September 2 - September 14
Barge Traffic Jams * RV Barge * Big Bayou Canot * Alligator Territory * Dead Lake * Love Bugs * Amtrak/Barge Story * Ocean Boats * Swimming with Dolphins * Shrimping * Dog River * Rain and More Rain * Dauphin Island * THE OCEAN! * Glowing Jellyfish * Fast Sail * Cypress Trees * Went home to ready house for renting Back to Home Page
Day 67 - Saturday, September 2
Chestang Landing, Alabama
Mile 35 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway
Zion woke bright and early this morning, helped Dan lift the anchor,
then piloted for the first hour. We made good progress this morning.
It's getting very exciting now because we are so close to the end of our
river journey. We're anxious to see the ocean.
By noon things were getting hot and steamy again, so we stopped for a swim in a wide part of the river. Most of the river was less than four feet deep, so it was safe for anchoring and swimming. The channel was narrow there and it was part of a series of sharp twists and turns. While we were swimming we watched a barge traffic jam. One tug pushing two chemical barges sat by the side and waited for a tug pushing nine barges of wood chips to negotiate through the turns. There are lots of paper companies around here. We passed one along the banks of the river a few days ago. There are also some big lumber camps. While the barge full of wood chips passed, another tug showed up and had to wait to get through the bend. This one was unusual. From a distance we were trying to guess what was on it. Zion said it looked like it was carrying a bunch of RV campers. We laughed at that since it sounded so ridiculous. Well, the closer it came, the more it did look like a barge full of RV's. As it went past we saw a first barge full of about twenty RV's lined up side by side, with people standing along the railing on the edge waving to us. The middle barge looked like a one-story building with lots of windows. A big sign on the building said "RiVer CHARTERS". A third barge followed with twenty more RV's, then a beautifully painted blue and gray tug, the flashiest tug we've seen yet. Apparently, people with RV's can take a trip down the river on this barge. What a neat idea! I can't think of any other way to take an RV through a lock.
At three o'clock we started downriver again, sweating buckets. Soon thunder could be heard in the north. We got another rainstorm, but we weren't in the thick of it today. It was kind of strange to be baking and sweating in the sun and have a few drops of cold rain hit your skin randomly. Eventually it became more of a downpour and we did get nice and wet and cool.
Since it is the beginning of the Labor Day Weekend, we have seen some people setting up campsites on the nice sandbars. It looks like fun. Zion would like to stop and do the same. We told him that's what it's like on the Wisconsin River. Dan has been talking to him about getting some friends together when we get back, building a raft with a little engine, and taking a trip down the Wisconsin River. He should be old enough and experienced enough by then to handle it on his own. In fact, he's learned so much that I think he could handle this boat on his own if he had to.
We also saw an unusual little boat. It was a flat, about the size of four pontoon boats, being pushed by a little fishing boat that had been made into a small tug. Another fishing boat was attached to the side. A group of men were sitting around in lawn chairs on the flat as it went up the river.
We drove the boat until it got dark, then pulled to the side of the
river and dropped double anchors.
Day 68 - Sunday, September 3
Big Bayou Canot, Alabama
Near Mile 10 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway
We got an early start in the cool of the morning. Our destination was the Dead Lake Marina, the first marina since Bobby's Fish Camp back at Mile 119. Dead Lake Marina isn't right on the Tenn-Tom. You have to turn onto the Big Bayou Canot and go a few miles up to get there.
Right before Big Bayou Canot are huge overhead twin fixed bridges for I-65. It's the first highway bridge that we've seen in the last seventy miles. Each bridge is a huge arch in the sky, and they are side-by-side. The locals call this the Dolly Parton bridge. I'll let you guess why.
The trip up the Big Bayou Canot was an adventure because we were in alligator country. The Canot was narrow, but deep. There were big cypress trees along the banks covered with Spanish moss. Cypress trees look like a cross between a pine and a cedar. They have trunks that flare out wide at the bottom. There were a few hunting cabins here and there tucked into the forest. We came to a spot where the Canot split into two. We took the left fork. It was hard to tell which way to go. There weren't any signs anywhere, even though our guidebook said the way to Dead Lake Marina would be clearly marked. We travelled slowly and Zion was on alligator watch at the front of the boat. We saw a log floating in the middle of the river ahead of us. Then the "log" submerged and came back up a few feet away. It opened its mouth and then submerged again. Next Zion caught a glimpse of it when it climbed up on shore and into the rushes.
