Calumet Dreams
Chapter 10

October 8 - October 29
Snow * School Dance * Van Breakdown * Susan Hawk * Alton * Little House in Mansfield * Back to Boat * Birthday * Clams * Dog River * Big Sail * Wolf Bay * Body Surfing * Perdido Key * Choctawhatchee * Destin * Clear Water * Snorkeling * Fishies Back to Home Page

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Day 80 - Sunday, October 8
Steve and Amy's Home
Brookfield, Wisconsin

At noon today we were on our way again for the second part of our journey. We left our home in Wisconsin with two inches of snow on the ground. This was one of the earliest snows I've ever seen. We usually don't even get flurries before November. I like to think the snow came early just for us so we wouldn't have to endure an entire winter season without seeing any snow. We'll have to remember this brief taste of cold wet stuff when we're sitting on an island beach for Christmas this year.

We had planned to leave home early Saturday morning, but we didn't quite get all of our packing and house cleaning done in time. Then on Saturday afternoon the snowstorm came and we decided to stay home instead of driving our loaded car and trailer through the wind and falling slush to Milwaukee. Saturday night was like camping out in our own house. Everything was already packed away, including the little bit of food that was still left.

We were home for three weeks. We arrived home on Thursday, September 14. We were just in time for the big social event of the fall - the first middle school dance - on the following Friday, September 15. This is the only year that Tricia and Zion would be in middle school at the same time, so it was nice that they got to go. We drove Tricia and some of her friends, and Zion went with his friends. Of course, Tricia received firm orders to ignore Zion all night, but the warning really wasn't necessary since the sixth graders were relegated to the back corner of the gym anyway. God bless the teachers who are willing to chaperone these affairs!

Our three weeks at home were a whirlwind of activity. The kids visited their friends as much as possible, and we did some family visiting to friends and relatives, too. After a few days at home we all got bad colds - our "welcome back to Wisconsin" present. Dan found out that his old business was closing its doors, so he had to bring home all of his office and computer equipment that was there. It took only a few days to find a wonderful family to rent our home for the next year. We hope they enjoy it. They're even going to take care of our cats and dogs. We cleaned out fifteen years of junk from the house and shed. We took loads to the dump, to Good Will, and to the bonfire. We actually managed to leave the shed half empty so the renters can put any furniture out there that they don't want. It will be really nice to come home to a cleaned-out house next year.

We made it safely to Milwaukee today. We were planning to spend the night with my brother Steve and his wife Amy. They have a beautiful home in Brookfield, Wisconsin. It's a brick house with cedar shingles at the end of a peaceful cul-de-sac. When our kids saw it, they said "Wow! That's a big house!" Not only was it big, but it was tastefully decorated and very, very clean. The huge basement had a dartboard and a ping-pong table that were very entertaining. We had a nice evening with Steve and Amy, then we all went to bed, ready to continue on our journey in the morning.

Day 81 - Monday, October 9
Steve and Amy's Home (again!)
Brookfield, Wisconsin

We got up early today (but not as early as Steve and Amy). Before leaving, Dan wanted to take advantage of the dry, concrete driveway and install new lights on the back of the trailer. While playing around down there on the ground he noticed that our license plates were expired. Since we had just finished cleaning out everything in our house and no one remembered seeing new license plates anywhere, Dan called the DMV to find out what to do. He finally got ahold of someone who assured him that he could get new plates on the spot just by going to a DMV office. Unfortunately, today was Columbus Day so there weren't any DMV office open. We would have to wait until Tuesday.

Steve and Amy graciously said we could stay one more night and we decided to make the best of it and spend the day at Discovery World. Discovery World is a hands-on science museum for kids in downtown Milwaukee. We got to pull ourselves up with pulleys, use remote computers to control spy cameras on the outside of the building, and do some electrical wiring experiments. It was lots of fun, and even a little educational.

On the way back to Steve and Amy's, our car started acting funny. We were lucky we made it into the driveway. It seemed suspiciously like a leaking head gasket problem, the same problem our friend, Jeanne's, car had in July. These are expensive to repair. Faced with a big repair bill, we thought about junking the van and using our big, old '84 Chevy delivery van (with the '74 engine) to carry us and all of our stuff to the Gulf. Dan made plans to have the engine checked out the next morning.

