suffice to say, it was well worth the huge push to make it all happen. Our children were thrilled to see us, and I think even more, us them—thankfully, we had comfortable and safe traveling—our home and yard were in surprisingly good shape (thank you, Rick!)—we were able to see just a few of Southern Coach’s office staff Thursday at lunchtime—I got to sleep in Taylor’s bed Thursday night and Clay’s bed Friday night—we had great meals at Neo-China in Cary, La Coquina Mexican in Roxboro, Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ in Henderson, Oxford’s famous George’s pizza, and Cracker Barrel somewhere on the way back to the boat—we got to see both boys play their Saturday morning soccer games (sorry we missed yours, Katie!)—we were able to get to the post office in Leasburg and continue to have our mailed forwarded—we got to “trick or treat” with Katie and Taylor and see their cute costumes—we changed out light bulbs and rotated timers at home—we pulled under a shelter our potted plants and brought back fall clothes—we slept blissfully in our own king size bed two nights (our bed on the boat is a double!)—I had time to take two long, hot, tub baths (my first in six months as there is no tub on the boat!)—and we got "just barely enough” hugs and kisses to last us until we come home for the holidays.

When I titled this blog, “Sneaking Home”, I did so for a specific reason—we called no one other than our girls to say we were coming home—there just wasn’t enough time to get a chance to see our friends in three short days. How could we call one person and not others? We both decided it was a Solomon’s choice we just couldn’t make. But as fate would have it, we were just several hours into our trip home when we got a call from Frank—and we couldn’t lie!—so he was the only one who knew how our plans were unfolding—and it must have been telepathy—we were bringing off the boat the last of Buddy’s things for his dog, Dixie. We had planned to leave those things at Catherine’s house for Frank to pick up later, but wound up going over to his house and delivering the "dog stuff" in person and getting great hugs there from Mimi too—so glad we did that. (We love your new hairstyle, Mimi!)

Hopefully in the 4-5 weeks we’re home for the holidays, we’ll be able to connect with others whom we’ve missed so terribly too! Both Louis and I are looking forward to seeing friends and other family members during that time—both at home and at the beach—it will have been since the first of May that we left. Seven months then, we're half done----unbelievable!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Grand Harbor and Shiloh

Today is Sunday, October 12th and we have been here in Grand Harbor Marina since Friday mid-morning. And I was wrong in my last blog saying this marina was in Tennessee—it’s actually in Mississippi—the state line of Tennessee being at the top of the very steep hill here! This very large, fairly new marina is on beautiful Lake Pickwick (on the Tennessee River) and we have a great spot here alongside “C-Life” right at the marina’s office/ship store. We are backed into our slip, and the view off our stern (for 180 degrees!) is nothing but tall hardwoods just beginning to turn their fall colors—we’ve had some nice “slip spots” before, but this one ranks right up there in the top few for us. We even have a working cable TV—cable being something that seems to be rare for us in any marinas these days!

Yesterday, Saturday, six of us went in one of the marina’s courtesy vans about 25 miles away to visit Shiloh National Military Park—site of the famous Civil War battle which took place April 6th & 7th in 1862. Situated along the Tennessee River, this two-mile square battlefield area and surrounding woods saw almost 24,000 men lose their lives in just two days—Union soldiers being the victors against the Confederate men. It is absolutely staggering to me to even comprehend that fact—what an unthinkable tragedy. We spent nearly three hours there—visiting very quietly and soberly—we all felt we were on such hallowed ground. One interesting fact that I do not want to forget is that immediately after all that carnage, General Grant ordered mass graves to bury all the dead—trenches where the bodies were piled on top of each other—Union soldiers placed in separate mounds from the Confederate ones. The horses and mules were burned. After the war was over, President Abraham Lincoln ordered only the Union graves reopened to bury the soldiers in proper single graves marked with headstones in the cemetery at Shiloh--the cemetery remains there today with a huge American flag flying, very visible even from the river. The Confederate soldiers were left where they were buried—all in a pile. Doesn’t seem right, does it—and I also wish I knew why the Confederates' loved ones were not ever allowed to claim the bodies of the men who died there for a proper burial. Led by the Union General, Ulysses S. Grant and the Confederate General, Albert S. Johnston, all the soldiers fighting there thought the war would be over in just a few weeks—little did they know the war would last another three long years—ending at Appomattox, Virginia with the surrender of the Confederacy by General Robert E. Lee to General U. S. Grant in April of 1865. In those four awful dividing years of the Civil War, over a million lives were lost. Unbelievable to comprehend, isn’t it.

