The day has come. We hoped to get away a few days earlier than this, but too much remained to be done. So, today is the day. We have had our party, and were able to attend another one at our friends house-warming Saturday night. We made it an early night, since we planned a 10:00 am departure. We were up and ready Sunday morning, and probably 20 friends joined us on the dock to bid farewell. We had a mimosa toast, gave out hugs and kisses and a few tears, and by 10:30 were underway.
The first problem was noted within a few minutes of leaving the dock. The auto pilot, which I thought I had fixed, was not working again. Also, the remote mic for the VHF radio would not let me talk. I could hear fine, but the push-to-talk button had no effect. The thought briefly crossed my mind of returning to the dock. But, I quickly dashed that thought. We had left, and I had to deal with problems underway. So, after some discussion, we decided to just change the plans a little. The original plan was to go offshore at Galveston bound for Destin, FL. Instead, we decided to turn east in the GIWW (Gulf Intra-coastal Water Way) and head for Steve's Landing. Steve's Landing is a restaurant on the GIWW, which has overnight dockage and electricity for $25, and great food. We knew Steve Anthony who built the place pretty much from the ground up with his own sweat. Steve was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident a couple of years ago, but the new owners have done a great job of not only carrying on the same service and menu, but had improved the place much as Steve would have had he still been there. So, to Steve's it was. We would be tied safely at a dock, and I could diagnose the problems. Our friends Sonny & Ruby chased us in their large power boat, and caught us just before we got to Steve's. We enjoyed a mid afternoon lunch/dinner with them before tackling the work.
I got under the bed in the aft cabin where the auto pilot drive and course computer are located and started messing around. Quite accidentally, I found that if I moved the wires that connect the whole Seatalk network together, the instruments all blinked and the drive unit started responding again. (For non-boaters, the Seatalk network connects all the instruments together and they share data, much like a computer network in your house or office.) The connections in question were on the course computer. It has many connections, and most of them are these little plastic tabs that your push up, insert the wire in an exposed hole, and then let go of the plastic tab. It bites the wire, and you have a connection. Well, I had two wire going in each of three holes, and one of them came out when I gave it a little tug. So, I reseated the wires, the auto pilot responded properly, and I was proud of myself for finding the problem so quickly. I then tackled the remote mic problem. I took the mic apart, hoping the PTT button was just not making a good connection. I got out my ohm meter and quickly determined the PTT button was working fine. The radio issue was not a show stopper, just an inconvenience, so we were going to deal with it later.
Off to bed, with a power connection and A/C.
We got up fairly early, around 06:30. After coffee, we headed on east on the GIWW. We could have back tracked the 7 miles to Galveston, but the idea of back tracking just didn't sit well with me. So we would go east on the GIWW to Sabine Pass, in Port Arthur, TX, where the next opportunity to get offshore is. Of course that is 50 miles in the ditch, instead of backtracking 7, but it made sense to me. And, in hindsight it was the right thing to do. Because...
About an hour into the trip, the auto pilot quit once more. The symptom of the problem is a message on the control head that says 'drive stopped'. The manual says this means the drive can't push the rudder. This may happen in heavy conditions when the boat is over powered by sail and it wants to round up into the wind. We don't think that is correct, since we are motoring in calm conditions, and I already know that the wiring problem had an effect on it before. This time, I went below while Barb drove to try and fix it. I was shocked to find the rudder post wobbling each time the wheel moved. There are four bolts that hold it secure in a big crossmember, and they were all so loose that the nuts on the back (invisible of course) were about to come off three of them. I never would have seen this had I not looked while we were underway. So, we make another executive decision to stop in Port Arthur, on Pleasure Island in Sabine Lake, where our good friends Bud and Janice have a nice house facing a marina and a private slip by the house. We arrived there about 3:30pm and got secured at the dock. After a welcome beer, I dove under the bed again. I wiggled the previously suspect wires, and again the auto pilot came alive. I suspected that perhaps since the wires were different thicknesses, the bite on them was unequal. So I got a nice terminal block that has big screws to make the connections, put the two wires together on one side and then ran short single wires from the terminal block to the course computer. Next, I tackled the VHF microphone problem. I was just going to go to West Marine and buy a new one, but decided to call the manufacturer first. They suggested testing the cable from the radio to the remote mic first. I did this, and determined that two of the eight wires were shorted together. The most likely cause of this would be at the radio end, where over the last few weeks I have done quite a bit of other work. Sure enough, the end of cable had gotten mashed and the one-of-a-kind connector was history. I decided again, that this could be postponed until we got to Florida. So I set about tightening the rudder bolts that I found loose. Of course, it requires a contortionist with odd tools to get to the back side of these bolts, and it depends where the rudder is for each bolt. I asked Barb to turn the wheel to one side, so I could access a bolt. She pointed out that I had removed the steering wheel in order to get at the radio. So, I told her to use the auto pilot to turn it. She tried and guess what? No response from the auto pilot. Those of you who know me well would probably say I'm pretty even tempered, but at that moment I really felt defeated. After a bit of emotional collection, we pressed on. I put the wheel back on, so we could finish the bolt tightening. Then I looked at the auto pilot again. Using a mirror to actually see all the wire connections (boaters will understand) I found that one of the power wires to the drive unit was only holding on by a couple of strands. When I installed the SSB radio tuner next to the course computer, I apparently stretched this wire a bit too far. So I added a foot to it, and reconnected it better. And the auto pilot worked! By now, of course, I was loosing a little confidence in my fixes, so I left it on while we went to dinner.
Bud and Janice took us to a nice seafood restaurant in Nederland, TX and we had a great meal. When we returned to the house, the auto pilot was still on and still driving. The marina there is fairly rolly, so even in the slip, the boat was moving enough that the auto pilot was always making little corrections. I felt better about it, but left it on all night to be sure. In the morning, it was still driving. I felt good, but we told Bud and Janice that if it quit before we got offshore, we might be back.
6/14/05 & 6/15/05
We woke to a dead calm morning. The marina, and Lake Sabine were smooth as glass. After coffee with Janice, we headed out. While crossing the lake, I played with the auto pilot, making it turn and it worked fine. We stopped in Sabine Pass and refilled our fuel tank, since we had already done more motoring than I expected to do on the whole passage. The guy at the fuel dock was tripping over himself to take care of us. He is used to dealing with commercial boats, mostly shrimpers, and was very interested in our plans and happy to deal with us. Also, the fuel was cheap ($1.72), since it was designated as off-road use and not taxed the same. The fuel dock back in Clear Lake sells tax-in fuel for over $2.00.
We motored on out the jetties at Sabine Pass, and turned east at the end. Even though the wind was light, we unfurled the sails and turned off the motor. The winds were from a favorable direction, but less than 10 knots, so we sailed all day at between 2 and 4 knots. We had hoped for about a 6 knot speed, but every hour spent sailing vs. motoring is FREE. So we sailed on. After all, we have no real schedule other than to get north before hurricanes start.
By about 9:00 pm, the wind died entirely. So, I cranked up the motor and we pressed on through the night. The Gulf of Mexico has a lot of stuff out there. The petro-chemical business is alive and well in the Gulf of Mexico. There are large active rigs drilling for stuff, which are lit up like Christmas trees. There are large platforms with nobody on them, which usually have blinking lights and are hard to miss. There are well heads that are not much more that a pipe and minimal equipment sticking out of the water which also have a blinking light or two on them. Some of the well heads also have a fog horn type device which warns you of their presence. Then there are the ones that have nothing. Big metal stationary objects in the path of my little plastic boat. This is why they invented radar. But, even with the radar, it's very un-nerving to be traveling along, see a echo on the radar, and not see anything in your path until you pass by and see the shadow of what you might have hit had you not had the radar. We only encountered one well with no lights and no sound, and one with no lights but it did have a horn. Then there are the numerous work boats going to and from rigs, which run all night long. They are hard to miss because the are very loud in addition to being properly lit. And they have professional and courteous captains who will probably watch out for you even if you don't see them. The shrimp boats may be the most problematic. They are lit up like Christmas tress, with their deck lights so they can do there work, so you should always see them, but they frequently have nobody at the helm while they are working. We would have been run down by one had I not been watching him and drastically altered course to behind him. There was no response on the radio and no course change on his part.
While we had not established a formal watch policy, we took turns at the helm while "auto" drove. Whoever was not on watch slept in the cockpit so if help was needed we were right there. We made it through the night fine, and dawn came with still no wind. We kept motoring until about 10:00. Around then, the wind started blowing a little, but was very variable. It would blow 10 or 11 knots for a few minutes, then drop to 4 or 5. I finally decided to raise the sails and try to sail. Of course after I did, then wind dropped again, so I restarted the motor but left the sails up. After about an hour of this, guess what? The auto pilot quit. It had been driving the entire way, but now, with a little more pressure on the rudder of the wind and motoring, it quit.
