Makin Memories in Costa Rica

Makin Memories is currently under extensive galley renovations.  Having not had much vacation this year, we grabbed the opportunity to do a quick get-away to Costa Rica.  What follows is the description of our too-short stay in an incredibly gorgeous country.  We would go back in a heart beat!

11/26/19

The adventure begins!  We had enough points to make the 6:45 AM departure easier by staying near the Tampa airport the night before.  Up and at ‘em at 3:30, we showered, used the fantastic new long-term parking lot and train and arrived at the Tampa airport to bypass part of TSA so they could train a sniffer puppy who was very enthusiastic in his duties, wiggling in circles around the passengers and finding nothing amiss, at least while we were near.

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We ran into Tully and Catherine as we zig-zagged back and forth in the check-in lines.  They were on their way to NC for Thanksgiving with Catherine’s family.  Jerry and Tully got to talk strategy for Al’s retirement roast for a few moments and then we sat for a bit waiting to board.  The people-watching was entertaining, as always.  People with little dogs in carriers, others who looked like they opted out of changing from their bedclothes to come to the airport and others dressed to the nines in 4-inch heels and nightclub attire.  It never fails to amaze us what people decide to travel in.  The best was the New Yorker, who could barely make the legal ride-height requirement at Disney, who was sporting a hat larger than he was and as he got closer, we could see that he was wearing not one, not two but three hats!  A New York Yankees ball cap and then 2 Stetsons on top of that.  We shrugged and agreed that there really was no way for him to sensibly pack them!

The plane ride was a couple of hours and was easy.  Seeing the route along the ICW that we navigated on the first part of our Loop brought back memories.  Being able to see the Keys and reefs where we have snorkeled was amazing and we both sat transfixed by the perspective we had.  Not having a route map left us guessing that we came across the Gulf and over the Yucatan to head further south.  The beaches gave way to dense greenery which folded upwards into lushly forested hills and higher up it appeared as if a woman’s gauzy, green scarf had floated over and settled gently onto the peaks and valleys of the mountains.

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San Jose from the air

 

Arriving in Costa Rica was like being parachuted onto the set of Jurassic Park or King Kong.  The sun was shining on us in the bowl of San Jose but the surrounding mountain tops were shrouded in swathes of misty clouds that ribboned in and out of the jungle tops.  We rented a car from Geraldo who looked at Jerry’s driver’s license and asked Jerry if he knew what people who shared a name were called.  “Brothers?” Jerry asked.  Geraldo grinned and stated, “No, we are tocayos!”  And so we learned a new Spanish word  (tocayo=name-twin) probably the first of many new words!

We arrived at the hotel (Doubletree San Jose) and were amazed to find the lobby totally open-aired and decorated for Christmas.

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Doubletree San Jose

It reminded me a little bit of the hotel lobby where Bitzi and I stayed in Kauai when I was pregnant with Leland.  The hotel is lovely, designed  in terra-cottaed, arcing walkways from which rooms and suites branch off for maximum privacy.  They upgraded us which was very nice, giving us access to free breakfast and cocktail hour drinks and snacks. The sun was setting as we enjoyed a beer by the pool, listening to all the different bird calls and we caught sight of the Great Kiskaddees who make homes in the surrounding trees.  We enjoyed a fabulous meal at the open-air, pool-side restaurant and watched the stars peep out of the sunset colors above the hotel grounds.

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A quick workout in the gym and a great breakfast of fresh fruit and eggs with local pastries and fantastic sausages in Hilton Honors Club geared us up to hit the road.  We did a quick recon of the city of San Jose and then beat it out of town towards the mountains.  We have never been huge fans of cities but I would really like to go back one day to visit the Cemetario Obrero, which looked really cool. On a wave of traffic, we were swept past its raised mausoleums and beautiful statuary with no way to pull over and explore it.  I always love visiting graveyards in foreign countries but this one will have to wait.

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Inside the church in Zarcero

Most of the day was spent riding up, down and around mountains with breathtaking views.  We were in sunshine one moment and shrouded in mist the next.  We broke up the drive in the town of Zarcero where the locals were decorating a park filled with topiaries in front of a twin spired church.

We HAD to stop and explore here.  The church was open-aired and simply lovely, standing watch over the town since “El ano de Senor 1907.” Later we found out that this is one of only 6 or 7 spots to make the Atlas Obscura’s Costa Rican list (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/parque-francisco-alvardoa)

Back on the road, we maneuvered around semis and buses that had to swing wide on blind curves to make it around them without losing paint.  Jerry relaxed into his Mario Andretti manual driving mode and we made decent time, arriving in La Fortuna to get out, stretch, enjoy some sangria with lunch and explore for a bit before circumnavigating the Arenal volcano, which unfortunately was shrouded in dense cloud.

We found our Airbnb and sat out on the room’s balcony to just chill and take in the view of Lake Arenal.  The air is cool and damp and the birds are amazing.  Our balcony is surrounded by various kinds of ginger, verbena, papaya, palms and some dense shrubs that I can’t identify.  The birds are beautiful colors and are very social, especially when Jerry plays their own calls on his phone from the ornithology app he has.

IMG_9448.JPGWe were swarmed by scarlet rumped caciques, hummingbirds and social fly catchers, all of whom acted like an intruder had come into their midst when they heard the calls emanating from his phone!

IMG_9446The bnb kitten joined us for a bit of purring and perching before running off to join her mama and leaving us to soak up the sights and sounds of this jungle paradise.   We can see the sides of the volcano but owing to the dense mist and low clouds I wonder if we will ever see the cone.

11/28/19

We have a 9:30 reservation at the Arenal Biological Reserve but we are up early, thinking maybe we would hike the lava trails before arriving there.  Unfortunately, those trails didn’t open until 8 so we went ahead and drove onto Arenal just as the ticket booth and restaurant were opening.  We checked in and asked if we might do the tour earlier.  The man replied that if we wanted to go immediately, he would change our reservation.  Knowing that we would free up a lot of the rest of the day, we opted to do just that.  We had chosen a self-guided tour, which in retrospect was still probably a good option due to the fact that once we were in the park, it began to drizzle and then pour.  We were dressed appropriately in rain gear and hiking shoes and with an umbrella and a shower cap to protect the camera, we took our time walking through the gardens and into the canopies while guides hurried their charges past us.  If the weather had been good, using a guide would have been the best choice but given the conditions, we were okay with the way we explored the park.

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It’s called a rainforest for a reason and it was amazing to hear and see all the birds during the lulls in the rain.  The rain roared onto the canopy and that roar echoed as the water cascaded down from leaf to leaf until we were surrounded by walls of water cascading all around us.

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Colors of the Rainforest

The torrents came and went, interspersed with periods of calm, during which the birds and frogs immediately started calling and darting around.  It was magical!  We descended a steep path to the waterfalls, which were running hard from the rain and torrents of muddy water poured into a river of café au lait.

1 (21).JPGA shaft of sunlight penetrated the canopy to spotlight a Blue Morpho butterfly before the rain resumed and forced it into hiding.  What a treat to see the iridescent blue of this gorgeous butterfly in the wild!

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Hanging Bridges in Mistico Preserve

We navigated several hanging bridges that spanned the gaps between mountain sides, allowing us a bird’s eye view of the canopies beneath us.  They were not stable at all and when more than one person was on them, they jerked and swayed so that keeping one’s footing was precarious at best but the view, even with the pouring rain, was amazing!

1 (19).JPGWe finished up the walk and celebrated with some coffee and hot chocolate.  The temperature was comfortable even when we were wet but hours of being wet can still be a bit chilly so we were happy to get back in the car and dry off a bit.

 

The main mission was to find sloths and we both realized that without an expert to help us spot them, we might walk right past them and never know it so we decided to go to the Sloth Park which seemed too touristy and way too close to the town of La Fortuna to actually have sloths but we opted to try it out anyway.  They guarantee you will see two breeds of sloths and our hopes brightened.

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Eliezer was our guide and we set off into the jungle with a couple from Vancouver and a family from Texas in tow.  Almost immediately Eliezer spotted an Aricari, a small breed of toucan. He set up his monocular and we each got to see it.  He even took photos with each of our cameras so that we could preserve the memory. 1128191239b_HDR.jpg

He educated us about how we could tell the difference between 2 and 3 toed sloths (the 3 toed are grayish green with algae and are most closely related to anteaters while the 2 toed ones are buff-brown and are related most closely to the armadillo).  They can live at least 3 decades and will stay with their babies for 6 months and then leave them to roam about the jungles.

1128191300_HDR.jpgThe babies stay in the same area until they are about 3 years-old when they are full grown and then they will start to roam as well.  This particular park had a lot of sloths that were young and they thrive here because there are no real predators like jaguars and ocelots, which are prevalent in their other habitats.

We were blessed to see many 3 toed sloths and even one 2 toed sloth that was missing one hand.  Eliezer thought he might have tried to cross the street and gotten hurt that way but he seemed to be doing okay with just one hand.  I was pretty proud when I actually spotted one sloth before Eliezar pointed it out to us but the others that he showed us, I never would have seen were it not for his direction.  We also saw a swarm of honeybees on the side of a tree, protecting their queen as they searched for a new home.  Eliezer said they would stay on that tree about 20 days while scouts looked for a new home for the colony – it was amazing!