Because we stayed so long at Shiloh, we had a very late lunch (3pm) at a small local Tennessee ribs/bar-b-que/chicken place—yummy—we all were starving! Our meal was delicious; we watched some of the UNC/Notre Dame football game while eating and needless to say, none of us had supper after eating so much/so late in the afternoon!

We had just enough time to make one more stop before making the trek back to our marina—the former home/now museum of Buford Pusser—the notorious 1960’s sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee. His life was made famous by the movie, “Walking Tall”, and he was well known around these parts as being “judge, jury, and executioner”. A tall man, he was always known to carry a large stick or baseball bat along with his gun, and he never hesitated to use the stick/bat—his temper was just a heartbeat away. He primarily wanted to rid this area of moonshiners, and in doing so, lost his beloved wife and half his face in a “Bonnie & Clyde” style ambush. Plus, he was stabbed twice and nearly died both times from the puncture wounds to his chest—but he always survived against unreal odds in the late sixties and early seventies. He lived a fast and hard life, and died at an early age while driving alone in his Corvette one evening at high speed and losing control of his car in a curve.

Tonight, Sunday night, we had a pot luck dinner on the dock with “C-Life” and “Freedom’s Turn”. There are four sets of wooden gliders on our dock here, two 4 person, two 6 person—all complete with a pretty blue canvas on their tops—and we each brought something delicious for the six of us to share in one of these gliders. Complete with candles and our special “mosquito busters” at our feet, we had a special evening right on the dock for an hour or two—just gliding back and forth and enjoying each other’s company under a beautiful “Bella Luna”. We thank our lucky stars we are so blessed.

We leave tomorrow morning, Monday October 13th, for two nights at anchor and then arriving Wednesday afternoon at Joe Wheeler State Park for the Fall AGLCA Rendezvous with all the Loopers of this year—plus new ones from Michigan, Wisconsin Illinois, Ohio and up-this-way just beginning their journey. Lucky for them!!! Sadness for us!!—we just realized our trip is now half over.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Kentucky Lake & the Tennessee River

We left Green Turtle Bay Marina Monday, October 6th mid morning. It was a bright and clear fall morning as we departed with “C-Life”, “Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Blue Max”. We were headed for Panther Bay, a great anchorage along the Kentucky Lake about forty miles down—a cove just off the lake enough not to get any wakes from other boats. It was a pretty day to travel on the water and when we arrived, we found “Freedom’s Turn” and “Voyager II” already tucked in the cove—great minds think alike! We quickly rafted up with “C-Life” and “called it a day” of traveling. We really like these “short” days of our trip—around 40 miles is just perfect—when traveling at 7.4 knots—are you reading this, Ed? Can you believe Louis is actually enjoying this speed?! We spent the night up in the cove with lots and lots of stars out—Louis and I have taken to setting up cushions on the bow at night and enjoying the beauty of it all. Without lights and noise—wow!

Tuesday morning there was rain “a-coming”—and much needed rain for this area too—can you believe that with all the flooding we dealt with on the Illinois and the Mississippi, that on these lakes there hasn’t been any rain to speak of in 4 to 5 weeks! It’s hard to imagine, but it is visually so—both hurricanes Hannah & Ike missed this area of Kentucky and Tennessee—and the water levels are down considerably—in fact, people here are in a “water conservation mode”. So with the impending rain, we scurried about and got our anchors up and washed off (lots of black mud on the bottom here) and headed for our next stop, Pebble Isle Marina—again about 40 miles.

We arrived at Pebble Isle mid afternoon after a huge thunder storm about noon. (One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three …) Thank goodness we were under our bridge cover and only got wet from our leaky top—not much though—and it was a damp and cool afternoon as we pulled up to the marina. With 8 other Looper boats tied up to the main dock, “Bella Luna” was given a spot under a huge tin awning—what fun it was to listen to the rain under that! But we are quickly learning that under these huge awnings, you have no cell phone, no wireless, and no TV signals! We were tied up where all the huge houseboats were housed—one having bright orange canvas all over—got that Jan?