After a while Dan realized we had taken the wrong turn. We went back to the fork in the Canot. There was a cabin right on the corner, a bit bigger and nicer than the others we had seen. We saw some people there, and they gave us directions to the marina. They also said they had seen a big alligator on their dock an hour ago. We turned around and headed in the right direction. As we passed the back of this cabin, we saw that they had a small water tank elevated above their roof, and they had a small house up in a tree that had a generator inside. You could hear it running. It reminded me again, for the umpteenth time on this trip, how important electricity is for comfortable living. People will gladly put up with noisy, smelly generators for the joys of air-conditioning, refrigeration and ice cubes. I think electricity comes right behind food and water in the creature comforts that we need to be happy.
Soon we reached the Dead Lake Marina. There were small fishing boats and power boats cruising up and down the river. There was even a paddle boat near the docks. The marina included a big KOA campground and things were hopping because it was Labor Day weekend. We couldn't see any gas dock, so we pulled up to the fishing dock. The fishing dock meandered along the edge of the Canot, with a picturesque blue and white gazebo at the end of it. Dan walked up to the marina office to find out where we should tie off.
While he was gone, our boat became the resting spot for hundreds of love bugs. They are the strangest thing. They are always in pairs, joined at their ends (butt-to-butt). The one moving forward is about an inch long. It's skinny and black, with wings and a red head. The one attached to it and moving backwards looks the same, but is only about half an inch long. When the little one decides that it wants to go a different way than the way it's being dragged along by the big one, it starts flapping its wings and tries to take off. Then the big one starts to fly, and they fly away together doing a tug-of-war in the air. It reminds me of Dr. Doolittle's Pushme-Pullyou.
Dan came back and said we could move down and tie off to a floating houseboat. It was the largest docking area around, and the woman who lived there was gone for the day. The owner of the marina and campgrounds came to help us dock. She's the one who told us what the love bugs were. She said they are only around for about three weeks. They show up once in spring and once in fall. And, they are attracted to white. That explains why they were suddenly appearing all over our boat.
From the deck of the houseboat we walked over several ramps that led us to shore and the camp store. We were thrilled to find that they had ice and milk and bread. They let us fill up our water tank, too. In the store they had a wall of pictures. Some fishermen were holding up catfish that were four feet long. Some had strings of bass. And one showed hunters that had caught a wild boar. They said some people from Wisconsin come down every year to hunt the wild boar that roam the bayou. And one woman in the store invited us to come see her RV which was covered with thousands of love bugs. We declined, since the hundreds on our boat were enough.
We talked to the owner about leaving our boat here while we went back home to Wisconsin to rent out our house and pick up our van and a few more things. She said we could anchor nearby the marina and she would keep an eye on our boat for $50 a month. That sounds like a good deal to us. This is a great spot because it is outside of the hurricane area, and it is only one day's travel from the ocean. We'll probably be bringing the boat back here before we leave for Wisconsin next week.
We decided to go further down the Tenn-Tom to the other end of the Big Bayou Canot. It would be a safe place to anchor because it was off the main channel and a low, fixed railroad bridge crossed it, so there wouldn't be any big boats speeding through. They wouldn't be able to fit under the bridge. We wanted to go swimming, and do some alligator watching at night.
This little railroad bridge is infamous. It is the site of the Amtrak crash a few years ago that killed over one hundred people. When we were up on Kentucky Lake we had first heard the story from the railroad workers we met on a houseboat. They said that a barge had hit the bridge during the night, but nothing seemed broken so the captain just continued on his way and didn't report anything. Although the supports weren't broken, they were weakened. When the Amtrak passenger train passed, it collapsed, killing all of those people.
We asked the people at Dead Lake Marina about the crash. Here's their version. The tug captain was going through some thick fog that night. He thought he was on the main channel, but because of the fog he got into the Canot instead. It's easy to see how that could happen when you see the spot. A big bend in the Tenn-Tom touches a big bend in the Canot and you have a big X-shaped four way water intersection. The Canot is just about as big and deep as the Tenn-Tom at this point. Plus, there are very few daymarks along the river down here, even though it is just as confusing as it ever was. Curves in the river were always marked with daymarks all of the way down, but for some reason they don't bother about them much on the last twenty miles of the Tenn-Tom. You're never too sure exactly where you are.
Anyway, the tugboat captain out in the dark and the fog got into the
wrong channel. He didn't see the bridge until it was too late.
The bridge is extremely low and it's only half a mile from the entrance
to the Canot. If it takes a barge a mile to stop, this one didn't
have a chance. They say that at the time the bridge wasn't even marked
with lights or reflectors or anything. This is truly the middle of
nowhere. After he hit the bridge, he called it in right away.
But there was a miscommunication. Because everything is so poorly
marked down here and there aren't many detailed maps, the people he called
thought he was talking about a different railroad bridge a few miles away.
