With apologies to Willie Nelson for paraphrasing his classic "On the road again," we truly are delighted to be on the move again - in a boat that has a rebuilt engine, six new pistons to fit six re-bored cylinders, six cleaned and rebuilt fuel injectors, a new coat of paint, and - finally - new front and side windows for the upper helm!
Since the micro-burst that became a tornado in Edenton, NC back in April, blowing our aging isinglass windows away along with a two-year old bimini top, we've been cruising without an upper helm enclosure to protect us from the rain and wind. From time to time, as we traveled up the east coast, across the Erie Canal. along the Trent-Severn Waterway, through Georgian Bay and the North Channel, down the west coast of Michigan, and through the inland rivers, we looked for canvas shops to make a new set of windows. Every time we asked, we heard, "I can't even come measure for two weeks, and making the windows will take another two - three weeks" until Mike called a marina in Mobile. Bill's Canvas Shop could meet us in Demopolis, AL, about halfway down the Tenn-Tom Waterway, measure and make the patterns, then install the new windows when we reached Mobile. Our Christmas present, thanks to ACE Recreational Marine, is a new set of curtains, installed on December 18th. Midas Touch is "fully dressed" once again.
The new windows are nicer than the ones that blew away, and they're made of Strataglass, a real improvement the vinyl ones Midas Touch wore when we bought her three years ago. They were cloudy and scratched, and these are clear and scratch resistant. They fit perfectly, too.
The last step is adding fasteners that line up with the posts on the boat, and Bill and his team made that happen quickly on a beautiful December day while Mike watched.
We spent Sunday - Thursday at Turner Marine Services on the Dog River in Mobile, where our friends Beth and Ray Wolf joined us on Wednesday after they crossed their wake in Fairhope, on the east side of Mobile Bay, on the way from their final night as Loopers at the Convention Center. When they texted us to let us know they'd reach TMS within the hour, we decorated the boat to welcome them.
Wednesday evening, we celebrated Beth and Ray's accomplishment with a potluck dinner, two bottles of champagne, and lots of laughs. Their Loop covered 8,950.97 nautical miles, with several side trips. We first met them in Hobucken, NC at R.E. Mayo Seafood Company, and had not seen them again until they reached Demopolis the day after we arrived. The "Texas Wolves" prove that the best part of the Loop is the people you meet and the friends you make along the way.
"But wait," you may be saying. "How did you get from Pickwick Lake to Mobile? What about the trip down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway? And when did you get back to the boat?" As it turned out, Lee Spry's original estimate of two to three weeks to rebuild Betty, our faithful but ailing Ford Lehman diesel engine, was optimistic. We left Iuka, MS on October 28th, and Mike's brother Phil generously drove us back on Monday, December 1st. We enjoyed the family Thanksgiving in Pendergrass at nephew Chris Warlick's home, including Marian's traditional spinach-potato au gratin and an America's Test Kitchen Italian Cream Cake plus all the usual Thanksgiving favorites. Mike was so busy talking to family that he forgot to take pictures, and Marian's photography leaves a lot to be desired. You'll just have to take our word for it that everyone had an enjoyable time, dominated by football and naps.
When we reached the boatyard after a rainy six-hour drive, Midas Touch was still "on the hard" and not quite ready to drop back into the water. We loaded as much of our luggage as we could - returning with more than we had when we left, including five 2.5 gallon bags of dog food - by climbing the somewhat shaky ladder beside the boat or by stacking items on the swim platform, then bringing them up the swim platform ladder. The entire salon floor was open as the mechanic finished installing the engine, which had been pulled out of the boat to have the cylinders re-bored. Tuesday morning, we arrived early, unloaded Phil's car, then watched the 100-ton travel lift pick up the boat and s-l-o-w-l-y move it over to the tracks, ready to lower it. Once it was safely on its way down, Phil headed back to Georgia. Wednesday morning, we were off the dock by 9:00 and headed south down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, six weeks or so behind most Loopers and happy to be cruising, with no rain. The 234-mile long Tenn-Tom, which links the Tennessee River to Mobile Way was built and is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was a larger dig than the Panama Canal. The idea was to provide a shorter water route from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico to transport bulk goods like coal, rocks, mulch/wood chips, and chemicals like benzene and ethanol. We were lowered through 12 locks, with drops (if you're down-bound) or rises (for up-bound vessels) ranging from the 84-foot Whitten Lock to 25 feet. All locks on the Tenn-Tom are 600 feet long and 110 feet wide. We were often the only boat in the lock, but we shared the Stennis Lock with one tow and two other PC's (pleasure craft) when we left the Columbus Marina early one morning. Unlike the Erie Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway, locks on the Mississippi, at Barkley Lake to reach Green Turtle Bay, and on down the Tennessee River to the Tenn-Tom have floating bollards. Marian had to master a new technique to secure Midas Touch to the lock wall - tossing our line over the bollard, about deck rail level, then holding on until she could "dog it, dog it, dog it" to the cleat. Mike would come down from the helm to help keep our 23-ton trawler next to the wall but not too close. Bumpers have to be placed in the right position, and sometimes the wind is blowing us away from the wall. When the lockmaster is ready for us to proceed, a traffic light turns green and we hear a loud siren.
Midas always wants to help, whether we're locking, docking, or undocking.