1128191409.jpgWe identified a huge termite nest that, when touched, seemed to come alive with tiny termites.  We were challenged to taste them, which I did but Jerry opted out of.  There was a hint of mint and a tiny crunch and not much more to them than that.  We also found wild anise which is supposed to be an effective, natural bug deterrent and the smell was wonderful.

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All in all, the Sloth Park is an amazing place to learn about these adorable little animals and we would highly recommend it.  It was the perfect way to feel very thankful on a Costa Rican Thanksgiving Day!  We returned to town and ended up at a restaurant that advertised typical Costa Rican food where we enjoyed some locally brewed Kolsch with an appetizer of chips and pico de gallo, guacamole and black bean puree.

1128191620_HDR.jpgThanksgiving dinner consisted of roasted chicken, BBQ ribs with sides of plantain patties.  We retired to our room, making plans to do the lava field walk in the morning before the drive to Santa Elena.

11/29/19

From your bed, you can tell if it is raining around dawn by listening to whether the birds and frogs are chirping or not.  We had heard rain off and on all night long and as the sun came up, we hoped that the rain would have abated for a while but it came and went in the manner that now seems typical for this area of Costa Rica.  So, we gathered our belongings and packed the car, hoping for a break.  We got lucky!  The rain stopped and there were actual patches of sun here and there, which we hadn’t seen since our arrival here.  We bade the hotel kitties adieu and hot-footed it over to the lava park where we were the first people to arrive.

1129190923_HDR.jpgWe got our tickets and Jerry grabbed a walking stick and off we went.  We opted for the longer 4k walk that wound through the forest, around a small lake where there were supposed to be caiman (we didn’t see any) and then up into and across the lava fields to finish up down in a sugarcane forest.

As gorgeous as the walk was the day before, with its man-made walkways and tree-like railings, I liked this one better.

1129190942a_HDR.jpgWhile man must have hacked the original trail and added some of the rocks that formed stairways, the majority of the walk was totally natural and really felt like you were walking through the jungle.  There were large and small openings in the rocks that must have been homes for something but I am not sure we wanted to find out what!  Up and down we went, around the lake, and all the while we were shrouded on all sides by lush greens of all shapes, sizes and colors.  There were relatives of our begonias here and there, philodendrons climbing the trees and lots and lots of species we couldn’t readily identify.

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As we emerged from dense jungle into scrubbier jungle, the lava fields became apparent.  We walked over crushed pumice, both black and red, climbing and climbing until we reached the summit.  The sun popped out to light up Lake Arenal and dappled the surrounding folds of green hills.  We took some photos and remarked on the berries that grew along the trail.  They are not blue like our blueberries; they are almost iridescent blue and we wondered what magic was in the soil to make them that amazing color.

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We started down the trail, passing old people who wheezed their way down and around the volcanic boulders of the trail.  I was half terrified for them (especially the old men who were walking all alone with nothing but their trekking poles) and half applauded their ability to carry on and do what they felt called to do regardless of whether it might have been the wisest choice for them or not.  We landed on a lava gravel trail that wound through towering sugarcane or some other kind of bamboo-like grass and finally entered a forested area where we came across honest-to-goodness leaf-cutter ants scurrying along an invisible trail.  I was so happy to be able to get really good video of them.

After a two-and-a-half-hour walk, we felt energized and ready for the 4 hour drive to Santa Elena.  We had seen a German Bakery (been there for 20 years, we later found out) on the map of this area and had decided to stop there for breakfast or lunch along the way and we were pleasantly surprised at how authentic the food was.  Almost all of the patrons were speaking German and that is another thing that we have noticed since arriving here.  Costa Rica has a VERY international draw.

1129191157_HDR.jpgUnlike many tourist destinations in the states and Europe where the predominant tourists hail from Asian ports, here the languages are varied with French, German and Spanish being the most recognized and the Asian languages being the least represented here.  We enjoyed a lovely lunch with a sinful apple strudel for dessert and got back on the road.

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We had both been pleasantly surprised at the condition of the roads in Costa Rica, as we had expected very poor quality.  Until late this afternoon, the roads have been fantastic, almost all newly blacktopped.  Jerry has had a great time winding around corners, shifting gears like a native and challenging oncoming buses and trucks for the best half of the roads which are usually right down the middle.

IMG_5758.jpegTrue to the guidebook, as we got 30 or so miles out of Santa Elena, the roads devolved into unimproved washboards of dirt, gravel and rock.  The fun was definitely over.  The winding switchbacks didn’t change, nor did the type of oncoming traffic but the suspension in our car degraded to a kidney-jarring test of endurance and by the time we got to our Airbnb, we were both exhausted and so happy to find a warm welcome at the Pension Santa Elena.

1129191547.jpgHere we have a sweet little room with its own private slate bathroom, a communal kitchen complete with fridge, stove and microwave and a sitting room.  It has a warm, hippie commune vibe (I think Annelise would love it here) and is owned by a Texan and his Asian wife.  Their kids were sitting the reception desk when we checked in and were wonderfully welcoming.  The rooms are spartan but clean and have everything we need along with a unique feel.  We hung out in the common area, reading and people watching and finally hit the hay.

There is no AC but none is needed as the breeze is omnipresent and always cool, due to our elevation.  There are no bugs, so windows were left open which resulted in a bit more noise since we are right on the main road through Santa Elena.  Around 10 PM all the people-noise mostly abated but the motos (sin mofles) were audible pretty much all night long, grinding their way uphill through town and then gunning down the hill behind the pension.  We were tired and so slept pretty well despite the noise.

11/30/19

11/30 started with a great breakfast, which was included in our pension’s price.  They gave us a flattened-out bottle cap which served as our token for breakfast.

1130190806.jpgThe two little ladies next door took our orders (which were guesses since the menus were AWOL) and delivered fresh-made tacos with black bean puree, scrambled eggs and queso for me and scrambled eggs with fried potatoes and toast for Jerry.  The sides were a very spicy pico de gallo and a pineapple chutney that was really tasty.  I love the unique experiences to be had when you let someone serve the local choices.

 

We had decided to just let the day happen and so we meandered through town and picked up some souvenir-gift items, some cookies and energy bars and then decided to take the bus to the Monteverde Biological Preserve.  We caught the bus right outside our hotel and rode the 5 km uphill to the preserve where we were given wristbands and in, we went.  The walks were amazingly different from the walk we did at Arenal.  For one thing, the weather was threatening sunshine, a commodity that had been sorely lacking since our arrival!  The walk was way more physically demanding than any we had done prior to this one but not enough to make us anything more than aware that we might feel it later. We had packed trekking packs with enough water/juices and bars to make the 3-4 hour walk without discomfort.

This hike was definitely more physically tough, with very steep ascents and descents and a lot of muddy trails.  The views were spectacular along the way, when we got a chance to look up from where our next footfall was safest…waterfalls and massive trees filled with epiphytes and vines.

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We followed a family across the hanging bridge that provided a birds-eye view of the forest canopy below.  By the time we got to the middle of the span, the child, who was in her dad’s sling, was crying with fear and their poor dog refused to put another foot forward and stood visibly shaking at what she saw beneath her feet.

1130191224.jpgWith a bit of coaxing, they all made it safely to the other side and collapsed to decompress with snacks for the dog and the kid.  Makes you wonder sometimes why people set themselves up to make things more challenging than they need to be!  Oh well, been-there-done-that and survived and I bet they will too.

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Finally we got all the way up to the Continental Divide where we watched cloudy mists blowing over and through the tops of the massive trees on one side and saw how the constant winds on the other side produced an “elfin forest” of trees that were dwarfed by the adverse conditions.  It was an amazing sight, especially since the sun was more present than were the clouds.

 

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I have been really pleased with my hiking shoes that I bought a few months ago.  I tried on very expensive Merrills, Keens and other hiking shoes, knowing that I didn’t want hi-rise boots.  None of them fit well enough and I continued searching until I found a pair of $30 Columbia zero-drops at Dick’s that felt perfect.

1 (19).JPGYesterday proved that I can walk for miles in the pouring rain with wet feet and even after hours of this, my feet still felt comfortable.  Today shows that I might have a shot at walking the Camino since I had to put on damp socks and wet, muddy shoes and I was still able to hike for hours over very challenging terrain and I was still comfortable.  In fact when we were finished with the hike, we decided to walk the 5k back to our hotel and while I could definitely feel that we had done in excess of 10 miles that day on top of 8 the day before, I felt amazingly good (once I got home and got my shoes and socks off)!

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I can’t leave out the fantastic experience we had because we decided to walk home.  As we left the park, I caught sight of a hummingbird zipping past us and then saw a staircase and sign that said Hummingbird Gallery.  Up we went and what awaited us was simply awe inspiring.  There were typical hummingbird feeders but also little ones that people were holding up and the hummingbirds were zipping and whirring around so fast you almost couldn’t see them.

1130191353_HDR.jpgWe learned that there were 8 species of them from teeny tiny ones to others that were really big and everything in between.  The colors went from black and white to the ruby throated hummingbirds to ones that glowed purple.  The differences were astounding and these little guys were definitely not afraid of us.  They whirred by our ears to hover or land on the feeders we held and were quite territorial, often whacking into each other hard enough to knock both birds to the ground for a second or two.  We stood for probably about a half hour just taking in this amazing sight and if that weren’t enough, we turned around to see a Koati digging for grubs in the forest next to the gallery!

