Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Closing Our Circle!

A Bama Dream is now secure at her new home in Goose Pond Marina. We have decided to spend the next few months enjoying some quality time with our children and their families, especially the grandchildren and great grandchildren, before dropping our lines for another trip to the islands. This has been an amazing journey that we are so grateful that we were able to experience! Hopefully our blog has given everyone that has been following us just a little bit of an idea of what we have encountered over the past year. Many of our friends want to know what we plan for our next adventure. Well, while we don't think we will ever spend a whole year on the road, or water, again we are now preparing for our next great adventure by getting a new set of wheels and attaching a small camper to the hitch. As we have decided that there will be at least a few more trips aboard the amazing Bama Dream, she will wait patiently at Goose Pond for her next turn.

Just a few stats from our Great Loop adventure:

             Miles traveled: 7,512
             Engine hours: 1021
             Gallons of fuel: 2790
             Gallons per hour: 2.73
             Average mph: 7.36
             Total trip days: 364
             Days traveled: 195
             Nights on anchor: 164
             Nights at marinas: 156
             Mooring balls; 8
             Walls: 34
             Locks: 148

Untold number of new friends, too many stunning sunrises and sunsets to count, just a couple of bad days, caught some very nice fish, visited numerous charming seaside villages, and came home with a great tan!

Our favorite selfie of the trip!

Thanks to our son, Seth, who kept track of our travels on this map of the Great Loop, we are able to share this overview of our trip.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Homeward Bound!

Oct. 4-8

Days 327-331

Wow! I didn't realize how much trouble I would have writing this last post. After several years of planning and preparing for this adventure it is hard to believe we have closed our circle and come to the end of our journey. I won't deny that there have been a very few moments along the way that the thought ran through our heads, at least mine, that maybe this wasn't such a great idea. Those moments were few and far between and never lasted long enough to shed major doubts on our sanity. Before we began this trip, we both were apprehensive about all of the "unknowns" we would meet along the way. Everything that we worried about turned out to be absolutely "no problem". All in all, we have been captivated by our view from the waterways we have traveled, grown enormously in our confidence in our abilities, visited so many places we had never even heard of before, and met new friends from around the globe. Some of our new friends will one day become our old friends as we continue to include them in our lives. To borrow a phrase from one of those new friends: Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone!

A new bridge is taking shape over the Tennessee River where several years ago an unfortunate ship captain performed a slight, but costly, miscalculation as he rammed his barge into the bridge. His cargo was rockets on there way to Cape Canaveral. While there was no damage to the ship, or its cargo, the bridge did not fair so well.

Talk about having your own personal fishing pier. Obviously, this railroad bridge is no longer in service.

When the dams were built that backed up the water for Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake many structures, including a whole town, became covered or surrounded by water.

Another beautiful sunrise greets us as we look forward to another perfect day on the Tennessee River. While we are not in a hurry to bring our journey to a close, we are getting a little excited about seeing family and friends, so we are up at the crack of dawn again.

We have met quite a few tows plying these waters, but none of them come close to the size of the ones on the Mississippi River. 

As we have traveled the inland river systems, we have made a point of telling our fellow Loopers how much they will enjoy the Tennessee River. Views like this are why this portion of the Loop is a favorite for many cruisers.

So this is where river rock comes from! This dredge that looks like it has seen better day is harvesting river rock and then sending it to various markets by barge. 

Other than being a little warmer than I like, we have experienced wonderful weather these past few days. There are homes tucked into the hillsides all along the river. I must say that I much prefer my waterfront property to theirs. Our foundation is the water, and we can follow it wherever it goes.

Our days come to a close with tranquil anchorages and peaceful sunsets.

Although we experienced this awesome red sky in the morning, we were not being warned of an impending storm. It was just a stunning beginning of another glorious day on the water.

After a short wait for this tow to clear the lock, we were ready to enter our final lock before we would cross our wake. We still have three more locks to go, but Pickwick is the last one that we had not already been through at the beginning of our trip.

We have gotten a little better at selfies over the course of our travels. Actually, we just discovered that Jess's arm is longer than mine.

