Sunday, June 30, 2013

Two months afloat

As we have celebrated two months of living on the boat it seems appropriate to update our travel blog.
While we haven't traveled far in miles, we have through milestones. Boats are proverbially "a work in progress" . Ours is no exception. 
For instance, the motor. It ran perfectly all the way down river, over two hundred miles without a hitch. Two weeks ago I was adjusting the idle at the dock and the fuel injector pump broke. Quit working. Nada. Zilch. There was nothing to do except purchase a rebuilt and install a " new" unit. Of course the yard would not give an estimate for repair costs so I opted to do the wrenching myself and only pay to have the mechanic set the timing which was 2 hours to stick a fuel pump into a waiting orifice. Not a bad gig for being a mechanic if you ask me. A small snafu on my part cost me a half day to remove the heat exchanger and install 2 little rubber bushings that I missed on the installation of the fuel injector. Yuck. What a PITA. Finished up the install today and the motor runs fine but now a leak has developed in an area I do not remember touching. Nonetheless, it had to be repaired. After 4 hours of dinking around with possible solutions and looking for the worst possible scenarios, a loose hose clamp turned out to be the culprit. This is typical of projects on this boat. One thing always displays another item that needs attention. We wonder when the maintenance will get to a "normal" state so it can be taken care of at our leisure, rather than another emergency operation. 
Karen is well along on her screen enclosure for the cockpit. Hope to wrap it up in the next day or two. The canopy for the main salon is working nicely to keep the boat in the shade.

Tomorrow we start our final round of improvements needed before we set sail.  We are going to reinforce our dinghy davits and mount a solar charging panel to keep up the batteries. The solar charger was mandated when we decided to replace our refrigeration unit. Making ice in the tropics seemed like a luxury at first glance but keeping food fresh for longer than a day meant we needed refrigeration. OK, cold beer did play a role in our decision. Certain creature comforts seem mandatory.

The weather patterns are our next concern. Three to four days to cross to Mexico would be better if we didn't run into excessively high winds or conversely as disappointing, no wind. We'll be keeping a close eye on weather over the next week or two. Watching for patterns. As far as preparing for the crossing, Karen is working on menus to serve at sea and I am finding places to stow our new life raft and rigging life jackets  with personal locator beacons (personal EPIRB'S for those in the know) and strobe lights. 

Here are an assortment of pictures taken from the marina. Every day brings a new palette of color and spectacular cloud formations. The last cloud photo is of an ominous looking storm cloud that consumed the remaining daylight and it did get very windy.
The seahorse sculpture is located in a park on the bluff in Fairhope.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Our Anchorages on the Tombigbee River

Our second night out we are anchoring in Okatuppa Creek. We went 90 miles today and are ready for a peaceful relaxing evening. It was shallow at the opening to the creek and we were watching our depth sounder closely as we need 5.5 ft to get in but but once inside, the creek dropped to 12,15 then 27 ft deep.The fireflies are putting on a fabulous light show.

Our third night we anchored in the Alabama cut off. We made 70 miles today.
Again, the entrance off the Tombigbee was shallow and we were watchful but once inside we had plenty of depth. In the morning as we were pulling up our anchors we had a "redneck" sighting. Two fellows came down the cut off in a contraption we could not make out at first. As they got closer you could see the hull, wheels and a wire cage of sorts. When they came up next to us we could see that they had loaded their 4 wheeler in the john boat and there was a wire cage on the back of the 4 wheeler. We are sure there is a story there but we were to busy pulling anchors and staying out of the way to stop for a chat.

Both of these anchorages were beautiful and quiet and we recommend them should you take a river trip.

Going Down the Tombigbee and Beyond

The river has been calling, the Caribbean Sea has been calling and today, Wednesday May 29th we depart the marina to become one with the current that will take us south to Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This is the first leg for shakedown sailing and jumping off to the Western Caribbean.

True to our style, the first leg is our, "We gotta get outta Dodge." leg, which means; we have to make the decision that even though we could do more work on our boat, as well as help others with their boats, we must cast off dock lines and head south. Our first night out we will go two miles south and anchor at Foscue Park, just north of our first lock and get a good nights rest and set out Thursday morning.

There is a boatyard axiom; the longer you stay in the boatyard the harder it is to get out, and it is true. The camaraderie of working together with other boat owners, sharing stories of projects that have grown outside there original scope, how each person improvises - improvisation being a key talent of any cruiser - stories of sailing adventures, hearing all the locations of the best anchorages, fishing spots, eating and drinking joints, and getting to know all of our fellow cruisers personal stories takes time, yet creates a sense of community. We met some characters ranging from old salts to those that had been sailors but were now converting to river loopers, as well as sailors that were new to the adventure. The cast of characters each deserve a page of their own and over time we will probably write about them.

Demopolis Lock

Chalk Cliffs of Demopolis

River views

Bridges - always watchful of the river gauge for height.

A railroad lift bridge we were watchful of concerning height clearance. Today we have 45 ft plus the additional 40-50ft you see on the gauge.

Highway bridges are usually plenty high but, it would still be nice to have a legible gauge on the piling.

Tugboats and Barges. Seems we met most of them in the narrowest s-curve bends. Very few did we meet in the wide straight away. We had a refresher course in maritime lingo. One whistle, pass port to port. Two whistles, pass starboard to starboard.  The tugboat Captains were very courteous on the radio giving instructions about the direction we should take to pass. Some of these tugs are pushing 9-12 barges. Watching the maneuvering is impressive.

Various derelict operations can be found along the way.

The infamous Mile 14 bridge, the nemesis of large sailboats. It used to be a swing bridge but is now a lift bridge with a clearance of 55ft and for some sailboats that is too low and risky. We need 50ft for our antennas and windvane, 52 ft is nerve wracking. Depending on the water level,which today according to the gauge is 64ft; 55 plus the 10 you see on the gauge - we will not have to worry. This bridge is of concern for sailors, as we are 13.6 miles from Mobile Bay and when tropical storms or hurricanes are in the forecast boats by the hundreds are trying to get up river closer to the 200 mile range.

Leaving the City of Mobile behind

Hello brackish water! Capt. Charlie is taking in the scents and watching all of the freighters coming and going around us. We are in the Mobile Bay shipping channel on course to our turn off to the marina.

Eastern Shore Marina in Fairhope AL, our berth for the next few days for shakedown sailing.

Rattlesnake Bend Shakedown

Today May 19th, is the day to head up river for our shakedown cruise. Systems check for battery bank to make sure alternator is charging our batteries as we motor along. Engine check for fuel, oil and coolant consumption. Electrical and plumbing check. Communication and navigation equipment check.

Navigation? - you may be wondering - how can you get lost on a river? I suppose one could get turned around after exploring a tributary and take a left instead of a right or vice versa, but what we really need to know is whether our GPS antenna knows where the boat is and can show us on our electronic charts where we are in relation to where we want to go. This is easy to verify while we are on the river. Depth sounder and speed/distance instruments will also be checked.

Communications means having the VHF radio on and tuned to Channel 16 to monitor river traffic.
We have found out as we sit here at the dock and try to listen to the tugboat operators that we haven't any idea what they are saying as the southern drawl is so heavy. We need to sync in with the lingo in preparation for passing them in the river.

Captain Mom/Karen and Captain Dad/Charlie navigating the log infested waters of the Tombigbee River

Our anchorage.