We had two choices. Hand steer for four more days, or turn back to shore to deal with the problem. I know, many sailors have gone round the world, by themselves, without an auto pilot. But, I didn't plan this to be a challenge. Especially with just two of us, having an auto pilot is like having two more crew members aboard. We were directly off the channel leading into Morgan City, LA when this happened. So, time for another executive decision. We turned north and headed inland. The offshore approach to the Lower Atchafalaya River extends out 18 miles from shore. It is a well marked channel, but to call it a channel is a misnomer, since it's no deeper than the surrounding waters - about 20 feet. Of course, the timing of this entrance was entirely wrong, since there was a strong outgoing tide. We were making a full two knots less over ground than the boat speed through the water, due to the opposing current. Once we got to the shore line, and were in the river, we still had another 20 miles or so to go to Morgan City, LA where there is a free public dock. Fighting the current, I was concerned about reaching the dock before dark. I ran the engine wide open, which I don't normally do, and cut every corner to make the trip a little shorter. We reached the dock about 8:30 pm, during twilight.
During this period of hand steering, I realized something that I had had clues to all along. Under anything but the calmest conditions, the boat is hard to steer. It also wants to turn left whenever you take your hand off the wheel. If it was a car, I would take it in for an alignment, but that concept doesn't apply to boats. Perhaps the auto pilot drive unit isn't really the problem, it just can't fight whatever is resisting in the steering system. Have to think about that.
Once at the dock, Barb prepared the first of our meals that our friend Pege had given us. What Pege did was put the dry ingredients for a meal in a Ziploc bag with the directions for what wet stuff to add and how to heat it. This makes the onboard preparation very easy. We enjoyed pesto spaghetti for dinner.
The dock here is not fancy. It is primarily shrimp boats tied stern-to against a long wharf. We had the pleasure of meeting a shrimper named Donnie here. He came over because he was intrigued by the boat. He was a character and we chatted for about 15 minutes. We had been warned by a friend who stayed here a couple of years ago that this was not a nice part of town, but we had no trouble. We put anything valuable below decks when we went to bed but I don't think anybody was around during the night. The Southern Waterway Guide states that this dock has 30amp power available, but this wasn't the case. The only plugs are normal household 110v plugs. I just happen to have and adapter to plug my 30 amp cord into a regular plug, but we immediately blew the breaker with the air conditioner on. So, I suspect they are standard 110v 15 amp circuits. So, knowing we would be motoring all day tomorrow, we ran the small A/C unit off the batteries all night. We were comfy, but the batteries were down to 11v in the morning.
We were the only pleasure boat there and side tied to the wharf. The water was low enough that our fenders were riding between the wharf and the lifeline stanchions instead of the boat hull. As insecure as this appeared, we stayed nicely in place all night, with very little wake action from passing barges. The only thing that woke us during the night was a loud whistle. I went above thinking it was a boat wanting in or out, and was surprised to find it was a train going over the lift-bridge right next to the wharf. Besides the whistle, it made a sound I have never heard before, going over this old metal bridge.
We had been looking forward to listening to the debut of Radio Margaritaville on Sirius radio Wednesday evening. But, after the stresses of day, we both forgot all about it. Oh well.
There are no sailboat facilities per se in Morgan City, so after a light breakfast and coffee, we headed east in the GIWW again. Today's goal will be Houma, LA where there is a nice cheap city marina. The trip was uneventful. Although getting north before hurricane season gets active was my primary goal, the intra-coastal does offer more scenery than offshore. Some is heavy marine industrial stuff, which I don't think the majority of us ever think about, and some is untouched natural scenery that few of us would ever see if not by boat. Especially in this part of swampy Louisiana.
The auto pilot refused to work at all today, which maybe negates my theory about the resistance in the steering system. But, something is definitely amiss in the steering, so I plan to replace the auto pilot drive unit and have the steering checked at a boat yard. Also, while motoring hard, I noticed a vibration and noise while below decks that I haven't noticed before. Perhaps the cutlass bearing is going out. Need to have that checked too.
Enroute, we passed a sailboat going west. We hailed him on the VHF, and found his boat was named Moon Shadow. He was from Rockport, TX, and was returning home from the Florida Keys. We chatted for a few minutes while in range of my hand-held VHF, since the remote mic still is an issue.
We saw several alligators, numerous birds, and literally millions of dragon flies along the way. The dragon flies were amazing. Many of them flew into the cockpit while we were underway, and they were all sorts of different colors and wing markings. They would light for a minute, sometimes on our bodies, and then carry on. Barb noticed while looking at the trees on the shoreline, that there were millions of them over and around the trees. The few that were finding us were just the adventurous ones.
Once in Houma, we found the city marina with no problem. We tied up and were greeted by the harbor master. He is an 81 year old gentleman who drives down the dock on a riding lawnmower to get your $20 and give you a welcome package. He also is a ventriloquist, so if you dock here, don't let him fool you by making you think somebody is calling you from the bridge above. He had us both going for awhile.
After making several phone calls, we took a bus to the West Marine store. Here, we arranged for a new drive unit for the auto pilot and a new cable for the remote mic to be delivered to the New Orleans West Marine store by Monday. We also called an old friend who has been in New Orleans on a boat and got info about a boat yard that can check out the steering and the cutlass bearing.
We got back to boat between thunder storms about 5:00pm. We enjoyed leftovers from last night for dinner, and did computer stuff. We were able to send and receive e-mails, but the new cell card I got to connect to the internet while traveling has been disappointing so far. It won't do me much good if I have to be in a major metropolitan area to connect.
So far, the trip has been nothing like the original plan. When I commented that we weren't at our destination yet, Barb said that "sure we were". We just had had several different destinations than we had planned. I guess that's how we have to look at it.
We slept in this morning, knowing we were only going to do about 40 miles today. We traveled the GIWW with no unusual events. It is an interesting trip, passing miles of nothing but cypress trees on the sides, and the occasional fish camp. We were surprised near the end of the day when we heard a roar like an airplane coming from behind the trees alongside us. After a minute of wondering what it was, an airboat came roaring out of a little side canal. After this first one startled us, several more came out.
Today's destination is the Fleming Canal Store. This is only about 15 miles out of New Orleans, but it is definitely Louisiana rural. The store has a little groceries, a little marine supplies, a little hardware, gas and diesel, ice, stray dogs, and alligators in the water. There is actually a highway and a town just a block or so away, but back there at the store, you wouldn't know any of that was there. The last hour or so before we got to the Fleming Store, we had noticed that it looked like we were going to have a thunderstorm. There was lightening in the distance and some rumbles. The closer we got to the store, the closer the storm was getting. We got there and tied up at the fuel dock. The dock is concrete with old wooden pilings along the edge. Some of them have old tires on them. Not your perfect dock for a sailboat. More suited to the swamp boats that are their more common customers. At any rate, we started fueling immediately. Filled the jerry cans we had used and then started filling the boat. It wasn't full yet when a cold blast of air signaled that the arrival of the storm. I didn't want to get water in the fuel, so I quit and capped it. We hung up the hose, closed the boat and ran to the store just as the sky opened up. The wind was probably blowing over 50mph, there was a good two foot chop on the previously calm water, and it rained so hard we could not see past the boat which was about 50 feet from the doors. The boat was pinned against those ugly wooden pilings, bouncing up and down and slamming into them over and over. I'm glad I wasn't inside the boat hearing this and not being able to what was happening. Several bolts of lightening hit very close to us, including one that was probably within a couple hundred feet. We found later that that one fried the wind instrument on the boat. One more thing to fix in New Orleans. Could have been a lot worse.
We spent about an hour in the store waiting for the storm to pass. They had the Weather Channel on TV and we were under a tornado warning. It was a nervous hour, but in the end, everything was ok except the wind instrument. The boat had little chunks of wood all over it from rubbing on the pilings, but other than some creosote marks, the hull was not damaged. The store closed at 5:00, and we enjoyed another one of our pre-packaged ready-to-prepare meals that our friend Pege gave us. It was actually very surreal. We were in the middle of rural swamp country, with an alligator cruising back and forth just a few feet from the boat, all sorts of night creature noises coming from the woods, listening to a Jimmy Buffet concert live on our Sirius radio, sipping rum and coke. It made dealing with the tensions of the boat problems better.