So no one stopped the Amtrak passenger train that came by an hour or
two later. The tug captain was still there with his barge when
the train came and derailed. They say that only one railroad tie
was knocked six inches out of its place, and that caused the whole derailment.
The tug captain went to work rescuing as many people as he could.
The poor captain has suffered from overpowering guilt ever since, and has
never been able to get over it to this day. What a sad story.
Even more amazing is how the story changes as it travels further from home.
We did spend the afternoon swimming in the deep water of the Canot. We jumped in and immediately tasted salt water on our lips. There were lots of small boats going by because of the holiday. In the evening the kids took the dinghy out to visit the shoreline. There was a big, white, square object there that they wanted to investigate. We weren't sure if it was an old refrigerator or an old washing machine. It turned out to be an old chest freezer. They also spent some time going up and down each shore collecting samples of the unusual plants they saw. They got something that looks like a rice plant, growing plentifully in the reeds. They also picked a two-foot wide fan palm, and some samples of cypress needles and cones. And, of course, they always had their eyes open for alligators. They didn't see any, but they did report seeing places in the water where the dirt was all stirred up and there was a whisk among the reeds as if an alligator had just quickly moved on. While they were collecting one of their leaves, they heard some definite leaf-rustling and twig-cracking nearby. Then they heard some snorts. They were pretty sure they were closer to a wild boar than they wanted to be, so they quickly moved away from shore. Dan and I could hear the noise from the boat and we knew there was something there, too.
We had been told by the marina people that the best time to see alligators
was at dusk. If you shine a light on them, you can see their red
eyes sticking out of the water. We directed our spotlight on the
shores up and down the river, but we never saw anything shining back.
Day 69 - Monday, September 4, Labor Day
Grand Mariner Marina, Mobile, Alabama
At the mouth of the Dog River on Mobile Bay
Today we will reach the end of the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Mile 0 is in downtown Mobile. Dan got up early to pilot. We were all awake by the time we reached Mobile. The Port of Mobile is immense. Huge ocean-going cargo ships were docked along both sides of the Waterway for miles. We saw several Manitowoc cranes on boats and on docks. I was so glad that none of those big ships were moving. We had the waterway mostly to ourselves. We saw the tall buildings of downtown Mobile. They had a beautiful convention center on the banks of the water, but other than that everything along the water's edge was heavy industry.
Once we got through Mobile we were on the wide open Mobile Bay. The Bay is wide, but shallow, so we have to stay in the marked channel where we know the water is deep. Going down the channel, we started seeing lots of small commercial fishing boats. You could tell they were fishing boats because there were flocks of seagulls and pelicans hovering around them. Then Dan called the kids out, because he saw some dolphins jump. The dolphins were following the fishing boats, too. We saw at least ten of them. The kids wanted a closer encounter, so they put on their swimsuits and lifejackets and hung onto the end of a long rope that we dragged behind our boat as we slowly moved ahead. They were able to see many dolphins this way, and although some of them came over to take a look, they were too busy having their breakfast to come over and play. The closest one came within ten feet of the kids. The kids weren't sure if they wanted it to come any closer or not. Zion checked his books when he came back on board and identified the dolphins as inshore bottle-nosed dolphins. They looked just like Flipper.
We learned later that the boats were shrimp boats, not fishing boats. They had two big horizontal arms reaching out on each side for dragging their net. When they pull the net up, they keep the shrimp and throw all of the fish back in. That's why there was such a feeding frenzy for all of the birds and dolphins. We could see the fishermen shoving loads of fish off their boats through holes in the sides that were right at deck level. Unfortunately, most of these fish don't survive the experience. Here's the whole eco-story. Because the shrimp boats are doing so well catching shrimp, the numbers of small fish are going down. These small fish generally eat lots of the plankton that's in the water. Because there are fewer fish, there is plenty of plankton available for the huge Australian jellyfish, one of those species that was brought here accidentally by an ocean-going ship (just like the zebra mussels in the Great Lakes). The Australian jellyfish are "bigger than a five-gallon bucket" and they are over-populating like crazy.
After our dolphin encounter, it wasn't long until we got into the protected waters of the Dog River. The toughest part was deciding which marina to stay at since there are three different ones right next to each other. We opted for the one that had the air-conditioned lounge and big TV. The kids hung out there for the rest of the day while I did laundry and Dan shared stories with the other sailors. He met a man from France who has been sailing around the world by himself for the last five years. We also met people who gave us lots of tips on the best places to go along the Gulf Coast, places that have white sands, aqua waters, dolphins to play with and sea shells to collect.
