Mike’s visit to the Bahamas

Roger and I were looking forward to Michael’s visit. He was the last of the three children to visit us on our boat trip on the Great Loop and side trip to the Bahamas and we hadn’t seen him in eight months!

Andrew came to Alabama in the fall when we were still in the rivers and going through locks.  Jilly visited us in Florida as we cruised through the Everglades and down to the Florida Keys over her Christmas holidays. Mike was coming to the Bahamas for a ten day visit.

We’ve been having a lot of trouble with strong winds since arriving on the coast in November as cold fronts come down from the USA and Canada and we were very concerned about Mike’s visit. We worried we would not be able to get to him when he arrived.

“Never make a schedule” is the first rule of boating. Plans have to be set in jello and you must be flexible according to the weather (wind).  Otherwise you are forced to travel when you shouldn’t and experience unpleasant or dangerous situations with wind and big waves in unfamiliar waters. We thought we had lots of time but after waiting eight days in Bimini which is quite a long way from Nassau by boat, at seven miles an hour, we had an ok over-night crossing to Nassau where Michael was flying in.  Luckily a friend suggested we fly him home from Staniel Cay in the Exumas because we would never have made it back to Nassau in time for his flight home as there wasn’t another good weather window! Needless to say we were concerned about whether we could pick up Michael and land him again on a Cay with an airport to get him home to University and his exams the following day in Canada.

To start Mike had trouble in Prince George at the airport as his flight was delayed a day owing to snowy weather. Luckily he was close enough to go home for the night and try again the next day.

After he got here his stay in the Bahamas was wind. Mike was a big help. Here he is fishing and driving the boat.

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On the days it was too windy to snorkel we hiked in the Exumas at Cambridge Cay and enjoyed the Atlantic side!

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On the calmer days or when we could find shelter we snorkelled from the dingy.

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We arrived at Staniel Cay and got over to Thunderball Grotto which must be entered at low tide so you can get inside the cave. It is quite high inside and there are a lot of tropical fish, but as the water level goes up your exit is cut off and you need to swim underwater to exit the grotto on all sides. This scene was used when a James Bond film by the same name was shot in the Exumas in the 60s.

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We also saw some curious reptiles including a lot of iguanas, lizards and sea turtles.

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We saw some Nurse Sharks and Caribbean Reef Sharks while we were snorkelling and some lovely sceneDSCF1341ry in remote areas.DSCF1363

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After his trip came to a close, Mike flew out on Flamingo Air from Staniel Cay. He had a 9:20 AM flight and we were worried that we might not be able to land him on shore because it was so rough.

The marina was not accepting reservations owing to the cold front and the strength of the west wind so we could not land there with the big boat and had to rely on the dingy.

We were anchored a mile away between two islands and had protection but it was so rough that people could not navigate from their boats into their dingys and some stayed on their boats for the duration of the windy weather.

We were able to get onto our boat and get to shore but we needed to pass by a cut where currents and winds created large waves and avoid the ‘crown of thorns’ rocks.

We left early that morning and landed our dingy on a beach a 15 minute walk from the airport. We arrived early and waited and waited. No one was there at first (but it was good we were early because his flight left at 8:55 AM, 25 minutes before the posted departure time). Here is the departure waiting area. Note the weigh scale on the ground and the waiting traveller. The fire suppression equipment is red (see below).

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No other passengers arrived. The plane finally arrived and a large captain climbed out the window above the wing. He had a lot of trouble getting back inside.

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The woman at the rear of the plane is Flamingo Air staff. She was going on Michael’s flight and she was very entertaining and flamboyantly dressed. She let everybody know what they could do and could not do. Roger was told in no uncertain terms to get off “her tarmac” while we were waiting (he was investigating the runway which was built in the middle of a bonefish nursery).

Everyone one paid this staff person a lot of attention. Many people were in trouble with her for minor infractions. The end result was that everyone was paying a lot of attention to her when each new person was in trouble.

When the plane left early and a couple arrived and realized it was their flight, they started running down the tarmac after the plane. We knew there would be trouble with the woman staff and we looked forward to seeing how she would handle it!

As the plane taxied back, Roger advised the couple they were in big trouble because this woman would be letting them know they were late! She loudly advised the couple who arrived at 8:55AM for their 9:20AM flight that they were late and that is why the plane had already left. They did not have the opportunity to complain. She shook her fist at them out the captain’s window!

Michael said she seated him in the middle seat and although he would have preferred to sit at a window to see the wonderful scenery, “he didn’t think he would argue with her.” Luckily the pilot saw this couple running down the tarmac after his plane and returned to pick them up. Note the woman staff’s arm being shaken from the captain’s window at the poor late couple (they had just bought an island).

I think if you ever fly out of Staniel Cay airport you had better be early!IMG_1466

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We’re in the Bahamas!

We’ve been on North Bimini at Blue Water Marina for the last eight nights after a good crossing from Anglefish Creek north of Key West.

View from the marina.

View from the marina.

Entrance with canon.

Entrance with canon.

Fishing boat at marina.

Fishing boat at marina.

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Narrow rock walled lined roads through Alice town on North Bimini.

Entrance to the marina. Note the wall, golf cart and fence.