Today was an interesting day, with extreme highs and a fair amount of stress. We started only 15 miles from New Orleans, but between here and Lake Pontchartrain, where we are headed, there are two locks and seven bridges that have to be opened for us. These will be the first locks we do that actually raise or lower the water level. We did one back in Morgan City, but it was open and you just drive through after speaking with the lock tender on the radio.
We got a fairly early start, since dealing with the locks and bridges can take awhile. We were off the Fleming Store dock at 7:00am. The weather looked like there could be more rain, and after about an hour we heard thunder. It ended up raining pretty good for about two hours, but nothing like the previous evening. Just having to have the dodger (front windshield) closed and looking through the rain increased my tension though. We entered the Harvey Canal, which is a straight man-made canal that connects the GIWW with the Mississippi River. This area is all heavy shipping-related industrial businesses. Since it was Saturday though, there was no other traffic on the water, and most of the businesses on the sides seemed to be closed. Barb was able to see the rooftops of the neighborhood she lived in back in the late 80's. The first bridge we had to have opened was the Lapalco Blvd. bridge. Every bridge tender we have dealt with in Louisiana has been a woman, and each one of them has been polite and wished us well. Normally, they get the bridge open just as you get there, so you don't have to stop. It's a powerful feeling to see the line of traffic that backs up because they are letting you through.
A few more miles, and we were at the end of the canal, and the Harvey Lock. The Harvey lock controls the difference in water level between the GIWW and the Mississippi. When you get there, it just looks like a dead end of the canal. You contact the lock tender on the radio and they ask you details about your boat's size and name, and then tell you to wait. They may be busy locking someone through the other way, or in our case I think they just wanted to see how long I would patiently sit. There was no wind or current and the rain had stopped, so we were pretty much able to just sit there at the end of the lock without too much trouble. After about 15 minutes, the lock doors started to open and the tender told us to proceed into the lock. In locks where the water level is actually going to change, you have to tie the boat to the side of the lock. In this lock there are recessed spots in the walls with bollards to tie to. You have all your fenders of the side they tell you, and use one line amidships to hold you close to but not right against the wall. The big doors close behind you, and then water starts coming in from below the waterline. So, you don't see or hear water pouring un, but you see the turbulence caused by the water coming in from below. We raised up about two feet. Then the big doors at the other end open, you untie, and off you go into the mighty Mississippi. The two men operating this lock were very polite and helpful to us. As we first entered, Barb hollered to them (they are about 20 feet above you on the edge of the walls) that we had never done this. So, they stepped us through the whole procedure, asked us where we were from and where we were going, and told us how to contact the river' traffic control center once we left.
As we exited the lock, we saw the river in front of us, and the first signs of big city right on the side - a car that had been driven off the embankment and was now nose in the water on the edge. Kind of like the derelict boats we saw along the banks of the GIWW, but more urban.
The Mississippi is one of those areas of heavy commercial boat traffic that has a traffic control center. Galveston Bay had one too, but in Galveston they weren't too concerned with pleasure boats talking to them. Here, even in a pleasure boat, you had to contact Gretna Tower on a special radio channel and let them know your intentions. I told them we were entering the river at the Harvey Lock and proceeding downstream to the Industrial Canal lock. They basically just told me to stay out of the way of anything big, and stay way away from the cruise ships, tankers, or Navy ships and docks. This is a standard rule since 9/11.
Even though this part of the trip was not planned, I must say it was very cool to go by downtown New Orleans, and the French Quarter on the river. I have visited New Orleans many times, and have always looked out at the river, but it's always neater from the water side. When the tourists take pictures of you as if you're part of their vacation adventure, that makes it much cooler. We got some pictures of the city as we passed by. There was no commercial traffic in the river at all which I thought was unusual, even though it was Saturday. Shipping doesn't stop for weekends. We were in the river for about five miles and then we were at the entrance to the Industrial Canal which connects the river to Lake Pontchartrain. We contacted Gretna traffic to tell them we were leaving the river, then contacted the lock tender to ask to pass through.
This lock tender was not as forgiving of us not knowing what we were doing, although he was not rude or anything. First off, he wanted me to hold clear of the lock on the starboard side of the channel until he contacted me. But whatever words he said did not convey that to me. So, I had to ask him twice again what he wanted me to do before he said it in a clear manner that a non-professional captain would understand. Turned out he had two barges in the lock coming southbound that we had to wait for, and not be in their way when they came out towards us. So we hung over by the side of the channel and waited a good fifteen or twenty minutes. Again, there was no wind and very little current, so we didn't have to do a lot of work staying in one place. (For those who may not be familiar with sailboats, if they aren't moving through the water, they have no steering. So if you are just sitting you are the mercy of the current or wind. Which means you have to keep moving around in circles if you do have to deal with that.) Finally, the lock tender called and said that the lock was opening, two barges were coming out and we should proceed in as soon as they were clear. We did this, and were told to come to the front of the lock on the port side (left). The first thing we noticed was there was no recessed bollards to tie to like there had been in the Harvey Lock. Turns out here, they drop you lines from the top of the wall that you tie to the stern and amidships. These guys were not as helpful to the rookies as the Harvey guys had been. They closed the lock behind us, but then opened it again to let another small, loud, workboat in. The single person on that boat seemed to know less than us about the lock procedures, or about driving his boat in general. But he finally got secure, and they started letting water out of the lock. This time we were going down about a foot to the level of the lake. Once lowered, the gates opened, we cast off their lines, and we were into the Industrial Canal. Within about a quarter mile was the next bridge to get opened. It was no hassle, and we proceeded north. The next bridge was a combination railroad and city street bridge that when closed was right at the water level. So even little fishing boats had to wait for it. Of course, as we approached, there was a very long, slow moving train crossing the bridge. The pecking order of bridges is cars usually get lowest priority, boats are next, but trains get top priority. Obviously, once a train starts across a bridge, you can't interrupt it for a boat. So we waited, again in very little current. We were aware from the radio that there was a barge on the other side of the bridge waiting to come southbound, and we had spoken to him and confirmed we would pass through first once the bridge opened. What surprised me when the bridge finally opened was that there were about eight small powerboats also waiting, and they came at us like flies as we were trying to negotiate the fairly narrow channel under the bridge. About a half mile further was the Chef Menteur lift bridge which has a forty foot clearance when closed, but we need sixty feet. I called and got no response, several times. Finally a voice responded that "she wasn't back yet and to standby". I guess "she" was the bridge tender and she was on lunch break or something. So we waited. This time however there was a two-knot current pushing us towards the bridge. I'm not sure where this came from since just upstream there didn't appear to be a noticeable current at all. We ended up waiting about fifteen minutes for this bridge to open, and most of that time I had the boat pointed away from the bridge, into the current with the engine idling in forward gear. The paddlewheel that measures the speed of the boat through the water said we were going two knots, but we were sitting still.
Once the bridge opened I thought we were home free. There is one more bridge at the lake, but we were planning on going to Seabrook Marine Center, where we hope to get the repairs done, and this is before the bridge. According to the Waterway Guide, they have transient slips and facilities, so we hoped we could just stay there. We had been trying to contact them by phone and only got a voice mail. Once we were close, we tried hailing them on the radio and got no response. So, we just pulled in. There didn't seem to be anybody there to help us, and the only empty slip was just four pilings with no finger pier, so getting off and on the boat would have been a hassle. So, we opted to go on into the lake for the weekend and go to the New Orleans Municipal Marina where our friends Brian and Tammy had stayed a couple of years ago when they made this same trip. We called them on the phone and were told they had no transient slips available. They suggested going to South Shore Harbor Marina, which meant motoring about a mile out into the lake and then a mile back to get around the end of the Lakefront Airport's runway. We tried calling South Shore on the phone and radio and got no response. I hated going that far without knowing for sure if we could get a slip, but didn't really have another option.
After wonderful experiences with all the bridges along the way, the last bridge into Lake Pontchartrain, would not answer my calls on the VHF. I tried Ch16 as the Waterway Guide said. I tried Ch13 which all the other bridges used. I tried calling both the name listed in the Waterway Guide, and the name listed on a piece of paper the harbormaster in Houma gave us. No response. But as we approached, the bridge started to open. After we passed, I still said thank you on the radio to the phantom bridge operator.
We pulled in to South Shore Harbor and tied up to the t-head at the end of the first dock. We asked another boater where we might find the 24-hour security guard that their sign back in the canal mentioned, and he directed us to them. Turns out this is who you see for a transient slip on the weekend. I didn't make an issue of the fact that she didn't respond to the radio. She told us which slip to take, then met us there, helped us tie up, did the paperwork, showed us the bathrooms and shower and laundry facilities and gave us some tips about getting into the city and told us about the Bally's casino that is right next to us.
