Sunday, March 22, 2015

Destin, FL

We sailed into Destin yesterday evening and anchored out in Destin Harbor. We were starving so we rode our dinghy over to Marina CafĂ© and parked it on the small beach right outside of the restaurant. The food was delicious! We shared fish tacos, margherita pizza, and mac and cheese. Too tired to do the planned grocery trip, we headed back to the boat and fell asleep listening to a great cover band that was playing at the nearby Boshamps Oyster Bar. The next day we went ashore on the dinghy to resupply the galley. We docked at Habordocks restaurant, and they were cool with us leaving the dinghy there while we walked to the grocery store. On the way, it started pouring down rain, and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we got there. Times like these are when I really miss having a car. Doing normal day to day activities take a lot more planning and time when living on a boat. After we finished shopping, we took a taxi back to the restaurant, had a cocktail, and went back to the boat. The rain had stopped so we headed over to the beach on East Pass for a little R&R. It was beautiful and got to see some dolphins doing water aerobatics. We've seen a lot of dolphins along the way, but I never get tired of seeing them! Tomorrow morning we plan on doing laundry and then leaving for St. Petersburg to visit David's cousin Travis, his wife Rebecca, and their kids. It will be our longest passage yet (260 nautical miles) and will take 2 1/2 days to get there. Looking forward to seeing some familiar faces!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Houma, LA to Pensacola, FL

It has been hard keeping the blog updated since the boat keeps us busy, and we've had limited cell service. Here is everything that we've been up to since the last post.

After leaving Wax Lake Outlet in the morning of March 8th, we motored a short way to Black Bayou and anchored for the night. We arrived in Houma, LA the next day and tied up to the city dock. It was the first town that we had been to since leaving Kemah, and it was nice to have a few luxuries, like shore power (without it we have to rely on a small propane heater to keep us warm) and access to restaurants. Up to that point, our anchorages had been in remote areas, and we hadn't seen anyone except for the two times we filled up with diesel. We decided to stay in Houma for two nights since we had to do a few necessary chores, like laundry and re-supply the galley, and we were waiting for the weather offshore to calm down a bit.

We left Houma on March 10th with Port Fourchon, LA as our destination. We motored until we reached Terrebonne Bay, and then we were able to put up the sails and kill the engine. After two weeks of continuous motoring, we were finally able to sit in blissful silence and enjoy the ride. Soon after the wind piped up quite a bit and the seas got really rough. We decided to take the sails down and go back to motoring since I wasn't comfortable sailing in those conditions. Halfway from Cat Island Pass to Port Fourchon the engine slowly ground to a halt leaving us drifting in the bay. Without the sails up or engine on, the ability to steer is basically non-existent. Usually drifting isn't a big deal, but it was nighttime, the boat was constantly slamming down over big waves (giving both of us a touch of seasickness), there were large commercial vessels in the near distance, and we were a good two hours from land. NOT FUN, and I was way out of my comfort zone. David assumed that the rough seas had stirred up debris in the fuel tank and had clogged the fuel filter. He went below to try to unclog it while I tried to keep us pointing in one direction. It only took five minutes or so for him to clean out the filter, and then he was able to get the engine running again. My hero! We made it to the port around 2am and anchored by some very large commercial vessels.

We stayed anchored in Port Fourchon two extra nights since another round of bad weather rolled in. Our alarm was set for 6am on the 13th to get up and get ready to leave for Grand Isle, LA. Around 4am I got up to use the restroom and noticed a bright spotlight shining through one of our port lights. I looked out and saw a large vessel (200+ feet) a mere 50 feet from us. He had pulled in next to us to park sometime during the night and didn't seem to care that our boat could swing on the anchor and hit him. David radioed the captain, and he basically told David that he's not moving and to go anchor somewhere else. Jerk! There could have been some serious damage to our boat if we had hit him so in a matter of few minutes, we pulled up the anchor and headed to Grand Isle. There was no point going through the trouble of finding another spot to anchor. We arrived in Grand Isle around noon and docked at Sand Dollar Marina for the night. We enjoyed a dinner at Star Fish and a drink at Island Daiquiri before heading for bed.

The next morning we left for Port Eads, which was a couple miles up the Mississippi River. We reached the mouth of the Mississippi around 10pm and had spotted the buoys that marked the channel. As we are about to turn into the channel, fog suddenly enveloped us and the buoy lights that were guiding us disappeared from sight. At this point, we had been through so many trying situations that it didn't even bother me. David turned back around to open water and luckily found a shallow open water anchorage. Although it wasn't protected from wind or waves, the seas were calm that night, and we only experienced some mild rolling.