Entrance to the marina. Note the wall, golf cart and fence.

Stuffed game fish displayed at the marina.

Stuffed game fish displayed at the marina. Bimini is revered as a sport-fishing mecca although not many large fish were reeled in unmutilated by sharks (as per museum display).

Can you see TA TA?

Can you see TA TA?

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It looks like we’re floating on air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first thing I noticed is the colour and clarity of the water! It is a beautiful aquamarine and so clear. It’s like the boat is floating on air and it’s hard to tell what the water depth is because it’s so clear. It seems that it must be much shallow than it really is and we will have to judge depth by water colour along with our chart plotter.

 

The second thing I noticed were the Bull Sharks! They were up to eight feet long and quite large around the torso. They come in for offal the sports fishermen throw into the water at the fish cleaning stations. All you have to do is turn on the water to clean the blood off and they come in. This also means they are in and around our marina and under our boat!

Bull Sharks.

Bull Sharks.

Behind us is Bimini Big Game Club. They clean fish there too and we saw eight Bull Sharks at once. They come up like Jaws with their serrated teeth showing  in large mouths and one will grab the fish skeletons pushing the other sharks out of the way.

If you like you can go underwater with them, and in case they make a mistake and think you are a prey item, you can go in a cage underwater.

View of marina with shark cage behind our boat.

View of marina with shark cage behind our boat.

Needless to say this gave me pause. Why are so many people moored close to sharks?

But it’s like our bears which we are used to and know how to avoid. The locals don’t pay too much attention to them, and they don’t come in much except for the fish cleaning. I’m glad I don’t have small children with me as as there aren’t guard rails on the docks and the sharks are right below us when they come in to feed.

The town is scenic but has seen better days although there is a lot of new building at the other end of North Bimini. During Prohibition, the town economy boomed and the saying “The real McCoy” came from a bootlegger named McCoy who was popular because he didn’t water his booze. Now it means something that’s authentic. Interesting to know where some of these sayings come from….

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We’ve enjoyed having our bikes here and ride regularly through the narrow roads avoiding the cars and golf carts to Nate’s Bakery where I bought coconut bread and coconut rolls. The bread makes great french toast with real maple syrup, and the coconut rolls had coconut roasted with brown sugar and ginger and cinnamon rolled like a cinnamon bun. These were dessert for a potluck.

Potluck: the people we've met have been the best part of the trip.

Potluck: the people we’ve met have been the best part of the trip.

We like the Bahamian beer called Kalik and went to a conch salad shack to enjoy fresh conch. We watched it being made and it had garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers and a few limes squeezed over each bowl. The conch is so rich I could only eat half a bowl and luckily Roger was there to  finish it off.

Conch salad and Bahamian Kalik beer.

Conch salad and Bahamian Kalik beer.

Cleaning the fresh conch on the dock outside the conch salad shack.

Cleaning the fresh conch on the dock outside the conch salad shack.

An unusual dock support system made from conch shells.

An unusual dock support system made from conch shells.

Where the refuse conch shells are dumped.

Where the refuse conch shells are dumped.

I have to say I feel a lot better about sharks after going to the Shark Research Centre on South Bimini and learning more about them.

Zack, the educator there, explained that about 20 staff, international researchers and students, accountants, and interns work there. A number of paying volunteers help support the centre monthly along with research grants and donations. Originally the centre was attached to the University of Miami but now is a separate non-profit organization started by a shark research pioneer in the 1990s.

Shark Research Station.

Shark Research Station. Yup that is a Hammerhead Shark over the front door.

Wet suits drying behind Shark Research Station.

Rinsed wet suits drying behind the Shark Research Station on South Bimini Island early in the morning ready for  the next days work.

We walked out to the holding pens on the sand flats where two year old Lemon Sharks and Nurse Sharks were being studied. These sharks can rest on the bottom and still pass oxygen rich water over their gills unlike other species that must remain moving to breath, so Lemon Sharks and Nurse Sharks make good study models.

Two year old Lemon shark housed in enclosure pens off South Bimini.

Two year old Lemon Shark housed in enclosure pen off South Bimini. Note the yellowish fin which is how the Lemon Shark got its name. This is Zack in the shark enclosure showing us the Lemon Shark. Her skin was smooth in one direction and like fine grit sandpaper in the other and much finer than Roger’s beard bristles.

Zack told us they recently found out these sharks hang around in the protective mangroves and shallow water of the Biminis until they are around five, spend years out to the ocean and return at around age 12 to their natal areas for birthing. Sharks produce eggs but the young are born hatched out as young sharks.

As primitive cartilaginous fish, they have no bones and that makes them very flexible. If you hold one too far back near the dorsal fin they can bend around and bite!

Zack said some species are curious and will approach humans such as Hammerheads although others will avoid us.

When he swims with Hammerheads he keeps his eye on them and if they are too interested he gets back in the boat.

Hammerheads eat black Stingrays and we’ve seen a lot around here in the clear waters as well as numerous Spotted Eagle Rays which have a more pronounced head and the spots, of course.

Since we have so many Bull Sharks at our marina, the staff of the Shark Research Station was over to catch one while we were here.

