Carrabelle is a nice little town right on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. We planned to stay there 2 nights and then make the “jump” across the big water to continue our trip down the west coast of Florida.
We left the The Moorings Marina, headed out into the Gulf and ran into seas 3 times bigger than predicted. Captain Tim made the sane choice to return to the marina and wait for better weather.
2 weeks later...
We crossed the Gulf...our way.
We contacted a boat dealer who used to sell Ranger Tugs. He had a trailer made for Ranger Tugs and a driver who delivered boats up and down the coast. Done and done!
Hello Tarpon Springs!
Our boat delivery guy, Arthur, dropped us in the water at Anclote River City Park and we headed for the Greek fishing town of Tarpon Springs a few short miles away. We got a slip at the Tarpon City Marina for 3 days. The Marina is right downtown so we had the chance to walk the boardwalk, eat Greek food and pastries.
It felt really good to be on the move again.
Traveling with a buddy is a good idea.
We traveled with our Buddy Boat friends, Tim and Ramie, to Tarpon Springs. They have a Ranger 29 and trailered it the day before we trailered our boat.
We were together for the 2 weeks we spent in Carabelle which made the time go by a little faster for everyone. We did puzzles, played pool and learned how to play Mexican Train during those 2 weeks. And ate a lot of meals together in the Captains Lounge.
We celebrated Christmas with a potluck dinner at a neighboring marina. They host this dinner every year for anyone stuck in Carabelle due to weather, people who live on their boat and anyone who would like to be included. We brought pies from the grocery store which made us very popular. Good people, good food, and a Christmas Day we will remember.
We all rejoiced when we got to Tarpon Springs. First thing we did is go downtown for Greek food. ..and adult beverages may have been consumed...
Up close and personal with manatees
The day after we arrived at Tarpon Springs the weather finally turned "Florida". It was warm and sunny. It felt great to shed coats and hats. Florida is supposed to be warm, not 40 degrees. the locals kept telling us this cold snap was really unusual...lucky us.
Our friends invited us to join them on their dinghy to cruise down the river to the local park and see if we could see the manatees that live there.
We did see manatees but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to get a photo. They are big. They have noses like cows. The only thing that you can see at first is their nose when they come up for air. Then they do a slow dive and flip their tail. It was a hoot. If you want to see what they actually look like I suggest you Google "manatees".
I'm so glad we enjoyed the day doing something fun because that was our last sunny day...back to winter coats and hats.
The next day...
You can't see it but I have 4 layers of clothes on under that coat. And a hat. And a scarf.
This is at Clearwater Beach. White sand. No people.
But it's still warmer than South Dakota, right?????
Port St. Joe, Florida
We arrived in Port St Joe, Florida, on Dec 4 and stayed until Dec 14. We intended to stay 2 nights. We were forced to wait for a good weather window to get to Apalachicola , 3 hours away. Tim had to practice patience...hourly.
And it rained. Almost every day. And cold. The locals kept telling us this was unusually cold for this time of year. But the cute, downtown district was a short walk from the marina so we had our choice of restaurants and a Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
And they had great shower facilities.
Saturday night the city of 4,000 put on a Christmas parade with floats, little Shriner cars and the high school marching band. We collected all the candy that landed by us and gave it to the little kids on either side. Although Tim did keep all the Dots.
Only in Florida would you see a boat covered in lights in the parade. It was delightful.
Tides are awesome. Tim has perfected the art of tying the boat to a fixed dock to compensate for tides.
Because the docks are fixed (not floating) the boat goes up and down with the tide.
That means sometimes I can step off the boat onto the dock and sometimes I have to crawl up on the dock or get a boost. It is still weird to wake up to the dock at eye level. In this photo you can see the boat is about 3 feet below the dock.
This is the cutest little town!
We stayed one night in the marina there and walked downtown for shopping and dinner.
We are now traveling (buddy boat) with Miss Norma, a Ranger 29 tugboat. The owners are delightful. And it’s fun to travel with another Ranger Tug.
I am writing this post from Carrabelle, Florida. The sun final came out and we traded our jackets for shorts.
We might be here awhile.
The next leg of the journey takes us out into the Gulf of Mexico. Yikes. Tim is watching 5 different weather forecasts and consulting with other Loopers on a weather window that would give us 7-10 hours of acceptable wind/wave conditions in the ocean.
