Cruisin' The Loop Aboard Kibon
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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 magnificent!

Saturday, September 28, 2002
About 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 delight.
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 Fairhope.

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 shoved off. 
"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.

 

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