The air-conditioning was a necessity today, because the heat was close
to 100 degrees and very humid. They said they were having a heat
wave. A few days ago it was 105. At 9:00, after the sun had
gone down, the temperature was still 85. We sat on our dock and watched
the tide come in. The tides here make our boat rise and fall about
two feet twice a day. You can tell when the tide is coming in because
the water flows backwards, up into the Dog River. It brings along lots
of sea creatures to float under the docks. Tricia used a bucket with
a rope on it and Zion used a fishing net to catch some of the little creatures.
There were lots of crabs about six inches wide, and lots of little jellyfish.
The jellyfish were about four inches wide and they were beautiful in the
water. They would puff out in a circle, then close again, very gracefully.
But when you pulled them out of the water in the net, they would look like
a jagged lump of clear jello. If you put them back in the water right
away, they would regain their beauty and gracefully swim away.
Day 70 - Tuesday, September 5
When we woke up this morning at sunrise, the thermometer said 80 degrees. And everything was covered with a heavy dew which tells you about the humidity here. People here say it will cool off in a few days. I'm looking forward to going grocery shopping this morning. Grocery stores are always so nice and cool.
Our plans are to do grocery shopping and a visit to a library this morning.
At the library we will hopefully be able to send out this update.
After that, we're going to get back in our boat and head down to the sands
of Dauphin Island in the Gulf. We want to spend a night or two anchoring
in the Gulf so we can learn what it's like to be on salt water that has
waves and tides. We've gotten river anchoring down pat, but now we're in
new territory. Once we know what we need to live comfortably in the
Gulf, we'll find a safe place to leave our boat for awhile and rent a car
to take us back to Brillion for a few weeks. When we come back south,
we plan to spend some time exploring the Gulf Coast. In December,
when hurricane season is over, we plan to go to the Florida Keys, the Bahamas,
and maybe even some Caribbean islands.
Days 71 to 73 - Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, September 6-8
Grand Mariner Marina
Dog River on Mobile Bay in Alabama
Yesterday was a disappointment for several reasons. First, when we went to the library we found out that their Internet system would only allow you to get e-mail from AOL, nowhere else. That doesn't make any sense to me. All I can figure is that AOL donated the computers to the library if they could set them up that way. So, we were unable to read any of our Yahoo e-mail and we were unable to send out our last update.
Then, when we got back to the Marina a big storm came in. The cool breezes were very welcome, but the rain and waves meant that we would have to wait another day before leaving the Marina and heading down to the Gulf.
In fact, the storm system hung around for three days. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, the water was so rough we knew we couldn't go out. On Friday, the wind had died down and waves were OK. We thought about going, but knew we would be out in the rain all day. What fun is a sand island in the rain? We wanted our first visit to the ocean to be a good one, so we waited one more day.
Lucky for us, the Grand Mariner was the perfect place to be stranded for a few days. The Grand Mariner had a wonderful collection of people hanging around their docks, so we could be entertained any time of the day or night by the stories they had to tell. Plus, there as a big TV in the rec room.
The owner, Judy, took good care of us. She also home-schooled her kids (or marina-schooled them would be more accurate), so we had a lot in common.
One man spent hours every morning catching shrimp off of the piers. To catch shrimp you need a special net. It's a big circle, about ten feet wide, and it has weights all around the outer edges. You throw it in using two hands and your teeth. The teeth help you get the net to fly out in a big circle. The weights are called ticklers. When the net hits the bottom, the ticklers startle the shrimp that are laying in the mud and it makes them come out and get caught in the net. The first morning that we saw him shrimping, the shrimp in his bucket were huge, at least eight inches long. Live shrimp are beautifully translucent, sometimes with gray stripes on their shells. They have two big, dark eyes that are very spooky, and two twelve-inch long whiskers that are very graceful. I had never known that shrimp could be so big. He told us that these were the biggest shrimp he had ever caught off of the pier. They were extra big this year because of the drought. So little fresh water was coming down the Dog River that the saltwater from the Bay was backing up into the river. The shrimp like saltwater.
The shrimp were so big and bountiful, with some effort, that Dan and Zion thought it would be worthwhile to invest in a shrimp net. Actually, Zion did the investing. He spent $25 on a new shrimp net and we promised to pay him a quarter for every shrimp he caught. Like all parents, we knew that if we just bought him the net and gave it to him to use, he would use it for about an hour and then decide that shrimping wasn't fun anymore. Because he had his own money invested, he spent several hours everyday casting for shrimp. He got about twenty a day, so Dan and I had a real treat for supper every night.