Twenty wetsuit clad people in two boats chummed with fish heads from our docks to lure Bull Sharks in and within a few minutes they hooked a female eight-foot shark. They then got a rope on her tail and one on each pectoral fin and brought her beside the boat. Then they released one pectoral fin and flipped her over. All of this was accomplished with a lot of thrashing and splashing and excitement.

Apparently it is known that when you turn a shark over they go into a sleep mode, which is handy if you are doing field surgery.

The researchers inserted a radio in four minutes and released her!

Their goal is to have 20 sharks of each of the local species radio tagged for a research project that is coming up soon. They have already got 50 stations out around the islands which will pick up individuals’ radio frequencies as the shark swims nearby and in this way they will be able to map the areas used by each species.

They already know that immature sharks like Nurse Sharks and Lemon Sharks move into the mangroves as the tide comes up to rest and hide from predators and go out to feed as the tide goes out.

Lemon Sharks eat small fish and need enough depth to chase after fish; they can’t ambush them in the mangroves owing to their tail configuration and fin size.

Nurse Sharks are the toughest skinned sharks and their skin feels like granite. When they swim with Hammerheads they are observed pushing the Hammerheads out of the way.

Nurse Shark fins are set further back on the body and their eyes and gills are protected so they are able to wedge themselves into reefs to suck up crabs. Apparently under time lapsed photography (1000 frames per second) the crab is obliterated by the time it is sucked out owing to the pressure exerted by their bodies when gas is released from their abdomens to cause a strong suction.

This must be like the black hole for crabs!

We read about all the sharks and what to do about avoiding them:

  • Spear fishermen must only catch fish on spears which releases fish blood on the outgoing tide so as to not lure sharks into areas we are moored.
  • We are not to swim at dawn or dusk in case a shark makes a mistake and takes an experimental chew.
  • We are to remove sparkly jewelry which may be interesting to barracuda.
  • We are not to pull the tails of sharks resting under reefs.

If you have read all this, we are off to Nassau in an hour.

TA TA for now!!

Jillian’s visit with us on TA TA in Florida.

Jillian arrived in mid December on the west side of Florida for a Christmas vacation and relax after writing her exams.

Some of our favourite things to do were enjoying the wildlife, shelling, enjoying the scenery, and snorkelling.

Here we are watching the dolphins swim under our bow through the Wilderness Waterway in the Everglades until we got splashed with their fishy breath!

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We went shelling on the west coast of Florida and every beach has a different selection of shells.

At Marathon we are tied up spiderweb style to mooring poles. The docks don’t float so the boat can be level with the dock or much lower when the tide goes out a couple of times a day which presents boarding issues.

DSCF1136 We snorkelled right off the back of our boat. I found a number of coral heads on our charts (maps)  a few miles off the coast from Key West and, after waiting for calm days, we cruised out an hour or more to find the sites. Roger plugged the location into the chart plotter and we can see a line on the chart directly to the location we select which aids navigation.

When we arrive we are not allowed to anchor on the coral as it destroys it, so to conserve the coral, the local dive companies have installed anchored mooring buoys on the dive sites. These present a challenge to the uninitiated.

On arriving I bring the the boat slowly up to the mooring buoy on the starboard side, so I can see it.   Roger, who is waiting on the bow, hooks the buoy’s ring with a boat hook. He then loops the bow line (rope) through the buoy ring and ties it back onto the bow cleat so it’s easy to release, quickly if necessary, if the wind comes up.

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We love the new swim platform and reboarding device (ladder) on the stern of TA TA. Even in rough water we can get on our gear, dip our flippers into the sea water to slip them on and spit into our masks and rinse them (to enhance vision) there and enter the water. The ladder pulls down from the swim platform so we can easily reboard. This is a great safety feature.

We all shared Roger’s wetsuit gear which was generous of him. This ensured that Jilly and I were reasonably warm, but Roger was cold.

Jilly had the farmer john which has legs and torso. On the second day she used a  bungee around her waist to keep the water from getting in. Her shoulders and chest are smaller than her father’s so there was quite a current of water passing into her suit. I had the shortie wetsuit with arms and short legs which was tight enough to help keep me warm and Roger had just a t-shirt designed for water sports.

It’s always cold when you enter the water until the water inside your wetsuit warms with your body heat. In Canada, where the water is much colder,  people often pour warm water into their wetsuits before entering the water, but the Gulf Stream keeps the water around 75 degrees so we were fine.

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There were Bermuda Chub fish right under the boat and we love to see new species. The water clarity is wonderful and the colours are fantastic.

These are a Butterflyfish with the pointed snout, an Angelfish and a blue Surgeon Fish with the barb near the caudal fin.

When we got back to the boat there was a big barracuda enjoying the shade under our boat. He left after checking us out.

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We liked Apalachicola!

So two plus weeks on the coast of Florida’s panhandle in Apalachicola waiting, waiting, waiting for a crossing to Dunedin? What to do?

Staying on the boat all day was not an option. The wind, waves, rain and cold made it rocky, wet and uncomfortable so I gathered up my husband or various of my Looper friends and my umbrella and went to the museums and window shopping. We ate gelato and drank coffee. I even had a drink that involved Gelato with espresso. That was good! We ate scones, Greek wedding cookies and chocolate.