We are at the Moorings Marina with our buddy boat, Miss Norma. We are having fun exploring the little town of Carrabelle. The marina has free breakfast every morning, good showers, and a captain's lounge with a big TV, tables and chairs and couches.
If we have to wait somewhere this is an OK place to be.
We don’t always stay in a marina.
Some nights we find a safe place to get off the river and “drop the hook” to anchor out for the night. The benefit is that it is very, very quiet and it’s free.
The downside is there is no electricity, showers or restaurants. Sometimes we don’t have a choice because the distance between marinas is too far to motor in daylight.
This photo is our morning view leaving the Sumpter Landing anchorage. The fog was beautiful and gone with the sun.
We have stayed at some wonderful marinas on the river system.
And some sketchy ones, too.
I judge a marina but the showers. First, do they have showers? Is there just one shower for men and women? Is it clean? Do I wear my shower sandals or my rain boots in the shower?
Marinas will advertise showers, laundry facilities, restaurants or a courtesy car for transient cruisers to borrow. More than one washer/dryer is huge. A restaurant on the marina site is really nice.
And courtesy cars are very interesting. We borrowed one truck that we were sure wouldn’t make it the 4 miles to the grocery store.
Docks- floating or fixed
Floating docks mean we don’t have to worry about tides.
The tide raises the dock as it raises the boat. Otherwise Tim has to arrange the lines attached to a fixed dock to compensate for up to a 3 foot drop in water level. And crawling up on the dock from the boat at low tide is hilarious.
We are definitely not in South Dakota!
National Naval Aviation Museum
We spent a whole day touring the National Naval Aviation Museum while we were at the Palafox Marina in Pensacola, Florida.
We watched a movie on D-day while were there:
You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/nwwDIvvV-NM
Eating our way around the Loop
The best marinas are attached to the town. Walking 2 blocks to restaurants, shopping and haircuts is a treat.
Panama City Marina was right in town.
The Wharf was in Orange Beach and there was a 12-screen movie theater!
Right now, we are in Port St. Joe which is on the edge of town. They have a restaurant in the marina but we can walk downtown where we have a choice of 10 or 12 local little restaurants.
Yes, I don’t cook on the boat as much as I thought I would!
Sweetie, honey or ma'am.
I have been called all 3 in the most musical southern drawl by everyone from grocery store clerks to the dock hands at marinas. It sounds wonderful.
And as soon as I start talking I have seen heads pop up and look at me.
I guess I’m the one with an accent around here.
You are from WHERE?
On the back of our boat you can see our boat’s name and our home port. Nellie May, Lake Madison, South Dakota. That has been the start of some fun conversations.
-Is South Dakota by Canada? (no, that’s North Dakota)
-How the heck did you get on the river system from there? (we put the boat on a trailer for 600 miles before we put her in the river)
-Aren’t you cold? Tim gets that a lot when he is wearing a t-shirt and shorts while the locals are in parkas.
How big is your boat?
How big is that boat?
What they really mean is how SMALL is that boat?
We have the smallest boat doing the Loop.
Most of the boats are yachts at least 40-50 feet. They have 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. And a full kitchen with an oven.
Our boat is 25 foot and more like camping than cruising. But it has a bathroom with a door so I’m a happy girl.
Where are you going?
Where are you going? We say near Chicago and get some really strange looks.
Then they tell us we are headed in the wrong direction.
So, we explain The Great Loop. Start near Chicago, spend a year on the rivers and end back where we started.
Which usually leads to the next comment---
-You must really like each other.
We have traveled 1803 river miles over the last 2 1/2 months.
We tell them, so far-so good.
What is a lock?
A lock is like a huge bathtub with huge gates on each end. It is a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways.
We have gone through 30 locks in the 1735 miles we have traveled so far. By the time we finish the Loop we will gone through over 100 locks.
Each lock has a lockmaster. “Locking through” starts with Tim calling the lockmaster on the VHF radio telling them the name of our boat, whether we are upbound or down bound on the river and requesting a lock through. Since we are in the South we have to listen very carefully to the instructions because the lockmasters all seem to have a very Southern drawl. And it’s sort of a no-no to say “WHAT?”
Lockmasters run the show
The lockmaster will tell us how long the wait will be, which side he’d like us to tie to in the lock and to please wear your PFD while in the lock. These guys have been great. And they all call Tim “Captain”. As in, “Come right on in Cap when you see the green light and tie to either side. Let me know when you are secure.”