After a shrimp is caught, you have to break its head off and gently pull out the vein. This was my job. Then you could fry them in a little butter and garlic salt. They would quickly turn from translucent gray to creamy white and pink, and they were delicious. You would have to peel off their shells to eat them. If you put them on ice before you cooked them, they would solidify enough so you could peel them before you cooked them if you wanted to. But this method means more work for the cook and less work for the eaters, so I usually served them in the shell. Luckily for Dan and I, neither Zion nor Tricia liked them much so there were more for us.
On Zion's first day of shrimping, the shrimp were huge. As it continued to rain day after day, the shrimp got smaller and smaller. By Saturday, the shrimp were all gone from the pier because the water wasn't salty enough anymore. We sure were lucky to be there the few days that the shrimping was good.
The shrimp net can also catch other things, like crab and fish. Zion caught a big crab, but threw it back before he knew that I wanted to try eating it. He also caught a good-sized mullet fish. I cleaned it and cooked it up for Dan and I. If I do any more of this fish cleaning stuff, I'm going to have to learn how to do it right. I never knew that fish bleed so much when you cut off their heads. My little kitchen was a MESS!
Another friendly fellow on the dock was Mr. Lewis. He told us stories about his Army time in the Pacific during World War II. When he was getting his discharge papers, they looked over his distinguished record and asked him if he wanted to sign on for a few more years and advance up in the ranks. His answer: "Sir, after this I'm not even going to join the Boy Scouts." He and Dan also enjoyed some lively discussions on the relative merits of integration and segregation between the races.
Next to us on the dock was a family from Rockford, Illinois. The son had just graduated from college as an engineer and was bringing his big live-aboard boat down to Pensacola, Florida. He and his new wife were planning to live on it while he started his new job there. The boat had been in his family for several generations. His mom and dad had kept it up on the Mississippi River near home and had used it regularly there for many years. His mother had come along on the trip to Pensacola. The three of them had followed much the same path down the rivers that we had followed, but they were a big power boat so they had done it much quicker. Since they could travel so many miles in one day, they spent every night at a marina instead of anchoring along the river like we did. In fact, they would keep going during the dark so they could reach a marina.
Their best story was about the night they were coming down the Cumberland in the dark, hoping to reach Green Turtle Bay Marina on Kentucky Lake by 11:00 p.m. Unfortunately, as darkness came their engine died. They were adrift in the middle of the Cumberland in the dark with a barge coming. The barge stopped to give aid. In fact, the barge workers spent five hours helping them get their engine working again. Then the daughter-in-law had to drive the boat the rest of the way down the river in the dark because the mother and son both had night blindness. They said she did a really good job even though she didn't have any boat driving experience before that. They pulled into Green Turtle Bay at 4:00 in the morning. They had three cats with them that Tricia enjoyed visiting.
On Thursday a huge boat came into the marina. It was the Britannia from St. Paul, Minnesota and it was over forty feet long. They had spent one night tied up to the dock at Bobby's Fishing Camp. We wish we could have seen it! The dock is just a floating working barge about ten feet wide and fifteen feet long. Not only did the Britannia stay there overnight, but another boat tied up to the Britannia so they were side-by-side on this tiny little dock that wasn't even out of the channel. The captain of Britannia had a good conversation with Dan because he had a long history in Boy Scouts. And we had to show his wife our kitty, Polly, because she had a few cats of her own.
I think everyone we met at the Grand Mariner had either a cat or a dog with them. There was a couple on a sailboat, the Slainte, which was a monohull and smaller than ours. They had a huge, friendly black dog with them. The only sailor we met that didn't have a pet was Jacques. Jacques was a sixty-five year old man from France who had spent the last five years sailing to all sorts of places by himself. He gave us lots of good info about the islands where we hope to go.
We also got a chance to meet Deborah, a friend of a friend from Green Bay. We knew she was in the area, but we weren't sure where she was. Well, we also knew we had to get a sail cover made for our mainsail before we went too much farther, so we called the local canvas shop to get one made. By luck, Deborah was working there. Deborah is a sail and awning maker. She came out to visit us at our boat after work and we had some beer and pretzls and shrimp together. She showed us her two boats in the marina. (This is also a coincidence that her boats were in the Grand Mariner Marina where we were. There are about five different marinas right next to each other here in the Dog River.) Her boat in the water was a small one-man catboat, a wide, flat boat with a gaff sail. She said she would take us sailing on it up the Dog River when we got back. Her other, bigger sailboat was up on shore near the repair shop. It had gotten badly damaged in a hurricane. The greatest damage was a big hole in the side of the hull. The boat had been rammed against a pelican pole in the water, and the hole in the hull had made it sink. They had to put a temporary fiberglass patch on the hole while it was underwater, then pump it out so they could raise it. Fixing this boat will be lots of work, and she's doing most of it herself. But the sailboat is very dear to her because she took her own cruise on it by herself years ago. She is very knowledgeable about sails and sailing and the local area. In fact, she's the only woman I've met so far that enjoys talking about the technical aspects of sailing as much as the men do. We want to give her a sail on our boat when we get back because Dan wants her opinion on how to improve the performance of our sails.