We walked to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store a few times, went to the Napa Store for parts and ate oysters, shrimp, scallops and turkey.

We watched the Christmas decorations going up and that was a bit strange. Did I mention Santa came to see the children on a shrimp boat and the Christmas tree is made from a fishing net and cork fishing floats.

We watched the crab fisherman check his traps near our boat every three days with his pelican entourage.

Most frequently I chatted with the locals. These are the ones I remember. There were many more.

  • Dale at the bookstore; she was stuck at Nassau for five weeks owing to wind
  • Jennifer and Jill at the soap store and gift shop
  • Cass who was our yoga instructor and Mary Beth and Debbie attended with beautiful accents
  • Jimmy and Jeff were our dock masters at  Appalachicola Marina Inc. Jimmy hunts deer with dogs.
  • Nedra and Jessica were our hotel receptionists at the Water Street Hotel and Marina
  • Ted toured us around at the Maritime Museum. He let Roger use his wood working tools.
  • Sarah who showed us the Raney House Museum. She told us that Carolines has a chef, so I picked it for Thanksgiving.
  • Mike who worked at the Orman House Museum
  • Alannah hostessed at our Thanksgiving Dinner which I organized for 26 of us
  • George owned and Terry ran the Coffee and Chocolate Company. George is Greek and Terry lives on St. George’s Island.

We also had docktails regularly with the Loopers and plotted and planned when we could make our crossing safely to Dunedin.

Here are some of the quaint buildings and boats we saw in no particular order.

Old oyster warehouses.

Old oyster warehouses.

Boss Oyster Restaurant

Boss Oyster Restaurant

Thanksgiving dinner location.

Thanksgiving dinner location.

Quaint house on stilts on coast.

Quaint house on stilts on coast.

Boarded up jail.

Boarded up jail.

Local home downtown.

Local home downtown.

View of downtown.

View of downtown.

Appalachicola book store.

Apalachicola book store.

Christmas tree on Apalachicola River in town.

Christmas tree on Apalachicola River in town.

Where to buy fresh shrimp.

Where to buy fresh shrimp.

Palm trees.

Palm trees.

River side of Water Street Marina.

River side of Water Street Marina.

Shrimp boat going out past our boat.

Shrimp boat going out past our boat.

Front door of Water Street Marina with cat.

Front door of Water Street Marina with cat.

Old store near marina.

Old store near marina.

Old liquor store.

Old liquor store.

River side of old oyster warehouse on Apalachicola River.

River side of old oyster warehouse on Apalachicola River.

House boat with Manatee sign.

House boat with Manatee sign.

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Houseboat rentals on Apalachicola River.

 

Shrimp boat.

Fishing boat.

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Working boats.

 

TA TA tied up at Apalachicola Marina Inc.

TA TA tied up at Apalachicola Marina Inc.

Palm trees everywhere.

Palm trees everywhere.

Machine to spin and clean oysters.

Machine to spin and clean oysters.

Old building converted to hotel and restaurant.

Old building converted to hotel and restaurant.

Street side of Apalachicola Marina Inc.

Street side of Apalachicola Marina Inc.

Cool palm trees.

Cool palm trees.

The building was the laundry at one time.

The building was the laundry at one time.

Historic consulate building converted to shops and apartments.

Historic building converted to shops and apartments.

Sign at park.

Sign at park “When the River was King.”

View of Apalachicola River from the park.

View of Apalachicola River from the park.

What’s the big deal?

Crossings on the Great Loop

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One of the challenges of the Great Loop in a trawler, travelling at seven miles an hour, is crossing large bodies of water, sometimes overnight. Crossings of 30,  50, 80 or 172 miles are required to cross Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream to get to the Bahamas.

Great Lakes

Lake Ontario was a breeze. We had light winds and made good time. We crossed north from St. Catharines, where we put in, to Toronto and after a few days of storms, travelled east along the north shore of Lake Ontario to Trenton, via the Murray Canal, to the beginning of the Trent Severn Waterway.

On Lake Michigan we followed the east shore south from Mackinac Island on Lake Huron to Michigan City and then made our crossing west across the bottom of Lake Michigan to Chicago within sight of land.

The challenge is that on large bodies of waters winds can come up quickly with waves coming from many directions at a time, making it difficult to navigate. You are forced to tack like a sailboat so that the waves hit your boat on the front quarters ( right or left of the bow), or directly on the bow to make cruising possible.

Our boat does not like following seas (winds directly behind us) because it makes it difficult to steer. The worst is the beam sea which causes us to toss from side to side. This wave action makes it difficult to stand or move around the boat and things shift in the lockers and closets. Beam seas also happen when we get “waked” by another boat passing us too close and too fast in the Intracoastal Waterways or canals. When this happens we turn our bow into the waves to ride the wake.

In storms big waves may come from many directions at a time and the issues are compounded. It is difficult to move around the cabin, it’s impossible to cook and you need to brace yourself constantly. In the dark it’s hard to be prepared for the direction of the waves  so we never travel at night unless unavoidable.

