Category: Adventures

Lessons in Locking

When I was learning to fly airplanes, I bought a plaque with a quote that resonated deeply with me. In only a few words, it encapsulated an aphorism that I have tried to live by most of my aviation life and to a lesser degree, in my boating life.

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness or neglect.” I naively believed that the distance between the perils in aviation and the time to avert danger where much shorter than the time to avert the same for the Mariners’ peril. I thought that at least you could float in a boat, right?  I would go back to the author of that quote and ask him to consider rephrasing the “even to a greater degree” line and then ask Poseidon to forgive my ignorance and hubris.

What brought this reflection about, you may be asking yourself, and what lesson or trouble did Jerry find this time? You would be right because I found that aphorisms, whether in aviation, maritime, or any other pursuit by men and women, are born out of the immediacy of experience.

Jean and I are fortunate to have completed two-thirds of the Loop and have entered the remaining one third, known as the river system.  We have had our challenges along the way and are grateful for each, and every experience we have earned and learned from, but for me, the most challenging moment came in the Starved Rock Lock, on the Illinois River. Those few moments in the lock made each of the previous challenges feel like child’s play in comparison.


Photo by Wikipedia

The locks in the states are similar to the locks we have experienced in Canada (the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn mostly) but differ vastly in size and type of traffic that uses them. The closest that we experienced in Canada was the St. Lawrence Seaway locks, and we were immensely happy that we only had to lock through those a couple of times. The “commercial locks” are typically over a 1000′ long and can range anywhere from a few feet to over 35 feet change in water level. In the states, commercial traffic on the Illinois, Ohio, Mississippi, to name a few, have priority and work 24/7 transporting up to 16 barges in one haul up and down the rivers. A single pusher/tow vessel can fill an entire lock and take a long time to load in or out of the lock. It is not uncommon for pleasure craft (known as PC’s to the river captains) to wait hours for an opportunity to lock-through. I am not complaining. The industries (and the public) that benefit by barge transportation is immense, and without them, our economy would be crippled. The amount of materials that barge traffic haul is more than cargo aircraft, railroad, and semi-trailer loads combined can haul. The priorities and wait times are just part of river cruising and are to be expected and endured.  Jean and I have made 120+ lock-throughs learning and gaining confidence with each one. Our last experience has delivered the most powerful lesson in locking-through to date.

The morning begins calm enough with an early departure from the Ottawa City Dock for an hour or so cruise to our first and only lock of the day. We planned to stretch from Starved Rock Lock to Peoria (a run of about 65+ miles) and tie up for a couple of weeks to make a side trip to the west to visit family in Colorado.  As we entered the river, we joined four other boats heading for the same lock. Three more boats fell in behind us, and we all cruised slowly towards Starved Rock. It is customary to call the lockmaster before departure to give him a heads-up, plus find out if we should even untie and proceed towards the lock.  If there is numerous commercial traffic, it pays to stay at the dock and wait without running engines and burning fuel.

The lockmaster said that an 8:30am lock-through was a good possibility, so off we went.  As we got closer the lock-through time increased from 8:30 to 9:00 due to traffic. What many cruisers will do is “hover” in place while waiting for the appointed time.  Makin Memories does not like to hover so we will do a slow up and down the approach to the lock depending on how much traffic is waiting. Others will join in and wait for the lock-master to open the gates and direct us to the spot they want us to come alongside and we will either throw a line around a floating bollard or hang on to lines the lock staff give us. This day there was a pusher/tow in the uppermost part of the lock with Jean and me in the third position. Pusher/tows do not tie up to the wall of the lock, nor do they “hold lines.” They will use their engines to “push” up against the wall to maintain their position. Pushers and tows are river vessels that transport barges (up to 16 at a time) up and down the rivers. They are different than tugs both in size and power available, but nevertheless can be just as intimidating and almost as powerful. A few differences are in design and horsepower available and the ability to pull other vessels. A tug can produce as much as 27,000+ horsepower awhile a pusher can generate, on average, 5000+ horsepower to perform its work. The method of steerage comes in many different forms. Pushers can utilize Kort Nozzles or Cycloidal Propellers, or other vertical axis methods as examples (Google it!). The point is that the thrust vector is confined and powerful and to be avoided whenever possible.