We all had dinner in the marina’s store/office/dining room/main everything building—right on the end of the dock where all the others were tied up. Six of us had the special of the day, “home-made chicken & dumplins”, and it really was a perfect dish for the cool rainy weather we had experienced all day. This particular place is known for their huge desserts—“the cookie” being most famous—a freshly-baked hot 12-inch chocolate chip cookie piled high with three scoops of ice cream, pecans, whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, caramel sauce, and a cherry. If only we had had our camera as our friends at the next table ordered it—and I can’t believe Louis resisted ordering one. However, he did order a strawberry cake with ice cream weighing in at slightly less than 3 pounds (citing eating chocolate at night keeps him awake all night long!). We all had a great time laughing at the absurdity and abundance of both those desserts!

We left Pebble Isle Wednesday morning under cloudy skies with “C-Life” in the lead. “Mojo” and ”Grettatude” had left about an hour earlier—and the rest of the Loopers decided to remain at the marina one more night. With access to a courtesy car, haircuts and a trip to the grocery were on the agenda for those who stayed. (Wonder what the “special of the day” will be at the restaurant there & what dessert they’ll have tonight—can’t wait to hear when we catch back up with those friends in a few days!)

As the day has progressed (I’m writing this up on the bridge now), the weather has turned from cool to perfect. One of the highlights of the day for Louis has been crossing UNDER the I-40 highway bridge which crosses over the Tennessee River—the bridge that he crosses on his winter duck hunting trips to Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. He said he always hoped one day to be down on the water under that bridge taking a trip—some wishes do come true—just like the bridge near Belhaven, NC over the ICW that we cross over on our way to Hyde County—that was a wish for me to cross under that bridge one day—and we have.

We’re in such a beautiful area, the Tennessee River—others have called it the prettiest on the entire Loop—and Louis and I heartily agree. Earlier in the summer when we were going through the beauty and wilderness of Canada, we thought we had reached the “visual” summit of our trip. Not so, this area really is prettier to us than what we saw in Canada. So far, the Tennessee River is calm, narrow, green, and deep—the shores are hilly and green (just beginning to turn into fall colors) with willows and hardwoods and the occasional cypresses with their sprawling exposed roots. The hills are magnificent where the river has cut deep into the rock, leaving only the hardest of the rock exposed—we’re seeing trees growing right out of the rock up high as well as down low. It’s hard to think that a tree could survive in that space, but they do—none of these trees show any signs of being deprived of water! We’ve seen one eagle today too—always such a thrill, no matter how many we have seen on this trip so far. And the migrating white pelicans are following us south too—we’ve seen hundreds of them today. Louis has even seen a few flocks of blue wing teal—the first ducks to migrate south. More later.

We traveled a long day, and when we pulled up into a cove for the evening, “Mojo”, “Grettatude”, and “Party of Two” were already rafted together and at anchor. Way up in the cove ahead of us was “Barbarossa” a 35 year old, dark-green, concrete sailboat from England. We’ve been traveling some these past few weeks with Rob and Sue, and it was good to see them again—I have numerous pictures of this boat—she’s not like anything we’ve ever seen before! We got anchored and rafted with “C-Life” and were able to enjoy a gorgeous sunset, dinner with Robert and Kay, and a calm night.

Thursday, October 9th (Happy…..Birthday Nancy!) was spent mainly waiting for the TVA lock and dam at Pickwick to open. Barge traffic always takes precedence, and we had to wait almost 3 hours tied up to a “cell” waiting for the lockmaster to call us in and lift us up. But boy, once we got on this upper part of the Tennessee—what a show! Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee—what fabulous place to call home! We are now in the area where Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee all join borders. Huge “homes” (and I mean “movie star” status) dotted the very steep hills everywhere and most everyone had some kind of elevator from the house to the water! Beautiful boat houses, perfectly groomed and landscaped lawns were all around us—complete with railroad tracks from the lake to the top for the necessary elevators! The water level here was at pool stage, meaning the water hadn’t fluctuated like it had below the dam. And the houses up here evidently are not subject to flooding like the ones downstream—the ones below earlier in the day were all built on levees AND on stilts. Not on the upside of the dam here though—this is what we used to call “High Cotton”!