Just a few miles east of Pickwick Dam, the Tenn-Tom branches off to the south. After watching our white burgee wave on our bow for so long, it will soon be time to replace it with our gold one.

We did it! We have now "crossed our wake"! It seems like only yesterday we were just beginning our Great Loop adventure and now we are Gold Loopers.

If you have ever used the timer on your camera to stage pictures, you have some idea of how many times we had to move and adjust to get a few decent shots. I have to say that Jess has become quite understanding when it comes to me saying: "Just one more!" Off with the old...

On with the new! 

Our view of Bama Dream's bow has changed today. This time through Wilson Lock was a breeze. If you have been following our blog from the beginning you know what I mean by that!

Jess is pulling up the anchor for the last time on this trip. We are planning to stop at Ditto Landing Marina tonight, then on to our new home at Goose Pond Marina in Scottsboro from there.

Another memory from last year. This is the railroad bridge in Decatur that has to be raised for boat traffic. Slightly west of here is where we experienced our first huge storm on the water. Luckily, the storm we encountered on Lake George is the only other deluge we had to deal with.

These cliffs welcome us back to familiar waters. We have seen some breathtakingly beautiful places along this voyage, but we have to admit we may be slightly prejudiced when it comes to the Tennessee River.

Waiting patiently for the gates to open on Guntersville Lock. We are home!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Green Turtle Bay

 Sept. 26-Oct. 3

Days 319-326

These last few days have been slightly melancholy for us. My usual posts contain pictures of the places we have encountered as we travel from one place to another, not so this one. Green Turtle Bay Marina has provided us with the opportunity to visit one more time with many of our fellow Loopers that we have met along the way. Some we have not seen in quite some time, others we have shared many wonderful moments with along the way, and still others are new Loopers who are just beginning their great adventure. We have actually extended our stop here so that we would be here when our friends on Seahorse arrived, in order to celebrate with them as they complete their Loop. Then we discovered that Aunt Aggie would arrive here just after our scheduled departure, so what is a couple more days added to our trip. In case you can't tell we are just a little reluctant to bring our Loop trip to a close. We are excited about seeing our family and friends at home, but not necessarily ready to swap our white burgee for a gold one.

Green Turtle Bay Marina has been swamped with transient Loopers, as we all continue our trip south. They have done an amazing job finding every nook and cranny they have in order to provide dockage for us. We have felt right at home on the sale dock, enjoying the many wannabe boat owners who have checked Bama Dream out. Sorry, she is not for sale just yet!

Our timing was perfect. The yacht club sponsored a Seafood Boil on Saturday night and it sure didn't take much convincing to get many of the Loopers to join in the fun. I certainly am not going to turn down the chance to attend an event that includes all you can eat crab and shrimp. 

Our view of the lunar eclipse was hindered by a partly cloudy sky, but we did manage a glimpse every now and then. Oh well, Jess and I have decided we don't mind waiting another 18 years for the next one.

Dan and Angie from Seahorse arrive to an improvised song, and plenty of cheers, as we help them celebrate crossing their wake.

What better excuse than a "Cross Your Wake" party to cover the table with some scrumptious snacks. Cruisers always keep a few items in their cabinets just for these special occasions.

After all of the planning, then the excitement of each moment of the journey, it all comes down to the big moment when the white burgee is replaced with the coveted gold one. Dan and Angie can be proud that they have accomplished this goal, and are now ready to seek new adventures.

Even in the marina we were treated to an amazing sunset.

Jess and I enjoyed visiting with Don Britton and his wife, Janice. Don is my cousin's wife's brother. If you read that slowly you will get the relationship. After a nice visit with them, their cats, and a number of hummingbirds at their beautiful home on Kentucky Lake, we ended the evening with supper at their marina.

As a thank you to Loopers for visiting the Green Turtle Bay Marina, they graciously provided us with a Bar-B-Que meal with all of the fixings. We were even entertained by a quite talented musician who did a pretty good job adapting songs to meet the Looper lifestyle. 

Free food brings out the smiles at our table full of Loopers.

Sampling a little of each of the cobblers, Jess makes his way down the dessert table.