We decided to give Steve and Amy a taste of the specialties we eat onboard our boat. For dinner we made them spaghetti with TVP (texturized vegetable protein - soy chunks that look like little pieces of hamburger). Tricia even decorated an angel food cake with a squirt can of whipped cream and Zion made three boats out of paper, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, to put on top of the cake in the waves of cream. We celebrated Columbus Day in fine style. Steve and Amy's is a wonderful place to make supper because they have a giant food store only a block away.

Day 82 - Tuesday, October 10
Steve and Amy's Home (one more time!)
Brookfield, Wisconsin

In the morning Dan headed out with the van to find a mechanic to look at the engine. While we were home awaiting the verdict, the kids and I hauled our textbooks out of the trailer and had a day of regular school.

Dan came back with some amazing news. Yes, it was a headgasket problem, but the mechanic said he would fix it for only $450. Not only that, he had an opening in his schedule so he could work on it right away and we could have our van back, ready to go, the next morning.

All of that was great news, but it wasn't the amazing part. The mechanic who was helping us out was Susan Hawke's father! Susan was the Wisconsin truck driver we were rooting for on the "Survivor" show. He assured us that Susan's speech at the final council was entirely her own creation, not something planted by the show's producers. He was also quick to add that Susan was really a very friendly person who was more than willing to help out anyone who needed it. Well, if she takes after her father I find that very easy to believe.

Our family spent the afternoon carless, so we sat around the kitchen table and got lessons in vectors and forces from Dan. We pushed an empty Golden Grahams box around on the top of the table until we all understood how the forces of the wind and the water and the keel and the rudder and the angle of the sail act on a sailboat to make it move the way you want it to go. Tricia was less than thrilled with the lesson. Actually, she was probably still daydreaming about N'Sync that had appeared live on Good Morning America that morning.

Steve and Amy once more graciously said we could spend another night, even though at this point we were starting to actually make their home a little dirty. We tried to make it up to them by making supper again. This time Tricia tried her hand at a peanut butter and chocolate refrigerator dessert made from a mix. It was delicious, and probably very fattening.

Day 83 - Wednesday, October 11
Alton, Illinois

We started the day by walking to the service garage to pick up our car. Along with the sales slip, we got two autographed pictures of Susan Hawk that were very nice. Her dad said he hadn't seen her yet since she got back from the island. She's been busy with publicity engagements away from home. On the Milwaukee news last night, they showed her delivering a load of cement to Miller Stadium. Apparently it was her first day back to work.

Since our van had a rebuilt engine that was less than two years old, the head gaskets might be under warranty. They gave us the old parts all wrapped up in plastic. If we send them in to the manufacturer we might get some money back.

Our new and improved van worked like a dream. We drove to the DMV and got new license plates, then hooked up our trailer and were on our way again. Our destination was Alton, Illinois. We wanted to visit the friends we had met there on our way down the river during the summer.

We pulled into Alton too late to make a visit, so we decided to stay at a hotel and visit them when they got home from school and work the following day.

Day 84 - Thursday, October 12
Our Friend's Home
Alton, Illinois

We had some time to kill today, so we spent the day at the library. The nearest library was in the mall on the edge of town. It was a wonderful, beautiful, modern library with lots of Internet computers. We had the chance to catch up on all of our e-mail. (We had been too busy to do it during the three weeks we were home, so we were quite behind.) When the kids were tired of net-surfing and reading, they got the chance to be mall rats.

At three o'clock we left to visit our friends, Scott and Lisa and their son, Clayton. They live on Big Oak Farm out in the country. Their house is on a ridge, so you can look out their living room windows and see the tops of trees. They have some huge old barns and sheds, full of tractors and boats, of course. We did some grilling out and the kids did some pumpkin-carving. There was also a tree house and a bonfire thrown in for good measure. We picked some apples from their orchard and had fresh apple crisp for dessert. Thanks, Lisa, for giving our kids their taste of Halloween.

Day 85 - Friday, October 13
Little House Motel
Mansfield, Missouri

We spent most of the day driving across the state of Missouri. We were taking a small detour to visit Mansfield, the final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is where Laura lived most of her life and where she wrote all of her books. The trip is a birthday present to me from Dan. Tricia was looking forward to it as much as I was. Zion tolerated it well.