OK, so now the stressful part is done. We can't do anything about the boat until Monday, so we might as well spend Saturday night on Bourbon St. We showered and went up to the front of the casino to get a cab. The cab driver was intrigued that we were on a boat and had all sorts of questions. He also took the long way to the French Quarter and the ride cost $10 more than it should have. We had him deposit us at the Margaritaville Cafe to eat. We had Cheeseburgers in Paradise and a couple of drinks. While there, we had a nice chat with Brett Brown the general manager. We had met Brett a year ago and found out then that his uncle had lived on a boat for awhile, then ended up parked in the Houston area.
After Margaritaville, we walked over to Bourbon St. Our first stop was Tropical Isle, a favorite Parrothead hangout. Barb got a Hand Grenade and I got a Horny Gator, two of Tropical Isle's patented kick-ass drinks. We sat up on the balcony and watched to people go by while enjoying our drinks. It occurred to me that usually when we are in New Orleans, it has been with a lot of our Parrothead friends, and it was kind of odd to just be here by ourselves. After a bit, we headed down Bourbon St. to Papa Joes, which is owned by the same folks as Tropical Isle and is much the same type of place. We got new drinks and were standing there watching the crowd when noticed Earl, one of the owners at a table near the band. Then we saw that Pam, the other owner was there too. As we started to walk over to say hi, we noticed Wayne, a New Orleans friend who we know from Parrothead events here, and then Connie who is a good Parrothead friend form Austin. We were all amazed at the fact that we ran into each other. We spent a few hours there visiting with them and listening to the Florabama Band. (For the non-Parrotheads, the Florabama was a funky beach bar on the Florida-Alabama line in Gulf Shores, that got destroyed by hurricane Ivan in 2004. Turns out Pam and Earl have booked the band on a regular basis to play at Papa Joes since their old place is gone.)
About 10:00, we bid farewell to Wayne and Connie, and got a cab back to the marina. This guy went the right way and the ride was $10 cheaper than on the way in. We checked out the casino a bit before coming to the boat. I put a $10 bill in a 25 cent slot machine, and it didn't register my credit. No, I know it's gonna take my money eventually, but I would really like to enjoy the illusion that I might win something with a few spins of the reels. It took forever to get an attendant, but Barb finally dragged one over and she retrieved my jammed bill from the machine. I then went to a different machine and used a different bill (a $20 this time) and left with zero. But I had that illusion.
Back at the boat, we found the aft cabin warmer than expected. The fan on the A/C was running, but it was not putting out cold air. This usually means the raw water intake has become too clogged. I removed the strainer and cleaned a large amount of gook out of it, but even then, the water only came out of the pump at nominal below-the-waterline pressure, not pumped pressure. At this point, I'm too frustrated to deal with another problem and figure I'll be buying a new pump while we're here. We set one of the box fans in the galley so it would blow cool air from the front of the boat back into our cabin.
So, off to bed. We can sleep in tomorrow. Today was a day of high stress, which isn't why we are doing this, but also a great day with the surprise of meeting our friends.
Today was a lazy day. We got up about the regular time, but just sat around enjoying coffee in the cockpit and watching the marina. Even on the weekend, the marina didn't seem to be very busy, even though it is quite large. We planned to go over to the casino to enjoy their Sunday brunch buffet, so we didn't make any breakfast on the boat. About 11:00, we headed over to the buffet. We were amongst the first to arrive, so everything was pretty fresh. It was a bit pricey at $20 per person, but it was Father's Day, so we figured we'd use that as a justification to splurge. My first disappointment was that there were no breakfast items on the buffet. My idea of a brunch is breakfast or lunch items. At any rate, what was there was pretty good, but it wasn't worth the $20.
After lunch, we did some chores. Barb took two loads of laundry up to the on-site laundromat while I defrosted the fridge and looked at the rear A/C. Even though I assumed the water pump was bad, since they seem to have a life of two years or less, I figured I would really diagnose the problem rather than just throw money at it. First I checked the power. There was good 110v at the junction block where the wires go to the pump. Next I opened up the pump body itself to see if there was something jammed in it. Sure enough, a small piece of twig, about a 1/4 inch long had made it through the strainer and was jamming the impeller. I put it back together and it worked fine. Wow, I'm $150 bucks ahead! I filled the water tanks and Barb got back from the laundry.
The rest of the day was spent walking around the marina, having leftovers on the boat, and working on the computer. I actually had the first semi-reliable connection on my cellular PC card since the trip started, so I enjoyed actually doing a little Internet surfing catching up on other cruiser's logs that we follow.
Just as we were getting ready for bed, the boat started rolling noticeably. Enough that I thought perhaps somebody had stepped aboard. I popped my head out of the companion way and nobody was there. Nor was there any passing boat or wind. It was dead calm. But, every boat in the marina was rocking. This really puzzled me, since the marina had a long 90 degree seawall to protect it from the lake.
This morning we were up by 7:30 so I could call the boatyard at 8:00. About 8:15, I was talking to Jeff at Seabrook Marine Center about our troubles. I was concerned that they may not be able to fit us into their schedule right away. To my delight, he said bring it right over. So, I went up to the marina office, checked out, and we headed their way. That meant motoring out into the lake and around that long runway again, so it took a while. Upon arriving at the bridge between the lake and the canal, I hit the radio again. No response. I hailed five times and got no response. But as we got close and I was about to turn around, the bridge started to open. Once again, I thanked the phantom bridge. Immediately after passing through, a northbound tug with a barge hailed the bridge. No response. He hailed again. No response. Once I passed the tug, I hailed him and told him that the bridge didn't seem to talk, but magically opened when you got there. Well, this tug was the U.S. Coast Guard and their barge that maintains channel markers. He thanked me for my feedback and pointed out that a silent bridge operator is not the way it is supposed to work. He wasn't happy.
We pulled into Seabrook Marine and pulled into the haulout slip, as Jeff had instructed me to do. Another worker quickly came over and said they were about to launch another boat, so could I back out and wait. We did and side tied back at the new dry-stack power boat dock they have just built. I walked up to the office and met Jeff. As soon as he had a chance, he came to the boat and we took it out for a ride in the channel, so he could look at the steering gear while we were underway. What he found was a lot of slack in the steering cables. He speculated that given that slack, the rudder was able to move enough to make wheel effort hard and possibly confuse the auto pilot. It was worth tightening the cables first and see if that helped. So we docked again, and Jeff and another yard guy, David, got back under the bed and tightened both cables. We then took it out for another spin, and it felt much better. It no longer turned left on it's own, the effort required to steer was less, and the auto pilot drove fine. While on this ride, Jeff listened for the vibration that I thought might be the cutlass bearing. He agreed it was vibrating too much, and we agreed we should haul the boat to see what's up.
Back in the yard, we pulled into the haulout slip. They raised the boat and drove it ashore. Trying to move the prop shaft from side to side didn't reveal much wobble in the cutlass bearing, but rotating the prop made an ugly squeal from the bearing. More disturbing was that we found the prop had many chips out of it as if it was the victim of extreme galvanic deterioration. Also, the new zincs (which are supposed to be eaten by galvanic problems instead of the prop) were already badly deteriorated (they were installed three weeks ago) and one of them was not tightened on the prop shaft properly. So, we decided to keep the boat out of the water and replace the cutlass bearing, and see if the prop can be reconditioned. If it can't be we will replace it.
A normal part of hauling out is pressure washing the slime off the bottom. This process revealed that the bottom paint was in much worse condition than it was eight months ago when I hauled out. So, we decided to do a bottom job while it's out too. And they are going to diagnose the wind instrument problem to see if the masthead transducer is fried, or the display unit. So, we will be in the yard until Friday morning.
So, we will make the best of being stuck in New Orleans for a week. We rented a car from Enterprise (since they come and get you). And we got a motel room just down the street from the boat yard. (When the boat is out of the water, you can't run the A/C.) We spent the afternoon driving around. Had lunch at Port Of Call on the edge of the French Quarter - the best burger you may ever have. Found the West Marine store and picked up the new auto pilot drive unit and remote VHF mic we ordered from Houma. Even if the old auto pilot drive works now, I'm keeping the new one as a spare. We took the Canal St. ferry over to Algiers and drove by two houses Barb lived in twenty years ago. The neighborhood had changed some, but the houses were still there. (My ex-wife will identify with that statement.) We then drove across the Huey P. Long bridge back to New Orleans. They Huey P. Long bridge was a railroad bridge that they hung two lanes of roadway off the sides each way years ago. The lanes are very narrow, and you have to wonder if the original structure was really intended to carry the extra weight. It looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
On to the grocery store to get some rum and cola and snacks for the motel room.
