Dog River and NOLA

January 25

Dog River Marina is not very beautiful, but it is a highly respected working marina, and that’s what we needed—more work! The quote for hauling out and waxing was much more competitive than Turner’s Marina, which is next door and only slightly more attractive. William buckled right down and started waxing and buffing our 40-foot, 2 story boat with a tiny, 8-inch buffer. Sometimes he started at 10:00, sometimes he quit at 3:00, but he got ‘er done.  The river crud is now gone and Red Pearl is beautiful and gleaming once again. You have gotten the drift by now, that there is always something to fix on a boat, so while we were there we had some other things fixed—a loose prop, new underwater zincs (which work like the anode rod in water heaters), a locker hinge, the shower sump, the outboard engine… 12 days at Dog River!… I admit to having momentary thoughts some days of what I am missing and could be doing at home, but those have been fleeting. 

Mobile is a working river city which becomes a magical fairyland at night. One night we stumbled onto a nicer place than we planned on the 34th floor of a bank building, Dauphine’s. (Dauphin(e) is a very popular name for streets and such down here—like Washington up north. Meaning “dolphin,” it was the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France from 1350-1791 and then again in 1824-1830.) As we approached our table, we were stunned to see the guy at the table next to ours sporting a large, holstered hand gun in plain view. We breathed easier after he left, and enjoyed the night time view of the river and a memorable dinner. On Steve’s birthday, we grilled lovely New York Strips, which sister Holly had given Steve for his special day. His birthday cake, a Walmart pound cake, however, fell short of his traditional Red Velvet Cake; and we were reminded by a happy birthday text from Susan, Steve’s first nurse at Hudson, that the Mint Brownie office treat tradition was also broken this year. (He owes you, Susan!) 

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Dinner at Dauphine’s

As we waited at Dog River, we went to New Orleans twice, 5f7e6370-e0d1-47b4-98e3-0b453c15b247first for a day with looping friends Mike and Brenda Finkenbinder from St. Paul, and then for a few days while Pearlie was “on the hard” (as opposed to in the water). With Mike and Brenda we started at Cafe du Monde for Beignets— elegant, square dough-nutty pastries, totally ensconced in powdered sugar which drifts everywhere as they are ingested. Accompanied by signature cafe au lait blended with chicory, we were armed for the morning with quick energy!

 

 

From there we visited Jackson Square, with Knock-Out roses a-bloom and the architecturally and culturally important St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans being a very bf27586b-1fd8-407b-a54d-f9891f93ff38

Catholic city. Adjacent to the cathedral is the Presbytere which houses a moving Hurricane Katrina exhibit, and an upstairs Mardi Gras exhibit. What a different world this is! From there we found lunch at Napoleon House whose 200-year-history was marked by its being offered by its first resident, also the mayor of New Orleans, to Napoleon as a refuge during his exile in 1821. Napoleon never made it there, but the name remains, and the cafe is currently run by a member of the Brennan family, a name well-known in the restaurant business in New Orleans. Classical Music is played—mostly Beethoven, who was a devotee of Napoleon—and graffiti enhances the rough, old walls. The food was lovely, but the experience was awesome!

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The waiters at Napoleon House had a good time with our photo-taking.

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From there we made a sashay down the 6-block French Market, a must-do—but only once—and then hopped in the car and drove around the Garden District, settled by the American Creole, to admire beautiful estate homes there. Back in the French Quarter, we found a cute boutique cafe advertising BACON with happy hour drinks. Over a bottle of wine we snacked on a BASKET of bacon, and then another (!!!) along with other appetizers. Even the tired drive home did not blunt our fun conversation, which ended a full and happy day. Mike and Brenda will spend February at their timeshare in Hawaii, so we look forward to connecting again later in the spring. 

Steve and I returned to New Orleans on Monday, Jan. 21, after hoisting Red Pearl out of the water. We could have remained on her on the hard, but heat and air conditioning units on boats are water-cooled, so when they are out of the water one has no heat, and night temps in the 30s quickly nixed this option. After inspecting her bottom paint, props and zincs, we rented a car and headed for New Orleans again.

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This is how a boat is pulled out of the water. The two straps are secured under the vessel at the correct balance points, and the vessel is hoisted out of the water. The driver in the booth at the rear on the left then moves the boat to its destination.
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Red Pearl on the hard. The cradle, along with the blocks under the keel, create a sturdy and stable working condition and one can even go aboard safely.