Last year when we went to South Dakota, we stopped at DeSmet where Laura spent her adolescent years and where she got married to Almanzo Wilder. We saw the poplar trees that Pa had planted on their homestead (none of the buildings remain). We saw the actual surveyor's house that the Ingalls stayed in through their first winter in DeSmet, and we saw the house in town that Pa built for them to live in for the rest of their days. We drove out to the cemetary and saw the actual gravesites of Ma and Pa Ingalls and Mary, and even a small headstone for Laura and Almanzo's little baby boy that died. It is so amazing to actually see all of the places that are talked about in Laura's books. Knowing that it's real makes the stories even more compelling. We'll never forget visiting that cemetary because we had to walk through four inches of slushy snow to see them. Even though it was September, an early snowstorm had come across the prairie. It made "The Long Hard Winter" so believable.

We pulled in to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield at ten 'til five and found that the museum closed at five. We had enough time to get some information and make plans to come back the next day. It turns out that we were very lucky to get there so late. The next day, Saturday, was going to be their annual Rocky Ridge Days Festival. (Rocky Ridge is the name of Laura and Almanzo's farm where the museum is.) There was a big tent set up on the lawn and there were going to be speakers and folksingers and performances given. The big event was going to be hearing Pa's fiddle. They take it out of it's museum case once a year and have someone play it.

We spent the night at the Little House Motel on the edge of town near the freeway. We drove to the center of the little town to do our grocery shopping. The teenage boys running the grocery store that night really impressed me. They were so friendly and helpful and they each acted just like they owned the store, that's how enthusiastic they were. Although one of them did admit that you get a little tired of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stuff if you grow up with it around you all of the time.

There was a park square in the middle of town and you could still see the old bank and drugstore that were a big part of the Rose series of Little House books. (For those who aren't Little House fans, Laura and Almanzo had one daughter, Rose. They made a trip from DeSmet to Mansfield across the prairie when Rose was young. Rose grew up in Mansfield, and you can read all about Rose in a new series of Little House books. You can also get a series on Caroline, Laura's mother, who grew up in Brookfield, Wisconsin, another series on Charlotte, Caroline's mother, who grew up in Boston, and another series on Martha, Charlotte's mother, who grew up in Scotland. Yes, we collect all of these series. We're hooked!)

Day 86 - Saturday, October 14
Little House Motel
Mansfield, Missouri

We arrived at Rocky Ridge Days at nine o'clock as it opened. There was a good crowd there. We saw the museum which contained many of Laura's and Rose's things, including Pa's fiddle. We also toured the farmhouse that Almanzo built and saw the fireplace made from three large rocks taken from their own land. We even saw the writing desk where Laura wrote her books by hand in cursive.

Autograph at Mansfield
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In the tent we heard William Anderson answer questions from the audience. William Anderson is a historian who has written a series of factual booklets that tell the real story behind the Little House books. Yes, we have his series, too. At least, we had all of his books except for a new one he wrote about the Ingalls' one-year stay in Burr Oak, Iowa. As a birthday present, Tricia bought the Iowa book and she got William Anderson's autograph in it for me. She also gave me an "I LOVE LAURA INGALLS WILDER" pin. Zion got me a little tin cup with a penny and a peppermint stick inside. (This is what Laura and Mary got for Christmas in "Little House on the Prairie".)

Mary and Tricia with Tricia's birthday present to Mary
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Close up of present
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At the bookstore we also found a little book about sailing. Two of Laura's cousins and Almanzo's brother took a little sailboat down the Mississippi. The book is the journal of their trip. It's fascinating to compare their 1890 trip to the trip we just took this summer.

In the afternoon we got to hear a talk by Norma Browning, one of the last living friends of Rose Wilder Lane. Rose was actually a famous journalist and novelist before her mother wrote the Little House books. In fact, Rose is the one who encouraged her mother to write them and helped her find a publisher. How much Rose helped her mother in the actual writing of the stories is a big debate. Norma was a journalist, also, and worked for the Chicago Tribune. She said she was staying at Rose's home during the time the "Little House" books were written and she knows that Rose got manuscripts in the mail from her mother and that Rose worked on editting them. No one knows exactly how much editting Rose did.