River barge pusher

After about a 90-minute wait on station, all the PC’s were given instructions to enter the lock and give their entry order. Jean and I were instructed to take the third position behind another cruiser and the pusher/tow. The lock-through was slow due to only one of two hydraulic cylinders operating properly, but otherwise uneventful. The fun began when the gates opened, and we were to exit the lock. The lock-master instructed the pusher/tow to remain in place and for the PC’s to proceed around the pusher/tow and exit the lock. The first clue that all was not going to go as planned was when the first cruiser was leaving the wall and was sucked up against the pusher/tow and could not transition around without using a much higher throttle than is typical.  When the cruiser did make it around the pusher/tow, the thrust from the pusher/tow pushed the cruiser into the opposite lock wall. There is usually a moment (upon reflection) that if you could have back to re-do the moment in question, you would. After the first cruiser made it off the opposite wall, I throttled off the wall and began to go around the pusher/tow. I too was sucked towards the pusher/tow and then pushed by the stern thrust into the opposite wall as well. That is only half of what was to come. As my stern hit the lock wall, I throttled up to push out against the thrust from the pusher/tow but had to throttle back to miss the cruiser ahead of us because on the other side of the lock another barge was on the immediate right side preparing for entry into the lock up bound. It was a serpentine maneuver that the first cruiser and myself were in. The entire time the pusher/tow in the lock kept his rpm’s up and pushed the two of us out of position.  On the radio, we heard the lock-master issuing warnings, and cautions to the other PC’s in the lock not to proceed and the pusher/tow to decrease their rpms to reduce the wake output.  By the time Jean and I made it through the exit and past the other barge and pusher, we had hit the wall fairly-hard but made it through.  The rub-rail and the nose of the dingy on the port side took most of the impact but upon inspection safely down the river, they were not severely damaged.

Honest reflection has taught me a few lessons here. The first and foremost was that PFD’s are absolutely a necessity. We hit the wall so hard that I was afraid that Jean would be thrown from the forward deck and into the water. Secondly, I should have never left the wall until the lock-master guaranteed that the pusher/tow either reduced its power output or exited the lock before me. The power produced by the pusher/tow holding its position against the wall was too violent for us to pass by safely. My bad!!  I also did not appreciate the crew of the pusher/tow lined up on their boat to “watch the show.” Very unprofessional and makes me wonder if this was not a planned “event to watch.” Still, when all is said and done, I decided to push off the wall and go. I regret making it now. After the two cruisers left, the lock-master halted the other PC’s and instructed the pusher/tow to exit the lock.  It took close to an hour for the others to exit the lock and continue down river.

As I nurse my LPTSD (Looper Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) over the latest “new lesson learned,” I urge other PC captains to remember that they are the captain of their vessel and ultimately, they are responsible for their decisions and if they feel that the situation is not safe, they, and only they, can make the decision to “go or not go.”

Getting a little hot down there

Jean and I had spent the evening in Vergennes, Vermont tied up on the community dock after a cruise up from Whitehall, New York. We departed just before 6 a.m. for a seven-mile trek out the Otter Creek River before joining Lake Champlain. The water was like a mirror, and gentle wisps of steam stood sentinel along the bank. If you leave early enough sometimes, you will see wildlife on the shore, and we were fortunate enough to see deer this time. About 25 minutes into our idle out the river I notice a harmonic change in the engine sounds and checked my gauges and saw that the port engine was beginning to overheat. I asked Jean to take over and continue to idle out the river on the starboard engine while I went below to see what could be the cause of the overheat. The port engine has been the most dependable thus far the entire trip, and I was not sure what I was going to find. I checked the valves on the water feed to ensure that the engine was receiving water from the outside and then made sure the engine had not sprung a leak in the heat exchanger. After finding no leaks and no pools of water anywhere, the next check would be to see if the impeller was operating correctly. I had all the impellers replaced before we left on the loop and thought that it was odd that they would be in need of replacing so soon. I had not changed an impeller before and was not sure on procedures but forged ahead anyway since there were no services available in Vergennes. Jean was doing a great job of keeping us in deep enough water on one engine, and we had time before we entered Lake Champlain again.
The impeller housing on the Ford Lehman engine is a straightforward affair with several small screws on a face plate, so I started there. All of the screws came out without any problems, and I was able (this time) not to drop any of them down into the bilge. The faceplate was removed, and I was amazed at the condition of the rubber impeller. Only the hub was left.

Impeller install

Photo by Jerry Coleman

None of the fins were on the hub but laying in the chamber. The hub was removed without any difficulty, the chamber cleaned of debri, and then replaced with a spare impeller I brought along. A gasket was installed, and the faceplate screwed back on, and with an engine restart, the temperature dropped immediately back to normal. A few lessons learned from this experience were: always to have spares onboard, to take your time and assess the problem and then begin with the apparent culprits first working towards the solutions. Trust your co-captain to take care of their part, and to carry on.

