Wednesday September 25, 2002
RAIN.....rain. Isidore is doing a number in the Gulf. Landfall is
predicted for tonight or early tomorrow somewhere around New Orleans or Mobile.
We're still sitting it out in Demopolis, 200 miles upstream, safe, snug and wet.
The big event of the day was another trip to the grocery store. Mostly the day
consisted of reading, computer games and watching TV. Y'know, when you watch the
Weather Channel all day, nothing much happens. A little like reading the 'phone
book, not much plot, but a great cast of characters... A fresh caught river
Catfish for dinner and a TV movie will complete an eventful day. The movie?
Appropriately, of course, Singing In The Rain.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
Heeeeeeers Isidore! He's rushing up the Rivers bringing gallons of water
for every inch. It's been raining
for the past three days, sometimes with a vengeance. The storm is heading up
through Mississippi and was just reported southeast of Jackson, MS, which is
about a hundred miles west of here (this is at 2 pm). We've had winds, but not
too strong. The marina set out extra chains to stabilize the ends of their
piers. Last night there was a power outage when a transformer connected to the
restaurant blew out. The entire marina went black. We had just finished the
catfish, but we were snug in our boat and enjoying "Singing in the
Rain" and had to resort to the generator to finish the movie. Today Kay
went up to the laundry room to do one last load before we head south and
discovered that the roof had multiple leaks. The ceiling was all over the floor,
and there were buckets and bowls scattered everywhere in an effort to catch the
drips. We'd heard that Fred (the owner) had intentions of repairing the roof. It
looks as if he'll have a major repair now.
Finally departing toward Mobile tomorrow. We'll stop at the anchorage at mile
100 for the night and then continue on down to Fairhope's Eastern Shore Marina.
We called Eastern Shore earlier today. They said they still had wind and water,
but that things should get much better for the weekend.
Friday, September 27, 2002
A plan was hatched last night... Lester of Jonathan's
Seagull called Demopolis Lock, the next lock just a couple of miles downstream, and set
up an opening for six of us Isidore refugees if we can all get
going very early. "Early" was agreed to be six am! That's about the
earliest we've ever started, but, what the heck, we're planning a hundred mile
day, let's do it! Four boats were already under way and we were ready to pull
out when, lookee there, a southbound tow boat comes chugging around the bend.
Guess who has priority... Six of us floated around above the lock for an hour or
so before finally getting through. So much for our "early start." The
rest of the day down the Tombigbee was uneventful except for the flotsam.
Isidore left his mark in the river system... more brush, limbs and trees
have joined the flow than you can imagine. We spent the day dodging.
But now, the beautiful part... the anchorage at mile 100. The books talk about a
difficult entry, probably impossible, other captains have told us it's okay, but
be very careful, it's shallow. There's a story that the Corps dredged it. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion, many
negative. Well we tried it and, here's the real story for Loopers behind us: the
entry is 12 feet deep, it opens out to 20 feet... hooray for Isidore who
has provided the extra moisture... and you can (and we are!) tie up
inside "Old Lock One." No water or electric, but you can't beat the
price; and the view of Spanish-Moss-covered Live Oaks fringing the area is
Saturday, September 28, 2002
four am we both woke up saying, "What was that?" We'd heard a scrunch
that we've never heard before. (When sleeping on a boat any scrunch heard
in the night is important... very important). We were instantly up and on
deck to find that the scrunch was Kibon scraping on the side of "Old
Lock One" because the river had risen enough that her fenders were above
the lock wall and there was nothing between Kibon and wall but air. We
lowered the fenders, retied everything and went back to bed. In the
morning we measured: the river had risen 32 inches in eight hours. We're used to
tides that do this, but rivers??? A new experience! Here's a photo of Kibon
in the morning, same angle as the night before... compare 'em. How about that!?
One more day's run down the river; and this is where the Tombigbee, Black
Warrior, Mobile river system really get squirrelly. It twists and turns and
double backs constantly. There's one place where it loops so much you have to
travel over three miles in order to gain a few hundred feet. In Fact, at that
point we could look through the trees and see where we were twenty minutes ago!
"Old Lock One" where we spent the night is at Mile 100; that's 100
river miles to the end at Mobile. The straight line distance is 22 miles!