After the talk, some local adults and children sang songs and acted out scenes from the Little House books. They were very good. During the summer they put on a full-length performance. I would like to see that sometime.

Family in front of Laura's House
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And then we saw the grand finale. A local fiddler played some tunes on Pa's fiddle. The curator of the museum said that the fiddle was actually a "seed fiddle". You could get it as a prize if you bought enough seed from a certain producer. Apparently, Pa had bought a lot of seed to get his fiddle.

Stone House at Mansfield
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We also met some fascinating people. One was a historian from Louisiana who was doing more in-depth research on the Ingalls and Wilder families. His goal is to get a historic marker placed at all of the sites where those families had homesteads. Another was a second-grade teacher from Oklahoma. She uses the Little House theme in her classroom throughout the year with a lot of emphasis on re-living the history of the pioneers. She was dressed in costume all day, looking just like Nellie Oleson's mother.

Mary and Tricia by Rocky Ridge Sign
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After the festivities were done, we went out to the town cemetary. We found the gravesites of Laura and Almanzo and Rose. We searched through the old gravestones and we think we also found the gravesite of Mr. Cooley. The Cooleys were the family that came with the Wilders to Mansfield from DeSmet. Mr. Cooley was Almanzo's good friend. It was only a few years after arriving in Mansfield that Mr. Cooley died while working on the railroad. His death is talked about in the Rose series.

Tricia by Grave
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Mary by Grave
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Back of Rose Wilder Lane's Gravestone
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We spent another evening in the Little House Motel.

Day 87 - Sunday, October 15
Dead Lake Marina
Mile 16 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway near Mobile, Alabama

We drove all day long. It had been dark for about an hour when we finally pulled into Dead Lake Marina. Our boat was sitting there in the water waiting for us, right where we had left it anchored. It was a gorgeous night, nice and warm with lots of stars in the sky. The stifling heat and humidity that had been there in September was all gone. The bayou is beautiful in the moonlight, with the Spanish moss hanging down from the big cypress trees. Some fishermen were on the dock, and one of them offered to give Dan a ride out to where our boat was anchored.

Dan, Mary and Zion by Giant Raven
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Giant Raven
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Zion jumping over a ditch
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While they were out in the boat, John, the marina owner, came out to say "hi". He had a small boat ready for us to use, with a motor and everything. He said that while we were gone a strong north wind blew for several days and blew all of the water out of the bayou. Our boat had been sitting in the mud. He had gone out and taken our rudders off the boat so they wouldn't get damaged. Thanks, John, for taking such good care of our home! He also said that what happened was very rare. He had never seen that happen before.

Our boat was safe and sound. We were all happy to get back onboard and climb into our own bunks. It felt like coming home.

Day 88 - Monday, October 16
Dead Lake Marina
Mile 16 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway near Mobile, Alabama

We spent the morning getting the boat ready to move again. Dan re- attached the rudders, then we lifted the anchor, untied from the cypress trees, and started moving again.

The afternoon was for unloading the van and trailer and putting everything onto the boat. First we put everything onto the floating dock. It was so heavy it made the dock sink about four inches. Then we pulled the boat up to the dock and loaded it up. We had boxes everywhere inside the boat and we had to crawl over them to get around.

We stopped in to settle up and say "thanks" to Miss Bonnie, the other marina owner. We gave her the giant stuffed alligator (plush) that we brought back for her from Wisconsin. It seemed more appropriate for it to live down here. She gave us some caramel apples that were left from the church bazaar. They were the best caramel apples we ever had! They were big Granny Smith apples, completely covered in thick caramel and chopped pecans. Each one was wrapped in cellophane and decorated with raffia and small fall decorations. We saved the decorations and used them to decorate the inside of our boat. Thanks again, Miss Bonnie! We sure appreciated the treat.

We spent the night tied up to a houseboat at the edge of the marina.