We left for Dauphin Island, AL the next morning, which was our first overnight sail and would be our first beach anchorage. Everything went smoothly, and we arrived in the afternoon on the 17th. I was pleasantly surprised to see white sand beaches when we arrived. We had spent so much time in Louisiana and the swamp, and I didn't expect Alabama to have pretty beaches. Things were definitely getting better! The next day we took our dingy ashore for the first time, had breakfast at a nearby restaurant, and headed for a marina a short distance away to pick up a package we had shipped to them.

On the 19th, we left for Fort McRee Cove near Pensacola, FL and enjoyed a great sail about a mile from the beach. There was literally a line in the water that we crossed over that went from murky brown water to clear blue water. We could see the bottom when we were sailing in about 10 feet of water. Since we were in clear open water and our tank of fresh water was low, we decided to see if our watermaker worked. It's a reverse osmosis desalinator and produces 3.4 gallons of fresh water an hour. I cleaned out the hoses since there was some mold/algae growing in them, turned it on, and hoped for the best. The watermaker came with the boat, and if it didn't work, we wouldn't be replacing it since the price tag of a new one is around $4000. It's not necessary to have, but it makes life a lot easier not worrying about running out of fresh water. It thankfully worked, and the water it produced tasted great. We arrived at a serene anchorage around 7pm and had the company of a couple of other boats and a few dolphins.

This morning, the 20th,  we woke up to white sand beaches and clear pretty water. There were people out on the beach enjoying the sun rise and looking for shells. This is what I had been waiting for! We had crossed LA, MS, AL and were finally in FL. We are currently at Lost Key Marina in Pensacola and plan on leaving in the morning to go to Destin, which is about an twelve hour trip. I can't wait!!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The beginning of our voyage....from Kemah, TX to Wax Lake, LA