The newest Gold Loopers, Dan and Angie from Seahorse. We began our journeys at the Rendezvous last October. Our paths have crossed many times and many different places over the last year. We will miss these moments, but have promised to keep in touch and meet again somewhere along the way.

Our fellow Alabamians from Mobile, Donnadee and Wayne from Always Home. We first met at Half Moon Bay on the Hudson River. There have been several docktails since at many stops along the way. I am sure our paths will cross again as they continue their journey, and then move back onto dry land with an RV.

New friends, Clark and Evelyn on Sea Moss. We only just met at Grafton, Il, but we are already planning a cruise up the Tennessee River at least as far as Chattanooga. 

We really feel like we are close to home with all of the deer that wander the resort grounds.

We have had cloudy, rainy days, but hopefully this means we can expect some sunshine soon. We are also reminded that fall is here to stay, as the temperature has really started dropping.

The small town of Grand Rivers has a nice little grocery store, a dairy bar that has very large small dip cones, antique stores, gift shops, and this awesome restaurant. Patti's is famous for their 2 inch pork chops that are absolutely out of this world. After two trips to Patti's we can vouch for the fact that they have many other tasty items on the menu.


It didn't take long after our arrival at GTB for the crews from Always Home, Fryedaze and Bama Dream to make our way to Patti's. We were not disappointed in the fare or the amounts. All of us had plenty for supper and leftovers for lunch.

What better excuse to return to Patti's than welcoming our friends, George and Martha from Aunt Aggie. We were so happy that we could have one more short visit with them before we each complete our loop just east of Pickwick. We began this journey together at Joe Wheeler last October. We have met at many different spots along the route, but it always seemed that as we arrived they were leaving or vice versa. Never the less we have shared some great memories and look forward to visiting them at their new home in Atlanta.

One reason to take home half of your meal for the next day, is that that way you can save room for dessert. After listening to the very long list of scrumptious concoctions Jess settled on Coconut Cake and I have to admit the other chocolatey thing is mine and I don't even remember what it was called.

After a thrilling Crimson Tide win over Georgia, there was still time for a couple more very competitive marble games before bringing our final evening at GTB to a close.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Mighty Mississippi, Then On to the Ohio and the Cumberland

Sept. 21-25

Days 314-318

After leaving Grafton it was only a matter of minutes before we discovered what it meant for us to join the waters of the Mississippi River. They were not only a chocolate brown, but also quite swift. The current ramped up our speed to a mind boggling 14 mph. Wow, at this rate we would cover this section of our trip in no time at all. We had heard many nightmare stories about traveling the Mississippi, but we experienced no problems. Our timing was excellent because the water was at its lowest level in some time and most of the deadheads we needed to dodge had already found homes along the banks. The Mississippi and the Ohio are definitely working rivers. We had to maneuver around many huge tows as they moved their cargo up and down the waterway. As with all of the other parts of this trip that we have worried about, our cruise down the inland rivers was no big deal.

If you don't look at the color of the water, much of the scenery along this stretch of the river reminds us of our beautiful Tennessee River.

Tucked between the industry of the waterfront are opportunities for entertainment. These former riverboats have found new life as casinos.

The paddle wheeler Spirit of Peoria joined us for our lock through at the Chain of Rocks Lock.

Here is the proof! I had to take a screen shot when we actually topped 14 mph. I know that doesn't sound very fast for all of you landlubbers out there, but when your normal speed is around 8 mph, this is amazing. 

As we approached St. Louis our view became cluttered with one bridge right after the other.

St. Louis has one of the most recognizable waterfronts, thanks to its famous arch commemorating the cities early days as the gateway to the American West. There appears to be a major building project taking place that will eventually open up the area along the water for visitors to enjoy.

Our first day on the river took us to the famous Hoppies Marina at Kimmswick, MO. This is a must stop for most Loopers. Not only does it provide the last opportunity for cruisers to top off their tanks before entering the longest stretch of no services on the whole Great Circle Route, it is owned and operated by the best known character on the water. Fern has been running the "marina" since she and her husband took charge from his father in the early 70's. The village of Kimmswick, MO is lined with businesses designed to entertain tourists. Just don't arrive on a Monday like we did. The whole town takes the day off. We walked the streets for an hour and saw absolutely no one. Nobody was working in their yards, sitting on their porch, walking a dog, saw no children anywhere, it was like being in the middle of a Stephen King novel. The worst part was that there were quite a few shops I would have loved to have browsed through.