1130191404.jpgQuite an inspiring morning and afternoon.  It gave us a lot to talk about on the walk home.

We rested for a bit in the afternoon, made an early dinner of left-overs from our Thanksgiving meal which really was just as good the second time around and then got ready to do the guided night hike that we had signed up for the day before.  70% of Costa Rica’s animals are nocturnal so we were really looking forward to this night-hike and it didn’t disappoint!  Tony spoke really good English and took 6 of us into the forest where we spotted a Blue-Crested Mot Mot, roosting in a tree.  Even with 7 spotlights shining on him, this bird refused to move, nor did the other birds that we later spotted in trees like the Brown Jays, a Green Toucan (who looked a lot like a green nerf ball) and a Wood Thrush.  We also spotted an Orange-kneed Tarantula who was very shy and retreated into his hole when our footfalls vibrated too menacingly for him.

1130192031a.jpgWe saw a pair of Green Palm Pit Vipers garlanded into hanging figure eights of chartreuse scales, waiting on dinner to happen by. Tony took close-up photos for us and explained that the pit viper can sense temperature which was why he wasn’t being attacked, even though he was really close to the first one.  He said that the snake can tell the difference between human and rat temperature which is why the snake will only attack a human if it feels threatened rather than just because it is too near.  If we were rat-temperature, it might be a different story.

We saw bats and a Koati high in a tree, along with a pregnant mother sloth and her baby.  I would recommend the night hike to everybody who goes to Costa Rica.  The guides communicate with each other so that if one finds something cool, the others know to take their people to that spot later on.  Tony lit up a little mushroom with his flashlight and then told us to shut off our lights.  When we did, we saw that the little mushroom was bioluminescent and glowed with an eerie purple light. It was amazing!  We got home about 8:30, grabbed a gelato and crashed.

12/1

We got up and packed this morning, had breakfast of yogurt, muesli, fruit and toast and hit the road for Jaco, which is on the Pacific coast.

IMG_5806.JPGWe just sort of picked the destination a few nights ago and felt like it might be a cool place to dip our toes in the Pacific and chill for a night before heading back to San Jose.  The drive was much easier out of Santa Elena than the drive in was, over mostly improved roads.  We coasted downwards through lush, green canyons under a blue sky.  There was definitely a different feel to the villages and countryside.  It seemed more tropical with palm trees starting to show up, here and there.  It was so nice to see the sun for a change!

As we neared the coast, we decided to stop at Carara National Wildlife refuge for a walk to break up the trip.  This is where the dry forest meets the rain forest and was very different from where we have been.  We saw Agoutis and iguanas and had a lovely walk through the woods, seeing more fungi than animals and birds but enjoying the walk just the same.

1201191108b.jpgWe were disappointed not to see Scarlet Macaws, though we did hear them.  They are supposed to be active in the park during the day, though the guidebook did say it was best to try to see them early in the morning or in the evening as they migrated to the park or back to the white mangroves where they overnight.  We were fortunate to see very cool spiders and a myriad of different mushrooms, which we really didn’t see prior to this.

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We were forewarned in our guidebook that we would either love or hate Jaco depending on our age and what we wanted out of a stay.  We grabbed a bite to eat at Senor Harry’s as we were a bit too early to check in and LOVED the fresh ceviche and guacamole that was made tableside and seasoned to our desired degree of spiciness – or lack thereof!

Our Airbnb, Tuanis ( which means go for it!) was lovely in a jungle motif sort of way.  It was just off the main street and just past the heart of downtown Jaco. Our host, Ricky was from California and looked like he taught surfing for a living.  There is a very laid back and chilled sort of atmosphere here.

We were a block from the beach and had to dip our toes into the water. It is a black sand and pebble beach with decent surf and we watched as surfers came out of the woodwork to take advantage of the beautiful late afternoon and sunset.  This was a great place to relax and we took advantage of it.

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Walking downtown after dark was a different story.  The atmosphere turned a little frenetic and there were police everywhere, we even watched them arrest someone and throw him in the back of the policia pick up.  That was enough, we grabbed a caramel ice-cream and headed home where we read and just enjoyed the air-conditioning for the night!

12/2/19

The journey is coming to an end but what wonderful sights we have seen.  We took a brisk morning walk along the beach and then had some breakfast and off we went.

We opted for local roads which added an hour to the trip back to San Jose but we were really glad we did.  We scooted along the coastal road for a while and then were in the midst of the agricultural areas of Costa Rica.  We wound through palm groves planted in perfectly straight line, which gave way to plantations of bananas, in which all the hands of bananas were bagged, we guessed that this might protect them from monkeys.  We ducked as a bright yellow, crop duster wheeled above us to swoop around and dust the grove again.  So, maybe the bags protect the bananas from insecticides?  Further along were groves of papayas and then other trees we couldn’t identify.  The roads became potholed and threatened to rip our undercarriage apart if strict attention was not paid to navigating.  It was worth it though, we spotted a regular toucan and a scarlet macaw up in trees above the road as we passed.  We wound up, down, around and over the mountains marveling at the tiny concrete block homes that were seriously out in the middle of nowhere, clinging to the edge of a mountain.  Their views were magnificent, all cloud topped peaks above and wavy green folds of canyons below.

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One of the amazing things we have noticed about the homes, no matter how rich or humble, how city-bound or in the middle of nowhere they are, they are all protected.  Barred windows are the norm and walls with broken glass and razor wire are not uncommon either.  We haven’t done much research about the crime in this country but we have heeded the warnings not to leave anything valuable in the car even for a short time.  Our car has been in private parking lots everywhere we have gone and we have still not left anything in it that had any value at all.

We finished up our drive from Jaco, cresting a ridge to see San Jose spread out below us and wound through back roads to arrive back at our Doubltree where we chilled by the pool and read and wrote travel notes for a while.   We enjoyed a relaxing day, took a walk and saw a Rainbow Eucalyptus tree that was amazing, it is the first one I have seen outside a botanical garden and it was gorgeous!  A literal rainbow of colors peeks through the peeling brown bark.

Rainbow Eucalyptus.jpg It seems that the time has fled too quickly but I know we will treasure the memories we have made here forever!

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To Be Continued at another time in the Future. We LOVED this place!

 

Fun Boat Names

I collected these names along our Loop but forgot to post this.  It was fun to see all the clever names people come up with for their boats. Hope you enjoy!

Our boat came with her name and we loved it and never wanted to change it (other than maybe adding an apostrophe or a “g” to make it grammatically correct!).  We are Makin Memories this year, as we believe them to be the best things in which to invest money.

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Memories require no maintenance, dusting, sanding, painting, feeding, walking, fueling or upkeep.  They are easy to share and help forge connections between us and new people we encounter.  Memories are wonderful bridges to the pasts we have traveled with people we love in our family and in our group of friends.  The fact that we embarked on a year-long cruise to raise awareness about Rotary’s CART (Coins for Alzheimer’s Research Trust) program is a fitting irony to our boat’s name!   www.cartfund.org

As we have cruised, we have seen all kinds of boat names. Some make immediate sense and others need to be explained.  Here are some of the ones we have come across so far that are worth noting.

COULD’VE HAD PEARLS

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Enough said, right!?!?!  Each of us could have chosen to spend our money differently but our point of intersection is that we didn’t!  Living minimally aboard a boat reinforces what is important in life: experiences and people.

WINE SPEED

Short story:  The boat is never allowed to go faster than one can hold a glass of wine without spilling it.

Long story: The owners live and have an outboard on Lake of the Ozarks which is long and narrow. They say that during nice weather people zoom up and down this narrow lake and the wakes all bounce off the shore creating a washtub effect.  He says his wife hates the beating she takes under these conditions.  She termed the speed that she likes to travel as “wine-speed,” which she says is a misnomer anyway because, like all good captains, they don’t drink while boating but wait until they return to shore.  Again, this is the speed at which one can comfortably hold a glass of wine without spilling it.

When they bought their 50+ foot trawler (after they had had go-fast boats), he said it took a while to get used to how SLOW it went. So, when they were trying to think of names for it, they were thinking “Turtle” or “Tortuga” or something that moved slowly but then they thought, “Hey, Wine Speed is perfect!” and so the boat got her name.

MERAKI

Our new friends Jim and Allie Cantonis are on the Loop, starting a month behind us, from Tarpon Springs.  They overtook us south of St. Augustine in the ICW, hailing us by name as they passed us – it sure made Jerry do a double take to hear his name rather than Makin Memories coming over the VHF radio!

They have a beautiful trawler named Meràki.  When we asked what the name means, Jim explained that it is a Greek word that is usually used in a phrase about how one does something and it is actually me-meràki or “with Meràki.” Meràki literally translates from the Greek as doing something with love, passion, a lot of soul, in short with everything you have.  What a great name for a boat that is embarked on the Great Loop adventure!

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Jim Cantonis aboard Meràki, Allie at the helm.