So, even though we were stuck at dock for three days, the days still passed quickly. There was lots of good company. Our only problem was that our battery ran low on juice on Tuesday. We were running the fans day and night, and we hadn't been running the engine to re-charge the battery since we came into the marina on Monday morning. With the cool, rainy weather we didn't need the fans anymore and we used our kerosene lanterns for light. Dan got a chance to test whether or not he really could start the engine with a pull cord instead of with the starter that needed battery power. We were very pleased that the pull cord worked after only one or two pulls. The biggest problem of being low on energy was not being able to use the computer to write these updates. The rainy days were a perfect time to do them, but I refuse to write with paper and pencil anymore. Instead, I did some reading just for fun and we did some electricity lessons with the kids for school. And every day we could watch the shrimp boats coming in and out of Dog River onto Mobile Bay to do their shrimping.
Day 74 - Saturday, September 9
Billy Goat Hole
Dauphin Island in the Gulf of Mexico
Hurray! The rain stopped today. It is still cloudy and overcast, but the waves are small and the air is dry. The wind is light, which means it's not worth raising our sails so we motored down Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island.
Dauphin Island is one of the long, narrow barrier islands that runs along the coast of Alabama and protects the shore from the big waves of the ocean. Dauphin Island is actually quite developed. It is connected to the mainland by a l-o-n-g bridge, and there are big, beautiful, expensive homes (or probably second homes) running alongside the one road that runs the length of the island.
By afternoon we could see Dauphin Island in the distance. The sandy shores and scattered sunshine was too much to resist, so we anchored in Billy Goat Hole. Billy Goat Hole is a long, narrow natural harbor in the east end of Dauphin Island. The north side of the hole is a long spit of sand dunes, about twenty feet high. We swam from our boat to this long spit of sand and enjoyed the feel of pure, white sand under our feet. The water was very salty and full of waves. We were having fun rolling in the waves, when Zion said he felt like he had been stung by something in the water. It hurt for a little while, then went away. About an hour later, Tricia got stung. We were pretty sure we were being stung by jellyfish, but you couldn't see them when you were swimming. They were probably small. I was a little worried, because I couldn't tell how bad the stings were. The kids were complaining a bit, but seemed able to handle it. Well, pretty soon I had my chance to get stung. Yes, it hurt. But only for a few minutes. And it didn't sting nearly as bad as the stinging nettle you run into sometimes up in the woods of Wisconsin. So we decided to just keep swimming and not worry about them. When we were swum out, Zion had fun building structures in the sand and surf while Tricia went beach-combing for seashells. She found some beautiful new kinds. The prettiest was a thin, fragile, white shell which we learned was an Angel Wing. It was hard to find one that wasn't broken, but she did find a few.
There were lots of strange, interesting creatures around. Sandpipers were running along the shore. Tricia found hermit crabs hiding inside their seashell homes on the protected side of the sand spit. And some tiny, ghost-like crabs crawled over Zion's sand fort. They were white and nearly transparent.
We spent the night at anchor in Billy Goat Hole. The tide created a strong current that ran through our anchoring spot. In the afternoon, the current ran in one direction. By morning, the current had changed and was running in the opposite direction.
We got our chance to see some big jellyfish floating by. These were about fifteen inches across and had four pink petals inside their clear jelly bodies. We think these were the Australian jellyfish that people had been talking about back at the marina. These were easy to avoid in the water because they were easy to see.
In the evening, Zion used his shrimp net off of our boat to see if he could catch anything. Mostly, he just caught jellyfish. And the net would rip them into little pieces that fell all over the boat. They were hard to clean up because they were slimy and sticky and clear. He caught one beautiful striped flat fish, but we threw it back because it was too small to eat.
After everyone was tucked into bed, Dan went up on top to make sure everything was secure for the night. Suddenly, he called everyone to get out of bed and come up on deck to see something. We went up and saw nothing but Dan standing at the bow. When we were all gathered around, he reached down and ran his finger around on the deck. Brightly colored lights started glowing in weird plasma shapes around his finger. As he moved his hand around, he could make the lights appear in different places. They were the pieces of the jellyfish that were still stuck to the deck. They had some sort of weird electric body light thing. When their body parts were jostled, they would shine bright green and blue. It was strange and beautiful. We didn't see any jellyfish shining in the water, and decided they must only give off their glow when they rub against something. We're not sure, but we'll be watching for it from now on.