We found the B and B that Steve had reserved and were met by the owner with puzzlement. Finally she found our reservation for a week hence. Being a new owner and eager to create positive buzz on her booking website, she upgraded us to a lovely big suite. Some mistakes are just lucky….others, not so much. We walked to the Frenchman Street and found a lovely Italian fish dinner at Adolfo’s, good live music next door at Spotted Cat, and an enticing art fair in the alley between. 

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These jewelry artists created a necklace and earrings that I purchased at an art show on Frenchman Street. They are partners, and quite the characters, and we had fun designing and chatting.

On Tuesday we went on a New Orleans Food History Tour. We ate cracklin’s, savory beignets, duck confit croquettes at Sobous, pralines and bacon pecan brittle at Leah’s,

 

 

and tasted dozens of house-made pepper sauces at Pepper Palace. We ate muffulettas at Little Vic’s Sicilian Trattoria and learned that the Po’boy served as 2 meals for a working man—a 16-inch Italian bread sandwich filled with French fries and slathered with beef gravy. A Po’boy now can be 4-inches to 32 and stuffed with anything from blackened shrimp to deli meat, but it is always dressed with mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickle.

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The oldest bar in the United States is in Tujague’s, where the first brunch was served to hungry workers at 11:00 am. 

While we enjoyed the history lesson of how brunch was invented by Madame Tujaque at the eponymous restaurant and stood at the oldest bar in the United States, we could enjoy neither the legendary brisket which comprised the second course for the brunch she served, nor the gumbo at upscale Tableau. The name “Gumbo” is derived from the West African word for  “okra,” and is considered the perfect coalescence of food traditions from the melting pot of New Orleans society: okra from West Africa, roux from the French, the New Orleans version of French Mirepoix using celery, onion and green pepper, filé powder from Native Americans, extensive use of seafood, cayenne and chili pepper from the Spanish, and sausage from the Germans. We were So. Full. That evening we were looking for music! I was scoping out the deals; Steve was scoping out Preservation Hall. Preservation Hall tickets were a little pricey and we walked away, but as we sat in a fancy hotel bar, where the drinks were overpriced in order to pay the mediocre musicians, we agreed to go back and pay for Music! What we experienced in that tiny, historic shack was such joy! The venue looks like a beat-up, low-ceilinged one-room school house, with 8 wooden benches in the center of the room, a few along the walls, and standing room in back, accommodating perhaps 100 people. The upright piano is open with the hammers exposed. With Jazz Clubs coming into being in the 50s, Preservation Hall boasts founding in 1961. (Yikes! How old we are!!!)

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Preservation Hall stage. The sign indicates that “Saints” is not a request they relish.

The musicians play 45-minute sets, and guests line up on Bourbon Street for each one, with instructions to go potty at nearby bars and to byob, as these amenities are not offered. As guests file in, payment is cash-only; the French Quarter is very much cash-based, with ATMs all over, even inside the door of nice restaurants. We were not disappointed with the 8 musicians who entertained us that night. Now, I remember when I was a music student way back in the 70s that attending a recital was a requirement for many students on campus, and we would find boxes of “revues” of our recitals in hallways for us to enjoy. They usually said things like, “She wore a long blue dress and looked very sad….” At the risk of stooping to that level, I’m going to describe what I saw visually, because…well, I don’t understand Jazz very well, and we didn’t know or even remember any of their names. No photos were allowed. The old alto sax player was iconic, by the introduction and reception he received. The trumpet player, a cool young “kitten,” dressed to the nines in colorful solids, had brain-busting high notes coming out of his head. The trombone player was a jolly round fellow, who loved to flirt with the first row, extending his slide full out at ladies or sweeping the entire front row on his deep, earthy, and jovial glissando. Always a smile on his face, he boogied while he sang and had perhaps the best time of all of us. The piano player was a minimalist but his long, solo improvisatory rendition of “Amazing Grace” amazed even me. The bassist and the drum player were great; the percussionist was not in our line of vision and was the only musician to not play a solo. And then there was this interesting gender-neutral guy, a second alto sax, whose personal mystery made it difficult for me to focus on his art. He and the trombone player were the only hatless dudes, the others sporting derbies and tams and turbans and such. We recognized a few tunes, but mostly we were enamored watching the interactions of these guys whose spontaneous creation was so soulful. And when Steve enquired about attending a second set, the manager offered that we could stay as her guests. Sometimes you get lucky…other times, not so much. 