SARAH-DIPPITY

Courteous captains will radio a boat they want to pass and ask them which side they prefer to be passed on. This gives the other captain a chance to slow or stop his boat, allowing the overtaking boat to make a slow pass and avoid rolling the overtakee.  Not all captains are courteous however and some will just blow by you, in spite of Coast Guard regs that state that you are responsible for any and all damage caused by your wake.

Such was the case with Sarah-dippity (stupid name anyway).  Her captain sped by us in a narrow channel, throwing a huge wake which tossed us all over the place and then he proceeded to scream by the sailboat ahead of us. I swear I thought it was going to roll far enough over for its mast to touch the water on both sides.  I re-christened that sport fisherman Sarah-Dip-Shit!  Pardon the language but as Jerry says, “Dicks come in all shapes and sizes!”  This captain should have heeded this message we saw painted on a bridge just south of Troy, NY.

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TYRO

 In the first couple of months of our trip, we have met several youngish men who are doing the Loop solo, by choice.  Not wanting to pry, my curiosity is unsatisfied as to whether the Loop is a space between significant chapters of their lives, a bucket-list kind of thing, a conscious seeking of a minimalist lifestyle or something entirely different.

We sit in the Cape Fear River navigation and weather briefing classroom in Southport, NC with a young man who has just bought his boat in Charleston and started on the Loop four days prior to our meeting, with no real boating experience.  He was to have had some training before his departure but an emergency root canal laid him out for the 10 days that he was supposed to have trained and so he is figuring it out as he goes.

His boat’s name is Tyro (Tie-roh).  When I ask about it, he explains that the word comes from the Latin tiro, which means “young soldier,” “new recruit,” or more generally, “novice.” He goes on to explain that Herman Melville used “tyro” to describe men new to whaling and life at sea. He says if he fails in this endeavor, the guys who tow him back in will shake their heads and say, “Eh, it’s to be expected, he’s a tyro.”  BUT if he finishes the Loop and crosses his wake in Charleston next year, people will be impressed that he did it and say “Wow, he’s a tyro and he made it!”  Gotta love a guy who is prepared for the worst but who is expecting the best!

THE COAST STARLIGHT

In Mystic, CT we are docked at the Mystic Seaport Museum and have been befriended by Lyn and Bob aboard the Albin 36 trawler named Coast Starlight.  We enjoy a cool but sunny afternoon sitting on their flying bridge, snacking on excellent peanut butter cookies and sharing boat tales.  They are not doing the Loop but bring their boat to Mystic from Rhode Island on a regular basis to visit with friends, always accompanied by their napkin-munching dog named Harry.

When I ask about the boat’s name, Lyn explains that they were not fond of the name the boat came with and that this was the last chance Bob was going to have to name anything the Coast Starlight.  They go on to explain that the Coast Starlight was the train trip (now run by Amtrack) that was the luxurious and romantic way to see the West Coast back when Bob was young.  It is the longest continually running train route in the U.S. and is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all U.S. rail trips, linking the greatest cities of the West Coast.  It runs from Seattle to Los Angeles, via Portland, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay area and Santa Barbara with numerous other stops as well.

Bob claims that the scenery is unsurpassed, allowing excellent views of the snow-covered Cascade Range, Mount Shasta, lush and dense forests, fertile valleys filled with farms that grow much of our country’s produce and then there are the breath-taking stretches along the Pacific Ocean shoreline.

It sounds like the trip of a lifetime and when I do further research, I find that this 36 hour train ride still exists, is not unreasonably priced and that perhaps it is something that should go on our life-list of things to experience!

SLOOP DU JOUR

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Just a clever name

ELPIS

I have only seen this boat in a blog about two young women who delayed starting grad school for the life experience provided by doing the Loop.  I really enjoy reading their insights and impressions of the journey but I LOVE the name of their boat.

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From her co-captains, Emily and Grace; Elpis, from Greek mythology, is the spirit of hope- specifically the spirit that stayed behind to help mankind when all the contents of Pandora’s Box were released. Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the world, and when there is nothing else left, there is still hope.”  (https://emandgracegosailing.wixsite.com/greatloop)

NINE LIVES

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Louise and Dick have a hard time understanding why people ask them why their boat is named Nine Lives (she’s a 44’ Endeavor Power-Cat or Power-Catamaran for those unfamiliar with that term).  If you still don’t get it, email me!

SAIL LA VIE

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Another Clever Sailboat Name

KAILANI

When I ask Nick to tell me about his boat’s name, he explains that Kailani is a Hawaiian term that combines the words for sea and sky.  “We are almost always on the sea and we’re always under the sky,” he said, “but there is another twist to it and that is that if you take our last name’s initial it is “C” and my wife owns a virtual store named Sky.  She designs Victorian dresses for avatars in an online virtual world.  So, that’s another C+Sky!

Man, you hear some interesting origins for people’s boat names!

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No photo but when asked, “It relaxes and takes our layers of stress away,” say Art and Sue!  I suspect there is more to this name!

FRIENDS IN L’EAU PLACES

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Saw this and thought of all our friends who are Jimmy Buffet fans!

CHEQUE MAGNET

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This is really the name for all of our boats at one time or another!

ICEMAN

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We met Wayne (a fellow Rotarian from the Ingersoll Ontario Club) and Lori in Campbellford, Ontario.  We leap-frogged with them up to Orillia on Lake Simcoe.  I asked Lori about their boat’s name and she said that Wayne used to be a frozen meat broker and then when he retired he became an icemaker for the local curling club where he competes.  He has been curling since he was 10 and apparently curling ice is different than hockey ice.  Who knew!?!?!

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I also love the fact that during the summer Iceman’s fenders are always deployed for lock navigation and the fender holders double as flower boxes once they hit Ottawa and are done with customs so they can buy flowers!

DIESELICIOUS!

No photo of this 50+ foot cabin cruiser that blew by us too quickly to get a shot.  Her name definitely reflects her captain’s taste for speed though!

FIRST FORTY

first forty.JPGWe met First Forty in the Keys and then again in Alton, Illinois where we traveled together off and on down the river system.  They put an offer in on their boat and went out to dinner to celebrate their anniversary, hoping their offer would be accepted.  At dinner, Bill toasted Bobbie, “Here’s to the first forty!”  She replied, “If we get the boat, I think we just named her!”  They got the boat!

FOLIE A DEUX

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Our friends Mark and Meridee inherited the name when they bought their boat and decided it was suitable enough to keep.  The term is in the DSM-V and is defined as two people having an identical delusion – believing something to be true which clearly could not be.  This is called a folie a deux, or sometimes a “shared psychotic disorder.” This unusual disorder is more likely to occur in a closely related pair, like twins, or a married couple, who are isolated from other people. Folie à deux means “shared madness,” or “madness for two” in French. We decided that all Loopers might be termed  folie à plusieurs (“madness of several”)!

IRISH WAKE

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I put this one in for Paul Donovan!!! Thought it was a pretty clever play on words!

And here’s the last one!  Hope you enjoyed the cleverness of our fellow boaters!

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The Crossing

Sorry, I thought I had posted this and while it is probably not very interesting for regular folks, the point of it is to give the Loopers behind us, a glimpse into what the Crossing was like for us.  So here it is…

Week 51 – The Crossing

It is hard to believe that we are about to be done with this epic journey.  But home is now within a day’s journey, albeit a very long day.

It poured last night and we woke up to find the carpet in the bridge absolutely soaked, which is unusual.  We get as much stuff under it to ventilate it as possible but I know we will smell like a wet dog before long because it is so humid that it won’t dry any time soon.  I throw all the wet towels and stuff in the dryer so that we will have some dry things if it pours while we are crossing the Gulf.

We stow everything that could bounce around, ready our ditch bags

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and charge all electronics that we might need during the trip.

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We empty the dinghy, getting its spare gas can into it and then we secure anything on the decks that might crash around if the seas get rough.  Even Basil is seat-belted in for the ride home.

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10:00  We meet with Kim at the C-Quarters office for a final weather briefing along with Carol and Tom of Desintation ??? and Lucie and Ben of Lulu.  We go back and forth about whether today or tomorrow will be better.  The problem with waiting until tomorrow is that we will still be at sea on Monday and the weather on Monday will deteriorate to dangerous conditions.  Kim feels that either day will probably be fine but we NEED to be gone with enough time to reach Tarpon before Monday’s weather hits.

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The sun is shining and we make a unanimous  “GO” decision.

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We will need to top off our tanks with “comfort fuel.”  Realistically we have enough fuel to reach Tarpon with plenty to spare but we know we will feel better if we are completely topped off.  We kill a half hour and then warm up the engines and head over to the fuel dock, which is right next to where Destination??? is docked.  As we finish fueling, I look up and no kidding, there is FOG rolling in.  Are you kidding me?!!?!?  This is NOT what we want!  Tom calls that he is rethinking going.  Jerry and I tell him that we are going to go ahead and we’ll text or radio back what the conditions look like once we get out of the harbor.  We will return to our slip if things do not look comfortable.

11:45  Makin Memories departs alone in the fog with Jerry at the helm.  We have about 30-40 feet of visibility and so can pretty much see from marker to marker.  Of course we have radar and AIS so we can see anything that might be out there.  The water is much calmer than it was when we came into Carrabelle but the proof will be found once we clear the cut by Dog Island and get into the Gulf.