Landing in the right place

Leaving the pier at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London early last Sunday may not have been our best decision considering the weather forecasted that day.  Weather prognosticators were calling for winds out of the east around a consistent 15 knots with gust to 20 knots and waves near the Fishers Island Sound to be in the vicinity of 2 to 4 feet stretching out the length of Long Island Sound. Jean and I discussed staying at the pier another day and possibly leaving at first light Monday instead, but the forecast for Monday read the same. The rough idea was to cruise to Stamford or Greenwich and anchor out for the evening and then time our approach to the Throgs Neck Bridge the next morning to ride with the current through the East River to New York Harbor and spend a night at Liberty Landing in Jersey City. The next day would be a four or five-hour cruise up the Hudson to Half-Moon Bay Marina and tie the boat up for a week. We had purchased airline tickets in advance for a trip home for a week, and we would then commute to a hotel near LaGuardia Airport and fly out Friday morning. We had planned a couple of weather days into our formula, but we were using those up quickly. Sunday was the kind of day we knew might not be our most comfortable cruise but forecasts are just that, and they could prove to be wrong. Being wrong though can go either way, meaning, the weather could be better or could be worse. 

Jean and I made our preparations for departure and waved good-bye to family as we brought our lines on board and headed out the Thames River. It was a sunny morning with winds out of the east around 10 knots or so and little to no waves in the river. As we reached the mouth and begun our turn west into Long Island Sound, we thought that maybe this cruise would be a little lumpy but not uncomfortable. We turned on the auto-pilot and cruised with the current at 10 to 11 mph for a couple of hours. As we traveled along with the following sea, we began to notice the increase in gusts and the height of the waves. The two to four-foot waves forecasted turned into four to six-foot waves with several rollers higher than that. The high swells would lift the boat up and place it down 45 degrees in the trough, and we would have to quickly steer in the opposite direction to straighten out again. The auto-pilot was turned off, and we steered manually for another hour or so looking for a harbor or river to enter for the day when the steering began to become practically unresponsive. After 50 miles of four to six-foot waves and dodging submerged crab-traps seen at the very last minute, we found a safe haven in the Milford river and headed to Milford Landing Marina. We were met there by 4 marina staff that helped catch lines, run electric and water to us.  I wanted to see if the rudders and shafts were ok and if we had snagged some rope or something that hindered rudder control. I put on a diving suit and went into the water to check underneath the boat. There appeared to be no line wrapped around rudders or shafts, and the rudders were appropriately aligned and tight to the touch. Later I checked the steering compartment and could see nothing amiss so after adding hydraulic oil to the steering reservoir, we settled in for the night and planned a first light departure for the next day.  

Jean and I departed Milford the next morning at 630am and headed back out into Long Island Sound. The steering still felt off, and the waves were still high. I went to the steering compartment as Jean steered and I immediately saw that the pedestal that held the steering cylinder and auto-pilot arm was cracked and was separating from the hull and ready to break off. We immediately turned around and using propellor thrust only, headed back to the marina. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the auto-pilot arm was sheared off and that while the steering components were in working order, there was no stable platform for the steering gear to function upon. We were fortunate that a highly recommended marine boatyard was located next store we would call them when they opened.  

We tied up in the Milford Landing Marina and waited for staff to arrive and discuss the possibility of leaving the boat there for a week or so and having fiberglass work done in the steering compartment by the Milford Boat Works next store while we are away. I was happy to learn that the manager of the marina followed our blog and had heard of Makin Memories and followed us since Key West. We talked about the loop, and he hopes to begin the loop in a year or so with his wife. The boatyard next to us has been in business for over 80 years and sent a person over to inspect the damage first thing that morning and will repair the steering with the boat in the water at the marina. 

We learned several new lessons as well as being reminded of many old lessons as well. When I first started to research the loop I read a post that said that the number one rule is  “thou shall have NO schedule.” Weather and mechanical can put you into decision-making loops that can be harmful to you and your boat. Our cruise Sunday was very close to breaking that rule. Fortunately, we were able to find positive alternatives. This could have been much more dangerous than it turned out to be. A second lesson is that pushing for high mileage day after day can sap your energy and effect your decision-making as well. The joy is in the journey and not the destination.  A lesson that I personally learned is that I will need to be much more thorough in my inspections and to follow-up every suspicion that may arise and test before getting underway.  

Lastly, I want to thank the individuals at Milford Landing Marina and Milford Boat Works for their professionalism, responsiveness, and friendliness to boaters in need. Our impression of Milford is that it is a great community and it is evident in the people that we have met there.

