Crossing the Gulf!

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Crossing the Gulf to Clearwater Beach is a 165 mile journey from Carrabelle.  It will take us about 80 miles away from shore…out of reach of radio and cell phone contact.  I’ve planned this for a while, and have been waiting for an opening when the seas as supposed to be rather calm.

We’ve rented a satellite phone to communicate in case of a problem

Our maximum speed is 24 mph, which would take us a minimum of 8 hours, considering a slower pace will be needed at both ends of the trip.   To give ourselves maximum opportunity, we planned to leave a half-hour before sunrise.

The seas in the Gulf can become quite treacherous.  Many boaters wanting to make “The Crossing” rely primarily on the advice of Tom Conrad, who writes a daily blog on the topic.  He posts every morning before sunrise.  Here’s what he has to say today:

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In addition, I checked the NOAA marine weather forecast:

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Dense fog at 7am, but we had enough visibility to navigate a mile down the river and into open water.

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Here we go!

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We used radar and our chart plotter to “see” where we were going.  We always felt safe and in control. We didn’t see another object on the radar until we were within 2 miles of Clearwater Beach.

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Our chart plotter provides good info on our status and location. Here, it shows we’re traveling at 22.8mph, in waters that are 84 feet deep, 116 miles from our destination, with an expected arrival time at 2:43pm. It shows we are slightly off course, 3 miles to the right of the line we started on. It shows we should be on a heading of 142 degrees to hit our target, and we are currently traveling on a course of 143 degrees.

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Seas were fairly calm like this most of the way. Started out 2-3 feet, and got smoother as the day went on.

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Twin diesel engines, each with 460hp, move a lot of water.

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A great way to spend time with brother Curt!  We solved a most of the world’s problems.

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After traveling eight hours in the fog, we finally saw something on the horizon! It was weird!!
Highrise condos on Clearwater Beach, rising above the fog.  We were exactly on course for the sea buoy we were aiming for.

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We navigated to the Clearwater Municipal marina with plenty of daylight to spare.  At the gas dock, we talked to a professional boat captain who had also traveled from Carrabelle today, delivering a new boat to its owner.  He had been about an hour behind us the whole way. He told us he’d made more than 200 Gulf crossings, and said today was the first time he had ever seen fog coast-to-coast.

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Panama City Beach to Carrabelle FL

On January 31, 2014, Mike traveled with his brother Curt to Panama City Beach to continue the journey. The goal is to travel from PCB to Carrabelle on February 1, and then cross the Gulf from Carrabelle to Clearwater Beach on February 2, which is also Super Bowl Sunday!  We’ll see how it goes.

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Brother Curt at the marina in Panama City Beach as we prepare to depart in the morning for Carrabelle, FL

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Dinner at Schooner’s on the beach.

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We departed PCB much later than expected. We were waiting for Federal Express to deliver a rental satellite phone that we needed as a safety measure when we will be offshore in the Gulf. Fed Ex cost us more than an hour. Then we were stopped by the Florida Water Patrol, which cost us another half-hour. Suddenly, we were pushing it to arrive at Carrabelle before sunset.
At any rate, the grassland marshes along the Apalachicola
River were beautiful in the late afternoon light.

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Forests of cypress lined both sides of the river. Water was like glass. We’re headed to the mouth of the Apalachicola River, then up St. George Sound to Carrabelle. And we were flying at 24mph trying to make our destination by sunset.

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Then, just 24 minutes after that sunny picture in the cypress forests, we arrive at the mouth of the river and were surrounded by dense fog. You can barely see the two channel markers just ahead of the boat. Our goal suddenly looked out of reach.

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About half way up St. George Sound from Appalachicola to Carrabelle, darkness surrounded us, and we decided to anchor for the night just off the shore of St. George Island, at the blue dot.

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We were planning to have a great seafood dinner in Carrabelle. Instead, we had PBJ. Have rarely experienced the total silence and total darkness that we found that night.

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The next morning, Super Bowl Sunday, we made it the rest of the way to Carrabelle after the dense fog finally burned off around 10am. We made our way to Moorings Marina, and found a spot on the transient dock. Seems Random Plan is a magnet for law enforcement!
No way we are crossing the Gulf today. So we settled in for a relaxing day in Carrabelle, scouting out a good place to watch the Super Bowl.