They open the gates, we idle in at no-wake speed, pick a floating bollard (a big hook thing that goes up and down with the water) and I lasso it with my trusty line. (You have lines on boats, not ropes…) We radio we are secure, they close the gates and then we either go up or down as they equalize to the level of the water on the other side of the lock.
When this is complete we stay tied to the bollard until the gates open, the lockmaster blows a loud blast on his locomotive-sounding horn. Then we cast off, motor out of the lock, call the lock master to tell him we are clear of the lock, thank him for his service and wish him a good day. This whole process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to hours.
Click here to see a short video
At Wilson Lock we waited 8 hours before we were allowed to enter the lock at 3AM. It wasn’t any fun at all. Commercial shipping has priority.
We got this!
The Wilson Lock has a drop/lift of 90 feet. All we could think of was the gates in Jurassic Park.
Many of the locks have a drop/lift of 30 feet or so.
Some of the locks were terrifying because they were so old they didn’t have anything to tie to. Lock 53 on the Ohio River was in such bad shape we used both of our boat hooks to grab a busted, rotten ladder on side of the wall.
And one lock wasn’t even operating. The gates were open and we motored through. Sounds easy, right? Not so much. It was like a tunnel with rapids. We were doing fine until the big boat ahead of us slowed down. Then we were dealing his huge wake AND his wake reflecting off the sides of the cement lock.
Since I couldn’t help at all I just covered my eyes.
We got through and I didn’t cry or throw up.
I called it a winner.
While we were staying at Florence Marina in Florence Alabama we rented a car and drove to the Shiloh National Military Park. The battlefield tour started with a 32-minute video to introduce the battle and the impact it had on the outcome of the Civil War.
We were given a map that highlights the troop movements of the armies before and during the two-day battle.
2 Day Battle
Shiloh Battle lasted just 2 days.
April 6, 1862 starting at 4:55 am and ending April 7 at 5:30 pm. The total number of casualties was 23,746.
You will notice on this sign that the time of the surrender is 5:30 pm. As we followed the map in our car to the 20 separate stops highlighting troop movements we were amazed at the precise recording of the time and location of each event, battle or troop movement.
The explanation is this battlefield Park was established and marked by men who actually participated in the battle, on both sides. After the Civil War this area was declared a Military Park in the 1890’s.
Defeated Victory Monument
This monument, designed and sculptured by Frederick C. Hibbard, was erected in 1917 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in memory of all Southern troops who fought in the battle.
In the center of the massive pedestal is carved the bust of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, the Confederate commander who was killed during the afternoon of the first day.
At the extreme right, the figure in front represents the Confederate infantryman who has snatched up his flag in defiance of the Northern army. The figure to his rear is the artilleryman, who is calm as he appears to gaze through the smoke of battle.
To the left, the figure in front represents the cavalryman. His hand is spread, indicating frustration. He is eager to help, but cannot penetrate the heavy undergrowth. The figure back of the cavalryman represents the officers of the Confederate army. He has his head bowed in submission to the order to cease firing when, it seemed, had it not been given the first day, there might have been a Confederate victory.
The central group represents a "Defeated Victory." The front figure, representing the Confederacy, is surrendering the laurel wreath of victory to Death, on the left, and Night, on the right. Death came to their commander and Night brought reinforcements to the enemy, and the battle was lost.
The panel of heads on the right represents the spirit of the first day. How hopefully and fearlessly the 11 young Confederates rushed into battle! The panel of heads on the left represents the second day of the battle and the sorrow of the men, now reduced to 10, over the victory so nearly won and so unexpectedly lost.
Shiloh Meeting House
This is the Shiloh Meeting House, the log Methodist church that gave the battle its name.
The original building was destroyed so this building was built using trees from the area and using tools that would have been used to build the original church.
As we followed the map the battle came alive to us. It was sobering. This is hallowed ground and you can feel it. The countryside probably looks the same as it did in 1862.
The trees and rolling hills are still there. But we could imagine the sounds of the fighting and the smoke from all the cannons in this small patch of land.
We agreed we are very glad we went but it was a sobering visit.