Wednesday we went to the National World War II Museum, the most popular attraction in NOLA—who knew?! Perhaps I should devote as much blog space to this experience as to the music, but I cannot. Our focus on the exhibits was distracted by following up on boat work, our hunger, and a general overwhelm at the magnitude of this horrific world event. 65 MILLION people died, a number which, of course does not include those who suffered injuries that changed and shortened the trajectory of their lives. We lingered through the introductory exhibit, watched a great “4D” video, had lunch, learned that our boat was not going to be returned to the water that day, took in the Road to Tokyo exhibit, which we knew very little about, had dessert, and spun through the Road to Berlin. My biggest takeaway was an uneasy feeling about Pearl Harbor: The American version of history is that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was entirely unprovoked, but I have to wonder if the moving of the naval base from San Diego to Pearl Harbor just the previous year was not seen by the Japanese as an act of aggression, especially as the US cut off oil trade with Japan. Steve was impressed by the transformation of the US military from a size similar to Belgium’s at the beginning of the war, to one that mobilized and utilized a huge work force, military and non-military; at one point, a war plane was produced every 90 minutes. We were emotionally exhausted by our day and went back to our room to rest, eating a late repast at a charming and tiny vegan hole in the wall, which I would love to be able to frequent. The artichoke cakes (a la crab cakes) were amazing, as was a huge kale salad with walnuts and mango. Yum! 

Thursday we treated ourselves to a lighter subject—Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras starts on Kings Day, January 6 and culminates on “Fat Tuesday,” which is March 5 this year. Essentially, it is a billion-dollar party and tourist attraction. Images most of us see might come from the prestigious Rex Krew parade and Masquerade Ball; but there is a quasi-caste system of dozens of Krews around New Orleans, and the suburbs and villages in the area grab a piece of the action too, with a parade or two every week during the season. During the parades, the spectators become participants, calling, “Hey Mister, Throw Me Something,” to which they hope the response will be a tossed string of beads, a plastic cup, toys, or doubloons. Each float rider and throw-tosser spends his own money for the opportunity to be a rock star for a few hours, anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars. We toured the main facility where floats are made for Mardi Gras, Disney, and advertising campaigns, ranging in price from $100-1000 per square foot. This year’s Mardi Gras theme is Orpheus, and the floral motif abounds. The Props, the decor that embellishes the wagon, are made from stacked and carved 4-inch slabs of styrofoam and old pieces are often repurposed for subsequent use, perhaps with a different hair style. More permanent—and more expensive—props are made from fiberglass. Pixie is a relatively new robot who aids immensely in the fabrication of 3-dimensional designs, she being named after founder Mr. Kearns’ indispensable administrative assistant. We were helpless to curtail our photo-taking, so here is a passel of color-saturated snaps from that fun morning. One of my favorites is the “Eat More Chikin” Chick-fil-A billboard cows. 

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This piece is being redesigned, repurposed, and mended. You can see that the beard, the earlobes and the cap are newly created. The artist is applying brown paper maché in order to create a smooth surface which can be beautifully painted.
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An example of the layers of 4-inch styrofoam used to create 3-dimensional figures.

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The color and whimsy are simply astounding.
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One of the Chick-fil-A billboard cows.

That afternoon we returned by streetcar to the French Quarter to tour a couple of historic homes, the Hermann-Grima Home and the Gallier Home, and we gained insights into the social strata of NOLA in the 19th century and the privileged way of life in the city with slaves, through the transition to the Emacipation.

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Three ladies worked 5 hours to create this meal, which represents a typical 3-course meal for prestigious household in the mid-19th century, but they were quick to add that there would have been many more options for each course. Still, what a lovely demonstration it was!

We saw a meal that had been prepared totally over a kitchen fire and talked with these energetic ladies who do this on site every other Thursday. They described a dinner that would have been comprised of at least 3 courses and was timed during the two to three hottest hours of the day. We heard about the financial ruin of the Hermann family when the cotton market in Europe collapsed, forcing them to sell their home to the Grimas and live their remaining years with their daughter and son-in-law in social obscurity.

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The first opera house in the United States was in New Orleans and was designed by architect James Gallier, whose house we toured. Very influential in society, and very American, he married a French woman. He worked in the business district and spoke English during the day, and came home to the French Quarter and spoke French with his family.