Today was a tourist day. If we're going to be waiting, we might as well enjoy ourselves. After a slow start with continental breakfast at the motel, we went over to the boatyard to check on the cat. He was fine, and we left the companionway open so he could spend the day in the cockpit if he got too hot.
We then headed to the zoo. We had heard that the New Orleans Zoo was quite nice. And, it was. We spent over four hours there, and saw the whole thing. It is quite large and well arranged so that you can make your way around without backtracking. But, it was a lot of time on our feet, and my knee seems to be swelling for no good reason. So, when we were done with zoo, we headed for the nearest cool bar. Just a couple of miles from the zoo, is a place called Cooter Brown's, which we had been to several years ago. It is in Carrollton, near the end of the St. Charles Av. trolley line. They have 42 beers on tap and another 40 or 50 in bottles. We spent an hour or so there, having a couple of beers and watching the college world series on TV.
While we were at the zoo, the boatyard had called to let me know that the prop is not re-conditionable. They do not have a new one like it, and are looking for a good used one that will work. They have started sanding the bottom. We stopped by there on the way back to the motel, said hi to the cat, and locked the boat up for the night.
Back to the motel, ordered a pizza, and worked on that rum some more.
Today, we started the day early by going to the boat. We wanted to replace the cable for the remote VHF mic before the day got too hot. We pulled the old one out with a string attached to it so that we could pull the new one in. That part went remarkably easy. I was feeling good so far. We then started to pull the new cable. We didn't get too far, when we got to a place where the string went through a place that the fat end of the cable could not possibly get through. The string apparently cut a corner as we pulled the old cable out. For the life of me, I don't recall how I originally got this cable in where it was. We tried for an hour to get the cable where it ought to be, and then I resorted to plan B. The new cable now exits an access hole behind a mirror in the head and runs around the edge of the head externally, and then goes back in another access hole in a cabinet. It doesn't look good, but it works. It will give me something to do someday in the islands to go back and do it right.
We then went back to the motel and showered. About 11:00, we decided do get a bite to eat. We thought we would drive east on I-10 a little and look for a place like Chili's or Applebee's. A few miles east was an exit to the south that went to a new Six Flags amusement park. I figured surely there would be restaurants near the entrance to the park. Well, there was none. The Six Flags is by itself in the middle of nowhere. We proceeded south to Hwy 90, a.k.a. Chef Mentuer Highway, so I could show Barb a fleabag motel that I stayed in years ago when I came to Jazz Fest without having booked a motel a year in advance. Once on Hwy 90, we went east. I figured there had to be some things out there. Well, we had a very nice ride along the coast, seeing lots of small weekend homes which all had names on signs out by the highway. But, we were not finding any restaurants, and we were getting low on gas. After about 30 miles, we finally came to an intersection where the cross-road went to Slidell. We headed there. We found gas and had a nice lunch at a local diner.
We then headed back to the motel. Barb had to make an important call at 3:00, and had left the paperwork she needed in the room, since we didn't plan to be gone this long. We still had over an hour, so we weren't worried. As we got back into New Orleans, we saw our exit coming up. You have to understand that our motel is on the west side of the Industrial Canal which we had traveled in the boat on Saturday. We were coming form the east and had to cross the canal. I-10 has a high bridge that doesn't open, but the next exit off I-10 would be past the motel. The last exit on the east side of the canal would take us to Hwy 90 and the Chef Mentuer lift bridge. We took this exit and were immediately stuck in a huge backup from the bridge. The real funny part of this, is that we always joke about the power we have in the boat to stop traffic when they open a bridge for us. Now the joke was on us. This seemed to be an unusual bridge opening though. It was taking way too long, and people were bailing out any way they could. We finally inched up to the last intersection before actually being on the bridge, and it was apparent that the bridge was broken. It kept going up and down with no traffic ever crossing. So, we turned north towards the lake and towards the marina we had stayed in over the weekend. There is another bridge on the lakeshore which we could cross and come back to the motel from the other side. Well, we weren't the only ones with this idea. So traffic was heavy. It was compounded by some street repairs which had two of three lanes closed. We finally got to the bridge only to find it closed! There was a sign there (should have been back at the highway) that said starting today for the next two weeks, the bridge would be closed during the day for repairs. So, we jumped out of the traffic and headed towards the marina and casino. I thought I could get back to I-10 that way, but it turned out that street dead-ended at the casino. So we went back towards the closed bridge. To our amazement, in the few minutes that took, they opened the bridge going our way, because they must have realized the other bridge had trouble. We got across and now had to make our way back to the motel. We got there with three whole minutes to spare. I thought this lifestyle was supposed to be stress-free.
About 5:00, we went by the boatyard to check on the progress. The bottom has been sanded and washed, and should get the first coat of paint first thing in the morning. We closed everything up and headed to the French Quarter.
We met our Parrothead friend Wayne in the French Quarter for dinner. We met at Papa Joe's for a couple of drinks first. We then went to Orleans Grapevine for dinner. Orleans Grapevine is owned by Pam & Earl, the same great folks who own Papa Joe's and Tropical Isle. This is the second time we have eaten here, and I can only say you won't be disappointed if you come here. The service is very good and the food is excellent. I ordered a filet, and Barb ordered the salmon, and we shared each dish. I think can honestly say I have never had a better filet. Wayne treated us to dinner, which was an unexpected pleasure. It was nice having a local friend to share our unexpected time in town with. We bid Wayne good night. He lives just down the street, and had to go to work in the morning. We strolled back down Bourbon St. one last time.
We decided to stop in at Papa Joe's for a nightcap. There was a solo singer there who took requests. There were only a few customers, but a couple at the table next to us requested a Buffett tune. We all sang along as he played it and then a couple more. We struck up a conversation with Bucky and Angie from North Carolina, who are also Parrotheads. We told them our story and our plans and enjoyed their company for a while.
We slept in this morning. Must have had something to do with all that rum last night. We got out about 10:00 finally and went over to check on the boat. I think I forgot to mention what the cat is doing through all this. Well, since he is the designated Security Officer of the boat, he has been staying there keeping things in order. We have been stopping by every morning to open up the ports and hatches, and back every evening to close it all back up. He seems to be doing fine, although I'm sure he is spooked by the sounds of the yard.
The boat already had it's first coat of paint. I spoke to the guy who coordinates things, and he said we should get the second coat first thing tomorrow, and be in the water by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. They diagnosed the wind instrument problem and decided it was the display unit. So, I have a new coming overnight which should be here in the morning. I'll install that myself.
We have replaced the cutlass bearing, but the prop was not reconditionable. They also could not find one like it in New Orleans or within a day or so. So, we have put the original one back on. The boat was built in Largo, Fl, near Tampa, where we plan to stop after Destin. I have been in contact with the factory and they are looking to see if they have a prop like it there. They have changed the prop they use since then, but they seemed to think they might have one in the warehouse. Should find out tomorrow. If that doesn't work, I have an old high school friend in NY who works for a prop shop. Maybe she can help me out.
We spent the afternoon being tourists again. We drove down to the south west side of the city, along the river road, and visited three old plantation houses. We saw Destrahan Plantation, San Francisco Plantation, and Oak Alley. They were all very interesting, but Oak Alley was my favorite. In front of the main house was a row of 28 300 year-old live oak trees, 14 on each side, forming a canopy towards the river. You can't take pictures inside the houses, but we got a few nice ones from outside.
When we left there we headed back into New Orleans on I-10. Of course, we hit evening rush hour traffic. We witnessed an accident, where the traffic came to a stop and one guy in a big Dodge pickup didn't notice. He was in the left lane, and we were in the middle. He locked it up and swerved to the shoulder. His tire caught the concrete wall in the middle, and the truck jumped up quite a bit. Somehow, he didn't hit any other cars, and when he passed us later, it looked like it had only scraped the end of his bumper when he hit the wall. Lucky guy. We went and closed up the boat, said good night to the cat, got some chicken at Popeye's and came back to the room to watch the NBA final game.
Today was a day for logistics. First, we headed over to the boat to open her up for the cat. This was about 8:30, and they already had half of the second coat of paint on the bottom. We loaded stuff we had taken to the motel back aboard, then headed for the grocery store. We got what we needed for the next four days at least. Back to the boat to load that aboard.
I called West Marine to check on the wind indicator. I was hoping that the FedEx overnight delivery would be by 10:30am, so I could get the part and return the car by 1:00pm. Brian at West Marine told me that Friday FedEx's usually didn't come till late afternoon. Bummer. Keeping the car past 1:00 would cost me another $50. So, we headed on over to West Marine to see if maybe we could do the transaction, and then have a taxi pick it up and bring it to the boatyard. We got there, met Brian, and did the paperwork (i.e. paid for it). I asked Brian if he knew of a delivery service or if he would call a cab to deliver it and he volunteered to have an employee bring it to the boatyard when it came in. Sure enough, about 2:30, Frank from West Marine showed up with the part. I can't thank Brian and Frank and Mark at the New Orleans West Marine for their help in getting the parts we needed while we were here.