We traveled from Joe Wheeler State Park to Chattanooga last week. Do you see how the river twists and turns in this photo? At some points we could look through the trees and actually SEE the river on the other side. I told Tim the tugboat was too heavy to portage. Don't know what that means? It means if the tugboat were a canoe we would have pulled up on the shore, carried our stuff overland to the river and then went back and carried the canoe. Sort of a short-cut.
Tim's all about short cuts.
But we didn't. The scenery was beautiful.
The Tennessee Aquarium has one building called The Ocean and one called The River. Jellyfish? Ocean!
We spent the entire day looking at all the exhibits. I like the jellyfish because the room was dark and quiet. Sort of zen-like.
Tim liked the LIVE presentation.
We wandered into a Presentation in the River part of the Aquarium and THEN found out it was about rat snakes. I immediately relocated to the back row of the theater. I know my limits. I didn't want to do my "snake dance" in front of all those people.
You will notice Tim is in the front row with the other kids.
The snake is climbing up the tree.
I'm still creeped out.
From the top of Lookout Mountain
We rode the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. We learned all about the Battle for Chattanooga and other Civil War battles. It was impressive to see the actual location of the fighting including the cannons used in the battle.
The Battle for Chattanooga was a turning point in the Civil War. We watched a movie at the visitor center before we walked around the Chattanooga National Military park. It was sobering to realize how many men were killed on that mountain.
13,824 total estimated casualties in 3 days.
November 23-25, 1863.
We had the tugboat in a slip at the Joe Wheeler State Park Marina, waiting for the American Great Loop Rendezvous which stated on 10-16. Since we had some time to explore we rented a car and drove to the Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, one Saturday.
It was Girl Scout Day at the Space Center.
We raised 3 boys. Girls tend to squeal and run in packs. It was a new experience for us. It was fun after we got used to it.
So much to see...
This is the actual Apollo 16 Command Module that went to the moon in 1972. It was remarkable to be able to see the actual item which shows all the effects of the fiery re-entry to earth.
It was of the highlights of the visit.
This is not a potato.
This is a moon rock.
Tim is a Geologist.
A match made in heaven.
It makes me feel so small.
This is one of the three remaining Saturn V rockets. The other two are at the Cape and Houston. This one is different in that it is pristine and was never stored outside.
Our guide said that it is in near-launch condition. Hard to believe that it could actually fly.
This is the view from my side of the boat in the morning. Oatmeal in my blue squishy bowl, map of the river/lake, coffee and my iPad.
The white bar with red and green things on it stuck to my window is to show me which side the "nuns" and "cans" should be on as we travel. Red Right Returning. This gizmo flips over as needed. If you are interested in what this means just Google--red right returning.
click here to see where we bought them.
House on stilts.
We saw a variety of houses on stilts on the river. Makes you wonder what the river looks like during flood stage. And we think this guy must own a cement block business. I guess the camper next to him is just hoping his camper turns into a houseboat if the river comes up!
Yup, it's obvious this guy did not consult a competent geologist before he built his house on the river. Guess who noticed this first?
Boat hair? Don't care!
ust in case you forgot what we looked like I thought I better add a photo. Many thanks to Jenn Kenyon for the t-shirt.
It lets me get away with fewer showers...
Nellie May was a very little boat in a marina filled with great big, expensive, fancy boats. The marina was a welcome oasis after days on the river dodging more barges. We were traveling with 6 other Looper boats (people doing The Great Loop).
Did I mention that it was HOT? Over 90 degrees day after day after day. We were melting. Literally. I was sweating so much my glasses kept falling off. It wasn't pretty.
Green Turtle Bay had a swimming pool. We stayed 3 days. Floating in the pool was our only hope.
Winterize your boat in Kentucky
I have never seen boats stacked like soup cans in a pantry! This is how they winterize boats in a place where it doesn't snow. Looks crazy to this South Dakota girl but I'm sure they know what they are doing.
Stairway to Heaven
Walk up these stairs to the pool.
The cool, clear waters just waiting to refresh your soul. Float, swim, float and then repeat.
Tim was a happy man when he finally got in the water.
We may have had a beverage or 2 while we were there.
And we met some delightful people.
Anyone who didn't have air conditioning on their boat was at the pool.
Tim and I started our Great Loop Adventure on 9-11-2017 in Ottowa, Illinois. We put the boat on a trailer and drove 9 hours from our home in South Dakota to Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottowa to put her in the water. Tim's brother, Dan, drove the truck and trailer back to our house. Thanks Dan!