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12:28  We radio to our buddy boats that we are clear of Dog Island and waves are as forecast, mostly 2 feet with a couple of 3’s thrown in for good measure.  The direction of the waves is also as forecast, from the southeast, which is the best direction for us.  The period between waves is about 6 seconds which makes for a gentle up and down rather than a constantly pounding ride, so that’s a positive also.

Visibility is up and down between 40 feet and 40 yards but the sky is bright.  Our buddy boats decide they will follow us and should depart within a half hour.  We are glad they are coming and try to reassure them that the ride looks decent though visibility is an issue.

No matter what else happens, we are going to be doing about 11 hours of this passage in the dark so, to me, fog is good practice.  You can’t see a lot but you can see something and we have radar and a good chart plotter so we can and will have to go on instruments anyway once the sun sets. The fog will prove a good transition.

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13:08 We get a text saying that Destination??? and Lulu are returning to the marina.  Dang!  I get it, you shouldn’t push if you aren’t comfortable and they are not comfortable.  Maybe they will come later in the day or the next day but we are now out of cell phone range and won’t know what they decide until tomorrow morning when we are close to shore.  Our prayers go with them whatever they decide to do.

13:45-16:00 We have lunch and I take the helm.  We have decided to take 2 hour shifts and mine is uneventful.  The sky brightens a bit and visibility comes and goes. We are in 40-80 feet of water and it is the beautiful blue-green of the Gulf again.  I am so happy to be out of brown water!!!

 Jerry reads a while and relaxes but I can tell he’d rather be driving!  A sweet little tern flies circles around the boat, traced in gold by sunlight.  He stays with us for a half hour or so but I can’t get a photo as the swells make focusing on anything impossible plus I AM driving! 😉

16:00-18:00 Jerry takes the helm and all is calm for about a half hour when he tells me to check the dinghy.  It isn’t good.  The waves are pulling on the rear outside pontoon and have loosened the back line to where the little boat is being pulled off the cradle.  I take the helm and Jerry dons his pfd and goes astern where he tightens the loose line and adds another one to keep the dinghy closer to our stern and up out of the swells.  He resumes control and guides us through conditions that are about the same.  The wind is still out of the southeast and the waves are still 2’s and occasional 3’s.  We can’t really see the sun through the fog but we can tell it is lowering toward the horizon.

18:00- 20:00 I take the helm and the sun is definitely setting or has already set.  I can make out the horizon but just barely and eventually what little light there is fades, disappears and all visual cues are completely lost.  This has now become an exercise in trust and endurance.  I can tell that Jerry doesn’t like this non-existent visibility by his pacing around the boat but eventually he calms into acceptance and relaxes to read for a bit.

I like to drive standing up and even now, I am more comfortable that way.  I loosen my knees and allow my body to become one with the motion of the boat.  It is much easier than staying stiff and fighting the lift, drop and tilt.  In the darkness, I can see my instruments and the faint glow from our running lights on either side of the bridge.  Through the glass, I can see absolutely nothing but I am amused that the light from the I-pad reflects off my face, painting a ghostly image on the strata glass that resembles Munch’s The Scream.

We have made enough progress that I can enlarge the I-pad map and can actually see the Anclote River on it.  Now I have something definitive to aim for rather than just a general direction and it makes steering much easier.  We have opted not to head for the Red 2 buoy, which most folks take as the most direct route.  As we are early, we want to stay out as far off shore as possible to avoid the crab traps and so we take a heading directly to Anclote Key.

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At the end of 2 hours my ankles, knees and lower back can feel the stress of the constant motion of the bridge and I am glad when Jerry takes over.  I grab us a snack and settle in to read for a while.

20:00-22:00 – Jerry’s watch is uneventful.  The waves seem to calm a little bit and ease us into a steady rolling pattern.  I am constantly thinking of our buddy boats and wondering if they ever left Carrabelle or if they will go Sunday.  If they don’t, they will most likely be in Carrabelle for New Year’s Eve.  Either way, it’s all good.  You have to make a choice and be okay with it, forcing it doesn’t work well.  Jerry had really done the homework on conditions and was good with the forecast.  I guess the decision was easier for us; one of us has had extensive experience flying an airplane in zero-zero visibility and has also flown under the hood, relying on instruments alone.  The other of us kind of believes that historically the people who obeyed when instructed to “Fear not…” generally had some pretty cool things happen to them!

I read for a while and then make us some dinner before we switch roles again.  I am glad that I have prepared meals ahead so that food is easy.

22:00-12:00– 2 hours goes fast when you are relaxing or reading but steering without seeing stretches the time out unbelievably.  It is like playing the world’s most boring video game, trying to keep your little arrow on the chosen target.  Let your mind wander for even a nano-second and your course is off by 45 degrees and then panic has you over-steering to the point where IF you could see your wake, you would see nothing but S turns!  Relaxing into a zen-like focus is the best way to deal with the ennui.

I am happy to see Jerry relax, read and then sleep for a good part of the two hours.  I am sitting down to steer now and I can’t wait for him to take over. I am going to get an Aleve, my neck and shoulders are feeling the strain and my eyes could use some drops to alleviate the gritty feeling.

12:00 – 2:00 – I read and nap throughout Jerry’s watch.  The moon and stars are playing hide and seek with us through fog which must be less dense now but which is still billowing around us and is completely drenching the boat inside and out.  The clammy feeling is not pleasant but at least we are making forward progress.

2:00-4:00 – I can now see Anclote Key on my I-pad! HOME!!!  This is now exciting.  I can see some fish havens between us and the Key and know I will need to navigate between them.  These are easy to miss until you have your charts blown up to a detailed level.

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Photo Credit: Alamay

Fish havens are artificial shelters or reefs constructed of rocks, concrete, car bodies, and other debris which are placed on the gulf floor to attract fish. Fish havens are often found in the vicinity of fishing ports or major coastal inlets and can be hazards to navigation because they are marked with small yellow buoys (which we aren’t usually looking for) and can also create shallow areas that can be a problem.  The moon shines through the fog and I can even see it reflected on the water’s surface which is now glass smooth.  There are some gentle swells but there is no wind at all and the peace is amazing.

I keep marking off the distance to shore because I know that once we get 25 mile out, there will be crab traps.  We do not want to snag one and have to go under the boat with a knife to cut the line away from our props, especially in the dark!!!  A little while later, Jerry is doing his business over the side and sees a float slide by us in the dark.  Now we have to be especially alert but shining the spotlight doesn’t do much good as it simply bounces off the fog. Prayer covers us from aboard and ashore and we thankfully manage to avoid them, only seeing two but knowing there is probably a minefield of them out there!

4:00-6:00 – The sandbar off the north end of Anclote Key is now visible on our chart plotter and we stay as far out as we can, away from shore and crabpots and then angle in, working our way safely between the fish havens.  We get to the red marker at the tip of the sandbar, angle around it and drop the hook on the east side of the sandbar.

We could probably take the boat home in the dark and fog but we prefer to wait.  We are now in a spot that we come to anchor out on the weekends and we want to savor this last little bit of our journey, plus we are exhausted.  Fatigue battles with the high of having completed this epic journey and we are punchy reminiscing about having stayed at “the pits, the ritz and everything in between” as Jerry put it.  We retire our sadly, gray and well-worn white burgee for a crisp new gold one and Jerry proudly installs it on the bow of the boat.

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The sun comes up and starts to burn off the fog and the world melts into view. We are home!

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A few hours later the two of us pull up the anchor and bring the gold home to Tarpon Springs.

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A dear friend is waiting for us to take a photo of Makin Memories sporting her new gold burgee.  It is a little sad that the trip is over but it is truly good to be home!

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We love living by the wisdom of this quote: “When life gives you choices, choose the path that will lead to a better anecdote!”  Boy, has this year been all about that!

As We Finish Our Loop

Today, 12/30/2018, a week earlier than planned, Makin Memories faithfully returned her captains, Jean and Jerry Coleman, to their home port in Tarpon Springs, FL after having successfully completed 7300 miles of the Great Loop.  We soloed 19 hours and 166 miles of the Crossing from Carabelle to Tarpon Springs.

We suffered no major injuries (a couple of cracked ribs) to person or property, no major illnesses (one case of flu), only minor mechanical challenges and no damage to shafts or props, so common on various parts of the Loop, especially when rivers are flooded and debris is rampant.  We were blessed by so many people, places and events during our Loop experience. Here are just a few for which we will be eternally thankful: (hopefully in the rough order of their occurrence):

Makin Memories at Cabbage Key Inn near Jimmy Buffet and Randy Wayne White’s photos IN OUR OWN BOAT.

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Seeing the amazing shades of blue of the waters around the Keys, Marquesas and Dry Tortugas IN OUR OWN BOAT.

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Watching our boat pull anchor while we were ashore on Islamorada having a beer at the Lorelei resort and being able to get out to it, get it started and get into a slip there.

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Having friends, Tom and Faith stay with us in Key West ON OUR OWN BOAT!

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Taking part in the Archbishop’s Blessing of the Fleet in Saint Augustine IN OUR OWN BOAT.

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Our friends not forgetting us and letting us Skype into book club from OUR OWN BOAT!