Of course, there is always the fear when you are out in rough water that the waves will get worse than predicted. On a short two-hour crossing from Petosky to Charlevoix on the east coast of Lake Michigan the average wave height was predicted to be 2-3 feet, which we thought we could handle.

Later we learned that NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) uses data to predict average wave height with the proviso that the highest waves will be average height times two! So even though most waves should be 2-3 feet, waves of six feet should be expected. The local knowledge is to double NOAA’s prediction.

When the waves were 4-6 feet we tacked, heading the bow into the waves and rode the crest of the waves. Although this method increased our time on the water, so the journey took three hours, it made us more comfortable, and it was a good lesson that has had implications for the future. We had waited for good weather in Petosky for three days and quickly learned that we should have waited four days, when the winds lessened.

By the time we got to the south end of Lake Michigan we found an app on Roger’s iPhone called Sailflow and we were able to determine what time of day  the winds would be strongest and avoided them arriving safely in daylight in Chicago.

We are now very careful to watch and discuss the weather apps (Sailflow, Passageweather, Windfinder and Weather Underground) and the government site (NOAA), many times a day that give wind direction and speed, wave height, tide, currents, temperature, precipitation and weather warnings for days before a big crossing to ensure good weather remains stable.

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The weather map shows us at the blue dot looking south east to cross the Gulf of Mexico to Dunedin and the colours indicate the wind strength (see colour chart at top of page) and the arrows give the wind direction. Directly from the east is not good as it gives waves that hit the boat on the beam. Acceptable colours for us are grey to green but really we prefer blue for most of the trip. You can see it’s much calmer closer to shore.

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This chart indicates the weather, temperature, precipitation and the wind speed including direction. Not a good day to cross. Look at the wind speeds on the bottom row.

Weather buoys are located in appropriate locations for mariners out in the Gulf of Mexico and the data they provide is locally important. We can check a number of them on the routes we need to travel. 42036 was the number of the NOAA buoy off the coast of St. Petersburg. We used another just south of Dog Island at the entrance to East Pass where we anchored in a protected bay the night before we were hoping to cross the Gulf of Mexico.

Then if the weather apps and the government predictions agree and the weather has been stable for a while we are convinced it’s safe to attempt a crossing.

I also plan, purchase and prepare meals and snacks and drinks in advance and we wear our lifejackets. We study the charts to familiarize ourselves with the channels we will enter when we get to shore and access the marina.

Gulf of Mexico

The next crossing was the Gulf of Mexico from Carrabelle on Florida’s  panhandle to Tarpon Springs, Dunedin or Clearwater on the west coast of Florida.  “Go-slow” loopers like us may avoid that by following the swampy shoreline which is called the Big Bend. This route takes them from Carrabelle on the panhandle east to Steinhatchie, then south to Cedar Key and south again to Tarpon Springs.

The problem is that that route takes three consecutive good days of travel weather, and as we learned at our Looper Rendevous, this is unlikely to happen. The upshot is that you may be stuck for days or weeks, in a tiny fishing village partway, and winds may prevent you from leaving. We decided to go straight across from Carrabelle to Dunedin where we had free marina accommodation as we had won a two-week free stay at Marker One Marina.

Our other source of information was Eddie we met at the Rendevous, who is an expert volunteer with the America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association (AGLCA). Eddie looks at all the weather apps, NOAA and probably a lot of other information. He posts a comment each morning called Eddie’s Weather Wag and lets us know if a crossing is going to be safe for fast boats to do a daytime crossing or an overnight crossing for slow boats like us. It was reassuring to see his “wag” to let us know when we should go and when we should stay.

We used all of our new knowledge and Eddie’s Weather Wag and waited 16 days, 15 days in Appalachicola and one night at Dog Island near Carabelle, for an acceptable crossing. We weathered high winds, three inches of rain and cold. Interestingly Appalachicola is the sunniest part of the state but they were having unseasonably cold, wet, windy weather.

Appalachicola was recommended as a place to wait by Eddie because it is a charming quaint town with many historic homes and museums, restaurants and areas of natural beauty.

A window opened during the waiting time but winds of 20 knots were forecast so we decided to not go as that was not going to be comfortable for us on our smaller boat. We have an agreement that if either of us is uncomfortable with the weather predictions (or any other matter) that we won’t go and both of us decided that we wouldn’t go until the winds were less than a maximum of 15 knots (preferably five knots) and waves less than two feet.

The boats that did go said we were wise to stay put. One Looper reported she had to crawl around her boat to move safely through the heavy seas. The other boats left them, so they didn’t have help if they needed it.  It was dark the entire night as they had no moonlight and they got “beat up.” When we caught up to them in Dunedin she said she was still recovering. Another rumour said that one wife (Admiral) wanted to sell their boat. We have met a number of men cruising alone over the years whose wives will no longer cruise with them after being scared, so although we didn’t like to wait, we felt that we had made the right decision for us.

To ensure our safety we planned to travel with buddy boats. We had a number of meetings with our friends on Serenity Now, Mara Beel and Sea Horse and agreed to travel at our slower speed, stay in radio contact over the trip and offer support if it was needed. We decided when to leave from Dog Island off Carrabelle and when to arrive in Dunedin in daylight to avoid the hundreds of crab traps that could entangle our propellers. We also decided where each boat would be in our parade owing to their size, and whether they had AIS (automated identification system) which allow them to identify other boats should they be in range. Roger and I agreed on shifts when we drove the boat and when we slept and this worked for the most part on the 24 hour crossing.