Weeks Six through Eleven

KennedySpaceCenterWeeks six through eleven have been a whirlwind of activity for Jean and me and catching the blog up will be a challenge. We ended week six in Three D Boatyard in Stock Island (Key West) by having the hull painted and the trim tabs removed and the holes fiberglassed over. Both repairs were necessary for the next 5000 miles of our journey. We lived on the boat while the work was being performed and while pleased with the work, we were delighted to splash again on Friday the 16th and spend the remainder of the day cleaning up the boat from stem to stern. Boatyards can be very dirty.
Having the boat clean and ready for our company arriving on Saturday was a challenge, but we were able to do so and enjoyed our guests and the time exploring Key West together for several days immensely.
The wind was blowing a steady 15 to 20 mph for most days, and we watched for a window of opportunity so that we could make a side trip out to the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas. That window opened on Sunday the 25th allowing us a cruise 85 miles from Stock Island to the Dry Tortugas in 9.5 hours. The wind and the waves laid down some, but we still encountered waves five to six feet high. Arriving the Dry Tortugas late in the afternoon, we anchored overnight and toured the island the next day. It was a windy night, and the anchored had trouble holding till we found a place next to a group of crabbers that provided secure holding in the wind. Jean and I traded watches throughout the night to make sure we held tight.


Heading to the Dry Tortuga’s

The next morning we dinghied in and toured the grounds for several hours and then headed off to the Marquesas to spend the evening on the hook there.
The Marquesas were beautiful, and the water was SMOOTH, and the wind had died down considerably. We anchored and dinghied around the area for a little sightseeing. The Marquesas are uninhabited by humans and are beautiful, even after the devastation of Irma.
The water on the trip was remarkable. At least three colors of blue and the Gulfstream a resounding royal blue. I would submit that for me, the blues of the water was the most striking sight of the cruise.
After we pulled anchor the next morning, we made our way back to Stock Island and prepared for our departure north along Hawk Channel to Marathon and the Faro Blanco Marina for an overnight stay. But, before we could go we had a soft spot in the galley floor re-planked by a professional shipwright and once finished we cruised to Marathon. The next day we traveled north to an anchorage north of Key Largo called Steamboat Creek in Barnes Sound. It had excellent anchor holding, but the wind was such that we set up an overnight anchor watch just to be on the safe side and am happy to report that all went well. It is here that I came down with bronchitis and Jean took over as captain and guided us through the congested Miami shipping lanes as well as Port Everglades just outside of Fort. Lauderdale complete with all the small bridge openings along the way. I am incredibly proud of her skill in negotiating the ICW traffic and the handling of the boat, navigation, and radio. I was pitiful and not of much use. The next day we headed to North Miami and worked our way up the coast staying overnight in Delray Beach, Jupiter, and Fort Pierce. The wind was such that we decided to tie up instead of keeping an anchor watch every night. From Fort Pierce Jean and I cruised to Melbourne where we rented a car to drive home to Tarpon Springs for two days (and a doctors visit for me) bringing the paddleboards and other items we did not need to have on board any longer. Melbourne is an excellent place to leave the boat for a couple of weeks while we visited home and facilitated a 5G Power Skills Certification cohort with Rollins College in Winter Park for five days.
I just finished up changing all the fuel filters and cleaning the bilge, and Jean finished painting the inside of the stern bilge area. Jean and I are waiting out a cold front that is bringing high winds and rain, and then we plan on heading to an anchorage in the ICW in New Symrna and then ports further north.

Week Four on the Loop

As week three came to a close, we enjoyed our time exploring the North Miami Shores area as well as the visit to the Miami aquarium with an early dinner in Little Havana.   Saturday morning we departed Pelican Harbor Marina City Docks and began our cruise to Biscayne Bay to the Dinner Key mooring field in Coconut Grove.  It was a short trip of just over 14 statute miles but very scenic and exciting as we navigated through the Port of Miami area.  There was not the amount of traffic operating as compared to Port Everglades that day, and we quickly navigated through without delay.