We saw in the home of architect Gallier one of the earliest bathrooms with running hot water and flushing toilets, beautifully crafted from walnut wood. We were reminded that even prominent families had diminished opportunities for their daughters to marry after the Civil War. Of the Galliers’ four daughters, only one ever married; they did, however, have education, work, and income that shaped their lives and offered relative independence. We left the French Quarter for the final time feeling that we had a good sense of the culture, at least in that area of New Orleans. 

We have word that Red Pearl is ready to float again, and we will return to Mobile in the morning, hoping to shove off for new sights in the afternoon.

Leaving the Rivers

Jan. 13

Day 1

We traversed southerly (emphasis on the “erly” part, as the river is very snaky) on the Black Warrior Tombigbee Waterway, what was to be three long cruising days with no opportunity to set foot on dry land until we reach Mobile, Alabama. We felt a bit of anxiety, the rivers being fast and the journey even more desolate than normal, due to current flooding conditions.

Steve’s NeBo app reads:

6:23 Started voyage at Demopolis Yacht Basin

6:36 Arrived Tombigbee River

7:16 Departed Tombigbee River

7:16 Arrived Demopolis Yacht Basin

8:04 Departed Demopolis Yacht Basin…

Despite having checked with the lock master first thing this morning, we were bumped by 2 unforeseen commercial tows. Rather than “tread water,” we returned to our slip for a few moments, chafing at the bit, as we had a 70-mile day ahead of us and daylight is of the essence. But once we got the high sign to return to the lock, everything went smoothly. We found our remote anchorage at Bashi Creek, a well-protected spot, and all went well until the 4th and slowest boat in our entourage arrived. He broke with conventions of courtesy and safety and attempted to squeeze between boats already anchored, setting his anchor on top of ours. If we could have moved, we would have, but he was on top of our 100 feet of chain and rafted to the stern of one of the other boats, rendering us totally impotent over our destiny. This is the first of this type of ignorance and lack of courtesy we have experienced, but everyone has their stories. Darkness fell, and the only sound was the faint whir of Fourth Boat’s generator all night.

 

Day 2

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Good Morning, World.

With overcast skies and rain in the forecast, we were on the river at 07:30. But depite the cold and occasional drizzle, we cruised uneventfully with companionable radio banter and observations shared. We passed Bobby’s Fish Camp, still flooded with no way from the dock to the restaurant. It certainly was not the usual hopping cruiser’s party stop, but rather deserted and lonely.

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Usually Bobby’s Fish Camp is a hopping place, it being the only place to socialize and get hot food on a 200-mile stretch of the lower river. With the latest rains, it was inaccessible and dead.

Suddenly two floating sticks in the water (we literally dodged sticks and logs all day) became the ears of a couple of deer “hoofing it” across the river in front of us. They were strong swimmers, but they must have had desperate need to risk fighting the 4-knot current of this swollen river. 

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Two deer blended in with floating debris as they valiantly swam across the river in front of us.

We negotiated our final lock of this river system. Coffeeville Lock was nearly a non-event with a drop that barely registered a few feet, again, due to the high river. From there we left fresh water and entered the brackish wash, heading to the salt water of Mobile Bay.

We located our second anchorage on Three Rivers Lake easily before the sun dropped, but anchoring was a challenge, with an apparent mash of soaked leaves on the lake bottom which was difficult to hook. By the time we dropped anchor a fifth time and were finally secure, the sun was dropping fast. Despite anchoring being the most rigorous exertion of the day, leftover pot roast, kale salad, and Apothic Inferno never tasted so good. And, as I spent the day sneezing and blowing my nose, and felt mellowed by wine and Zyrtec, I called it a day at 8:00. I don’t even know when Steve tucked in beside me.

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Another boat in our caravan. One of many magical spots on this journey!

 

Day 3

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We convoyed with just one other boat today, the other one having taken off as we poked our noses out at the cold morning. After a reverent viewing of the morning sunrise, we raised anchor at 7:15 and headed out of the protection of Three Rivers, past Boat Four, which found us after dark last night and appeared to be yet fast asleep.

Skies continued to be overcast, and it was cold,092e35fa-ba75-4135-b2de-b2ffe8d00399 so we stayed inside at the lower helm all day. The river speed abated as we neared Mobile and the telltale signs of an industrial river at work appeared. At one point there were 49 tows on our AIS cue! Some of them were not working, but we passed every single one. Right in the heart of Mobile we encountered a huge freighter being pushed downriver by 4 tows. Passing this guy was an adventure, as the churn of all those engines created an eddy that made steerage a challenge and gave us a pretty wild ride in the limited width of the river.