We had hit the ATM and the Burger King and returned the car before 1:00. The guys from Enterprise brought me back to the marina. As was the guy who picked us up, this guy was just amazed at the thought of what we were doing.
As a side note - this week, as we have played tourist here, we keep getting asked "where are you from". Well, the easy answer is "the Houston area". But, it is more fun to say something like "we're from the sailing vessel MoonSail, and we just happen to be here right now". That of course opens up a whole conversation to explain what we are doing. At this point I judge which answer to give by whether or not I feel like explaining it at moment.
About 2:30, right while Frank from West Marine was here, they were getting ready to put the boat back in the water. They got the Travelift over it and picked her up. I went to the office to see if they had the bill ready, but they didn't. So, in the water she went, and we motored over to the just completed fuel dock to fill up. We were the second boat to use the fuel dock. We had to wait for the first one. Seabrook Marine is in the process off making some major improvements to their facility. This includes a dry-stack storage building for power boats, the fuel dock, a store and restroom and shower facility, bait, ice, etc. We fueled, and then went back into the channel to put the boat in a slip for the night.
A funny thing here was that they trust you. In Clear Lake, we also had a Seabrook Shipyard (no relationship), where I had been hauled out three times over the years for work. When the work was completed there, they put your boat in the Travelift and drove it to the haulout slip, where they held it hostage until you produced your receipt for paying the bill. Here, there was none of that. After we had fueled, we went to the office and paid the bill for the work, the fuel, and the extra night in a slip. I can't thank them enough for the service I have gotten. Jeff, David, and Dwight from the yard, and John Fox from Marine Microsystems are all class people who helped out cruisers in a time of need. The overall price was less than I had braced myself for and they honestly cared about taking care of us.
So here we are, one last night in New Orleans. We are in a slip with the A/C on. Some thunderstorms passed nearby, but no rain here. Barb has washed the decks - they were covered with dust from the bottom sanding and other yard work. We have put things away, turned bilge pumps back on, put the paddlewheel back in for the speed indicator, and generally gotten ready to get away early in the morning. We have decided to stay in "the ditch" to Florida. Going offshore far enough to get out of the Mississippi delta would be farther than staying inshore to Pensacola and then bouncing outside to Destin, so that's how we'll go. We can't get all the way to Destin in the ditch because of fixed bridges once we're in Florida. Should be in Destin Tuesday evening.
We wanted to get an early start today, because we have a long way to go. We actually set an alarm and were up at 06:00. After coffee, I started trying to call the Chef Mentuer Highway bridge to see when they started doing openings. Finally a little after 07:00, I got an answer and they said bring it on. So we were out of the slip by 07:25 (GPS N 30-01.650 W 90-02.120). The bridge is about 3/4 of a mile south on the Industrial Canal. You could tell it was a slow morning, because the bridge called us on the radio before we had a chance to call them. She had it open when we got there without even breaking stride. About a 1/4 mile past the Chef Mentuer bridge is the I-10 bridge which is plenty high, and then the L&N Railroad bridge which carries two tracks and a city street. This is the same bridge we had to wait a bit for on the way into town. Well, this time there was a stopped train on it. I called the bridge on the radio and let him know we were waiting as soon as the train moved. The *&%# train didn't move for an hour. For an hour I was stuck between the two bridges with an increasing number of annoying little fishing boats, trying to keep the boat either in one place, or turning in a tight circle. The current wasn't as bad as last time, but it got old. Finally the train backed up and cleared the bridge.
Just south of this bridge is where the GIWW joins the Industrial Canal from the east. That's where we are going. For about 30 miles, it was a fairly boring trip. Not much to see and very little other traffic. We were behind by an hour already, but if I can average 6 knots, we should still be able to make Ship Island before dark. At the 34 mile marker the GIWW enters open water. First it goes through Lake Borgne, then it enters Mississippi Sound. This would be an excellent place to do some sailing instead of motoring, but of course what little wind there is is directly on the nose. Since we have a particular destination, we can't zigzag around to take advantage of the wind, and just keep motoring. To make matters worse, for a large part of this leg, we are fighting a two-knot current. So we are only making about 5 knots over the ground even though the boat is going almost 8 knots through the water.
About an hour and a half into the trip, the auto pilot quit driving again. Those of you who know me as even-tempered, have no idea how much this issue is pissing me off. I hand steered the rest of this long day.
We had been planning to go to a place called Cat Island to anchor, but a guy we met at the boatyard said Ship Island was much better. Also, Ship Island was mentioned in the Waterway Guide, while Cat Island was not. So, Ship Island was our destination. It was about seven miles further, but looked to be better protected in east winds, which is what we have had all day. When we got to Ship Island about 18:00, there we quite a few powerboats there, and two other sailboats. The depth as you approach the island goes from 30 feet to 10 feet and less very quickly. One of the sailboats was anchored in the 30 foot water. I preferred to be a little shallower, so we inched closer. When we had about 10 or 11 feet, we dropped the hook. It set immediately, and we relaxed in the cockpit with a drink. There was a current and no wind, so we hung straight off the anchor without waving around.
Another small sailboat anchored even closer to shore than us. They probably have a retractable centerboard so they can be in the shallows. They inflated a small dinghy and tied it to the back of their boat. While we were relaxing in the cockpit, I glanced over and realized their dinghy was getting farther and farther from their boat. I grabbed my portable air horn and started blowing it their way. It took a few minutes, but they finally came up from their cabin and saw why I was blowing it. They had to raise their anchor and go chase the dinghy down. At least they caught it before it was gone.
After relaxing a bit, I set about swapping the auto pilot drive unit with the new one that we got in New Orleans. This turned out to be even simpler than I had envisioned. I didn't have to remove the bolt that mount it, because a large pin held the unit to a mount that was bolted to the boat. So, I just popped that pin, cut the wires, and swapped them. In about twenty minutes the new one was in and seemed to work.
By dark, all but two of the powerboats had headed back to the mainland. Once it was dark, we took showers on the rear deck. Since we had no A/C, we laid down in the cockpit where there was a little breeze. Sometime before midnight, Barb had gone below, and at midnight, I woke up fairly uncomfortable and went below also. Before falling asleep again, we heard the wind generator started to spin. A fresh breeze was picking up, but unfortunately it was from the northeast, which meant the island did not protect us from the chop on the water that kicked up from the wind. So, the boat was rocking substantially. I went back into the cockpit and turned the instruments on so I could tell if we dragged anchor or not. We seemed to be staying put. I finally relaxed enough that I could lay in the cockpit and fell back asleep.
About 02:00 I was jolted awake by the boat hitting the bottom on the downswing of a wave. I guess it's my destiny to scrape the bottom paint off the bottom of the keel within 24 hours of having it applied. I checked the depth, and it read 5.5 to 5.8. We draw 5.5, so we were just hitting the bottom because the chop from the wind was quite extreme by now. I checked the tide tables, and we at the lowest it should get. So, I decided to just ride it out. Other than the bottom paint, it shouldn't hurt the boat since the bottom is sand. It was quite disconcerting though, and needless to say, I didn't sleep for almost two hours, until the water had come back up about six inches and we didn't seem to be hitting anymore. Barb slept through all of this, which was good. At least one of us got some sleep. About the time we weren't hitting bottom anymore, Barb came back up to the cockpit. I went to sleep while she sat up watching. The wind was still blowing more than we have seen the whole trip. It turned even more to the north which made the boat turn towards the shallower water, and we bumped some more, but not as bad.
GPS N 30-13.020 W 88-58.009 Miles made good today 60.5.
About 07:00, the wind had let up and come back to the east, and the water had come up about a foot. We had a quick cup of coffee and headed out. Today's destination is Dauphin Island, AL. We plan to anchor there too. I listened to the weather on the VHF, and it said light winds from the east which is where we are going. So, we motored all day again today. It was going to be a fairly long day again, but we didn't seem to be fighting a current today, so we could make over 6 knots without pushing the engine as hard it goes. Again, most of the trip today is in open water, where it would be nice to sail or at least motor-sail. But, the wind is right on the nose all the way, so even putting up just the main would not increase speed and would just make a lot of noise since the sail wouldn't be able to decide which side to be on.