We tried to get in a small cove for the evening that had a waterfall in the back of it—but when we turned off the big lake, there already was a trawler in it. The lady aboard said she had been there a week—“why leave?’ she said—just a perfect spot. But it wasn’t big enough for two more trawlers, so we went to another anchorage just a couple of miles away recommended by Skipper Bob—and it was equally beautiful. A big, beautiful, white-chested osprey watched as we anchored and rafted; he was still there, standing guard high in his tree, when we closed up for the night on the Mississippi side. We will be in a marina for the weekend—Grand Harbor—on the Tennessee side. We can be in three states in just a matter of minutes—amazing, isn’t it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Green Turtle Bay Marina

It’s hard to believe that we have been here in Green Turtle Bay Marina for almost a week. Situated on Lake Barkley, the marina is about 25 miles east of Paducah, Kentucky and home to some of the largest house boats we’ve ever seen! The average house boat here is probably 80 feet long and 18 feet wide—all with two stories and numerous sundecks, most with hot tubs, central air-conditioning units sitting right out on their aft decks, sliding boards, beautiful teakwood furniture, and each one looking like it could sleep twenty or more—huge floating condominiums is what they are!

AGLCA flags have been coming and going all week—and new “waves” of Loopers are expected in here over the next few days—as all the boats that were stuck up-river of us have begun to catch up with one another. This marina is easy and pleasant to remain in for several days! They have good laundry facilities, an indoor pool, a workout room, two saunas, two on-site restaurants, cottages and golf carts for rent, a fairly decent book swap, four “loaner” vans, numerous gazebos in pretty spots, a movie rental on site, and the ever famous restaurant, Patti’s Restaurant, with-in walking distance. Our week has been full and we’ve had beautiful weather every day—how lucky we have been!

In trying to remember it all, I’m sure I’ll miss something—but here goes on our week. The first two days were spent “cleaning house”—Louis spent the better part of those two days below deck—cleaning the strainers and the bilge from all the mud of the Mississippi River and then washing the boat. I did very necessary interior cleaning, five loads of laundry, and cleaned the nasty—lock besieged— fenders. After we were satisfied with all our cleaning, it was time to relax—so we signed up for one of the loaner vans and took off for Paducah. Six of us set off for downtown to specifically see the murals, the River Heritage Museum, and the National Quilt Museum. We also wanted to have lunch, do grocery shopping, go to the marine store and of course—find a liquor store! (Our marina is in a dry county, so we’ll all have to “brown-bag” at dinner!)

The quilt museum was breathtaking—the pieces displayed (actually owned by the museum) were stunning in their complexity, colors, and fabrics—we were blown away with the art of such fine stitchery—a lot done by men too. I could have stayed in that museum for hours—I thought of you Judy—a definite road trip for you sometime soon! It is inconceivable to me how anyone who has labored so long over any one of these quilts would/could/should dare part with them. We were told that the museum rotates the quilts every 3 or 4 months, so they must have an awesome collection hidden somewhere special.

The “downtown” murals are very special too—thank you for telling us about them, Jan! Painted on the inside (town-side) walls of a huge concrete man-made levee—are scenes depicting the history of Paducah. Covering over 300 years, the hand painted murals were so interesting to see and very graciously donated by individuals and businesses—and so pretty a covering for such a drab grey concrete stretch of wall. Having recently been built, the levee is the only barrier in keeping the rising waters out of the downtown area—1993 being the latest (and hopefully last) river surge which flooded all the businesses there.

The week was spent dining out several times too—imagine that! We ate at Patti’s in Glen Rivers—just a short distance from our marina. The restaurant is famous for its’ grilled 2” thick pork chops—we all had one and it was truly delicious. By the time we were done with dinner and dessert, we were stuffed and miserable! Patti’s so reminded us of the old Hartmann’s in Durham, with its many connecting rooms—except these rooms at Patti’s were extravagantly decorated—too, too much. Stuff was everywhere! Each room had a different theme—and by Christmas time, all the rooms will be “decked out” in you know what. We also went to dinner at the marina’s club house, which was delicious too, followed by a van ride to the local “community” theater in town where we saw the cute play, “Bus Stop”. That play, so we were told that night, launched the career of Marilyn Monroe back in 1955. One other night, we went to a small house nearby that the owner, Marilyn, primarily uses as a cooking school. Knowing what we were getting into, eleven of us sat in her kitchen one evening and ate a completely German dinner/buffet—in celebration of Oktoberfest. It was a fun and entertaining evening with lots of laughs, but not something any of us would do again any time soon—it was just too heavy and meaty a dinner. Bring out the Rolaids!