A fifth boat Perfect Balance was anchored at Dog Island with us and they decided to join our group at the last minute.

TA TA was in the third position behind a larger boat Mara Beel which took the tops off the waves for us.

During the voyage we followed each other on the radar screen and constantly monitored marine radio channels 16 and 68.  Channel 16 is for the Coast Guard and weather alerts and channel 68 is for general communication for boaters. We organized half hour radio contact to ensure everyone was alright and awake. By 4 AM Dan was telling us jokes on the radio.

Surprisingly someone played  bagpipe music over the marine radio on channel 68 at sun down so Roger played Here comes the Sun by the Beatles at daybreak. It was magical.

Roger complained he couldn’t sleep in the bow when he got “air.” I found I could wedge myself with pillows and I had three refreshing naps over the course of the night. Some couples stayed up all night.

On our crossing, winds were less than 15 knots and much less than that most of the time and waves were less than two feet. We had a half moon until midnight (the moon was filled on the bottom half ) and timed our arrival to be in daylight when we could expect to find crab-pots. Thanks Eddie!!

Our Looper friends who had done the previous rough crossing welcomed us (they were relieved at our safe crossing) and hosted a Looper dinner on the docks of the Marina as we were pretty tired.

Here are the happy and satisfied and tired Loopers we crossed with including: Dan and Angie on Sea Horse, Mimi and Jim on Perfect Balance, Roger and I on TA TA, Kathy and John on Serenity Now, and Becky and Mark on Mara Beel.

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The last couple Jean and Mel did the crossing on a boat but not with us.

Next Crossings

Our next crossing will be much shorter from Flamingo on the south coast of Florida south to the Keys, (after we exit the Wilderness Waterway through the Everglades and pass under a ten foot bridge). Crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas

After that the next crossing is scheduled for mid January as we leave the Florida Keys and travel to the Bahamas.

Favourite Things, Historical Places, Unexpected Treats, Climbing Places, Turtle Boats and Asian Carp

Favourite things

Roger loves the ginger ice-cream, the clarity of Lake Huron and upper Lake Michigan (thanks to the zebra mussels), and the reptiles.

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This is a water snake right beside a bike trail from Franfort to Beulah. We found 4 of these beauties together sunning (and, Roger thought, waiting for baby turtles to hatch in the adjacent nests). On our way back from Beulah, they were still there.

I am loving the biking, the swimming in the clean cold water of the Canadian Shield (am I the only one who swims in cold water),  the gardens, the sunsets, the history of the areas we visit,  and the wild and wonderful things we’ve discovered.

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Chicago’s bike paths run for miles on each side of the Shipping and Sanitary Canal that connects Lake Michigan with the Illinois River. We biked 16 miles to find a pair of Birkenstocks for Roger. His old ones were 15 years old and it was time to replace them. I am so happy!

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Interesting use of striped coleus.

Sunset over the Illinois River.

Historical people and places

We’re seeing lots of plaques about Lincoln in town parks and in parks along the Illinois River. They describe locations where he tried cases, landed by canoe after the Black Hawk war, debated against Douglas, his adversary for the Presidential election, or slept. There was even a place where he was reprimanded by the judge for not preparing properly for a case. This makes him more human to me.

Even earlier, the British and French were vying for control of eastern Michigan to control the fur trade and there are many French names and of course Native American names for places.

A name that seems to come up daily is Marquette, after Pere Marquette who travelled with explorers in the area. Train cars, monuments, tugs, and streets all carry his name. And in all the small communities the streets and monuments are named for war heroes and presidents. You start to expect a Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Lafayette St. etc.

At the North East corner of Lake Michigan where you leave the North Channel on Lake Huron, you come to an island called Mackinac Island. Mackinac Fort changed hands a few times between the British and the Americans. Incidentily, did you know that the Americans advertise that they won the war of 1812?

We stayed here at a marina just below Fort Mackinac and we saw a lot of tourists enjoying the historic Victorian Inns, driving horses and carriages, bicycling and eating the famous Mackinac Island ice cream and fudge.

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Mackinac Island pronounced Mackinaw had a fort painted white. We could see it from our boat in the harbour. Regularly they shot off canons and played reveille. We toured it and there were park staff dressed as soldiers who gave us talks and demonstrated firing their rifles.

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Long ago Mackinac Island residents decided they wouldn’t allow horseless carriages (motorized vehicles), so the whole island still relys on horses. Dray horses move food stuffs, and luggage to and from the hotels and all the shops. The grocery store is the longest continuously running store in Michigan. We saw the drays going by with boxes marked “keep frozen.” They had a blanket on top of them. This carriage was a “taxi” and tourists could also rent horses and carriages. The “traffic” was horrendous for us with all the walkers, bicyclists and horses and wagons. You had to avoid the warm, yellow puddles (no fenders) and the steaming mounds on the roads.