Day 75 - Sunday, September 10
Billy Goat Hole
Dauphin Island in the Gulf of Mexico
Technically, today is the day that we reach the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday, we were still in Mobile Bay when we reached Dauphin Island. Today we will motor down to Pelican Island, a small island south of Dauphin Island. Pelican Island is definitely in the Gulf. It is nothing but sand and weeds and seashells and birds. When you get to the south side of Pelican Island, you see the big waves of the Gulf.
We went around the tip of the island and anchored out in the Gulf. Then we swam with our lifejackets through the big waves to get up to the sand shore. Zion brought the dinghy. We made it!!! This was the ocean!!!
We brought a celebration picnic to shore - a bottle of Lake Mist wine that we brought with us from the Von Stiehl Winery in Algoma, Wisconsin, a bottle of non-alcoholic grape wine for the kids, Pringles, Bugles and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. We each made a toast. I made a toast to the beautiful world that God gave us and to our brave, adventurous family and said we should all be proud of ourselves for what we accomplished together. Tricia made a toast to the Ocean. Zion made a toast to his thirst. And Dan had us make a traditional toast to King Neptune by pouring a little of our drinks into the sea. Going for a swim after our little celebration was a real adventure. I got the chance to be double-tipsy; tipsy from wine and tipsy from the waves that were crashing me around. I'll never understand how/why boaters drink, and most of them seem to do it a lot. Dan says they only drink when they're anchored or in dock. Judging from the number of empty beer cans littering Pelican Island, I'm not so sure I believe him. Beer bottles and cans are the number one source of trash on this beautiful island.
The center of the island is full of grasses. Signs tell you to keep away from this waterbird nesting area. Zion worked on another big sand structure while Tricia and I walked down the beach looking for shells. The shells on this island were all totally different than the shells on Dauphin Island. There were lots of gulls and sandpipers and herons around. And thousands of little holes on the beach. We think these are for crabs.
At five o'clock we packed up our stuff and headed back to our good anchoring spot in Billy Goat Hole on Dauphin Island. Having reached the ocean, we were now focused on our next goal - going back home to Wisconsin for a short visit and to take care of some business.
Day 76 - Monday, September 11
Big Bayou Canot
Mile 16 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway
Today we sailed back up Mobile Bay. Our destination is Dead Lake Marina where we will anchor our boat for several weeks while we rent a car and drive back home. We've decided that we enjoy traveling together in the boat, and the kids are ready to sign-on for the rest of the year. When we're home we'll be cleaning up our house and looking for someone to rent it for a year.
Today was the day that Dan's been waiting for. The wind was strong and coming from the east. The waves were small because Mobile Bay isn't very big. We started out motoring, then quickly put up the sails. Our speed immediately jumped to ten knots, a real thrill since we'd been motoring along at five knots for most of the last six weeks. We turned off the engine and travelled at a blessedly silent eight knots on a beam reach for the rest of the trip. I actually heard Dan say "Yee-haw!" behind the wheel. He was as happy as I've ever seen him. It only took a few hours to reach Mobile again. The rain came out then and we got wet, but we were in the river channel by then and we took the sails down. Once we reached the gentle river waters, Tricia got out of bed with a smile on her face. We had begun our sail early in the morning while she was still in bed because we knew she wouldn't enjoy the bumpy ride. She stayed holed up in her bedroom until the ride smoothed out.
We made such good time that we reached the Big Bayou Canot in the early afternoon. We decided to anchor in the Bayou overnight, then go to Dead Lake Marina in the morning. We needed a whole day to pack and arrange for the rental car. We were hoping that by staying in the Bayou we would see some gators in the evening, but we didn't have any luck. The bayou was beautiful and quiet with the big cypress trees covered with Spanish moss hanging over the river. We had it all to ourselves most of the time. A fisherman or two came by once in a while.
Day 77 - Tuesday, September 12 - HAPPY ANNIVERSARY MOM & DAD!
Dead Lake Marina
Big Bayou Canot
We spent the morning doing some packing and cleaning up on the boat in our secluded anchorage. About noon we motored the last few miles to Dead Lake Marina. Dan worked on making arrangements for our trip home with the rental car company and Miss Bonnie, the marina owner. I spent the hot and humid afternoon sitting on the back deck of the marina office on a wooden porch swing under a ceiling fan. That's where other people would drift in and out to share a bit of conversation. Most of the people there remembered our boat from the short stop we had made there a week ago. We learned how hard Miss Bonnie and Mr. John, the owners, work to keep their marina and KOA campground in good shape. Everyone had only good things to say about them. It was a very nice and friendly marina. I was invited to join in 6:00 crafts at the little church in the campground. I would have likes to do it, but there was too much packing to do back on the boat and I had lazed away the whole afternoon on the porch swing. There was also a Revival in town that night which would have been interesting if we had had more time.
