Florida’s Grand Canyon

Florida’s  “Grand Canyon” starts on the GIWW east of Choctawahtchee Bay, at the edge of Mangoes Raw Bar. It is a twenty-five mile long cut through some of the highest elevations in the state.

Considering the highest natural point in Florida is 345 feet, naming it a canyon is a stretch of the imagination. Cliffs that formed from the sand dunes are said to give the appearance of a canyon that reaches down to the water. A quiet and calm waterway!

Two supersonic F35”s from Elgin Air Force base broke the silence along with the sound barrier, performing bombing exercises. At least that’s what we thought they were doing. They passed by many times and always demanded our attention.

A pod of dolphins greeted us as we stealthily approached our anchorage in West Bay; Separately and together they came to say hello. I think we found a dolphin refuge or at least a place for a family to call home. Perhaps it was the time of day, perhaps it was curiosity, whatever it was, it was awesome.

We took our drinks  and blankets to the flybridge and watched the sun set on a plethora of dolphins looking for dinner. See video.

Morning came clearly and quietly, the nights frivolities no longer seen in the flat sea.

An hour into our trip we were again regaled with dolphins escorting us all the way. The entire morning was spent taking pictures. A wonderment!

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Florida’s Grand Canyon
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Grand Canyon
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Panama City
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watching the dolphins
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this cargo needed two Tugs

Back in Florida

We are in Florida again!  But Florida is such a big state, 160 miles wide and 500 miles long and we have most if it still to navigate before getting home.

We accessed the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) in Pensacola with its beautiful white sand beaches and pleasant seaside villages and found Dream Seeker surrounded by groups of five to seven dolphins taking turns to ride in her bow waves. 

I took three videos but then decided to just lean back and watch them cavort in the sea. Two videos are posted with this blog, just click on them to start. The GIWW is much wider than the ICW on Florida’s east coast but both are beautiful.

In the past nine months, Dream Seeker and her crew successfully negotiated one-hundred and fifty-four locks. Each is unique, each is different, and yet, all serve the same purpose. Only one Lock, the Okeechobee lock in Stuart remains to be enjoyed.

Sheared bolts are still dropping on the engine room floor at a rapid rate and the drive shaft appears to be getting longer. A marina with a good service department,Two Georges Marina at Fort Walton proved to be an excellent stop.

Are you one of the two Georges? I asked our greeter. He said, no, he is both of them. Somewhere there was a parting of the ways, but they do have good mechanics.

 

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Pensicola

 

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Shrimp boat in the gulf

Mobile, Alabama

Quirky seas followed us across Mobile Bay. Dishes were rattling, the table walked across the room and the inclinometer sporadically read ten to twenty degrees. The heavy winds pushed us off the dock as quickly as Denny pulled us in but Dog River Marina welcomed us. Time to repair and regroup.

Ten Looper boats shared a transient dock with us and joined us for dinner at the Mobile Yacht Club.  The days brought warmth from the sun but the heater was on at night. 

Three nights and two days in port and Dream Seeker has a new stern light, fresh oil and new gaskets on the port engine. I found a Dillards but not enough hours to spend there.

Leaving Dog River the sun was shining and boaters wore only light weight jackets. The fuel  and water tanks were filled the holding tank emptied. We are on our way south east through Mobile Bay, toward the Florida panhandle and onto the Gulf intercostal waterway.

 Unbelievable! Mobile Bay, the water is like a sheet of glass, the seas are dead calm and seagulls are floating on the still water. The sun is shining.

Dolphins! At two o’clock! Straight ahead!  Dolphins! In Mobile Bay!  Dolphins are riding our bow waves they are all around us.

We are  almost home!

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Dog River Marina
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Marv and Nancy
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Switched to Tequila
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Mobile
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Dog River Marina
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Flat seas
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birds on calm sea
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Courtesy Car needs a handle
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Mobile
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Ken Marv

 Does the Black Warrior Run South?

Morning came sunny and cold. Untie the lines on deck! Oops! What’s on the deck? It’s very slippery!  Even in my sneakers I’m sliding.  Wow, it’s ice!  The thermometer reads 30.5 degrees. Are we still going south?  Yes, just not fast enough.

The next marina is at Mobile 200 miles down river we will have to anchor out for two nights or more.  Traveling in caravan through the locks everyone is accounted for. Can we get 65 miles down the winding river today before dark? Unfortunately, the way south is not in a straight line, it follows the river.

The port engine is overheating again!  I take the controls and throttle back while Denny goes to his holy place to pray.  Go on ahead we will catch up. Later, the proclamation, It just needed a little coolant.