All in all we had a great six days there—seeing faces we hadn’t seen in a while, and meeting new members of our AGLCA crazy group. Two afternoons (one the day we got there and one the last we were there), we had “Looper” cocktail parties out on one of the gazebos overlooking the water; those parties are always fun—and we spent one afternoon out on our dock celebrating with “My Cin” and “Whichaway” both of whom have just crossed their wakes this week—congratulations to them for finishing the Loop—go Texas! (Now go get that gold flag!)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going Swimming, Finally!

Tuesday, September 30th

We have been at anchor now for three evenings—the first night in Little Diversion on the Mississippi, the second night on the Ohio at a huge, federal, concrete “cell”, and last night at the Cumberland Towhead—at the mouth of the Cumberland River. We have been rafting every afternoon with “Sunshine” and “Southern Comfort”—they’re all great folks and fun to be with. Bud, from “Sunshine”, has put his dinghy over each afternoon to get their dog, “Carlie”, off to go ashore—boy, do I still miss my sweet “Buddy”.

It’s been hot each afternoon and the water has not tempted me before yesterday—mainly because the muddy Mississippi is unfit for swimming, and the location on the Ohio was equally unsuitable. But once we got tied up Monday afternoon, and it was even hotter once we got anchored and rafted together, the “fairly-clear” green water just beckoned me in! So, I jumped in with my shorts and shirt on and had my first swim of the season—color me happy! Everyone joined in except Peggy—and Louis did his usual cannon ball entry to make a “big splash”! We had wanted to go swimming in Canada, but the waters were just too cold all summer long every where we went. We’re spoiled by good ole’ Atlantic Beach warm summer waters!

We’ve had cocktails on the bow of our boat two of the three nights—our bow being in the shade and roomy. Also, Louis has made ice cream twice and Peggy treated us all last night to a yummy Mexican cocktail party on board “Sunshine”—ole’! Being at anchor is not all that bad!

We had a storm last night—our raft of boats did a 360—but no damage to any of us, thankfully. The temperature has finally dropped and we feel like “fall is in the air”. We’ve all got on jeans and long sleeved shirts—what a difference from just yesterday! We’re seeing that leaves are really beginning to turn now—not beautiful yet, but soon. Getting off Lake Michigan when we did has afforded us the opportunity to experience this time of the year here before the cold fronts storm through this area. I’m so glad I got my “summer swim” in yesterday! These last two days of traveling have been calm and beautiful—we’re seeing nothing but barge traffic, but still these hills we’re passing through are some of the prettiest continuous passages we’ve made. We go through a lock today that will lift us 57 feet! This afternoon, we will be in Green Turtle Bay Marina at the mouth of the Tennessee River, but actually in Kentucky, and I hope to get these last two postings published there. Back to civilization! More later.

The Mighty Mississippi

Thursday, September 25th.

We left our “home” of the past 12 days, Grafton Marina, with owner Jan waving us off her dock. We felt so fortunate to have had our “sequestered” time there with Jan and Joe—what wonderful hosts they both were! We were only leaving to venture down to Alton (@ 20 miles), but we were on the water again and moving south—and it felt really good. We were in the “Day 2” spreadsheet that AGLCA had set up to keep all 60+ of our Looper boats from exiting at the same time and getting bottlenecked further on down the river. With no marinas, spaces to overnight are precious and few on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Cumberland.

So we went only to the city of Alton—giving us one more chance to spend a few hours with Janet and Steve Godwin. Have I not mentioned before how tan, buff, slim, and cute Steve still is after all these years?!! Amazingly, he still has a head full of hair and all his teeth! (Are you happy now, Steve?!) We have sooo much enjoyed our time with this precious couple, and appreciate greatly the time it took for them to drive to and fro to get to us (over an hour each way!). Janet, I found out last night, likes anchovies as much as I do---love that girl even more!