When preparing the coffee, Barb had to switch water tanks. It has only been a week since we filled all tanks at the marina in New Orleans, so this was surprising that we had emptied one already. I had noticed the fresh water pump running occasionally when no water was being run. This is indicative of having a leak on the pressurized side of the system. When Barb switched the tanks, she noticed a leak at the accumulator tank. That would explain it. One more thing to fix.
Of course I was excited to have the auto pilot drive unit in and see if it resolved the problem. About twenty minutes into the trip, it quit. I have a new theory. Since adjusting the steering cables, the electronic gadget that tells the course computer where the rudder is, is not adjusted right. So when the rudder is straight, the indicator thinks it is turned several degrees. Maybe this is confusing it. I'll try adjusting it and if that isn't it, I'll be on the phone to Raymarine.
About the only thing exciting on the trip today was listening to the Coast Guard hunt for and then find a sinking shrimp boat, fairly close to us. We didn't see the boat, or the Coast Guard for that matter, but we heard both sides of the conversation on the VHF when a good Samaritan first found the boat and told the Coast Guard where to find them. Then we heard the Coast Guard boat and helicopter talking to each other.
We made good time and arrived at Dauphin Island about 14:30. Following the charts, we got as close as we could and still be in 10 feet of water. Based on last night's experience of loosing four feet at low tide, I wanted to be safe. We found our spot, and I let the anchor go. I let out about 70 feet of chain, and signaled Barb to back down on it. Well, I could tell we were simply backing up and the anchor was not setting. This has never happened to me before. I have a 45 lb Delta plow type anchor, and it sets the first time, every time in mud or sand. I was puzzled, and signaled for Barb to drive forward. I thought I would just haul it up and try again. As I hauled in the chain, there was no resistance. And then the end of the chain came up. With no anchor. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Somehow the shackle that holds the anchor to the chain came undone. I can only be thankful it did not part with us last night. Well, we are not in clear water yet, so adios anchor.
While Barb kept us in the ten-foot water, I went and got the spare anchor off the aft rail. This is a spade anchor and not really large enough to be the primary. It is intended for when you have to set a second anchor aft to keep from swinging. I attached it to the chain and tossed it over. Again, Barb backed down to set it. I have never used this anchor, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It seemed to grab and then pop loose and grab again. If I was sure the weather would stay calm as it was then, I would have stayed on this anchor. But, after last night I was a little gun shy.
So on to Plan B. There is a marina on Dauphin Island, but it is around on the other side, and due to shallow water, it's a fair hike. It is also about two miles in a shallow channel. We called them on the phone and they assured us we could get in with a 5-foot draft, and they had a place to put us. So, off we went around the island. It took about two hours to motor around the island, and weave our way in the channel.. As we entered the channel, the local Sea Tow boat was coming out. I hailed him on the radio and inquired about the channel depth. He told me to stick to the right side of the channel and I should make it since it was high tide. Sure enough, we bumped a couple of times, but we made it in.
The marina is simple but has nice docks, since it has been rebuilt after hurricane Ivan last year. We tied up at the fuel dock, plugged in the power, turned on the A/C and went up the office to pay. We are one of two sailboats in here. The rest are personal power boats, and there are at least thirty large fishing charter boats. Being late Sunday afternoon, the fishing boats had all just gotten back and they were cleaning fish and tallying the days catch. Fortunately, the fuel dock is a whole other pier, so we only smelled the fish a little bit. The $1.00 /foot we paid, includes electricity and water. They have a restroom and shower, but we found the shower didn't work, so we showered on the boat. There is a restaurant right next door. We gave the galley slave a night off and ate at the restaurant. Server was overworked, and the kitchen was a little slow, but the food was good and reasonably priced.
Since I have been relaxing with an adult beverage and writing this log, I have not tried to adjust the rudder indicator. Tomorrow is a short day, so if I don't do it in the morning, it won't be too bad to hand steer.
GPS N 30-15.829 W 88-06.390 Miles made good today 53.25.
We slept in a little this morning, since we have a short day ahead, and we need to have the tide coming in just in case we get aground in the channel. We came in on a high tide yesterday, and the high isn't until 16:00, but by 10:00 we should be just six inches less water than yesterday.
I started reading the manuals about the auto pilot and the rudder indicator, and it does specifically say that if the rudder indicator is not right, the auto pilot may not function correctly. So I read more about the rudder indicator and how to adjust it. To my delight, you can adjust it electronically, instead of having to physically adjust the cable which connects it to the rudder. So I performed this little magic, and now when the rudder is dead ahead, the indicator show zero rudder angle. Hope this is the problem.
By 10:30, I figured we had as much water as we were going to get before late afternoon, so we headed out. The channel is two miles long, hugging the south and west shorelines of a shallow bay. This bay is only separated from Mobile Bay by a small spit of land. The Sea Tow guy yesterday had advised me to stick to the 'red' side of the channel, which would be the side away from the shoreline. Doing this on the way in, we had bumped the bottom several times and saw depths under seven feet most of the way. Today, I decided to try a little different approach, and stuck to the middle of the channel. I also went at idle speed, so if we did touch bottom, we would probably be able to easily back off and try another spot. Sure wish I had a forward looking depth finder now. As we poked out of the marina, I was finding depths of nine to ten feet in the middle of the channel. We made it all the way around to within a quarter mile of the entrance without touching at all. I only saw the depth go under seven feet once and then it came back to ten. But, we had the most challenging part still to come. The last quarter mile of this channel looks to be manmade. It looks like they dredged the channel and built a barrier island with the sand. It is straight as an arrow and goes to the small harbor where the Coast Guard office and park dock is. Where this channel enters the small bay, the barrier island has washed out, and this was the shallowest place I had found on the way in. As we approached, a dredge was working on cleaning out this area. As we came around the corner towards the dredge, we ran aground. I backed off easily, and the dredge guys waved to come over close to them. They actually moved the dredge over about 10 feet so we could be in the deepest part that they had just dredged. We swung wide around the corner and passed within a few feet of the dredge and thanked them for the help. We didn't bump at all again. It took us an hour at that speed to cover the two miles, but I was very relieved at getting out at all.
The rest of the trip across Mobile Bay was uneventful. We did get passed by a large cabin cruiser who hailed us on the radio when he saw our Texas flag. Turned out they were from the Clear Lake area also, from the Lakewood Yacht Club, and they were headed for Destin too. They are just on vacation though and will be going back in a week or so. It is funny how the Texas flag gets us noticed.
In a few hours, we were leaving the bay and entering the GIWW ditch again. Once in the ditch, we started noticing remnants of the damage that hurricane Ivan did here last year. There is also a ton of new construction. I guess it's the old theory that it will be a number of years before there is another serious storm directly hitting the same place. We got about five miles into the ditch and came to our destination for the night. Lulu's at Homeport Marina is a restaurant owned by Lulu Buffett who is Jimmy's sister. Homeport Marina is adjacent and is brand new. In fact, it isn't done, but they are open. We passed by and checked out what was where. As we passed we noticed somebody on the patio taking our picture, so we waved. The fuel dock is actually on the ditch side, so after our reconnaissance pass, we tied up there and filled up with fuel. We inquired about spending the night. The two employees, Jessie and Wes came out to take our lines. Wes asked if we wanted to fill it up, and then he did the work. It was a pleasant surprise to get such nice service. The marina will have about 150 slips when complete, but now there are only six boats here. They are still dredging slips in about half of the marina. We picked a slip to use, and Wes walked around there to help us dock again.
Once the boat was secure and the A/C was running, we headed up to Lulu's. Parrotheads reading this should know the story of Lulu's. For the rest of you, the short version is this. Lulu had a small restaurant elsewhere in the Mobile Bay area, which became quite popular not only because of the connection to Jimmy, but on it's own merits of good food and being a fun place. A couple of years ago, she lost her lease on the property, so she looked for a new place. She found this place right on the GIWW. It was an abandoned commercial building when she bought it. They renovated it to be a beautiful large restaurant, and moved here early last year. Hurricane Ivan would have left them unscathed had it not been for a run-away barge that crashed into the deck and did considerable damage. They had the place up and running a couple of days later though and became a center for feeding aid workers as well as locals who were more affected by the storm.
When we were seated, we ended up next to the people who had taken our picture. Alex and Candy turned out to be on vacation from Seattle. They joined us at our table as we told them what we were up to and how this cruising thing works. As we had entered the restaurant, we also noticed a sign that said Brent Burns was playing tonight. We have met Brent a couple of time before when he played at Pardi Gras, Jerry Diaz's annual party in New Orleans. So, we ended up spending about six hours there. We spent some time chatting with our waiter Mark about our plans too. As do a lot of people we meet, he wished he could do something like this. After Brent started playing, we moved from our table to the bar where we could hear better. We also called several friends and had them log on to the webcam they have here and we waved at them while talking on the cell phone. Our friend Brian even captured a picture from the webcam and e-mailed it to us. Ah technology...
