Demopolis, AL to Tarpon Springs, FL

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What happens when you are busy boating? You fall behind in blogging! Inquiries were made from some of our “loyal fans” as to our whereabouts and health. So, our whereabouts now are in the St. Petersburg, FL, area, and as far as health, “We’re in pretty good shape for the shape we’re in.”

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With our dear friend Father Don MacKinnon in Baton Rogue, LA.

We remained in Demopolis, AL, until the 10th of January 2019, waiting and waiting and waiting for a river flood to recede. How many times have we reported this since we began our trip over 8 months ago? In this case, it was on the Tombigbee River, and we knew we would have to anchor out at least two nights before we got to Mobile, AL. We still had our car, so we traveled to Baton Rouge, LA, to visit our dear friend, Father Don MacKinnon, who had retired there from Berkeley, CA. He has been a fine example of putting Jesus Christ’s social gospel into action and has been very encouraging of Lenny’s call to the ministry late in life.

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We finally left Demopolis on Friday January 11th, in company with three other boats: Wild Goose (Barry and Carol), Kailani (Nick and Tracy) and Buy the Book (Bill and Diane). We all had gotten to know each other at Demopolis and, given the river conditions, we thought it best to travel in a group. Many of the channel markers and buoys were underwater or nearly so, as you can see on the left. We went through the Demopolis lock as a group, and then anchored out at Bashi Creek. Lenny had difficulty getting the boys ashore and all three of them ended up muddy. The following day we were anchored at Three Rivers and completed the last of the locks at Coffeeville, AL.

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Entering Mobile Bay and transitioning from fresh water to salt water.

Entering Mobile Bay, AL, completed the leg of our journey that began in St. Paul, MN, just about 7 months ago. Generally, our directions were to “Head South and Turn Left at Mobile Bay.” When we did the left turn, we encountered very choppy and windy conditions. The waves have a lot of time to build across Mobile Bay, and by the time we got to Fairhope, AL, there was quite a swell and a very tricky channel to make our way through. Fairhope Marina is not in very good shape, although they say they are in the process of improving it. The fixed docks were so high that Louise could not get off, and so narrow there was an instance when Lenny had to crawl on his hands and knees to get ashore. It was also not very well protected, so we spent an extremely rock and rolling night, worse than being on the rivers with the tugs going by. Not much rest for us or Chip and Dayle.

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The shattered window.

When we staggered up out of our “sleeping” berth to the salon/dinette area on January 14th, we discovered that one of our cockpit windows had shattered during the night! That’s a lot of stress to have taken place. The safety glass did as it should and stayed in the frame. We had to tape it so that we could continue. Just one more thing for the fix-it list. Fairhope is supposed to be a wonderful town, but all we could do was to get out of that marina as soon as possible.

We encountered some more rough going until we exited Mobile Bay and began journeying on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, heading towards The Wharf, in Orange Beach, AL. If any of you watch HGTV’s “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” you would recognize The Wharf by the Ferris wheel and all the shops and eateries in the complex.

Two views of The Wharf in Orange Beach, AL.

We stayed there for three nights, doing laundry, provisioning, and enjoying the excellent restaurants. This is definitely a first-class place, and not just in comparison with Fairhope. We met up with some more Loopers that had come from Demopolis earlier than we had, and spent an enjoyable time at Docktails, aboard Bill and Bobbie’s boat The First Forty. They are on their second go-around and were very generous with their knowledge and advice.

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Goodbye, Alabama. Thank you for your many adventures!

Another milestone took place on January 17, 2019: We left Alabama and crossed into Florida! Somehow, we expected the weather to change, but we remained bundled up in fleece and long shirts, just like home in the PNW. We also passed our first Florida lighthouse – the Pensacola Lighthouse, on our way into Pallafox Marina, in Pensacola, FL. Louise can’t remember if this was one of her mom’s collectible light houses, but knows for sure that she would have gone crazy to see one in person.