Day 89 - Tuesday, October 17
Big Bayou Canot
Mile 15 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway near Mobile, Alabama

Today we took the boat out of the marina and down into the bayou to anchor. It was nice to get back to the seclusion and beauty of nature. On our way, we finally saw the big ole' alligator we had been looking for. He was resting on top of a log at the side of the river and stayed there as we went slowly passed. After staring awhile, one of us remembered to get out the camera and record the big event. Just as Zion was snapping the pic, the big gator decided to get off his log and slide back into the water. So, we still don't have a picture of a big alligator. You'll just have to believe us that we really saw it.

We spent the day unpacking boxes and generally recuperating from the last four weeks of whirlwind living.

Day 90 - Wednesday, October 18
Big Bayou Canot
Mile 15 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway near Mobile, Alabama

We went a little further down the bayou and anchored for another night. We finished unpacking all of the boxes, and figured out which books and things we wanted to put back in our van instead of on our boat. The kids picked out the books that they wanted to use first for school, and the rest will get packed in the van for later.

We had marshmallow treats as a birthday cake. Zion surprised me and put a complete set of 42 candles on top of the pan. I was amazed that we had that many candles onboard. We almost burned down our boat, but it was a lot of fun. I will always remember this birthday, in the year 2000, on our boat, with my family, as a very blessed time in my life.

Day 91 - Thursday, October 19
Big Bayou Canot near the Amtrak accident bridge
Mile 10 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway near Mobile, Alabama

We motored back to Dead Lake Marina to load all of our extra goods into our van and park it out of the way. We'll come back for it once we reach Mobile Bay. Then we motored down to one of our favorite anchorage spots near the Amtrak bridge. That puts us in a good spot to get through downtown Mobile the next day.

To our surprise, there was already another sailboat anchored in that spot! But there was plenty of room so we anchored nearby. Tricia and I took a swim while Dan and Zion took the dinghy over to visit our neighbor for the night. The water was nice, but much cooler than it had been during the summer. What a relief! And, it was brackish, starting to be salty again.

Our neighbor in the sailboat was a man who had been cruising for the last twenty years. During that time he had had seventeen different women as sailing partners. He said that each one lasted about three or four months, then they would get tired of it and want to go back to stability. I guess it's that old nesting instinct that's been bred into us over the ages.

When we were in Mansfield we talked about how Almanzo always brought a bouquet of wildflowers into the house for Laura every evening. The kids went out in the dinghy after dinner tonight and Zion waded through the muck to pick some marsh flowers for me. They look like gold daisies and they brightened up the galley for many days. I guess cleaning all that muck off the boat was worth it.

While he was out there he also found two big river clams buried in the mud. He brought them back so we could taste them. I got out my seafood book. It said that the clams needed to be soaked in buckets of clean water first. This would clean them out. Sure enough, after sitting in the bucket a few minutes Zion saw them spit out debris and dirt. Then we were supposed to pry them apart with a knife. Dan tried, but they were shut so tight we couldn't get a knife into them. The back-up method was to pour boiling water over them. It felt a little cruel, but that's what we did. They didn't open much, just enough for Dan to get his knife through. I took out the slimy contents and threw out everything that was dark. That left me with four tiny pieces of clam meat. I cooked them in butter and garlic, then each of us got a taste. Each piece was about 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch. You could chew on it for a long time, kind of like clam-flavored gum. I was an interesting experience, but I don't think we'll be taking the lives of any more clams in the future.

Day 92 - Friday, October 20
Dog River Marina
Mobile, Alabama

This morning we headed for Dog River Marina. We went through downtown Mobile again and out through Mobile Bay. Some of our old friends were still at the marina. Jacques, from France, gave Tricia a book he had in French calle "Le Lion". She is trying to translate one line every day.

A beautiful wooden schooner pulled into the gas dock behind us. They said they had been following us for a long time, but we hadn't noticed them. It was a bit hazy and their boat was black. We were pleased and surprised to learn that they were from Milwaukee. They had just retired and had come down the rivers during September, following the path we took during the summer. Before they retired, they operated a "schooner school" associated with the authentic schooner that was being built in Milwaukee harbor over the last several years. As part of their school, they would take six students out on their boat every day for a week and teach them about sailing a wooden ship on the Great Lakes. They gave me some tips for keeping the boat bug-free and clean inside, and they gave the kids some Bubble Tape (which was greatly appreciated). They were on their way to New Orleans and Texas to visit children and grandchildren. It was a treat to meet them.