The chosen anchorage was passed up by the other boats who radioed that It was too full of floating timber, trees and overhanging branches to stop there. We were behind the others and the sun was setting rapidly. Anchoring was imperative. Slowly and very carefully we enter the chosen anchorage.

Go further into the creek!  No, those logs are too big! It is probably better in further. Take the boat hook move that timber! I am dropping the anchor!  Oh no, the current is strong we need to turn the boat around. As Dream Seeker slowly turns we hoist the anchor!  OK!  Now!, drop it again here!

There is too much current here, we need to put out a second anchor. But Denny, you only have one windless.  I am the second windlass! The second anchor is deployed and we back into the trees that are close enough to put overhanging limbs in the cockpit and broken ones all over the fly bridge.

Otter, a thirty-four foot trawler, comes doodling in next to us waving and stops in the middle of the creek. In less than five minutes, drops his anchor, turns on his grille, gets his beer and he is settled in for the night. Calls to us “I have been here before.  This is as good as it gets for anchorages on the river system.”

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tree limbs on flybridge
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winding river
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chosen anchorage
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in the trees
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branches in cockpit
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Nina and Pinta follow us
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large barge
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Otter
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south the hard way
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in another lock

Demopolis, Alabama

Demopolis, Alabama, marks the end of the Tombigbee Waterway and the beginning of the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway. The entire span is called the Tom-Tom by the locals but the Black Warrior includes 14 more locks.

Sailing down the river and hidden around a bend, the calm suddenly turns to wonder. The White Cliffs of Epes come slowly into view.  They are part of the Selma Chalk formations which were deposited at about the same time as England’s famous White Cliffs of Dover and are surprising and absolutely stunning!

In Demopolis, the wind is whistling through the gauges, the flags are straight out and I am wearing my new hat and gloves.  The sky is grey and the 20 mile an hour arctic winds are following us south. Everyone says this weather is an anomaly, it should still be very warm. Winter doesn’t usually come to Alabama until January. I guess the only explanation is climate change.

We are marooned with about ten other Looper boats waiting for the forces of nature to subside. Traversing the locks requires two people on deck to control the boat and no one wants to be outside in this inclement weather.

The marinas party room is upstairs and outside but warmed by the many bodies and good cheer. Two courtesy cars are shared and a shuttle runs twice a day. The female dock master runs the organization with an iron hand. We made the mistake of handing off the car keys to another looper without handing them first to the dock master and were properly reprimanded.

4PM.   Meeting in the laundry room! When it is really cold the ample laundry room serves as a closed party room.  The agenda, “Who wants to leave in the morning?”. It is easier on the Lock masters for us to travel in caravan.  Ok two groups the first leaving at five AM, the second at 7AM. Thank God we are in the second group, this is supposed to be fun.

The wind should die down by morning and the sun promises to be shining, Let’s go!

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Bruce looking for attention
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Laundry room meeting
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Chalk Cliffs
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Party room
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Chalk Cliffs
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Epes. White Cliffs
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easier steps on river
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White chalk cliffs
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White Cliffs
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Epes

 

Columbus, Mississippi

The sun was shining and soft breezes blowing as we glided easily into our covered slip with room to spare. Welcome  to Columbus! I’m Jimmy the dock master! Throw me a line!

Docktails at 5 tonight!  About nine looper boats were docked with us at Columbus Marina. An opportunity to renew some friendships and make some new ones.

Two courtesy cars were available for our use in two hour increments, one van and one truck. Denny immediately signed up for the truck and we went in search of bolts, having gone through our last supply quickly. The propeller shaft with its keyless compression cup is still  spewing out broken bolts at a rapid pace. 

Columbus is one of the largest cities in Mississippi, but according to “Maps”, the nearest hardware store is 23 miles away. God’s Grace joined us on what became our journey to nowhere in search of hardware. Lots of talking and revelry caused us to miss a turn here and there and 50 miles later the hardware store was in sight. Unfortunately, the store had no bolts but we left fifty dollars poorer because there is always something you need in a hardware store.  It was only 23 miles back to Dream Seeker.

We cannot seem to get south fast enough to stay with the good weather. The following day turned rapidly from 70 to 35 degrees, windy and dreary. This time we took the van and shopped for hats and gloves. A big front is coming down east of the Rocky Mountains and we are experiencing the result of it. 

Denny says, this weather pattern is similar to Texas, where his Uncle Bob used to say, “there is nothing between West Texas and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence.”

We are leaving our good friends on God’s Grace in Columbus. It has been fun traveling with them but they are taking a hiatus from Looping and flying to Polynesia. We wish them Godspeed.

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Bumper to bumper traffic
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Denny Ken Celeste
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Ken Arden Celeste
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Crane Barge Tow
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Stennis Lock
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difficult to get around
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Ken Me Celeste