We watch for the exit gates to begin opening, start the engine, then wait for another siren. Once the gates are almost open, Marian pulls the line off the bollard and we ease away from the wall. We traveled through all ten locks on the Tenn-Tom without incident, and we're now finished with locks. Once Marian perfected her Erie Canal line snagging/ Trent-Severn cable catching/Tenn-Tom bollard lassoing skills, locks were a fun part of the trip. Above and below: moonlight on Briar Creek, our last anchorage before Mobile.
Mike gets very creative when he sees sunrise through the early morning mist.
As we cruised down the Tenn-Tom, Mike spotted this brave little fella swimming for all he was worth to get from the west side to the east side of the river. He made it and scampered off into the grass before we could get another shot.
Above, we had plenty of clearance to cruise under I-65. Below, looking back at the Dolly Parton Bridge.
Midas Touch anchored in Briar Creek, just off the Mobile-Tensas Cut north of Mobile. We had taken Midas ashore to a nearby sandy beach, where an ultralight buzzed us.
Below, Chiefly Driftin', a fellow Looper we had met in Demopolis. Kevin is making the trip on his own before beginning work on his MBA at Dartmouth. Kevin later joined us for dinner when we reached Turner Marine Services on Dog River in Mobile.
Aristarcus crossed their wake near Fairhope, AL on December 17th at 11:47 am local time after cruising 8,950.97 nautical miles, then joined us at Turner Marine Services in Mobile. That's Beth in the brown skirt. Midas was glad to see his friends again.Ray's on the stern as he and Beth work smoothly together to secure their lines. As we left Dog River a couple of days later, Aristarcus was in the travel lift well to have her mast re-set. It had traveled as seen below from Chicago because the mast is too high to fit under some of the fixed bridges on the inland rivers. Sailboaters either have to ship their masts from Chicago to Mobile or Demopolis or build frames for them as Beth and Ray did.
Midas and Mike watch while Beth and Ray settle in and secure the boat.
We didn't quite have the sign ready when Beth and Ray arrived; Marian was taping it to the side as Aristarcus entered the harbor, but we finished it anyway, then celebrated later with champagne, spaghetti by Beth and our favorite Italian sausage/squash/potato dish by Marian. Dessert was peppermint sugar cookies, baked in our galley, which we found at Walmart when we used the courtesy car for a Walmart/Lowe's run.
This section of the GIWW (Gulf Intracoastal WaterWay) is called the Grand Canyon - miles and miles of dunes and cliffs, with no place to stop along this stretch. There's just barely enough room to squeeze by if we meet a tow.
Leaving the Grand Canyon and entering Pensacola Bay. We reached Pensacola from Orange Beach in late afternoon, had an early dinner at the Oar House, then spent Sunday at the Naval Aviation Museum. It has the third largest collection of aircraft in the country, with only the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum ahead of it. The museum is entirely run by volunteers. One of the best exhibits is Home Front U.S.A., with a replica of a typical World War II general store, home, barber shop, and more. See more at www.nationalaviationmuseum.org.
After two rainy, windy days at Fort Walton Beach, we left early Christmas Eve morning for Panama City Marina, where Midas met Boudreau, a Golden Retriever rescued after Hurricane Katrina. They had great fun playing together, and Boudreau is clearly a lover.
We've said it before, but it bears repeating: one of the best parts of the Loop is meeting fellow boaters. This was especially true in Panama City when Robby and Brenda, both retired from the Air Force, invited us to join them for a true Southern Christmas dinner - turkey breast, cornbread dressing, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, cole slaw, and warm strawberry cobbler. Their 44 foot Hatteras Crazzy Nufff has a much bigger galley than Midas Touch, with a dishwasher, bigger refrigerator, and lots of cabinet space. We had a wonderful time, and have enjoyed traveling from Panama City to Apalachicola and now to Carrabelle with Robby and Brenda, Bob and his Husky Duncan on El Nido, and Byron and Cynthia on Angel Magic. To make Christmas even better, our friends Ross and Barb on Attitude Changer had just docked when we returned to the boat after stuffing ourselves. We knew that they had crossed their wake and had seen their boat at Turner Marine in Mobile, but we were delighted to re-connect with friends that we had last seen in Trenton, Ontario.
We'll be in Carrabelle until after the New Year, waiting for the right weather window to cross from here to Steinhatchee.
We'll celebrate New Year's Eve by sharing a potluck dinner with our Looper friends, once Midas Touch is back in the water after having a leak repaired. That should happen tomorrow morning, once the patch has dried completely.
Midas Touch in the travel lift, hauled out to enable the skilled folks at Dock Side to locate and fix the leak.They had the propeller off and other parts removed not long after the boat was out, and Eric, boatyard owner, quickly found the area around the shaft where the plate that holds the shaft in place had weakened. Eric knew exactly how to fix this, and we'll be back in the water on New Year's Eve Day.
Believe it or not, we'll sleep aboard the boat - in the sling - again tonight. We'll be connected to shore power, and the sling is solid.
We'll close with wishes that all of our readers will have a safe and joyous New Year. Our Loop adventure is coming to its close, and what an adventure it has been. We've had many more ups than downs, we've made friends we'll never forget, and despite the setbacks, we would not trade these last nine months for anything. Until next year, may you have gentle winds, fair skies, and calm seas.