Dan got ahold of our friend, Deborah, and she gave him a car ride to Dead Lake Marina. Dan picked up our van and brought it down to Dog River. Now we have a set of wheels to get around in. We learned that Deborah bought a new house since we saw her a month ago. The best part is that it is right on the Dog River. She can anchor her boats by her home.

I spent most of the day doing two weeks of laundry. The weather was gorgeous. At ten o'clock at night the thermometer read 72 degrees. Above the marina is a seafood restaurant with a deck. Lots of people where there because it was a Friday night. After eating, many of them take a walk on the docks and look at the boats. I passed my many of them carrying armfuls of clean laundry back to the boat.

Day 93 - Saturday, October 21
Dog River Marina
Mobile, Alabama
We drove our own car to the grocery store this morning and stocked up.

In the afternoon, Deborah joined us for a fun sail to a man-made island out in Mobile Bay. Dan wanted Deborah's opinions on the boat since she is a sailmaker and an accomplished sailwoman. And Deborah is always ready for a sail.

It was one of those perfect days for sailing. The sun was shining warm, the water was sparkling, and the wind was blowing in just the right direction. We had a pleasant sail to the island. Zion found a perfectly good Rubbermaid trash can, with lid, laying half buried in the sand. He excavated it and floated it back to the boat. We gave it to Deborah as a housewarming gift. Tricia and I walked along the beach looking for shells. She had on her water shoes and she stepped on something blue and squishy. It held a perfect imprint of her shoe. We decided that it must be a piece of Silly Putty that somehow washed up on shore. We walked further and found bigger mounds of blue that looked like giant bubbles just under the edge of the water. We dug it up and found that it was natural blue clay. Deborah had mentioned something about blue clay on the island, but I hadn't really believed that it could be so blue and so easy to find. We took a few chunks back to the boat to play with.

After an easy sail back to Dog River, Deborah joined us for dinner on our boat. We told her about our plans to head out to Destin, Florida. People say it is a great place for snorkeling. Then we will come back to Dog River because we want to stay near the coast until hurricane season is over. When we get back, we will try to anchor in the bayou near her house and Dan will help her finish repairing her sailboat. It suffered some bad damage in a hurricane a few years ago.

Day 94 -Sunday, October 22
Southern end of Mobile Bay
Mile 143 on the Intracoastal Waterway near Mobile, Alabama

We started on our way to Destin this morning. First we had to sail all of the way out of Mobile Bay. The wind was strong and so were the waves. It was a little rough so when we reached Dauphin Island at 3:00 in the afternoon we decided to stop at our old favorite anchoring spot in Billy Goat Hole. We put down our anchor and were there about five minutes when a marine patrol came up and said we had to move. We had anchored here twice before and no one said anything, but this guy seemed a little new and by-the-book. He said we were in the channel. Well, we knew we weren't in the main channel because all of the water in Billy Goat Hole was only five feet deep. But he said it was a special five-foot-deep channel for smaller boats and we couldn't stay there. The kids were disappointed because they loved the sand beach there. We had been planning to make a little fire on the beach and roast some hot dogs. Plus, the ride had been rocky all day and we were ready for some land under our feet.

Shrimp boat on Mobile Bay
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So, we had to pull up anchor and go back out into the waves. There were no other good anchor spots nearby, at least not on his map. We had to head east and cross the open Gulf water to the next island. It was a choppy day on the Gulf and it was enough to make Tricia lose her cookies. After that, she was much happier.

We reached the next island, but this one didn't have any good anchoring spots either. We were racing against the sun to get as far east as we could, but we had to stop when darkness came. We set down anchor in a spot that was safe and off the channel, but not protected from the wind. We bounced around all night. Lying in bed you could feel yourself being lifted up, then dropped down.

Day 95 - Monday, October 23
Wolf Bay
Mile 162 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Alabama

Dan and I were up with the dawn to pull the anchor and get underway. We continued heading east until we reached the beautiful sheltered waters of Wolf Bay. Wolf Bay sits north of the Intracoastal Waterway. It is off of the beaten path and we found a corner surrounded by trees and nothing else. The water was calm and we all spent the rest of the day eating and napping - generally recuperating from the day before.