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Re-visiting the wild horses and beautifully pristine National Seashore of Cumberland Island for the first time since I was 20 IN OUR OWN BOAT

Waking up to celebrate Easter morning in Savannah, starting with the half dozen donuts that were delivered daily to our boat at Thunderbolt marina!

Reconnecting with Colin in Charleston after hearing the Canterbury Boy Choir sing at Grace Episcopal Church.

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Celebrating our anniversary at the Southport Marina in a VERY valuable briefing about weather and conditions from Cape Fear north to Norfolk.

Going up the Potomac on the way to D.C.,  and visiting George Washington’s home Mt. Vernon IN OUR OWN BOAT!

Getting to visit DC on Embassy day and see 5 different embassies with Andrea!

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Weaving around the Staten Island Ferries, tugs and barges and freighters, in New York Harbor, to anchor behind the Statue of Liberty, IN OUR OWN BOAT.  And then getting to see Hamilton on Broadway!

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Watching Eric Clapton live at the Greenwich Town Party from the back deck of OUR OWN BOAT. (thanks, Tog and Doreen).

Being boarded for the second time by the USCG in New London with our cousins Tog and Doreen aboard, on our way to dock at the US Coast Guard Academy!

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Having Leland aboard to ride the Hudson River up the west side of Manhattan and past the Palisades in OUR OWN BOAT!

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Getting to do the Ausable Chasm ropes course when we were on Lake Champlain.

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Crossing into Canada on Canada day and spending two months in Canada, seeing Quebec City during the Fete d’Ete, whale watching in the Taddousec Bay and then being part of the International Fireworks Competition at La Ronde in Montreal mostly IN OUR OWN BOAT,

Going up the Flight of Eight locks to enter the capitol city of Ottawa and into the amazing Rideau Canal IN OUR OWN BOAT.

Getting to see Niagara Falls and visit Niagara on the Lake.

Getting to swim in the gorgeous, clear water of the Thousand Islands and see Boldt Castle IN OUR OWN BOAT.

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Visiting Hans and Keith at the Trenton Rotary Club and then having them and past RI President Wilf Wilkerson join us for drinks aboard OUR OWN BOAT!

The various marine mechanics and electricians who helped teach us more about our boat, especially David and Danielle.

Experiencing the Trent Severn Canal and riding the Big Chute and Peterborough Lifts IN OUR OWN BOAT.

Meeting up with dear Tarpon Friends, Bob and Diane in St Ignace, MI

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Having Blake and Zack visit Milwaukee and ride through Chicago with us ON OUR OWN BOAT!

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Taking a break from the boat to do the “Western Loop” through the Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Flaming Gorge (where we saw a pair of moose!) and Dinosaur Park.

Having Annelise explore St Louis and then freeze with us along the FLOODED Mississippi and seeing a pusher with her name on it!

Seeing wild deer and turkeys along the banks of the Cumberland River and then getting to see the Grand Ole Opry and visit my high school roommate Kathy in Nashville,

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Having a reunion dinner with Looper friends in Clifton, IL L->R  Bob, Jackie, Nancy, Sean, Jean, Jerry, Laura, Glyn, Cat and Gilles aboard Sadaya 2.

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Playing dodge ball with the trees in the FLOODED Mississippi and Ohio Rivers

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Enjoying a concert during docktails in Columbus MI where Prof. Tom Sparks played a violin that he had made!

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Tying up at Hoppies and Bobby’s Fish Camp and praying for the wind and current to take the debris to the east side of the river – enough said!  Loopers will get the reference here.

Sharing a Looper Thanksgiving dinner with great friends at Turner’s Marina in Mobile (and we have so very much to be thankful for)

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Having BJ aboard to explore Pensacola and The Wharf and waking him up to help avert the great barge bash with us!

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Getting to reconnect with college buddy, Evelyn and share Christmas Eve together in Panama City!

Making 166 miles of THE CROSSING from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs safely as a solo vessel in zero-zero fog most of the way and coming home!  Now I get to wear the T-shirt!IMG_8397

And Makin Memories gets to wear the Gold!

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Photo credit: Sue Thomas who was there as we arrived!

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There are so many more memories, but I don’t have enough room or attention span to share them all.  Jerry and I have a lifetime of conversations starters like: “Do you remember the time we (fill in the blank)?  And “Where were we when…(fill in the blank)? ”  It takes a village of Loopers to remember the names of all the places we have been, though maybe not at the same time.  Loopers, we are a little jealous of those of you who are just starting your Loop and to those who we have traveled with along the way, we have enjoyed our folie à plusieurs  (shared delusion)!

Jerry and I thank our family and friends for your support.  We could not have begun to undertake this without your blessing and encouragement.  We thank the 18+ Rotary Clubs we visited, especially Columbus and Trenton, who proved that Rotarians are an awesome group of people no matter where they call home.  Thank you to Coins for Alzheimers Research Trust for appointing us ambassadors on our “Cruise for the Cure.” http://www.cartfund.org/ (We will be the Tarpon Springs Rotary Program 1/31/19 and we hope you will join us then – bring your cons, checks etc!)

We thank the harbor hosts who turned many ports into homes-away-from-home for us.  We thank Kim at the AGLCA for keeping the forums up to date with great advice and information about everything nautical.

Thanks go out to Boat US, for the discounts and fortunately for the fact that we never needed to call them for a tow!

The experienced Loopers who allowed us to make our own mistakes but who were there when we needed help were invaluable and we send all of them a special thank you.  Our new Looper friends from all corners of the world, thank you for sharing this amazing experience with us and friends at home, thank you for bearing with us through 52+ blog entries and I have no idea how many FaceBook posts, you amaze us with your friendship even when we are apart.

We look forward to the next chapter of Makin Memories but for now we…

thank you from the bottom of our hearts,

Jean and Jerry

Aboard Makin Memories

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Week 50 – First the CROSSING and We’re Almost Home!

Leaving Niceville, Florida we cruise eastward in the ICW, which here is a series of connected lakes, and then into a 30 mile man-made canal which connects the lakes to West Bay and into the Panama City region.

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The ride is lovely and calm and when we hit West Bay, we were accompanied by the BEST dolphins of the trip.  While we had 11 ride our bow wave as we entered Key West, and have always had dolphins rush to accompany us, these guys act like they want us to play with them.  They jump completely out of the very dark, tannin stained water and smack down on the surface almost like they want us to notice that they are riding along beside us.  Some ride our bow wave, looking a little like this photo

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and others leap and surf in the wake waves.

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Either way, they roll and make very obvious eye contact with us and we enjoy their company for miles.

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Coming into Panama City area is sobering.  Hurricane Michael has left its mark everywhere.

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The blue tarps are more evident than are intact rooves and salvaged boats are being lifted by cranes onto the shore.  It is so sad, it reminds us of what we saw in the Keys earlier this year.

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As we dock (next to the Sea Dragon pirate ship!) at the Lighthouse Marina (the only functional marina in Panama City) we can see the piles of debris that dwarf what we experienced after Irma last year.

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The city has been devastated, losing hospital beds, jobs of all sorts and so many trees.  The Live Oaks still stand but the canopy created by their leaves is gone and the water oaks and pines are scattered everywhere like matchsticks.  We wanted so badly to get here to volunteer but arriving during Christmas week has not offered us that opportunity.

On Christmas eve we get to meet up with my college buddy from Oxford, Evelyn.

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We choose a nondenominational church that is pretty close to the marina and attend Christmas eve service there.  Evelyn’s Catholic and we are Episcopalian and this is a much livelier service than we are used to but the spirit is wonderful.  Half of this church campus has been destroyed by Michael and lies in ruins beside the small chapel which will hold 3 Christmas Eve services.

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It is an alive service that finishes with all of us raising glowsticks (safer than candles) symbolizing the Light of the World who came to us on Christmas day.

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We leave with ears ringing from the decibel level but I think we are all happy that we chose to do this.

From there we try a couple of places on the beach that we frequented as young college students but they are either closed due to damage or for private events.  We end up at Saltwater Grill and have a great dinner while we catch up.

Evelyn shares what it was like to live through the hurricane and how eerie it was afterwards with twelve foot mountains of debris alongside the roadways.  She remarks on how HOT it was after the storm because the shade canopy from the trees is no longer there and how big an adjustment it is to lose all those beautiful old trees.

She has a great perspective though, knowing how fortunate she is to still have a home albeit damaged by the storm and still be able to work and travel when so many have had that choice stripped away from them along with their homes and all their possessions and jobs.  It is a lovely evening which ends too soon and we swear that it won’t be as long between visits as this one was from our last.

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The next morning, we celebrate Christmas with small gifts and brownies for breakfast and then we get under way.  The trip today is downright grim.  Coming into Panama City, we traveled through the area that had been merely brushed by the western edge of the hurricane.  Today we travel through the areas that bore the full brunt of its fury and our hearts are heavy.  Buildings are damaged or just plain gone.

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The remaining oaks are stripped of their foliage and stand mangled beyond recognition and the pines are either snapped in half or are bent and broken, lying in whichever direction the wind cast them last.

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In some areas, not one pine is left, only pencil points of broken trunks reach skyward.  In others, only the slenderest and most supple stand starkly against the sky, with but a token number of needles still intact.