Sure, it's slow, but what a way to go!
We met up with a towboat waiting at one of the hairpins for an oncoming tow
threading his way toward us; and, while hanging around, got into a conversation
with him about "whistles," the special language towboat captains use
to negotiate passings on the rivers. Pearce said (on the radio),
"Captain, we've been on the rivers for a month and still get confused by
the 'one whistle' or 'two whistle' thing. Can you explain it for me?"
Here's how he explained it: "First, remember what the book says," one signal
(horn, whistle, etc.) means, "I intend to turn to starboard," two
signals, "I intend to turn to port." Here's how this works on the
river: when two boats are approaching head on, both boats are
"burdened" and must alter course to avoid collision. If they agree to
alter course to starboard (therefore passing port-to-port) they are passing
"on the one whistle. " or turning to starboard. If they agree to pass starboard-to-starboard,
they pass "on the two whistle," turning to port. Two boats meeting head-to-head is a
simple situation: if they pass on port, it's one whistle; if on starboard, it's
two. Always. What gets confusing is an overtaking situation. The boat
coming from behind is the "burdened" boat and must stay clear. He asks
the towboat ahead for permission to pass and on which side. If the towboat
captain says, "I'll see you on the one whistle," it means turn to
starboard (one whistle = starboard turn). If he says, "Pass me on the
two," you turn to port and pass on his port side (two whistles = port
turn). The captains have a hundred ways to say it, but the important thing to
hear is "one" or "two." Of course, you probably know all
about this, but it's good to refresh occasionally. As
our towboat captain said in parting, "Relax, even some of us professional
mariners get it mixed up from time to time."
As we neared Mobile, palmettos started appearing in the underbrush below the
Spanish-Moss-be-draped Live Oaks along the river. For the first time Pelicans
joined the Egrets and Kingfishers... we could smell salt water. Then suddenly,
here's the I-10 Bridge, Mile zero, the entrance to Mobile, the Bay and, in the distance, the Gulf of Mexico! Mobile Bay, for all
the horror stories we've been told about its orneriness, was a plate of glass
with only a hint of ocean swell coming in from the Caribbean. We crossed the Bay
southeastward, and are docked at Eastern Marina, in Fairhope, Alabama... a town
that someone has listed as one of the finest retirement communities in America.
Had dinner in town last night (huge shrimp, heads attached, minutes out of the
waters of the shrimp capital of the world), looked around a bit and tend to go
along with the "someone who listed it as the finest..." Planning on staying here awhile, so
will see for sure. As we crossed Mobile Bay this afternoon we could see
many, many racing sailboats. We passed several fleets -- 30 or more Flying
Scots, as many or more Optimists, Rhodes 19s, Lasers, Sunfish -- eat your heart
out, Narrasketuck Yacht Club. It looked like a Race Week from the
1960s. It was an invitational race at Fairhope Yacht Club that attracted
sailboats from clubs in the Gulf Yachting Association.
Sunday, September 29, 2002
There's only one courtesy car at Eastern Marina, but we are the only transient
boat here... We get a chance to really see what's so great about Fairhope. Maybe
a few photos will tell the tale:
Fairhope was founded originally as a Marxist Commune
by people devoted to peace and art. The Marxism has faded through the years, but
peace and art are still alive and well. Downtown (or should we say
'downvillage') the streets are flooded with galleries, art shops, specialty
dress shops, bistros and cafes... it's a tourist Mecca. But not Honky Tonk in
the least... We strolled among the shops and peered into the gallery windows
mentally logging those we would definitely visit tomorrow when they would be
open. Today, they're all closed. A few miles to the south along the bay front is
one of America's premier resort hotels: Marriott's Clear Point Grand Hotel and
Marina. The original hotel was built in 1840 and was used as a hospital
for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. We strolled the grounds and buildings and, other than the fact that the
land here is level rather than very up-and-down and the architecture is very
different, we were reminded of our visit to another Grand Hotel in Mackinac
Island. A "Grand" is a grand and visiting any one of them is a
We got back to the marina after a whole day of touring just in time to give a
hand to Maryellen and Jim McGregor who were docking So Far So Good in the slip next
door and live one village away. They joined us for cocktails on Kibon
and we made plans to meet for lunch tomorrow and get an insider's view of
Monday, September 30, 2002
Aw, what a disappointment, Hurricane Lili is messing around in the Caribbean
and headed this way... it's time for us to head for shelter. Mobile Bay is not
the place to ride out a hurricane, so we called the McGregors, begged off for
lunch, and decided to head east toward Florida. The Bay was still like a
plate of glass so it was passable. So we visited the fuel dock, filled up and
"Hal," the computer inside our GPS, is happy. Since leaving the Great
Lakes he's been without a local area chip so could only read out location,
direction and speed data. When we entered Mobile Bay, Hal said, "Hey, I
know this place!" He brought up all the important navigation stuff in his
data base like buoys, depths and courses; stuff we feel a lot better knowing
about since we are now out in the open water and not just flowing with a river.