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The first churches were made of tree bark and were nice and cool inside. This one is situated just below the fort.

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Here is an early morning shot before the ferry loads of tourists arrived. When there are no vehicles, the streets are lined with bicycles. Tandem bikes, singles, children’s’ bikes etc. and everyone has them parked close together. If one bike bumps against another, while the owner is trying to extricate it, there is a domino effect and they all fall down. The main street was for tourists and had a multitude of fudge and ice cream and t-shirt shops.

Unexpected treats!

In Charlevoix, which is part way down Lake Michigan, we learned about Earl Young. He had fascinating ideas about architecture. We rode our bikes around town to see the homes he designed, which were all different.

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This one is called the “Half House.” The flat wall on the left makes the house look like it was cut in half.

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Remember the Flintstones? There was a realtor who had a year of Architectural training who lived in Charlevois and he liked rocks and boulders. His signature roof line was curved, sometimes with wings (he liked gulls). This home backs onto Lake Michgan and it was my favourite. Note the “winged” roofline, the stacked fence stones and the curves in the fence-line.

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Here is another of the stone houses. This one is on Thistledown Avenue. It’s had some modifications but the towers remain.

Climbing Places 

The east side of Lake Michigan is one long beach with or without sand dunes. At Sleeping Bear Park, we anchored the boat offshore, took the dingy to shore, and climbed the dunes.

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Here is our Cabin Boy atop the sand dune at Sleeping Bear State Park. It’s over 400 feet straight up from Lake Michigan. You know, one step up and four steps back. It was much harder than I thought. Luckily Roger set the tracks for me, and I made it, so I could take this picture. See the small white dot beside Roger’s left leg? That’s our boat, the TA TA. It looks a long way off doesn’t it? It was so much fun running down. One step and slide about 10 feet. Just remember to lean back!

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Here’s another place we climbed up to above the Covered Portage Cove anchorage. We saw lots of bear sign, and ate a lot of blueberries, and the climb was worth it for the view.

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Here’s Roger relaxing after the climb to the top! The snowmobilers come here in the winter, hence, the fantastic deck with furniture and fire pit. I missed my garden, so I dead-headed the petunias in the pots.

 Turtle boats 

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At Leland half way down Lake Michigan we came to “Fish Town,” a working harbour. The fishermen go out in all weathers. To do this they have special “turtle boats,” and they don’t have to worry about snow etc.

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Here is a turtle boat named the Janice Sue. It is totally enclosed. the opening at the side allows the nets to be set and brought back up by cam. The wood stove keeps everyone warm and the tiny raised windows at the back allows the skipper to see where he’s going.

Asian Carp

We met a new fish called the Asian Carp.

We saw these babies at the Chicago Aquarium and learned that there are four species. The carp at the aquarium were easily 20 – 30 pounds! Take a look at its mouth and eye location. The eye is situated much lower than the mouth and makes it look like it’s upside down.

The carp population has exploded south of Lake Michigan. We couldn’t believe the biomass when the electro-shockers arrived.

The infamous Asian Carp.

The infamous Asian Carp. This fish was trying to commit suicide by jumping out of the water and landing on the dock. Note the slime from all the jumping. Their lateral lines are sensitive. Just walking by may cause one to leap out of the water onto the dock in front or behind you. This causes me to shriek.

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Here are the electro-shockers we met at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers. Note the “wings” that are lowered and used to scoop up the shocked carp.

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This picture gives you an idea of the density of the Asian Carp.

To prevent the movement of Asian Carp into Lake Michigan they have employed an Electric Fish Barrier on the canal we transited. No need to specify “No Swimming!”

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 What really surprised us was the General Lee charter flatboat which came by our dock. It was  filled with gentlemen listening to AC/DC, drinking alcoholic beverages and shooting carp with bows and arrows. We are in the south now!

Peace and Quiet and the Cabin Boy

 

My new friend Kathy, who is also doing the Great Loop with her husband, overheard Roger say that I wanted him to go fishing or something so that I could have a break and time to myself. She was surprised and said, “He’s not supposed to know that!”

Roger, of course, knows that about me. I might say “don’t you want to go fishing?” Or I might try “ doesn’t this look like a good place to fish?” and then if he stalls I might say “when did you say you were going?” Then he looks at me directly and asks “Do you want me to go away for a while?” and I smile and then he goes.

He knows I need peace and quiet and time to relax without anyone rocking the boat, jumping into the boat, bashing around in the lockers, standing in the way and smiling at me, or playing his music too loud.

Later, Kathy said that her husband John was the Captain when he was driving the boat and otherwise he was the Cabin Boy.

I thought…. Hmmmm…. I need a Cabin Boy too, and so now I have one! His job is to do stuff and fix stuff and generally be respectful.

He pulls the anchor, installs safety items like the fire alarm, puts up hooks, fills the diesel tanks, sweeps up the main cabin, helps with shopping and cooking, readies the motor on the tender, and takes my kayak down from the roof rack, takes his turn with the dishes, assists in leveling the boat and generally makes himself useful (Roger wants everyone to know that he does his engine checks daily and maintains the boat too as Captain).

Roger that!

Today the Cabin Boy told me I could have a cup of tea or a foot massage whenever I want one and I like that!