About 11:00 it was back to the boat. We plan to get up early in the morning despite the quantity of beer consumed tonight.
GPS N 30-16.922 W 87-41.107 Miles made good today 23.5.
Well, we awoke to rain this morning. The forecast is for rain all day, so we decided to stay put for a day. It will give me a chance to fix a couple of things. We had a light breakfast aboard, and then walked up to the office to tell them we were staying. Since we were the only transient boat here, I doubt they mind.
Once back at the boat, I decided to look at the auto pilot once more. Since I have fixed the steering, replaced the drive unit, and realigned the rudder position sensor, I am convinced that it is either a wiring problem, or the course computer itself is failing. Since the course computer was replaced a couple of years ago, I am leaning towards wiring. I got under the bed and had Barb turn the auto pilot on, and it did not respond at all. I had been out to Raymarine's website and learned a little about checking various voltages on the different wires. I checked the clutch first, and it was definitely engaging, even when the unit wouldn't drive the rudder. So then I started checking the wires from the course computer to the motor. As I was doing this, the drive started to respond. I had Barb keep telling it to turn while I wiggled wires. I could not get it to fail again now. I traced the wires, and found that from the original drive unit, the wires went to a terminal block on the wall. From there wires went to the course computer. When I had replaced the course computer a couple of years ago, I had to lengthen these wires a foot or so and had done so by just butt-splicing another foot on each wire. Well, the new drive unit has wires long enough to reach the course computer without any of this intermediate stuff. So, I disconnected everything, and hooked the drive unit wires directly to the course computer. When I removed the now-unused terminal block, I found the screws on those connections were not at all tight. Perhaps that had been the problem all along. I'm hopeful, but let's say cautiously optimistic.
Next I went after the fresh water leak we had. We had noticed that we went through a tank of water (about 30 gallons) in one week. This is way faster than usual. When Barb had switched the tanks, she noticed a drip coming from the accumulator tank area. So, I went in the engine compartment where that is and sure enough there was a steady fast drip coming from both the input and output hoses on the tank. I tightened the clamps on both lines, and the dripping stopped. Wow. Nothing has been that easy to fix yet. Of course it makes you wonder why they loosened in the first place.
This morning I had noticed something odd. The bilge pump had not run since we got here yesterday. I knew that because I have a counter on it, and we have been making note of the number each morning and each evening. We do this because we do take a fair amount of water in through the packing seal on the rudder shaft (another project). And with the air conditioners running, the condensation goes in the bilge. So it was not feasible that the pump had not been needed. Now, there is a second bilge pump, which does not have a counter. It is mounted a little higher in the bilge, so it never would run unless the first one failed. Low and behold, I heard it run. There is a switch which lets me manually run the pumps, so I flipped it and sure enough the primary pump ran OK. This left the float switch suspect. I opened up the floor boards and lifted the float switch. No pump. Well, this would be simple I thought and I had a spare switch aboard already. So, I took out the old switch, and just on a whim I put my ohm meter on it and tested it. It worked fine. This left wiring again. Since I added the bilge counter and a high water alarm to the boat, I of course suspected the problem was in an area that I had messed in before. So I pulled the panel apart and started checking voltages. Everything seemed fine there. The one puzzle though was that I had a big orange wire at the panel end and two small black wires on the float switch. I didn't know where they connected . So I pulled up more floor panels to trace this wire. Low and behold I found a place in the bilge (damp all the time) where the factory had connected three wires for the bilge pump system, slipped an eight inch length of water hose over them and sealed the ends with silicon, and expected that to stay watertight forever. Wrong. One of those connections had corroded and broken. So, I re-did all three connections and sealed them individually. It's still a bad place for connections, but at least I know they are there now.
These three little tasks took the better part of the day. It was about 4:00pm now, so we showered and went up to Lulu's to eat. We were both beat and did not plan to stay late like last night. As we finished eating, Brent Burns, the singer from last night, came in for a drink, so we joined him and had one more beer before retiring. It was an early night. By the way, it didn't rain again all day after the morning shower.
GPS N 30-16.922 W 87-41.107 Miles made good today 0.
We awoke to rain again today. Heavier than yesterday. I turned on the computer to check the forecast and the local radar. It looked like rain all day, all the way between here and Destin. I was tempted to stay put another day. But I woke Barb, and she voted let's go anyway. So we started getting ready. We were underway by 7:15, motoring east in the GIWW in a steady rain. There was no wind, or thunder and lightening though, so it really wasn't that bad. Our enclosure makes the front on the cockpit dry, and we zipped down the side screens, which don't stop the rain, but at least diffuse it so your not getting hit directly by the drops.
We were making good time, and by 10:30 we were in Pensacola which is where we have to leave the GIWW and go offshore. For whatever reason, Florida does not play by the same rules as every other state when it comes to the GIWW. Every other state has either a 73 foot minimum bridge height, or the bridge opens. Florida does not do this. So a boat taller than about 45 or 50 feet cannot use the intracoastal in many places. When we first went out of the channel, the water was quite rough because we cut across a shallow area just offshore. Once we got in deeper (20 feet) water, it calmed a little, but was still about 4 to 5 feet. The rollers were hitting us a little ahead of the beam, so it was fairly rolly, and every tenth wave or so would be a couple feet higher just to keep you on your toes. There was almost no wind, so we kept motoring. After about an hour, the wind picked up just a little, so I put up the main sail just to help stop the rolling effects of the waves. It was much better. It kept raining until about 3:00 and then cleared. At about 5:30 we came into Destin Harbor. For those of you who wonder about these things, on this leg we were mostly in about 65 feet of water and never more than about three miles offshore. We could see the coast the whole way.
Finally we are where we intended to be two weeks ago. As you come in the channel from offshore, you are facing a 50 foot bridge. If you didn't know where you were going, you wouldn't realize that there is a small cut into a nice harbor just before the bridge. This is actually called Destin Harbor. It is home to hundreds of boats, almost all of them catering to the tourist trade. Large charter fishing boats, parasail boats, glass bottom boats, old pirate looking sailboats that just give rides, etc. We had tried to call ahead and get a slip in a marina, but none of them were interested in a sailboat that needs more than five feet of water. So, we just anchored in the middle of the harbor along with about six other sailboats. The harbor is very protected, and the bottom is sand, so the anchor is holding well. (This is my smaller backup anchor.)
After a celebratory drink for finally getting to our "first" Destin-ation, we launched the dinghy and headed for shore. We had noticed another sailboat with people in the cockpit and a dinghy tied behind, so we went by their boat to ask them which businesses along the shore we amenable to docking a dinghy. They pointed to the place they used regularly (they live here) and said we were welcome to share it. So off we went to our first landfall-by-dinghy. Barb called her sister to come get us, and we sat and had a beer at a beach bar while we waited.
Barb's sister Dianne arrived in about twenty minutes and took us to her house for good hot showers. We had gotten our mail forwarded for the first time to her house, so we went through that. We visited with her for a while, and then she let us take her car back to the boat. She will get a ride to work tomorrow so we can use her car to run errands.
Back at the boat we hit the sack. There was a bit of a breeze, so sleeping without A/C was not too bad. And the anchorage is very calm, so hopefully it will be a good night.
By the way, the auto pilot drove THE WHOLE TRIP!
GPS N 30-23.392 W 86-30.329 Miles made good today 72.3
Today was errand day. We had Diane's car at our disposal. We first hit West Marine. In this power boat area, I was not hopeful of finding the type of anchor I wanted. But I hoped the might direct me to a place where salvage parts from boats destroyed by hurricane Ivan were available. An anchor is something I would not mind buying used. Low and behold, they had exactly what I wanted. So I bought the new one. Saves hunting around. Next we stopped by a Bank of America to deposit some checks that were in the mail we got yesterday. Next we hit Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast. If their business has slumped any as Americans become more health conscious, you can't tell it by this store.
We then went to Dianne's house to do laundry. Since we had all day and it was free, we did bedding and all. After good showers again, we headed back to the boat. The remaining part of the afternoon was spent just watch the parade of tourist boats going by. For dinner, we went ashore again and ate at Capt. Kidd's Seafood Buffet which is right by where we are landing the dinghy. It is a very popular place with the tourists. The food was pretty good, but the service was spotty and they we having trouble keeping the buffet stocked.
Back to the boat to write. There is only a gentle breeze, so the wind generator is not keeping up with the electrical usage. Tomorrow I'll have to run the engine some to charge up.
GPS N 30-23.392 W 86-30.329 Miles made good today 0.