Hoppies consists of 3 derelict barges that have been tied up to the banks of the Mississippi for over 80 years. They offer fuel and power, but virtually nothing else. That is except for the valuable information about the river that Fern willingly shares with her guests.

The sun was trying its best to burn a little fog off the water, as we prepared for an early start on the river. Our next anchorage is 110 miles down stream, so even at our new traveling speed it is going to be a long day.

The trip down the Mississippi has actually been quite pretty. I imagine as the trees start exhibiting their fall colors, the views will become impressive.

It is really amazing how much cargo the tows can push up and down the river. This tow was guiding 30 loaded barges, which means it takes awhile for us to negotiate our passage. The secret is to make sure we don't meet these big guys when they are working their way through one of the many horseshoe turns along the way. It is very important that we make radio contact with the captains, so that we both know what we are doing.

Our anchorage in Diversion Creek was a little snug with a few other cruisers joining us. No problem, Always Home, Fryedaze, and Bama Dream just rafted together. That gave us the perfect opportunity to share potluck and stories. With another long day of travel ahead of us, Fryedaze led us all out into the river just as the sun crept above the trees.

There are many ways to enjoy time on the river. We passed this cruise ship loaded with passengers headed north toward St. Louis.

This is a river that seems to be in constant turmoil. The captain had to be alert at all times, watching for deadfall that could damage our props, eddies that have a tendency to toss us around when we least expect it, and of course the many huge tows plying the river.

The confluence of the Ohio and the Mississppi is quite a thing to behold. It appears that the Ohio refuses to allow the muddy Mississippi to mix with their much clearer waters.

We had been warned that we could run across some significant wait times at Lock 53 and 52. A new lock is under construction at Olmstead causing some delays, low water levels and a backlog of barges waiting for locking through all piles up to mean "just be patient". 

After only about a 3 hour wait, we were able to drive right through the new lock, and then on to Lock 53 that will soon be removed. Evidently the old locks were not designed to accommodate pleasure craft. Just getting tied off was an adventure. There was only room for two boats on the very short flat wall, so with four of us going through we had to raft up. One lock down on the Ohio, one to go.

Traveling with other Loopers is not always conducive to sleeping late. When the other 2 boats say we need to get under way by 6:30 it does mean we get to see some very nice sunrises. 

The dust is flying as another barge is filled with what appears to be some type of fertilizer. Industries of all kinds, that benefit from the river system for transporting their goods, line both banks of the river.

We finally made it into Lock 52 with a wait of only a couple of hours. The lift here is only a few feet, which means if the water levels are high enough the wick dam is lowered, enabling watercraft to actually just go right over the dam. That probably would have made me "slightly" nervous, so I was just as happy to wait for a lock through. Always Home developed some unexpected mechanical difficulties as we entered this lock. We made a quick stop so that Jess could go for a swim, hoping to give them a temporary fix that will allow them to limp into Green Turtle Bay on one engine, but at least they will get there under their own power. While Jess is a little anxious to get back into the Tennessee River, we decided we would stick with our buddies for a while longer and take the Cumberland instead.

Another early departure from our anchorage behind Towhead Island. As we entered this awesome hideaway we were behind Fryedaze who evidently spooked a large number of the dreaded Asian Carp. They were jumping all over the place until we got close enough for a picture. 

A right turn will leave the Ohio River behind us, and a much smaller Cumberland River in front of us for a few hours. 

Barkley Lock and Dam is ready for us with no waiting, how nice! This lock provides a 57 foot lift into the beautiful Land Between the Lakes region. This vacationland is formed by Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River and Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River, which form Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley respectively.

Green Turtle Bay is swamped by Loopers as we stop here for a brief break from the water before continuing our journey. For us this is almost the end of the line, while others are just getting started. Either way we are all making amazing memories!