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Boats lie scattered along the shores like a child’s broken toys and devastation is everywhere.

By the time we reach our anchorage in Saul Creek, we are mentally exhausted and ready to put the day behind us.

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We sit alone in our peaceful creek anchorage, listening to the current gurgle along our hull. We hear a combination of strange swamp sounds and bird calls and give thanks that we have heard (via phone, text or WhatApp) that our loved ones are all safe and have enjoyed their Christmases – even Annelise sends a video of herself boarding down a sand dune in Israel!  As the sun sets on one of the most unusual Christmases we have ever shared, we KNOW that we are truly blessed.

The next morning, we make the short hop past Appalachicola to Carrabelle. It is a little rough but fortunately the wind and waves are all coming at our bow, which is the direction our boat and her crew handle best.and we pull into a slip a C-Quarters around noon, business end away from the dock as the tide is pretty substantial here and it looks as if it might be a little shallow near the dock.

As we are checking in at C Quarters we run into Tom from Destination??? who we first met in Columbus and then again in Panama City.  He invites us to docktails and when we arrive and introduce ourselves to the other couple, it turns out Dan and Lucy were aboard Lulu in Mobile and they watered our Basil plant when Cat and Gilles, who had been caring for it, left for France.

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 This plant has made it the whole trip, through customs illegally 4 times, lashed down against waves that wanted to give it a burial at sea a couple of times, provided countless fresh pesto pasta dinners for Jerry and me and has blessed many of our Looping friends with fresh basil along the way.  I think some people even rooted the cuttings we gave them and planted them so they would have fresh basil too! So, we thank Cat and Gilles and then Lucy and Dan for making sure Basil didn’t die while we were gone for 2 1/12 weeks earlier this month.)  I dropped the power cord on it by mistake yesterday and broke half of its branches off and it is still more of a tree than a plant!

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Dan and Lucy of Lulu with Basil and us!

The Loop is a funny place where the world collapses into a series of common experiences made up of places and events.  No one really talks about the good times they have had aboard their boats, except in passing. It is always a sharing of disaster stories and learning experiences that always end with “What the hell were we thinking!?!?!”

And so we plan the next phase of our adventure together since we are weathered into Carrabelle for a couple of days.  We had thought that we would trace the western coast of Florida, hop scotching our way home through the little towns along the nature coast.

The local knowledge here says that this is not a good plan because this time of year the predominant wind is from the north and is pulling the water out of the already shallow accesses to these towns. So now we are contemplating doing the Gulf crossing with Lulu and Destination???

It is about 160+ miles from here to Tarpon which will mean a minimum of 20+ hours, some of which will be IN THE DARK, AMONG CRABTRAPS!!!! Pray for us! I have the T-shirt and now we are making final preparations to leave hopefully this afternoon (Saturday 12/29/18)

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Preparations are things like:

  • Consulting with locals here who know the conditions to call it a “go” or a “stay and wait for the next weather window” which could be a week from now.
  • Consulting all weather, wind and conditions websites to make sure we have as safe a predicted crossing as is possible, given the time of year.
  • Resting as much as possible last night and this morning.
  • Filling fuel and water tanks.
  • Making meals ahead so that we will have GOOD food without a lot of prepping during the trip since part of it will likely be rough.
  • Making sure the handheld radio has full battery charge.
  • Backing up files and photos to an external drive and making sure all essential electronics and valuables are in a waterproof bag on the back deck.
  • Getting all foul weather gear, including boots, out and ready should it be needed.
  • Preparing a waterproof ditch bag that has food and water, flashlights, hand-held radio, flares, knife to cut dinghy loose and other survival necessities.
  • Unloading the dinghy (we’ve been using it as a trunk for extra storage) and making sure we can cut it loose and go on a moment’s notice.
  • Checking the engine on the dinghy and making sure the extra gas tank is full and aboard.
  • Making sure Kindles have good books loaded and we have enough podcasts to keep us awake for 24 hours!
  • Stowing everything below decks that could crash around and get broken. Not sure what I’m going to do with our Christmas tree yet!
  • Lashing all movable objects above decks so that nothing will get broken or be a distraction should the seas become rougher than we anticipate.
  • Making sure we have a slip in Tarpon to dock the boat upon arrival.
  • Consulting with our buddy boats to make sure everybody has accurate cell and radio contact information and that we are all of accord that it is time to go.
  • Making sure our Gold AGLCA burgee (pennant) is ready to put on our bow when Makin Memories’ crosses her wake!

I am going to go ahead and post this even though we will not make the final “go” decision until this afternoon and will post on Facebook what time we will depart and our anticipated ETA in Tarpon given our “go” time.  Thanks for staying with us, friends and family – please pray for a safe crossing for us and our friends no matter what time we end up going?

 

Weeks 47-49

What a busy couple of weeks!  We drove home from Mobile to Tarpon Springs and were immediately enveloped in Herb Seaton’s Looper welcome committee!

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We had dinner with several Loopers who had just made the crossing and later in the week were reunited with our friends from Moon Dance and Bella Blue who had also successfully made the Gulf crossing from Appalachicola.  It is heartwarming to see new friends really embrace the town you call home.  Rusty Bellies was a HUGE favorite, as was Dimitri’s and I know a lot of Looper relatives will be getting Tarpon Springs sponges for Christmas this year!

Family kept us busy with the arrival of our beautiful granddaughter, Presley James Coleman.

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Her mom and dad are a little sleep deprived but are doing well and big brother, Walker seems to be adjusting to and accepting his new little sister with lots of “Awww’s” and kisses on the head.

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I’m pretty sure they will be the dynamic duo in no time, keeping their folks on their toes.

Our nephew Joe married his beloved, Toni and the wedding was lots of fun with reunions with family members who we hadn’t seen in a while.  Joe and Toni are a devoted and beautiful couple and we wish them a long and happy life together.

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My kids gave me the best Christmas present a mom could ask for by being all together in the same place for the last time in the foreseeable future.

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Kristopher and Rachel will be moving to Pittsburgh at about the same time we return from our Loop (ETA 1/6/19) and Annelise is headed to Israel and then Morrocco and from there no one really knows but she doesn’t plan to be home any time soon.  Leland is now in Miami and seems to love the southeast coast of Florida, for the time being at least.   The photo of all three of them together will be a treasured keepsake for years to come.

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We were able to spend time with my mom and reunite with dear friends while home but the time raced by and very quickly it was time to return to the boat.  Jerry’s brother BJ came with us and brought nice weather for almost his whole stay!  The first day back in Mobile was rainy but after that, it was actually sunny and even a bit warm while we were together.

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We used that first rainy day and the fact that we still had the rental car to drive to Pensacola to see the National Naval Air Museum.  I had visited it when my kids were very small and the only thing I remembered was the Blue Angel simulator because we were all aboard and lifting off when Annelise panicked and hit the punch-out button which stopped the ride. I thought her brothers just might kill her that day!  The rest of the museum has grown and been drastically updated and is really a marvel to explore.

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The guys had a blast playing pilot in the simulators and we spent most of the day there.  Later we found that the Pensacola lighthouse was closed for lens repair but we were able to walk around the keeper’s cottage, which was quite grand compared to some of the ones we have visited.

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We returned the rental car and had dinner aboard the boat, turning in early.  The next morning dawned clear and sunny and warmed up quickly as we left Mobile to cross Mobile bay and into the ICW.

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We spent the night at Orange Beach at the Wharf Marina which was very reminiscent of the National Harbor Marina outside of Washington DC.  There is a multi-storied time share along the marina which opens in an arch in the middle, leading to a main street that was decorated for Christmas.

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There was Christmas music playing and all of the palm trees had lights which pulsed in perfect time with the music.  It was fantastic to see.  We enjoyed a pitcher of beer together and then had some outstanding barbeque.  Strolling the avenue afterwards treated us to more lights and Christmas decorations.

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The next day we waited for the wind to die down and left the Wharf around noon.  We only had a little way to go to anchor out at Red Fish Point which is right near Pensacola.

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 The anchorage was just off Perdido Key beach and we could see the Pensacola lighthouse from the boat as the sun set.

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It was a quiet and calm night until about 4 AM when Jerry began stomping around on the deck.

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“Hey, you might want to see this barge out here,” he called to me.  I was incredibly irritated as it was cold and too early to get up and I couldn’t imagine why he wanted me to get out of bed to see a barge in the dark.  He stamped around for another 30 minutes and then came below declaring, “We may need to pull up the anchor and get going! This guy is adrift, moving towards us and I can’t get him to respond on the radio!”

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At this point BJ and I both came topside to find all of our Christmas lights and every other light we have brightly lit and sure enough off our starboard side was a barge that was definitely drifting closer and closer to us.  Jerry repeatedly tried to raise the guy on the radio and contacted other ships in the area, to no avail.  He started our engines and just as we were about to pull the anchor, the guy finally came over the radio stating that they had just changed tugs and that he did see us and that he wouldn’t hit us.  SHEESH!  That would have been nice to hear an hour earlier but we were all up, the boat was running and there was a gorgeous sunrise breaking over the beach.