Day 96 - Tuesday, October 24
Wolf Bay
Mile 162 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Alabama

This was such a pleasant place that we decided to stay another day. We saw some porpoises jumping out of the water. They move differently than the dolphins do.

Dan spent the day doing electrical work on the boat. He had gotten some new super-energy-efficient reading lights for each of our bunks. Each light has three LED bulbs that last forever, and the whole light uses only 1.2 watts. That's ten times more efficient than the lights were using now which are 15 watts each. We can use the reading lights as much as we want and not worry about wearing down our battery.

Here's a quick lesson on our battery. It is a 12 volt battery that can hold 100 amp-hours when fully charged. That means it can deliver 1200 watt- hours of power. 1000 watt-hours is one kilowatt-hour and costs about seven cents. So that means we have about nine cents worth of electrical power available when our battery is fully charged. Now you know why we get so excited about energy efficiency!

Dan also installed some 12-volt plugs in the kids' rooms. Tricia can listen to her CD player in her room now, and she is thrilled to get Brittany Spears and N'Sync in her life again. Dan also put a plug out in the cockpit so he can keep his GPS mounted and working while he is piloting. It always had to be hand-held and run off of batteries before. Things keep getting better on the boat all of the time. I don't know how we got by those first few weeks.

Day 97 - Wednesday, October 25
Perdido Key
Mile 175 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida

Wolf Bay is beautiful, calm and secluded, but it doesn't have any nice beaches. It's more like swampland. So we were anxious to get to a nice swimming beach. We found one in Perdido Key. We anchored the boat then took the dinghy up to the barrier island. The barrier island was a long public beach, covered with sand dunes. The Gulf water was warm and the waves were fun to play in. Dan and the kids tried body-surfing and had some success.

Day 98 - Thursday, October 26
Navarre Beach
Mile 204 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida

We're still heading east to Destin. The wind has been blowing against us ever since we left Mobile Bay, so we haven't been able to use our sails.

Sailboat Race east of Pensacola, FL
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Hobie Cat in sailboat race
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Day 99 - Friday, October 27
Fort Walton
Mile 222 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida

We stopped at a nice little marina in Fort Walton to get gas. We learned that the city library was right across the street, so we stopped in to check our e-mail. We've never seen a library so close to a marina before. It was wonderful. They said we could anchor in the shallow waters nearby, so we did.

Day 100 - Saturday, October 28
Destin Harbor
Mile 227 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida

Some dolphins were playing nearby the boat this morning, so Zion and Dan jumped into the crysal clear, four feet deep water to get a little closer look. The dolphins swam off after their breakfast, but on the walk back to the boat, Zion notices a short piece of rope lying in the water. He pulled it up and followed it. The rope was very long and eventually it connected to a heavy duty chain. After pulling up ten feet of chain, Zion found that there was an anchor connected to the other end and buried in the sand. While Mom made some apple pancakes for breakfast, Zion dug out the anchor as best he could. It was a difficult job because the digging caused the water to cloud up, and the chain was covered with sharp barnacles that could cut his hands. After getting down about six inches, he realized that the anchor was buried too deep to dig out. Instead, he just tied a floating marker to it to mark the spot.

Dolphin Swimming near boat
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

After breakfast we lifted our anchor and motored over to the buried one. We caught on to it, then tried to pop it loose by motoring back and forth. That works sometimes, but this anchor wouldn't budge. So Dan got out the sailor's best friends - pulleys and ropes. He took off the boom vang, a set of pulleys that gave him a 4:1 mechanical advantage, and connected it to the anchor. Just by pulling on that rope while standing directly above the anchor on the bow of the boat, he was able to lift it out of the water. Zion was ecstatic. It was even bigger than our biggest anchor. It was a different style from ours. We have a plow anchor, and this one was a fluke anchor. It was a 35 pound Danforth Fortress, worth $250 new. It's exactly the type of anchor that is best for the swampy waters of the bayou. If we had had this up in Dead Lake, we wouldn't have had any troubles anchoring there.

After that great start to our day, we continued heading east on our short trip to Destin, our final destination. Since it is a Saturday and this is a well- populated area, there are boats everywhere. We all have to stay in the channel because the water gets shallow outside of it. So there are boats ahead of us, boats behind us, and boats passing us constantly. Most of them are pleasure boats for fishing, but there are also some pontoons and some sailboats.