As dusk came, we pulled our boat away from the small fishing pier where we were docked. The fishing pier was designed for people, not boats. It didn't have any cleats for tying off on. We thought it would be better to just anchor for another night out in the river next to the marina. Now, we must have anchored for the night at least fifty times on this trip. My "Sailing for Dummies" book says that anchoring is the most complicated maneuvre for a ship's crew to perform, and I agree with them. The first few times we did it we were just learning what everyone had to do and it was a little nerve-wracking figuring out how to work together, but by now we've all learned our part and we can anchor the boat like we're one well-oiled machine. Occasionally, our second, smaller anchor won't catch on the first try, so we have to try one or two more times to get it tight. But even that kind of glitch we can handle in stride. Dan's job is to find a good location and then steer the boat into the right position. Zion gets the anchor and anchor lines ready up on top of the boat. When we're in the right spot, I take over the wheel while Dan goes to the front of the boat and drops the anchor. Zion feeds out the safety line, then prepares the second line for making a bridle. Sometimes we have to let out a second back anchor, too and that can be a bit complicated, but Zion can do anything that Dan needs him to do so the two of them usually work things out pretty quickly.
Well, tonight was the worst anchoring we've ever attempted. First, Zion tried to set the back anchor twice, but it wouldn't hold. Dan came up to try and he couldn't get it either. Then the main anchor lost it's hold and that's never happened to us before. We were bobbing around the river in the dark trying to get some anchor to set somewhere. Luckily it was a dead end and we didn't have to worry about traffic, but there were lots of shallow places and snags under the water that caused some worry. We must have spent at least an hour and a half trying to anchor. It was getting darker and darker and we were getting hungrier and hungrier because the original plan had been to anchor and make dinner. We finally gave up and went back to the fishing dock for the night.
Our inability to anchor here was a concern since this is where we had planned to anchor our boat for the several weeks while we were gone. We think we had trouble because the bottom of the river was exceptionally silty. The anchors would come up covered with a very fine muck. Dan spent the night figuring out what might work in the morning.
Day 78 - Wednesday, September 13
Bright and early Dan got a ride to Mobile to pick up our rental car. Thanks to Miss Bonnie and our driver for helping us out! When he got back we took everything out of our boat that we wanted to take home and loaded it into the car. Then we took the boat out to anchor it. On the other side of the river we saw a little gator sitting on a log and watching us. We finally got a chance to see a real, live gator. I was amazed by how big and fat his tail was. He sat there and watched us for a long time even though we weren't very far away. Eventually we got too close for his liking and he slipped into the water.
Dan had done some reading and got the idea that he should add some chain to the anchor. By making it heavier it would sink deeper into the muck and stick better. Now our thirty-five pound anchor has twenty pounds of chain on it. I'm glad that Dan's back is stronger than mine. Once the anchor was down, we motored backwards until it stuck good and hard. Then Dan got into the dinghy and tied the front and back of our boat to separate cypress trees on shore. So now our boat is securely anchored parallel to the shore with an anchor keeping it pulled out and two trees keeping it pulled in. It should be secure enough to survive anything that Mother Nature throws at it. Zion rowed Tricia and I to the shore in the dinghy, then went back to get Dan. Dan deposited Zion on shore, then took the dinghy back and secured it up on top of the boat. Then he swam back, managing to avoid all of the alligators along the way. We piled in the car and started driving home. It was noon when we left Dead Lake.
We made it all of the way through Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. We saw Montgomery and Birmingham during the day, and we had a chance to see the lights of Nashville at night. About 10:30 we crossed the border into Indiana right on the edge of Louisville, Kentucky. Reaching Indiana was our destination for the night, so we stopped at the first cheap motel we could find.
Day 79 - Thursday, September 14
We started early and made good time. The sky was overcast until we reached Wisconsin. Then the sun came out and made our state look lovelier than ever. We stopped at the first rest area in Wisconsin, near Kenosha. We knew we were really and truly home when we saw the recycle bins lined up along the outside of the Visitor's Center. We haven't seen recycle bins anywhere else in our travels and they were a welcome sight. I had been washing and sorting all of my recyclables for the first few weeks of our boat trip until I realized I was never going to find anywhere to put them except in the regular trash. After all of the ugly junk we've seen in the rivers and along the beaches, we were proud to know that in our state we try a little harder to take care of our earth.