Dinner Key has 225 mooring balls available at a reasonable rate which includes amenities such as a dinghy dock, showers, laundry, with wifi in the lobby area.  The field had a few cruisers moored on lines, but it was mostly sailboats, many of which were waiting for the wind to abate so they could cross over to the Bahamas.  As we approached we knew we were going to have our hands full of trying to hook the eyelet and thread our line through and safely moor.  The wind was a steady 20 mph gusting 30mph.  It took Jean and me five attempts to navigate the moored boats, cope with the wind gusts, and dodge a sailboat race and their support craft that were using the mooring field approach path as a shortcut.  The night on the mooring ball was one of the longest nights I have had while in the loop.  Wind and waves made this choice of overnight a sleepless one, not because of the fear of pulling loose and drifting, but of the noise and commotion of the waves pounding the stern, which of course consists of our new swim platform and dinghy! The boat was bathed and crusted in salt by morning. No more open mooring fields when high winds are forecasted, only marina tie-ups or snug little hidy holes from now on for us.


And at the crack of dawn when there was light to navigate by, we untethered ourselves and headed out of Biscayne Bay into Card Sound and found a great little hidy hole called Pumpkin Creek.  Just off of the sound entrance to Angelfish Creek, there is a small cut that has plenty of water and wind protection.  We threw out two anchors, dinghied around to see the local area and then slept like babies through the night.


The next morning we pulled our two anchors and began a slow cruise of 21 miles to the bay side of upper Key Largo.  The winds had not wound up yet, and with a few showers that helped clean the boat of salt, we made our way to our next anchorage in Tarpon Basin.


Tarpon Basin is a good place to anchor out and enjoy the scenery.  The dinghy allowed us to motor in and visit Key Largo and Uber down to Tavernier for a Rotary Lunch.  The Lunch was fun and was held at Craig’s restaurant.  Afterward the meeting, a man asked to speak with us and told us a story of when he was in college he captained the 72′ “Coastal Queen” around the loop.  She is an older ship with beautiful, graceful lines.  When we asked him how long it took, Jean and I smiled when he grinned and said that it took four years to complete. I could see where you might not want the adventure ever to end.


Islamorada Marker 84

Photo by Jean Coleman

From Tarpon Basin we cruised to Islamorada and tied up at Islamorada Yacht Basin alongside Lorelei’s bar and grill.  It was a small basin completely protected from the wind, and we spent a few quiet down days. When in a marina, the boating life is not that dissimilar to living in an apartment complex, of course, you are on a boat and floating, but your neighbors are very close, and curiosity, questions, and conversation are constant.  It is a tight community, and you make friends quickly with invitations to visit from all over the eastern seaboard.  Jean and I used our bikes to explore some of the local out of the way places and witnessed the destruction Irma caused this small community.  The rebuilding and starting over is everywhere you look. The scrapped empty lots are the worst.


As a side trip, Jean and I dinghied to Lignumvitae Key to explore the botanical gardens. Lignumvitae is Latin for “tree of life” and has a very interesting history. You can get to the key only by boat and once we arrived we could see that Irma once again had taken a toll.  The public dock was in disrepair and hazardous.  Jean and I tied up to the one remaining piling and took a quick stroll around the house and some outposts.  Rain approaching from the southeast threatened our ride home so we left before we could enjoy a tour by a ranger. Maybe next time.


Our cruise from Islamorada to Marathon was windy but beautiful. I use both paper and

Marathon 2 3 18IMG_3216

Photo by Jerry Coleman

electronic charts as we navigate from one place to another. The names of passes, channels and cuts, are always interesting to me.  As we navigated from Islamorada to Marathon we passed by, over, or around, places such as; Bowlegs Cut, Old Dan Bank, Old Sweat Bank, Rachel’s Bank, and Washerwoman Bank. I love the names and I am sure there are many interesting and colorful stories on how they came to be.  Once we arrived at Marathon, we stayed at Faro Blanco (The White Lighthouse) overnight. We fueled and visited the local West Marine for supplies.  Jean and I tied up in Marathon last year and we re-visited a small restaurant called Burdines.  We enjoyed a couple of sandwiches and a rainstorm as well as a beautiful rainbow afterward.  As we walked to dinner, we were able to witness some of the devastations that Irma brought to Marathon.  One of the boatyards in Boot Key was used as a boat graveyard. It was very sad to see the floating homes of people so damaged that their owners were left homeless.  One of the boats had a gaping hole in the aft cabin section, and you could see the clothes still hanging in the closet.


From Faro Blanco Marina in Marathon, we cruised to Mozer Channel and headed outside to the Atlantic, turned right and followed Hawk Channel down to Key West. Our destination is Stock Island Village Marina where we will winter until early March.