Pearce showed Hal the line of buoys that mark the way down twenty miles of
Mobile Bay to the Intracoastal Waterway and said, "Take over." We
watched the shrimp boats shrimping and the pelicans fishing (by falling on their
heads) as Hal took us farther away from Lili's path. In an hour or so we were in
the Intracoastal which, in some places, looks just like another river. But here
the buoys have numbers and Hal knows them all! Our plan is to find a port
where we can spend the next several days until the winds of Lili die down.
Another one of the things we missed by leaving Fairhope early was getting some
fresh shrimp from one of the fishermen who keep their boats on Fly Creek.
They were $2.50 a pound, and Kay was very disappointed to not be able to
lay in a supply. On the way through the Intercoastal, we passed several
markets but decided to wait until we docked. We passed
several tow boats and a number of pleasure craft on the Waterway. Homes
lined the banks or were up waterways that branched off to the sides. Most
of the boats in docks were suspended high above the water. All of these
populated areas were no wake zones, but even if we had to travel slowly it was
nice to see evidence of people enjoying their waterway. We looked at
several marinas along the way, but Pearce thought they would be exposed to the
surges of Lili's winds. We decided that if we had to spend some time in a
port, it might as well be an interesting one, so we headed toward
Pensacola. Unfortunately, the marinas in Pensacola were either refusing to
accept any more boats or were suggesting that people leave the more exposed
slips. Apparently they had either not heard about FIMA's ruling about
"ports in a storm." We tied up at the Pensacola Yacht Club and
went in to talk to the manager, Bill Darby. He said the members had just
finished repairing their docks from Isidore, and that if Lili's winds threatened
more damage the boats would seek shelter elsewhere. He offered to let us
tie up for overnight, and he tried to contact several boatyards/marinas.
We eventually found a place on the other side of the bay in Pensacola
Beach. We're tied up in the middle of a charter fleet. As we watched
one boat come in with a large catch of red snapper and a huge grouper, we were
tempted to ask if there were any fillets to spare. Instead, Kay defrosted
a steak and Pearce got out the barbecue grill. We enjoyed dinner while
watching the sun set over the beach.
Tuesday, October 1, 2002
We got out the bicycles and decided to explore the Beach. Our first stop
was the Visitor's Center where we looked at maps of the area. We rode
across to the "longest pier on the Gulf," but decided that we didn't
need to walk up on it for the
$1 admission charge. Instead we took off our shoes and walked in the white
sands and waded in the warm water. We rode around the center of the town
looking at the stores. Pearce spied a telephone and decided to call his
cousin, Fred Wehrspaun, whom he had not seen in more than 50 years. Fred
was home and accepted our invitation to drive over for lunch. We headed
back to the boat to await his arrival. Pearce
and Fred spent several hours sharing family history. Fred's mom and
Pearce's mom were sisters, but somehow the next generation never got together
after they grew up. Fred figured the last time they saw each other was at
another cousin's (Coota) wedding. After lunch Fred drove us toward both
ends of the beach. Both were closed to traffic as earth movers shoved sand
back to reform the dunes. We were able to drive by the spot where Fred's
parents owned a house on the Gulf. It had been sold many years ago and
replaced by a much larger house. Fred said he thought the one we looked at
was even a replacement for that one. There are still a few of the original
50s and 60s houses on the Beach, most of them on the inside streets.
Repairmen were in evidence, trying to reconstruct those homes damaged by the
high surf of Isidore. There is still water standing in low spots several
blocks from the Gulf.