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This freighter with four tows (only one tow is in this photo) threw an impressive eddy. Yikes! We were too close to photograph the entire vessel.
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Each of these containers is the trailer of an 18-wheeler. Cranes are loading hundreds of containers onto this barge, and behind the cranes is a vast field of thousands and thousands of containers awaiting loading. Truly a stunning sight!

Once in Mobile Bay, we said, “‘Til we meet again,” to our companions who headed east while we headed west across the chop toward Dog River Marina. While her red hull disguises the mustache on her bow from tannins in the rivers, she still deserves a haul out and a good cleaning. We’re going to hunker down here for a bit and explore terra firma! 

Demopolis Again

Jan. 10

We awoke before dawn to Steve’s alarm. It was 0 Dark Hundred, time to get up and at ‘em, but our cabin thermostat read 55 degrees, and the fact that my nose was cold verified that reading. The momentary reflection that Steph and Luke and their housemates in Boston keep their thermostat at this temperature in the winter did not make me any more eager to roll out of bed. But a few moments later and once again on the river, we were reminded how beautiful early morning is, and the sunrise did not disappoint. Three miles downriver, locking through at Heflin was delayed by a gate that required 45 minutes of persuasion by the lock master to close.

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The lock gate on the right refused to close.

While we sat there, the other pleasure craft in the lock hailed us on the radio, and this being the boat which shared the anchorage with us last night, we invited him to join us for dinner in Demopolis tonight. We cruised most of the 50 miles at the lower helm, but the last 10 were pleasant on the flybridge once we dressed in winter layers—fleece, down, cashmere, pashmina. We laughed at our attire, remarking that this was never our image; “Chase eighty,” is the Looper motto. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day under a cloudless blue sky, and at least our sun glasses were congruent with our preconceptions!

Arriving in Demopolis, we pulled up to the fuel dock in front of which was a couple feet of floating debris. Steve recognized the attendant as the son of the marina owner, the son having helped us with some engine repair work in September. 

Steve: Are you Matt?

Matt: It depends… 

😂😂😂

Steve chatted with him about our dinghy engine which still is not working well after dropping nearly a “boat unit” repairing it in Kentucky, and Matt affirmed one thing that we suspected, that something about our gas can, the lines, or the connection were “sheee-it.” (Matt’s word, not mine.) We bought a new venting gas can from him and he helped us transfer the fuel from old to new. One might hope that’s the end of that story…. but it’s not. Steve had to row back from the test run, so this saga is to be continued. 

Red Pearl having been slipped here during the summer, it was good to see Kingfisher Marina “super” Anna Marie again and her 3 beloved dogs which she loads onto her golf cart several times a day for their necessary ablutions.

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Anna Marie and her lucky, well-loved dogs. Photo taken in September

As we tried to eat lunch, Loopers came knocking on our door in succession, introducing themselves, visiting and telling their stories, and our to-do list went undone. Finally we had a moment to break free and run over to Bella Roma to introduce ourselves to Brian, our dinner companion, whose last name we never got. He gave us a tour of his beautiful probably-60-foot, 4-stateroom yacht, and we enjoyed visiting over a glass of wine. We enjoyed more companionable conversation over dinner at the local favorite, Red Barn. A professor of psychology at Vanderbilt, he also implements assessment programs for industry, and shared about his experience with Vanderbilt Medical School and Nursing School. We learned that he supports his yachting habit by offering 3-hour charters, both in Nashville and in St. Pete which is where he is headed. It was a delightful evening. 

We have heard that the river continues to be so high and fast that even Bobby’s Fish Camp has removed their pier and is not serving their iconic fried catfish. There being no other civilization on the 200 mile stretch between Demopolis and Mobile, everyone stops at Bobby’s! Stories abound about boats rafted up 4-abreast and boaters traipsing, albeit apologetically, across the decks of several boats to get ashore during high season. As we anticipate heading out into this winding wilderness, we’ve decided to give ourselves an additional day at Demopolis to organize and attend to some chores on the boat and enjoy Mexican dinner at Las Fuentes, a great place we stumbled onto last June. We’ll travel with three other Looping boats, and after a final powwow in the Kingfisher laundry room, we have a plan.

Back to Red Pearl

 

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July 6, 2006-November 15, 2018  With gratitude to Oliver for his noble and gentle spirit. Companion in “empty nest” and during lonely call nights; eager and athletic frisbee competitor; courageous hunter of chipmunks, toads, and snakes; and enthusiastic welcoming face—and tail—to dozens of violin students. Thanks for the laughs and the cuddles. Missing you, Buddy. 