A Windy Week Three

It was an early morning departure for Makin Memories and her crew this Sunday from River Forest Yachting Service. River Forest is a quiet, clean, well-maintained place to moor before locking through St. Lucie. After a coffee and tea to wipe away the night’s sleep and with the preparation for departure routine completed, we were on our way to the last lock-through on the Okeechobee Waterway. The St. Lucie lock has a 13-foot drop from the Caloosahatchee to bring you back to sea level. The cruise across of the remaining Okeechobee Waterway was a quite one with wind and wind gusts steadily increasing. We made our way through the St. Lucie River and past Stuart, turning right and cruising through Hobe Sound. A beautiful stretch of the preserve on the ocean side and beautiful homes on the west side. Jean climbed out and up on the hard top and shot photos of the Jupiter lighthouse as we passed a very busy cross section of bridges, rivers, and boaters.

Our destination for the day was Palm Beach Gardens, and a marina stays for a couple of days while we dealt with the repair of our inverter. We rented a car and delivered our unit to a certified repair depot in Ft. Lauderdale was thinking that we could pick it up as we passed by on the way south but were pleasantly surprised that they had the necessary control board in stock and we brought the unit back with us the same day. A thank you to David Romero of eMarine Systems of Ft. Lauderdale and his great customer service. I would also like to thank Louie and Shane of Louie’s Marine Electrical, Holiday, Fl. (727-222-3932) for talking me through the systems test and reinstallation of the inverter. The two of them spent a lot of time on the phone over four days teaching me how to find a possible workaround till I could get the unit repaired.

North Miami 1 24 18

Photo by Jerry Coleman

Leaving Loggerhead Marina at Palm Beach Gardens, we cruised through Lake Worth and tied up at Lighthouse Point Marina at Lighthouse Point, Fl. (just outside Delray, Fl.), for the evening. The next day’s cruise was sunny, but still very breezy, as we passed Boca Raton, Hillsboro Inlet, Ft. Lauderdale, and the amazing Port Everglades where the harbor was full of cruise ships, mega yachts, tugs, barges, and container ships. We were able to clear most of the bridges without having them stop car traffic, but there were several that we had to wait alongside sailboats for the scheduled opening. The wind was a challenge to stay on point, sometimes waiting 25 minutes.

Jean and I found a city marina in North Miami

Flamingos Miami

Photo by Jerry Coleman

(Pelican Harbor Marina) that has reasonable, and we could wait out the 20 to 25 mph winds, gusting to 30/35 mph for a few days. The facilities are commensurate with the rates and the location not bad. We could walk to several restaurants, and Uber’d to The Miami Seaquarium and Little Havana.

Week three was a windy one, and it looks like week four will be much of the same as we enter the upper keys.

Notes From Week Two

Cabbage Key Resort is a walk back into old time Florida.  The old inn and the grounds take you back to a time when the rhythm of life was much slower.   Jean and I tied up on Cabbage Key as a last-minute alternate due to losing light and the wind blowing 20 mph gusting to 25.  Setting the anchor in Cayo Costa was proving impossible for us and becoming a dangerous position to be caught in with darkness fast approaching.  Cabbage Key was close, and after a phone call we tied up 30 minutes later with the help of a young couple.  In high winds, Makin Memories can be a handful for the two of us to tie up due to a significant amount of surface area she possesses.  We stayed two days and enjoyed the peacefulness with long walks and reading.  The food is outstanding, and every flat space is covered with signed dollar bills, some from famous people such as Randy Wayne Wright and Jimmy Buffet.

Leaving Cabbage Key, we cruised to Sanibel Island where we tied up at Sanibel Marina.  Jean and I met up with family and enjoyed a unique dining out experience at the Bubble Room further out the island in Captiva.  The Bubble Room is a fantastic blend of antique toys, mannequins, puppets, and clowns.  It is a multi-level museum of old times serviced by a staff wearing boy scout uniforms.  I was especially intrigued by a large model monocoque airplane hanging from the ceiling as you first walk in.  The food was outstanding and definitely worth the trip.

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Photo by Jerry Coleman

Back at Sanibel Marina, we received our care package from home and said our goodbyes to family.  Jean and I walked over to Grandma Dot’s and shared a sinfully good piece of chocolate cake.

From Sanibel, we cruised to Fort Myers and began our journey along the Caloosahatchee River and The Okeechobee Waterway.  The Caloosa Indians used the river as a highway to reach deeper into their hunting grounds and trade with other tribes. The river is beautiful with plenty of room for two way traffic, and Jean and I enjoyed the peaceful cruise to our first lock through experience at Franklin.  Locking through at Franklin was a pleasure with the helpful lock attendants giving instruction and advice for the future locks to come.  We were the only boat in the lock and were in and out in twenty minutes.