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Nobody was going back to bed so we went ahead and got under way.  Again, it was a short run and we pulled into Palafox Marina in Pensacola at 10 AM which was great!  Not only is it a really nice marina but it is situated right in the middle of the Seville area of Pensacola and is central to a lot of nice shopping, quaint neighborhoods and tons of restaurants and bars.   And to make it even better, all of it was decorated for Christmas!  We explored for a while and then returned to let the guys nap and then we had a fabulous dinner at Jaco’s right next to the marina.

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Afterwards, BJ found an Irish bar he wanted to explore and Jerry and I went walking.  Pensacola does Christmas up big time for the kids (SO mad I didn’t take my camera along).  We came across a little train that was packed with children and a few parents that did a loop around the city streets and then delivered its occupants back to city hall where there was a HUGE tree and lots of activities for the kids to do and of course Santa was there, in his sleigh, noting Christmas wishes.  There were also tall candy-caned pipes that were spouting a fine mist of snow made out of bubbles and the kids were dancing underneath it trying to catch it as it fell.  It was a really nice evening and so wonderful to be able to stroll, arm-in-arm, without freezing to death!

We said good bye to BJ the next morning and were sorry to see him go but ran into friends and ended up taking a couple of hour walk with them through new neighborhoods up to the Publix to reprovision.  It is a small world, we were coincidentally docked right next to Glyn and Laura on Peregrine, who we have leapfrogged with since they started their journey in Milwaukee from the slip next to ours.

The first night we were in Milwaukee, we returned to the boat, after exploring, to see a HUGE party on the boat next to ours (it turned out to be their going away party) and then fireworks exploded across the sky for a good half hour.

The next morning, Laura and I introduced ourselves and I asked her what the fireworks were for, since it didn’t seem to be a holiday of any kind.  She won a place in my heart when she looked me right in the eye and declared soberly, “Those were for you, to welcome you to Milwaukee!” We have met up again with them in Joliet and Clifton as we came down the wretched river system and we got to catch up by sharing some war stories.  It is always fun to reunite with friends and while it is sad to leave them, we hope that the part they need to make repairs arrives soon and that we will see them when they hit the west coast of Florida.

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That evening we went to the old Seville Quarter to Rosie O’Grady’s and attended the Rotary meeting there.  The Seville Rotary is the newest Rotary club in Pensacola, at almost 10 years old and is a nice group of younger professionals.  It was an informative meeting and we got to share our CART mission with them, which garnered a good bit of interest.

The next day we were under way early, headed eastward to find a hidey hole that would protect us from a predicted, gale-force storm bringing yet another cold front with it.  We decided to by-pass the Ft. Walton town dock as it was too early to stop and conditions were good to continue.

We made our way to Bluewater Bay Marina in Niceville, FL.  The marina was tucked away and so enjoys perfect protection from wind and waves.  We bowed in so we could clean some of the river stains off the bow, giving ourselves a back deck that faced out into the Choctawatchee Bay.

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 There was a family of loons fishing the waters behind the boat and every once in a while a dolphin would blow pfffft  as he corraled fish into the weeds, creating feasting opportunities for the vigilant pelicans who surveyed his progress and then splashed down to share in his success.

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Bluewater Bay Marina is a terrifically friendly spot.  We were greeted at the fuel dock by Eddie, who we haven’t seen since Savannah.  He is kind of a Looper legend.  As a retired Air Force pilot, he now provides a weather service for boaters, which is relied upon as boats prepare to make the Gulf crossing from the Panhandle to Pinellas County.

Once we pulled into our slip, we were immediately invited to docktails with new friends, Patty and Jack on Nearly Perfect.  They are the harbor hosts here and we had a great time sharing experiences and snacks.  There is a Christmas decorating contest going on so many of the boats are done up for the festivities.  If we could, we would vote for Nearly Perfect and hope their snowman will withstand the coming winds!  It was hard for me to get this picture, he was doing so much ducking and weaving!

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There are a lot of live-aboards here and I can definitely see why.  The restaurant and oyster bar have something going on almost every night and the food is excellent.  We tried the roasted oysters and they were amazing!  I can still taste the garlic though!

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It must be a really fun place when the weather is nice (how many places have I made that same remark about over the last year?)  There are picnic tables under ancient live oak trees right next to a little sandy beach.  Pelicans dive for fish just feet away from where the kids play on the beach.   We had to duck to avoid being hit by an incoming pelican yesterday.  Fortunately, he chose to dive just short of hitting us!

We were on our way to do laundry which is always interesting at marinas.  We have had fancy marble laundry counters, outdoor laundries where the cats stay warm on top of the dryers, and everything in between.  Sometimes they are outrageously expensive and other times they are free (a boater’s favorite thing because then you can do a load of beach towels and boat rags).

According to our waitress, the laundry in this marina was built around the owner’s favorite oak tree and sure enough when we went in, there was a hole in the floor and the roof through which a giant live oak grew.  This is all very charming until you are doing laundry in the rain and there is no dry place to put your clean clothes!

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We are on the home stretch now, waiting for weather to allow us to move towards Panama City.  From there, we plan to trace the panhandle and the west coast of Florida to arrive home on Epiphany.  We know better than to believe this is cast in stone but that’s what we will be shooting for.

Week 46 Giving Thanks

It amazes me that we have been on this journey for 46 weeks and that we are coming down the home stretch. The past couple of weeks have been some of the most difficult, psychologically.  As we traveled the Loop in Florida and up the east coast, we saw Loopers here and there, had docktails with some of them and shared experiences upon occasion.  There are just so many options for places to visit and explore that we end up pretty well spread out due to our individual preferences.  Once we hit Chicago and came down towards Joliet, we became part of a flotilla.  The members of the flotilla change daily owing to: the top speeds each captain is willing to push his/her craft, to the number of days the crew wants to stay in a particular town, or heaven forbid due to mechanical issues that must be addressed, which can sometimes be lengthy.

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This pack mentality can be trying.  We like to travel through undisturbed waters hoping to catch glimpses of wildlife along the way and have been rewarded with deer, turkey, beaver and eagle sightings.  In a flotilla, we have been first a lot of the time because as Jerry says, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the view never changes!”  The odds catch up with us though and often a faster boat will overtake us and become leader until he disappears around the bend of a river.

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We leave Columbus marina at dawn with just two other boats and lock through at dawn without a hitch.

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The journey for the day is pretty easy; there’re only patches of debris rather than great islands of it and there are sticks as opposed to whole trees in the water.  We find out that we cannot lock through the last lock that we wanted to because the anchorage below it will have a dredge working through the night, making it impossible for us to anchor there.  So, we pull into Sumpter anchorage with our two buddy boats and it is a calm and lovely place to spend the night, just a few miles up from the lock.

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We call the Hefflin lock the next morning, acting as point person for our three boats, and the lock master informs us that he has a barge in the chamber and another one coming up river in a bit.  “Call me back in 20 minutes and we’ll see whether we will be able to lock you through or not.”

That isn’t very heartening and we relay the disappointing news to our friends.  When we call back, the lock master says, “Come now or wait 3 hours, your choice!”

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Dang!  We all scramble to get our anchors up, get the glass cleared of fog (at least it isn’t ice this morning as it has been the past couple of mornings) and get into the river, knowing that there is a barge that will be coming out of the lock towards us.

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 The fog is so thick we really can’t see much.  We contact the barge and he says he can see us but we can’t see him until he emerges, like a ghost, from the fog.  It looks like he is going to mow us down and he’s telling us to take him on the two which means starboard to starboard but we can’t see any room between his starboard and the bank.

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He keeps saying that he is moving over for us and finally daylight appears between him and the bank though fog is still swirling around it.  We quickly move to that side and pass him safely.  Creeping along, we are able to get into the lock and we lock through as the fog lifts for good.

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The rest of the ride is serene and pretty, with gray clay hoo-doos and interesting white cliffs beside parts of the river.

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After a long day, we pull into Demopolis Marina and it looks like homecoming.  We recognize 99% of the boats here either from being with them or from the Meets app that shows where Looper boats are.  This is not good because it means that we will all be trying to get out of the marina and through the lock at the same time in the morning.

We meet up for docktails, appoint a spokesperson to coordinate with the lock master and call it a night.  We are not looking forward to the next couple of days because they are LONG river days with no marinas anywhere along the ride, which means at least a dozen boats all trying to fit into the small and limited anchorages that do exist.

The day dawns with thick fog and the lock master says to wait until he calls us.  He can’t see the lock from his building that is right beside it and his lock is closed due to fog.  He estimates a 7AM lock through but repeats that we are to wait.  At 7 the marina comes alive with engines roaring to life and a mass exodus is immediately underway, even though we haven’t heard from the lockmaster.  The fog is thick but we can see about a quarter mile and then it lifts.  The lead boat calls the lock and he is NOT happy that we already have 9 boats on the river. “I guess y’all didn’t understand what I said when I told you to stay put until I called you!” he says.  After some moments of radio silence, I guess he feels that we are less safe on the river because he tells us to come ahead and he will lock us down but he insists on each boat giving him its name and registration number before we enter the lock.

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 The fog thickens even more and now all that we can see is the boat ahead of us as we approach the lock.  The lock master comes on the radio instructing us to stay on the left descending bank or we will miss the lock and go over the dam in the fog and we wouldn’t be the f