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Curt and I had lunch at the recommended local seafood joint. Not bad.

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Curt’s a photographer like me, so we spent part of the day exploring this seaside village with our lenses.

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Darkness set in at Moorings Marina as we settle in to watch the game on the boat. Curt walked across the street from the marina to the IGA to get wings, pizza and beer!   Went to bed planning to leave for our 165 mile Gulf crossing at first light.

Pickwick Lake, MS to Demopolis, AL

I arrived back at Aqua Harbor on Pickwick Lake with Mark and Rick on Saturday, Nov. 16.  Rick's friend Don drove us down to the marina in Iuka, Mississippi.  6 1/2 hr drive.

On Saturday, Nov 16, we drove from St. Louis to Aqua Harbor on Pickwick Lake near Iuka, Mississippi to begin the second leg of the journey to the Gulf of Mexico.   We fueled Random Plan and prepared to leave Sunday morning at daybreak.

Mark and Rick.

Friends Mark and Rick were with Mike for this leg of the run to the Gulf.  Rick’s friend Don drove the three of us to Pickwick and dropped us off.

We took off at 7am Sunday, a dark and misty morning.  Passing by the gas dock at Aqua Harbor, headed for the Tenn-Tom waterway.

We took off at 7am Sunday, a dark and misty morning with strong winds. Passing by the fuel dock at Aqua Harbor, headed for the Tenn-Tom waterway.

 

Cutting through the mist.

Cutting through the mist.

After about 5 miles on the lake, we entered a man-made canal that provides the link between rivers to get us all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Random Plan's radar shows the long, straight and narrow canal very well.

After about 5 miles on the lake, we entered a man-made canal that provides the link between rivers to get us all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Random Plan’s radar shows the long, straight and narrow canal very well.

Lunch while cruising.

Breakfast while cruising.

Today, we will go through 7 locks.  This is the first, with Mark making sure the stern stays off the lock wall.

Today, we will go through 7 locks. This is the first, with Mark making sure the stern stays off the lock wall.

And Rick on the bow.

And Rick on the bow.

 

This lock is the highest one we will encounter.  We will drop about 90 feet.  The chartplotter shows us in the lock, with a depth of 106', just as we start to drop.

This lock is the highest one we will encounter. We will drop about 90 feet.  The chartplotter shows our location in the lock chamber, with a depth of 106′, just as we start to drop.  We will exit into Bay Springs Lake.

The lock chamber after we drop 90 feet.

The lock chamber after we drop 90 feet.

And the doors open to reveal Bay Springs Lake.  Here we go!

And the doors open to reveal Bay Springs Lake. Here we go!

Another lock....

Another lock with a shorter drop.  We’re still at the top, and you can see the river beyond is just a bit lower. We use very sophisticated special purpose tools to keep the boat off the lock walls.

Mist and rain most of the day.

Mist and rain most of the day.

In the late afternoon, fog developed and we had to slow down.  At one point, it seemed to engulf Random Plan.

In the late afternoon, fog developed and we had to slow down. At one point, it seemed to engulf Random Plan.  Mark help keep a sharp lookout.

Our first night, we docked at Columbus Marina in Columbus Mississippi.  We made 108 miles and passed through 7 locks, and arrived right at sunset at 4:30pm.

Our first night, we docked at Columbus Marina in Columbus Mississippi. We made 108 miles and passed through 7 locks, and arrived right at sunset at 4:30pm.

A full moon over the swamp.

A full moon over the swamp.

On Monday, we woke to blue skies and took off at 8am.  We took it easier because we had made such good progress yesterday.

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More barges now.  Narrower channel, but really no problem.  We contact the barges on the radio and they tell us which side they prefer we pass them on.

More barges now. Narrower channel, but really no problem. We contact the barges on the radio and they tell us which side they prefer we pass them on.

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We arrived at our final destination at the end of our second day of cruising, a day early!   We pulled into Kingfisher Marina in Demopolis, Alabama at 4pm.

So, on Tuesday, we had an extra day to hang around the marina, make some new friends, and have dinner with fellow river travelers.

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On Wednesday, someone from the marina drove us 2 hours to Birmingham, where we caught a flight back to St. Louis.  Just as planned.