Friday, we left Alton Marina and went through two debris filled locks—we had hoped by the third day of being open, most of the mess would have been flushed out—not so. We passed St. Louis—saw again the famous arch—took pictures from this side—and were so happy to see that the water had receded there and all was back to normal. The flagpoles that were previously well under water were now all safely perched high above the water on their concrete bases—it looked to us as if at that particular part of the Mississippi, the water must have risen a good 20 feet—but it’s hard to judge heights from our vantage point. On down the mighty river we went—with a good 4 knot push—making Louis and all the other Captains happy—good fuel economy. Just south of St. Louis, all we saw were hundreds of barges and several large rock quarries—so many that we lost count. With all the beautiful, high stone, white cliffs, it’s no wonder there were so many of these quarries—I just hope there’s some kind of very strict regulations on the aftermath of all that much stone stripping—reclamation of some good sorts. Surely there is.

We were headed for “Hoppies”—an institution on the Mississippi—just ask any Looper. “Fern” and Hoppie have owned a “marina of sorts” since 1973 along the river—and the two of them have seen it all! They’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly—the river rising and falling substantially each/twice this year—good drivers and bad ones that weekly crash into their barges. The “marina” is actually just a series of barges linked together alongside the river—but complete with fuel, water, and a lounge—what a hoot!—but rare on this stretch of the Mississippi. There were six of us Looper boats there—“Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, “My Cin”, “Whichaway”, and “Illusions”. Fern (a great old salt if there ever was one!) sat us all down in her outdoor on-barge lounge at the cocktail hour and went through our charts with us—answering all our questions—giving us such valuable information for our trip south. We will have 217 miles on the Mississippi, 60 miles on the Ohio, 30 miles on the Cumberland, and then we get to Green Turtle Marina on the Tennessee. Fern warned all us “Admirals” that we would be on the water non-stop for 4 days, possibly 5—either at anchorages or on a wall—but we would not be able to get off the boat for that entire period. What??!! Needless to say, we all (Captains & Admirals) were anxious for one more dinner off boat! Alas, no car and “town” was a couple of miles away. “No problem”, Fern said, as she gave the keys to her brown 1984 Lincoln Town car over to Louis—how did she know he (among the 15 of us) would want to be the driver?! Must have been his smile! Anyway, after 3 roundtrip shuttles to the restaurant, Louis finally got to sit down and eat his pizza! In our car (both ways), we had 9 people, counting our driver. People were laughing and giving us the “thumbs up” as we drove up to the restaurant—and we all felt like circus clowns getting out of her rear-end-heavy car. This is what we’ve all told our children--over and over--not to do!

Saturday, (Happy 40th Birthday, Travis!), laden with tee-shirts and confidence, we left the unforgettable “Hoppies” early in the morning with clear skies. All six of us were headed for an anchorage—Little Diversion—just a small finger off the river, but off the still-falling current of the Mississippi and safe from debris. We had talked with “C-Life, who had spent the night at Little Diversion the night before, and we were told there would be plenty of room for all six boats—plus the other 2 non-Looper boats that would also anchor there—they had come from Hoppies with us. “Huck Finn” (don’t you love it?!) and another one, I didn’t get the name of his boat—but a smaller pretty blue-hulled boat like ours.

Little Diversion was quiet and pleasant—we rafted in two large rafts—Louis made ice cream for our raft, and promised the other “Texas” raft they would get theirs tomorrow night on the wall/bollard down on the Ohio River. Lots of stars were out that night as the sky was clear with no moon and there were no city lights around us. We were on the Missouri side of the river, so we spent the night in another state! It was a beautiful evening, snuggled back up in our cozy creek for the night! A good anchorage.

We waited for about an hour Sunday morning in Little Diversion for the fog to lift. With all the barge traffic and diving buoys around us, no one wanted to venture out of our safe spot! Around 9am, we got back out on the Mississippi—and rode for about 48 more miles to the turn-off for the Ohio River. As much as I’ve heard all my life about the Mississippi River—the sweet songs and the mysteries of the river, I can honestly say I wasn’t impressed with these 217 miles we’ve traveled one bit. There were no areas to enjoy the water—it’s just a brown, muddy, vast wasteland of “waterfront”. There are wing-dams all along the river, mostly in the bends, to keep the banks from eroding—making our navigating cross from one side to the other continuously. With the waters flooding as often as they do, building a home near the water is truly foolish. We saw not one person swimming or skiing or enjoying the water the way we do, albeit the flooding might have kept people off the river—but still, no pleasure crafts at all, only us Loopers and the occasional boater ( maybe 3?) traveling south. The Mississippi is just a long commercial waterway/highway, pure and simple. Barges, barges, and more barges—and tugboats, large and small, scampering back and forth from one to another.