LaBelle City Wharf

Photo by Jean Coleman

La Belle was our destination, and we tied up at the La Belle City Wharf for two nights.  You can stay three nights in a row but then must vacate for at least eight days until you can come back for the next three.  La Belle is an old city in the midst of renovation and fun to visit.  Jean and I enjoyed the Bridge Street Coffee & Tea shop where we warmed up on coffee and tea and had dinner at the Forrey Grill, a great little family restaurant also on Bridge Street.  The folks at the library were accommodating and helpful with places to see and visit.  We stopped by the Harold P. Curtis Honey company and learned about the many different types of bees and the resulting honey that they sell.

From the LaBelle City Wharf, we made our way along the river to Moore Haven.  They provide a city dock just before the Moore Haven Lock that one can tie up to with power and water and facilities a short walk away. Moore Haven is a small town struggling to remain relevant.  Our inverter died, and after hours of speaking to

Moore Haven City Dock 1 18 18

Photo by Jean Coleman

installers and factory techs, we came to a place where we think it is an AC board that failed.  The closest service dealer is in Ft. Lauderdale, so we will drop it off and have it back in working order next week…hopefully!  More about the inverter later.  The good part of this is we can still charge batteries while the engines are running and have power when connected to shore power, so all is not lost, just chilly lately.  We learned that we could turn on the stove and it will warm up the cabin as quickly as a space heater does.  The bonus was scrambled cheesy eggs for breakfast!  We fueled in Clewiston at Roland Martins Marina (a must visit) and ready our selves for the trip across Lake Okeechobee, newly christened by us as the “Okee-cocoa Lake.”  The lake looked seriously like Hersey’s chocolate milk; even the white caps were brown.

The crossing of the great chocolate milk lake was uneventful, and we entered the Port Mayaca Lock early afternoon.  As the day wound down and we cruised along the waterway, we found parts that reminded us of the African Queen movie with Humphrey Bogart and elements that were reminiscent of the Heart of Darkness

River Forest Stuart 1 19 18

Photo by Jean Coleman

written by Joseph Conrad.  It was both beautiful and silent.  We are currently tied up at River Forest Yachting alongside an immaculate and well-kept mooring with power and water for a reasonable price.  The facilities are close by and keep clean as well.  The folks here are friendly and accommodating.  As the third week of this adventure begins, I have a bilge pump to replace and then a few additional small repairs to make.  We will head to the last of our Okeechobee Waterway locks today and then head south to even warmer climes.