I’ll let you know how that goes…..

I thought we should name the Cabin Boy and need some help.

Somehow a French name seems appropriate…

The Rocna

We planned to buy a Rocna (plow type) anchor before we arrived in Georgian Bay as a second type of anchor. The substrate we are used to is mud and sand and our Danforth anchors and rode, of chain and line (rope), are perfectly suited for holding in the conditions we are in on the coast of BC.

In Georgian Bay the substrate is rocky and weedy and the Danforth does not hold reliably.

Anchoring can be the most stressful part of cruising, as you are tired from a day of sun, wind, rain and Roger worries and can’t sleep if he’s not sure we are going to be in the same location in the morning when we wake up.

Ideally you have a scope of 7:1 so that the length of the anchor rode which is the chain plus line is seven times the length of the distance from the bowsprit to the depth of the water you are anchored in (a scope of 3:1 is a minimum).

For example; if the distance between your bowsprit and the bottom measures 20 feet, you should have around 140 feet of rode out. This way you are unlikely to drift and more likely to get a good nights sleep.

 

We forgot to buy the Rocna. Well, we didn’t really want to buy one because of: the price; the fact that we have two Danforth anchors already; and, don’t really have space to store another anchor.

 

We need one!

 

It needs to be 10kg for the size of our 27-foot Albin.

It’s nothing that $375.00 can’t fix including taxes and shipping!!

After our experience where we tried to anchor six times in Echo Bay, and our Danforth anchor dragged over the weeds, we knew we needed to buy a new anchor.

 

Finally a lovely gentleman named Bill came over with a grapple anchor. He was watching us, as were probably all of the other cruisers in the bay as this is part of the fun of cruising…and offered his spare anchor.

He uses a Rocna for his main anchor and likes it and he taught Power Squadron for 40 years, so I trust his judgment.

We used the grapple anchor as a kellet or extra weight on the Danforth and this technique worked!

After we got secured on bottom and after we figured they had had dinner, we went over to thank Bill with a bottle of wine and to ask when they were leaving the next morning and needed their spare anchor back.

We ended up spending the evening and looking over Bills and Ann’s charts (maps) and having a tour of their new to them Chris Craft boat.

They have two staterooms (bedrooms) and one has a king-size round bed and a bathtub which seems a little over the top to the owners and makes them laugh but it was on his bucket list according to his wife.

You may recall that Roger and I  put our kitchen table down every night for our almost double-sized bed and I use the nine-inch round sink in the head to sponge bathe or go for a swim in the cold waters of Georgian Bay before breakfast!

The next day Roger ordered a Rocna anchor by phone from Kingston, Ontario, and had it delivered to Parry Sound at the Big Sound Marina where we were tied up for a few days (while we visited Roger’s friends at their new cottage at Otter Lake, north of Toronto and near the Muskokas).

By the way, Bill didn’t accept the wine. He was happy to help us as boaters often help each other.

Anyone want to buy a used anchor?

I moved the First Aid Kit and we don’t list anymore

 

Kirkfield Lock is where I took a tumble and scraped up both legs (6X8 inches) and one arm and the opposite hand. There wasn’t much blood, but it hurt and I was so shaken I went back to the boat and couldn’t figure out what to do at first. The First Aid Kit was buried under a lot of stuff in the galley locker and that seemed too arduous to move, so, I ate an orange (vitamin C and healing).

When I calmed down I dug out the First Aid Kit and washed the wounds and applied liquid Band-Aid.

The liquid Band-Aid was great. It burned and made my leg look quite puckered, which was troubling at first, but it prevented infection and I didn’t have to wear a ginormous Band-Aid.

I lay down and put my legs up to stop the throbbing and had a nap and that pretty much fixed that problem along with longer shorts to cover the damage. Now a couple of weeks later, my legs look almost normal, and the tan helps.

Yesterday, I moved the First Aid Kit to a more accessible location.

 

The Princess

I’m having a little trouble with my head now though. I keep bashing it and bonking it on wooden parts on the boat in the aft cabin and the galley when I’m making up the bed or digging things out of a locker, or just passing through. Sometimes it happens when the boat is not even moving.

Roger hears a bump and asks, “Was that your head, again?”

He says I am “like a moose growing into my antlers!“

I don’t think my head is growing except Roger has been very kind and appreciative lately and saying a lot of nice things to me, so it might be growing a bit.

I think the problem is that the small, enclosed spaces in the aft cabin and the galley are not square and things stick out from the wall in unlikely places and I really don’t have eyes in the back of my head.

Also the boat is rocking even in port and it used to list to port because the 30-gallon water tank is on the port side, so when it is filled up it greatly changes the level of the boat from side to side. Add to that, the floors are not level at the bottom of the stairs in the galley and you see my point.

Yesterday we were in port and we spent some time shifting things from port to starboard and now the boat is on a more even keel.

This will make the boat more efficient to run and safer, theoretically, and helps the bed be level, which I appreciate.

Now I notice the boat is not level from bow to stern…. Sigh…

The upshot of all this unevenness is that I have learned that Roger doesn’t notice the niceties of things being level, and now calls me Princess, which I take in the best possible way.