It is hard to believe that it has only been nine days since we left Kemah. The last week has been filled with excitement, boredom, and many new and sometimes trying experiences. Here is a quick recap.
February 27th – Hooray! We finally left the marina and officially began our voyage. We meant to leave at 7am, but last minute tasks delayed us until 10:30am. We went south through Galveston Bay, took a right into the Houston shipping channel, and then a left to enter the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We decided to take the ICW, which is a system of rivers, lakes, bayous, etc. that runs from Texas to Florida and then up the east coast, since weather offshore was not looking good. We finally arrived at our anchorage spot (Taylor’s Bayou) at 2am. After battling 20 knot winds, dragging our anchor all over the bayou, and four tries, we finally got the anchor set. It was our first time to anchor, and I sure in the heck hoped that it would not always be that difficult. We fell into bed at 4am extremely exhausted.
February 28th – We slept in and decided to stay put in the bayou for the night. Motoring on the ICW at night is not fun since HUGE barges pushed by tug boats are your constant companion.
March 1st – We needed to get fuel, pump out, and refresh our water supply so we headed for a marina in Port Arthur, which was located on the north shore of Sabine Lake. About half way there, a thick fog rolled in, and visibility was less than ½ a mile.  Luckily, we were on a stretch of waterway that had no traffic. At one point, I was sitting up at the bow trying to look out for obstructions, and David was driving. We heard this huge splash on our starboard side (right side when facing the front of the boat) and looked over not knowing what to expect. There was a lone dolphin that broke the surface, and I was very surprised to see one in this area!  We only saw it once before it swam away. Soon after, we decided to anchor in the middle of the lake since continuing in the fog was too risky.
March 2nd – We got up early since we had a long way to go to reach our next anchorage, Bayou Choupique in Louisiana. We arrived at the marina and a nice man by the name of Robert helped us dock since the wind kept blowing us away. We chatted for some time, and he gave us advice about where to stop along the way since he’d been on the ICW several times. He even offered to give us a lift into town if we needed any supplies.  I am still amazed by how nice people in the boating community are! After having issues with the pump out (which Robert helped fix), we were finally on our way again. At this time, I was thinking that nothing else could go wrong because we seemed to be having difficulties pop up every day. Boy was I wrong! Fog started to set in again around dusk. We were already a few hours off schedule and wouldn’t be at the anchorage until 9pm. Before we could get to our spot, we would have to go under a draw bridge. The height of the bridge is 50 feet so we wouldn’t fit unless they opened it for us. We were rounding the bend right before the bridge and called the people who control the bridge on the radio to open it for us. We didn’t get a response, and a feeling of dread set in. We heard back on the radio from a captain of a tug boat that we have to call LA transportation department and give a four hour notice to have the bridge opened. Great. This was not in the coast pilot! We had to turn around and embarrassingly go back the way we just came. We anchored between two barges on the bank of the river and called to have the bridge opened. I slept, David drank a lot of coffee, and then it was finally time to go back to the bridge, which we were told would open at 1am. Thankfully, someone was there to open it for us. We passed under it and got to our anchorage in less than 15 minutes. There were no issues anchoring, and we fell into bed exhausted again. As David looked back over the coast pilot the next day, he did find the detail about the 4 hour notice buried in the coast pilot. Now we know to read it over completely before we leave.
March 3rd – In the morning, we had to reset the anchor since the wind had shifted unexpectedly, and we were pushed aground. To do that, David got in the dinghy and physically moved the anchor from one spot to another. We then pulled on the anchor rode, which would hopefully move the boat out of the mud. It worked, and we were securely anchored again! We stayed there for the night since it’s supposed to be another foggy night.
March 4th and 5th – We left by 7am determined to get to our next anchorage before dark. It was only 40 miles away and would take us about 8 hours to get there. Finally, the sun was out, the temperature was warm, and the wind was blowing in the right direction. We motor sailed and were able to average 6 ½ knots, which was our fastest speed so far. It was a nice, relaxing ride, and we arrived in the Mermantou River around 2pm. Perfect! We knew that a cold front was sweeping through the area that night, and David had chosen this place since it would provide us protection from the wind. Everything was great until we were woken up by howling wind and slapping halyards at 2am. I tried to go back to sleep and had crazy dreams about sinking boats. We were woken up again around 4am by an anchor alarm that told us the boat was moving. The anchor had slipped, and we were being pushed into shallow water. We dressed in a hurry to go reset the anchor. Once we stepped outside, the full force of the weather hit us. It was bitterly cold, the wind was blowing between 30 and 40 knots, and sea spray was constantly coming over the side of the boat.  Between the time the alarm had gone off and going outside, the boat had been pushed into mud. The boat had also turned, and the wind was now coming directly over our port side. With the wind pushing on the top part of the boat and the ground pressing on the keel in the opposite direction, we were heeled to starboard at an alarming 30 degrees. The water was just inches below the deck on the starboard side. I was a ball of nerves since I had not been in bad weather conditions on a boat before. David went to the bow and tried to pull us out of the mud by pulling on the anchor rode. He was unsuccessful at pulling us out, but the anchor dug in so at least we weren’t being pushed further into the mud. We weren’t giving up though! Next we took off our dodger and bimini to reduce windage. Just after that, the frame that holds up the bimini and solar panels started to come apart, and we frantically tried to put it back together while trying to stay balanced in the cockpit. Once the frame was secure, we tried again to pull the boat out of the mud but had no luck. Since we weren’t able to pull ourselves out, we decided to hunker down and wait until the wind died down. To make things more comfortable and to keep us from getting pushed further aground, we moved whatever we could from the starboard side to the port side to counteract the heeling forces and try to level the boat. As we were sitting in the salon getting some rest, I told David that it was officially the worst day of my life!
March 6th – After an hour or two of some complicated maneuvering, David was finally able to pull us out of the mud, and we were on our way. He will write a detailed blog entry later to explain how he was able to get us out. He is awesome! We had an uneventful day and docked at a small bare bones marina for the night.
March 7th – We left early and headed for our anchorage in Wax Lake Outlet. As we were motoring along, I noticed a pelican flying low to the water behind our boat. He flew to our starboard side and gracefully landed in the water just as he reached the back of the boat. He sat in the water for five or ten seconds before repeating this exercise. Apparently he was scoping us out and decided that we were harmless enough because on his fourth flight to the boat, he landed on the side of the boat right by the cockpit and right by me!! I was a little nervous (or maybe a lot since a few small screams came out of my mouth) and moved over to the other side of the boat. He was two feet tall, and I was a little intimidated since I wasn’t sure what he would do. He just sat there looking back and forth at David and me with brown inquisitive eyes. He seemed completely at ease with us. I am assuming that he had done this a few times before and was looking for food so I got some of David’s sardines to feed him. At first I tried putting a piece on the deck, but he couldn’t pick it up with his long bill. I then held a piece out to see if he would open his mouth and let me hand feed him. This worked once, but it was a little awkward putting food in his bill. He flew away and started repeating his earlier exercise by landing near the back of the boat. I would throw a piece into the water, and he would try to snatch it up. This went on 5 or 6 times until I ran out of sardines. He kept coming back several times until he realized there was no more food. What an experience!
Today - We are anchored in Wax Lake Outlet and are reviewing our options. The original plan was to sail close to the coast and make it to Florida in two weeks. However, we chose to take the ICW since the forecast for offshore weather wasn't good last week. This route has slowed us down, and we haven't covered as much ground as we would have liked to. The weather offshore seems to be improving though, and we will hopefully be able to head back down to the coast in a day or two.