First Week on the Loop

Week one of America’s Great Loop cruise is now in the books; literally in the; logbooks, personal journals, and postings to our social media sites. Our itinerary began with our leaving on Saturday the sixth and cruising out to Anclote Island for our first anchorage. It was a blustery night with waves noisily pushing on our stern all night. I do not sleep well when we are at anchor continually checking our position and making sure we are not pulling our anchor out and drifting silently into shallow water or someone else. When it is windy, our anchor has been known to become unanchored.
From Anclote Island, we motored to an anchorage just west of the Sunshine Skyway causeway and dropped the hook in 14 feet of water and spent a very peaceful night. I checked our position only five times that evening! We used our dinghy to explore local marinas and find the “facilities.” We try to use other facilities when we can so that we do not have to pump our black water out of our 40-gallon tank as often.
After a leisurely morning, we cruised into the Vinoy Basin and tied up to a mooring ball. We love St. Pete city and its beachfront lifestyle. Jean and I dinghied onto the city dock and walked the downtown area, visited with family, and took in a movie. The St. Pete Municipal Marina service and facilities (Wi-Fi, showers, etc.) are clean and included in the price of the mooring ball. 53
We left the Vinoy Basin in fog with one-mile visibility heading south using the radar and chart-plotter to navigate from one-day marker to the next. We could not see the Skyway bridge until we were a half-mile away and then only as we passed under it as it disappeared off the stern a half-mile out the other side. From the Skyway, we cruised to Anna Marie Island and anchored in a small basin called Jewfish Key. Jean and I dinghied into a the Mar-Vista restaurant and walked to the beach for a beautiful sunset. Fog settled in not long afterward and blanketed the entire area. While we were firmly anchored, the mist can create the illusion of drifting, and I was checking our position throughout the night. The next morning Jean and I dinghied over to the city dock and rode a trolley around the north part of Anna Maria Island and enjoyed a walk around Coquina Key Park. With winds forecasted to increase, we decided to head to Sarasota and tie up at Marina Jack’s.
The cruise to Sarasota was a breezy one with fog settling in from the north and chasing us into Marina Jack’s. We had tied up here before and knew that we would enjoy their service and facilities. Tying up at Marina Jack’s gives us an opportunity to refresh our batteries, fill our fresh water tanks (120 gals), wash the boat, and perform maintenance as needed. It is also a great joy when you can enjoy a hot shower instead of a quick sea shower.
We used an Uber for the first time in Sarasota as we needed a ride to a Friday morning Rotary Club meeting. Jean and I are fortunate to be ambassadors for Coins for Alzheimer’s Research Trust, which provides cutting-edge research for scientists finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. The Sarasota Sunrise club is a very energetic and a fun club to attend. Jean and I gave a quick overview of our loop trip and how Rotarians can help battle Alzheimers through the C.A.R.T. organization. Sarasota is one of our favorite cities to walk and enjoy dining out.
76 longbeach morroringin fogOur intended destination out of Sarasota was going to be an anchorage near Venice, but throughout the day and with a steady stern wind (9 to 10 miles an hour), we decided to stretch out and cruise to Cabbage Key and tie up for a couple of days. And here we are. Bright sunshine, chilly, and windy as all get out. White caps on the water.
Staying at Cabbage Key for a couple of days gives us a chance to catch up on household chores, writing, planning the next week’s journey, and some walk around exercise.
I want to share a few thoughts and insights on week one’s adventure. Economy stands out as being an integral part of cruising. Safety is always first with me, and I tend to be conservative in my choices as far as the safety of crew and vessel go. When I speak of the idea of economy though, I mean saving in size, amount, duration, and speed. When you live in a house, there is typically room for everything we accumulate, but on a boat, space is at a premium. I have too many clothes, too many notebooks, too many shoes, too many everything. Jean and I are learning that any item onboard must perform at least double duty, if not triple duty. Speed and duration are also at play while we cruise and since this is a marathon and not a sprint I am learning not to wake up and immediately start the engines and go with the intent of “getting to the next destination” as soon as possible. A hard lesson for me. I am learning to slow down and smell the salt air. It is the journey and not the destination that is key. I will insert a caveat here: we will either stay or go dependent on weather. I read somewhere that a captain has a book of intentions mitigated by weather and mechanical and will act accordingly.
Size does matter, and it matters very much. When space is unlimited, you can store things in “out of the way” places, not so on this boat. There simply is not enough room. Recalling the above thought on an item performing triple duty, smaller is also better. A rare thought for land lubbers.
Lastly, I want to talk about how important communication is when cruising (actually, it is5 always important). Communication is one of the keys to a safe and enjoyable cruise. Sharing ideas, feelings, and dreams is a big part of the trip as are the doubts, fears, and nightmares. Being open to discussing all the above without judgment is paramount.
This week we are planning to cross the Okeechobee Waterway and turn right towards Miami.

A Month To Go

IMG_2877Jean and I are in the final phases of preparation for the Grand Depart on January 6th.  A few of the items in the final stage include; installation of the y-valve in the forward head as we replace the old hoses with new ones.  We have been painting shelves and bulkheads as well as floorboards in the engine room.  We are changing the forward berth curtains and bunk spread with something lighter in color.  Left to the last few weeks for completion are a custom dinghy cover, a Furuno 1830 radar plug adaptor, chaffing gear for lines, minor fiberglass repair, and porthole sealant.  We continue to sort out the clothes we will need to take and where they will reside.

We took Makin Memories over to River Energy on the Anclote River near the end of the sponge docks and fueled her with a hundred gallons.  The day was so beautiful that we went on a cruise out to Anclote Island and back.  I am happy to report that the new swim platform and the dinghy performed flawlessly.

Jean and I plan on moving on board right after Christmas as the couple who will be living in our house while we are away, begin to settle in.  We look forward to having the time to settle in ourselves aboard Makin Memories and still can go back and forth to the house and make sure we are relatively set for our departure on January 6th.

Swim Platform is home

SwimPlatformAttachedMakin Memories is back in her slip at Turtle Cove after a week of maintenance and cleaning. The swim platform turned out as planned and the engines received new water pumps each. Attaching the ladder from the aft deck and bringing the dinghy onboard have yet to be done (hopefully this weekend) as well as adding additional batteries for the house electrical load and a valve cover gasket for the starboard engine. I will change the oil in the diesel engines the first of December as well as change all the oil and fuel filters (jeez, sounds like a lot to do yet!).

We will begin moving the items we need to live aboard for a year in the coming weeks as well as finish arranging administrative items here so that we can manage them remotely.  We feel fortunate that we have a young couple living in the house while we are away knowing they will care for the home till we return.