Tricia is in the holiday mood and spent her time inside the cabin making Halloween cards to send to all of her friends and relatives. What did the boy ghost say to the girl ghost? You look bootiful today!

Destin is on a spit of land between the Gulf and Choctawhatchee Bay. Choctawhatchee Bay is a huge estuary, a shallow place where fresh and salt water mixes and there are sea grasses everywhere to provide wildlife habitat. The water everywhere is incredibly clear, a sign that all of those sea grasses must really do a good job of filtering the water. On the Gulf side of the spit there are miles of white sand dunes and the water is an amazing crystal green color. It's gorgeous. I guess that's why this is called the Emerald Coast. There are ten-story condos and apartments side-by- side all along the beach, all in pretty pastel colors. The beach is dotted with sun umbrellas and shaded lawn chairs. There are some people out, but there is room for many more. This must be their off-season, even though today is a balmy 80 degrees and perfect for swimming.

We motored out into the Gulf for just a bit to see what it was like. The wind and waves are calm today, but we're still rocking a lot from the wakes of all the other power boats and jet skis that are zooming by. We went past a small charter cruise boat that must have had over a hundred people standing out on the deck. It was funny because there were some dolphins nearby and everyone was standing on one side of the boat to get a better look at them. We were just waiting for it to tip over. We felt much safer in our ringside seat. I think the kids finally realized how lucky they were to be on our boat, because they knew that all of those people had actually paid money to be on that boat.

We found a nice place to anchor near the beach behind a rock jetty that provided some protection from the Gulf waters. The rock jetty was actually our destination. It's the place that we were told was best for snorkeling. And, sure enough, there were other people snorkeling out there already. The area was even marked with a buoy to keep boaters away.

We all put on our snorkeling gear and headed out. It was everything that we had hoped for. The water was crystal clear with a sandy bottom. You only had to go in a few feet to start seeing schools of small fish swim by right before your eyes. The most plentiful fish had horizontal stripes of irridescent blue and green. Hiding in the rocks of the jetty you could find fish with vertical stripes of yellow and black, and sometimes even a bright blue fish or two.

After snorkeling, we played in the sand and walked along the beach until it was time to go back. In some places where the white sand was well-packed and there weren't many other footprints, the sand would squeak when we walked on it. To me, it sounded just like biting into fresh cheese curds - lots of them . (Only a person from Wisconsin could make an association like that and think upon it fondly.) We stayed anchored where we were for the night since we knew the wind and waves would be calm and with the darkness all of the other power boats would go away.

We celebrated our one-hundredth day of travelling with popcorn and soda before we went to bed. Not much, but enough since we were all tuckered out and ready for sleep.

Before going to bed we noticed that the water was racing by our boat. It was actually bubbling as it went by. The strong current was from the tide coming in. There is just this tiny channel between the Gulf and the big Choctawhatchee Bay, so a lot of water flows through it with the tide. In fact, I am typing this at two o'clock in the morning because I'm wide awake. At one o'clock the boat started bouncing around quite a bit and the water made lots of slapping noises against our daggerboards. It woke me up. Now I realize that the turbulence came from the tide changing direction and flowing back out to the Gulf. Our boat has swung around on its anchor and we're facing in the opposite direction. Everything is peaceful again and I'm hopeful that I can go back to bed and fall asleep. Good night!

Day 101 - Sunday, October 29
Fort Walton
Mile 222 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida

This morning we headed to shore in the dinghy to carry our picnic lunch. We spent the day snorkeling and playing in the sand and water (again).

At 3:00 we pulled up our anchor and started heading back west again. Our destination for the evening was our nice, peaceful anchor spot in Fort Walton. Before leaving Destin entirely, though, we took a little tour around the protected side of Destin harbor. We couldn't believe how many people were around there. Boats were going everywhere, as if they were a parade. There were restaurants and marinas, condos and homes packed all around the harbor. As we were passing one boat, the captain yelled out "Hey, Daniel!" It was the professional boat captain that Dan had met back in Columbus. They had a nice little chat from boat to boat. It was nice to be recognised by someone we knew. He said we might see him in the Caribbean this winter if we make it down there.

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