As we made our wide left turn into the Ohio River, the waters suddenly changed from a muddy brown to a pretty green—finally, halleluiah—back into nice waters! (Ever since we left Lake Michigan, we have been in nasty waters—how many weeks has that been?) The line separating the two bodies of water was visually amazing—it was as if there had been a knife cutting through the water—brown on one side, green on the other! Color us all happy! Swim anyone?!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Few More Thoughts From Grafton

When you spend so many days mesmerized by watching the water rise over 12 feet, praying it doesn't get over the wheels of your car parked in the parking lot, seeing roads closed due to flooding (detour, detour, detour), also praying the power/water doesn't get cut off to your boat and you'll have to use your generator in this muddy mess---you lose track of time. What day is it? How long have we been here?! All total, we've spent 12 days here--and I totally forgot some of the other things we did when I posted the last blog this morning. Since we get to finally move down river tomorrow, I don't want to forget them either--so here goes.

We spent one morning going to the lock at Alton--there's a museum on site and a guided tour. On our day there, we had a young girl (maybe 20 years old)--only her 4th time leading a tour of the lock--and poor thing, she didn't know much at all. Others went the day before and got an older gentleman who evidently gave them a fantastic tour--oh well, can't get them all just so. But the interactive displays in the museum were very interesting and we each got the chance in a simulator to try and drive a barge through one of the locks--not an easy feat --none of us succeeded! We were all amazed at how much debris the locks keep bottled up in times like these--we would have thought they would have released all the stuff to flow downstream as soon as it collected. Not so. It all flows to New Orleans--no wonder they have so many problems there!

Another day, once the rivers started to drop, we took the near-by Brussels ferry across to the historic Wittmond Hotel, in Brussels. Constructed in 1885, it serves "family style" lunches and dinners 365 days a year (imagine!) by fifth generation family members! Fried chicken, roast beef, homemade country sausage, rolls, soup, vegetables, relishes, slaw, gravy & mashed potatoes & homemade desserts.....all served on lace, did we ever stuff ourselves--all 7 of us ate like it was Thanksgiving! On the way home, we all chose what we thought was the best--I chose the warm blackberry cobbler with ice cream.

Another treat was going up the steep hill just behind us to "the winery". It actually doesn't make wine there--only serves it, and now only on the weekends--but what a truly fantastic view of all the surrounding area. We could see for miles--see where the Mississippi and Illinois rivers join, see farm land off just beyond the Mississippi, even see the city of Alton--which is 15 (?) miles away. We all wished we could come back when the leaves would be turning their vibrant colors and just sit up there one whole afternoon and watch it all pass by--wouldn't it be lovely!

During the times when we weren't going back and forth through the corn fields to Jerseyville for Wal-Mart, Auto Zone, UPS, and such--we spent walking the streets here in Grafton--great little shops and such. There was an "Arts' Fair" in the Town Square Saturday, and that was fun. We've all bought fresh fruit, peanut brittle, and homemade pies from the "pie lady"--absolutely the best ever--just ask Louis. We've bought 3 pecan pies!! We seem to be just like our friends the Staggs, and I quote: "We just seem to be eating our way around the Loop!' Yep, that's all of us too. Loopers seem to know all the best places to go, and we love "networking"! Delicious all the way----is the only way to go!

We leave tomorrow (Thursday, September 25th) for the marina in Alton. Although it's only 15 miles downstream, a spread sheet was proposed for all of us Loopers to follow as we exit our perspective spots--so that we not get "bottle necked" in any one particular area in the coming days. As we travel down the Mississippi for the next 200 hundred miles or so, places to overnight are few and far between. We will be at anchor three nights, and the few anchorages there are can't hold many boats. Had the flood not come, we all would have been spread out enough to make each stop without any trouble of "no place in the inn". But since we all got held up for almost two weeks, now we all need to be smart and follow the departure suggestions from AGLCA. It's our turn to leave and start down, so we leave. We say good-by to Jan and Joe here at Grafton Marina--we're now members of their family--but there are many behind us coming down who will enjoy this place as we have. "Sunshine", "Southern Comfort", and "Bella Luna" are so excited to be on the move again! We'll join the 3 "Texas" boats at Hoppies on Friday--more of our Grafton family!