LEFT: The Pensacola Lighthouse.
RIGHT: We started to see more sand dunes as we traveled along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

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This is another first-class marina, well protected, and in the Pallafox Pier area of town. The Tristan de Luna y Arellano statue commemorates the founding of a short-lived settlement in 1559. In 1698 the Spanish established a presidio in the area, from which the modern city gradually developed. The area changed hands several times as European powers competed in North America. It is nicknamed “The City of Five Flags” due to the five governments that have ruled it during its history.

The city has also been referred to as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” Naval Air Station Pensacola (NASP) was the first Naval Air Station commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1914. Tens of thousands naval aviators have received their training there, including John H. Glenn, USMC, who became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962, and Neil Armstrong, who became the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969. The Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, is stationed there.

We scheduled a day to spend at the National Naval Aviation Museum. We spent most of our time in Hanger One, which was devoted to aircraft from Vietnam, the Gulf War and up to present day. Lenny saw many of these aircraft while he was off the coast of Vietnam in the early 1970’s, and he reminisced about the role each of them played during his time there. The photo on the right shows the type of chopper that brought mail and fresh vegetables.

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Enjoying the sight of blue water instead of brown water in our wake.

On January 20, 2019, we departed from Pensacola, FL, with the original intent of stopping at Ft. Walton Beach, FL. The water was a brilliant turquoise instead of the muddy brown of the rivers. Several dolphins lead the way for us, including into side channels. However, it was only noon when we got there and the weather was favorable, so we used Active Captain (a peer-reviewed program) and our charts to find a small marina in Freeport, FL. Their only transient berth was at the fuel dock, and we had to promise to be underway by 7am the next day, because that’s when the fishermen come in to get their fuel. There we experienced one of the most stunning sunsets.

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Our next stop was the Panama City, FL, area. To be honest, we didn’t know what we would find after Hurricane Michael. We consulted a Looper couple that lives in the area and called around to several marinas, and the only one that was open was Lighthouse Marina. Part of their boat storage building was ripped away; they also lost their office, laundry facilities, and indoor showers and toilets. Fortunately, their fuel pier was spared, so they could still support the livelihoods of at least some of their staff. Traveling around the city to do laundry, Louise saw so many destroyed buildings and a myriad of blue tarps. Out of respect to the residents, we did not take any pictures. No need to—this will live in our memories.

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The boat storage building at Lighthouse Marina. Note the destroyed wall on the far left side of the building.

A really bad storm turned a one-day visit into a two-day visit. The weather has always been important to us in route planning and timing, but we were just a few days away from crossing the Gulf of Mexico. We intently studied weather sites and conferred with other Loopers. Timing was key.

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Chip and Dayle on the way to Port St. Joe.

On Wednesday, January 24th, we left Panama City and headed to Captain’s Cove Marina, in Port St. Joe, FL, which is directly on the Gulf of Mexico. Captain’s Cove also felt the wrath of Hurricane Michael. There was just one dock, no water, and the only power was a 110v extension cord, like what you have in your house. However, the dockmaster was gregarious and regaled Lenny with stories of the fishing fleet that was associated with the cannery next door. Unfortunately, the heyday of that fleet has passed, but its history is recorded in the many photos and other memorabilia found in the office.

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Fishing boats associated with the cannery next to Captain’s Cove Marina.

Our destination for Thursday January 25th was C-Quarters Marina in Carrabelle, FL. Boaters wishing to cross the Gulf of Mexico have two choices from here. Choice one is a direct route across to Tarpon Springs, FL, which takes 20 hours and is an overnight open water crossing. Choice two is to make two stops along the “Big Bend” of Florida and stay in marinas. With choice one, you only need one clear weather window and it’s over. Choice two, you need three clear weather windows and you risk the chance of being stuck some place for multiple days. Three days can turn into five or more, depending on Mother Nature’s whim and fancy. We elected choice two because of the dogs and because of fuel concerns.

We left Carrabelle the morning of January 26th, and even though the weather window was acceptable, we still had quite a ride crossing the Gulf of Mexico to Steinhatchie, FL. No pictures from this day. A sound track would include sliding, crashing, and Dayle whimpering. For those of you in the PNW, it was like crossing the Straits of Juan de Fuca on a really difficult day. At least we had done that before and knew we could survive it. Harsh weather on San Francisco Bay was no match for this!

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Then Again tied up after crossing the Gulf of Mexico in open waters.

Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchie was a welcome sight, even though the docks were old, rickety and not very stable. We were just exhausted. Fortunately, Roy’s Restaurant was about a mile away and they came down to pick us up and then drive us back. We had some of the finest red snapper ever there and returned the following night for other menu options. If fishing is your hobby, then Sea Hag Marina would be the place go for anything you need to fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the lack of a weather window and our exhaustion, we stayed two nights there.

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The docks at Steinhatchies, including some of the resident pelicans.

On January 29th, we left for Twin Rivers Marina in Crystal River, FL. We were still traveling considerably off shore of the west coast of Florida. Because the Gulf of Mexico is so shallow, we have to stay about 3 to 5 miles offshore or we will be aground.

When you were a child, did you ever play the game “I Spy With My Beady Eye…?” We got to relive that memory as we sang out, “I Spy With My Beady Eye, a line of crab pots drawing nigh.” Crab pots are the bane of every boater’s existence in this part of the world. If one of those lines wrap around your propeller, you are definitely experiencing prop damage and, potentially, your engine comes to a halt. Now these crab pots are not marked with the big orange buoys like you see on “Deadliest Catch.” Nope, that would take all the “fun” out of the game. Instead they are marked with small Styrofoam balls about the size of a grapefruit, in either white, red, black, purple or yellow. They are laid in a line, but the lines cross at various angles and it is quite a skill to weave in between them. We both had to be peering all the time. It made for another exhausting trip for both of us.

Crystal River is, well, crystal clear. We could actually see the sandy bottom with shells embedded as we pulled into the marina. We had a good night’s sleep and left early the morning of January 30th for Tarpon Springs. FL. Louise visited Tarpon Springs by herself in the early 1990’s, when working for the public safety and criminal justice software company OCS Technologies (aka: Police Data Systems, aka: Command Data Systems, aka: US West Public Safety Group). She was not flying home every week, and one Saturday she drove from Clearwater, FL, to Tarpon Springs, as a break. Now this was the chance to return and show Lenny one of the best weird museums of all time: Spongeorama!

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Yes, Spongeorama is a real place!

But, first, time for a history and sociology lesson. In the 1880s, John K. Cheyney founded the first local sponge business. The industry continued to grow in the 1890s. Many people from Key West and the Bahamas settled in Tarpon Springs to hook sponges and then process them. A few Greek immigrants also arrived in this city during the 1890s to work in the sponge industry.

In 1905, John Cocoris introduced the technique of sponge diving to Tarpon Springs by recruiting divers and crew members from Greece. The first divers came from the Saronic Gulf islands of Aegina and Hydra, but they were soon outnumbered by those from the Dodecanese islands of Kalymnos, Symi, and Halki. The sponge industry soon became one of the leading maritime industries in Florida and the most important business in Tarpon Springs, generating millions of dollars a year.

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In 1947, a red tide algae bloom wiped out the sponge fields in the Gulf of Mexico, causing many of the sponge boats and divers to switch to shrimping for their livelihood, while others left the business. Eventually, the sponges recovered, allowing for a smaller but consistent sponge industry today. A very hokey movie from the early 1970s provided all the background we needed.

The second big attraction for Tarpon Springs is Greek food. So many wonderful Greek restaurants are in the same area as Spongeorama, with our favorite being Hellas. We also shared a group dinner honoring Bill and Bobbie, from First Forty, who completed their second Great Loop trip at Tarpon Springs. This earned them the platinum flag. (As an aside, when we complete our Loop, we will change out our white flag for a gold one.) Many Looper boats stayed at Turtle Cove Marina while others stayed at the Municipal Marina.

We also visited the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Basilica in downtown Tarpon Springs, as well as the Chapel of St. Michael. The stunning architecture and iconography brought a sense of peace to us. We were refreshed and ready to continue our southward journey.

LEFT: The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Basilica. RIGHT: The Chapel of St. Michael.

Our Trip So Far

As of Sunday February 3, 2019…

  • Days: 210
  • Locks Passed Through: 52
  • Miles Sailed: 2,507*
  • Engine Hours: 507
  • Gallons of Diesel: 1018*
*To be updated

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