The rivers are going down!

I haven't posted anything in a week because we're still in the same place we've been now for eleven days! Our "special home" of these past days has been the Grafton Marina, and we've been here with 10 Looper boats--everyone "stranded" because of the high waters on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. All the marinas/lock walls/barge tie-ups both up and down the rivers have been ordered to stand still. The Coast Guard shut down the rivers--giving $1,000.00 fines for anyone crazy enough to get out on the waters. Whole trees, hunting blinds, wooden docks, big sections of marshes, huge buoys, and every kind of trash imaginable have been floating down the flooded river beside us. The current is very swift too--making boating treacherous--especially for the boats that have only one engine or go slowly on normal currents . There are over 60 Looper boats now--all trying to get moving again--some way behind us (Chicago--360 miles) to others just a few miles downstream. But we've all been sitting still for well over a week.

Our days have been spent basically working on and cleaning our boats--boy, do they all shine now! Every one's laundry is caught up and pantries well stocked. We've had a rental car, so we consider ourselves luckier than most--we've had access to shopping, restaurants, and touring. We spent one day in St. Louis--going to the famous arch and it's wonderful museum. The arch was built in honor of Thomas Jefferson and his wish to "venture westward" in the expansion of the United States. The museum that is also at the arch is well worth the 3 hours we spent there--they have 2 movies and a self guided, but fabulous rendition of what Lewis & Clark experienced in trying to explore what was then called The Louisiana Territory (purchased from Napoleon!). Although it was unveiled at the St. Louis World's Fair, it was not designed for that exposition, as we both had thought (like the Eiffel Tower in Paris). But what fun it was to ride the little cable car up the short 4 minute passage way to the top! And what a view! On one side we saw the flooded Mississippi, with its' paddle wheel boat stranded and all gang planks leading down into the muddy, nasty waters--what a mess--the 3 flag poles and the road in front of the tour boat were all 10-12 feet (?) under water--not a welcoming sight at all. But on the other side of the arch we saw the baseball field and a beautiful view of downtown.

Being here for so long has also given us the great opportunity to see Louis's old high school buddy, Steve Godwin. We've had dinner with Steve and his precious wife, Janet, now three times--and we all have had just the best time catching up with each other after these many years apart. We've loved reliving old times/stories and sharing new ones about our now grown children and grandchildren, careers and travels. I wish we lived closer!

A stay of any length of time here would not be complete without mentioning the ever famous restaurant/bar/local gathering place called "Fast Eddies"! What an experience--no one under 21 is allowed on the premises, there's a band nightly, they have only 7 items on the food menu, they have a huge inside and an equally large outside "dining" area (order your food & then find your own table), they're open from 11am to 1am---and it's hard to find a table to sit at even during lunchtime! We've been there now twice, and at lunch both times; we can't imagine what it would be like at night--wild and even-more loud, probably! It's totally unique! Their food prices are dirt cheap (delicious 1/2 pound hamburger is 99 cents!)--obviously their money is made on the bar and tee shirts/coozies/hats/beads/various junk! Even with all that, what a great place! Color Louis happy.

We've also eaten at some great places too--one being here in Grafton, The Mississippi Half-Step. Anyone reading this who is coming behind us downstream should not miss this place--we've eaten there twice--Louis having the scallops one night, the steak the other night, and me having chicken livers both nights--they're that good. Actually, I shared mine with Janet one night--gotta love a woman who loves chicken livers!! Yum.

I hate to end this blog this way, but on a serious note, the hardest thing we've had to face while on this trip is when we hear sad news from home--we feel so helpless being so far away and at a loss of just what to do. We've heard recently of the loss of Troy's son, Betty Clyde's mother and Vance's father--and just this morning, of the sadness Brantley's facing right now with his mother. Our hearts and prayers go out to all these special folks--our friends. If we were home, all of you know we would be right there beside you. God bless us all.