January 8, 2019

This afternoon finds us back at the previously ill-fated Sumpter Recreational Area near Aliceville, MS, where Steve had a miscue with our anchor windlass last September and had to find a ride to an ER for stitches. We return on our way back down the river system to loop around Florida this winter. It is a beautiful spot, and we welcome the opportunity to replace those memories of fear and vulnerability with positive ones. And what better day to do it! It is 74 degrees under a mostly blue sky strewn with wisps of mares’ tails and a shiny golden ball that makes us squint and of which we have some vague memory. We shed our long sleeves, shoes and socks and are lounging on the flybridge, pretending for one hour that lounging is all we have to do, before a scurry, albeit a low-key one, of stowing things from our recent return to the boat and dinner to prepare. The enviable scene is short-lived, however, as tomorrow the high will drop 20 degrees, and rain is forecast for the week end.

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So, where have we been since Thanksgiving? Well, mostly back at our “dirt home” in Goshen. After our wonderful Thanksgiving during which our five adult kids and my amazing 92-year-old dad were with us, we returned to the boat. Not having been on the boat for more than 30 minutes, I received a phone call that Dad was in the ER and was thought to have had a heart attack. Three hours later, having learned that his troponin levels had increased, we decided to return to Indiana, a 1400-mile roundtrip. Dad was released from the hospital several days later, and as he continued to have angina, we decided to stay put. We had not anticipated celebrating Advent in any of the traditional ways this year, but that’s precisely what we did: we put up a tree, attended festive dinners and concerts, entertained and socialized, and even spent a week end in Chicago for an opera at the Lyric. Christmas Day was a quiet one with the honor of hosting our three parents. They were good and congenial company for each other, but it was a very different Christmas without Mom, without our kids, and missing Oliver. 

Dad’s heart seeming to stabilize through the holidays, we started thinking about resuming our Loop. Good friends Wishart and Mary Bell offered to schlep us down to Mississippi, and the thought of their joining us for a couple of days on Red Pearl was compelling. On Jan. 5 we packed all of our kitch, a big cooler and 2 new counter stools, into their Honda CRV; and with four drivers it was not difficult to make the drive in one day. It was a production to figure out how and where to park their car a day’s journey downriver so that they could join us for a leg of the trip, catch up with their car, and drive home from there; but with the assistance of a rental car and the marina courtesy car, we made it happen. Wishart and Mary were great help, lovely companions as always, and the perfect folks to help us discover some perameters that make it work to have overnight guests aboard our little boat. We had great fun and look forward to their visit again, as well as others of you, our friends, too. So this is a tentative invitation: Bring your sleeping bag, a towel (we do have guest sheets and towels, but this made it so much easier!) and boat shoes, and we will see whatever is in the vicinity through the “back door,” water-side. We will watch sunsets and sunrises over the water, share and ponder one another’s stories, joys and challenges, and eat well! Do consider a visit! 

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The outboard engine is still not right… 😖
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…but functional enough to ferry Wishart and Mary back to their car.
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The river level is high, and the field of debris that has collected upriver of the Stennis Lock by Columbus, MS was impressive. We entered it with great caution! Thankfully, water quality improved from here.
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Icky!
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Sunset overlooking the Bevill Lock and Dam. One view from our anchorage.
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The view from our anchorage in the other direction. There was a veritable convention of ducks, Canada geese and other water birds as evening fell, until this eagle arrived and settled matters. Photo compliments of Wishart.

Anticipating Thanksgiving

Nov. 4

We left the beautiful Tennessee River at Pickwick Lock where Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi meet, and entered the Tenn-Tom Waterway on which we continue retracing our path from September. We are Looping in the correct direction now, “chasing 80” [degrees], although we have a ways to go to catch that! Today our itinerary is interrupted again by weather. We had hoped to leave at dawn this morning, as we do have an ideal itinerary and an ideal spot to leave the boat on Saturday as we return home for Thanksgiving. Our hope was to beat the afternoon rain which is forecast, but after a restless night as the wind picked up, we discovered that wind gusts were topping 15 mph—and later heard on NOA weather that, in fact winds gusted to 35 mph. That makes for both unpleasant cruising and tense locking through, and there’s no need to push it. Red Pearl is on the “lay-along” at Bay Springs Marina, on the end and outside of the covered pier, from which the view is exquisite. The impressive 83-foot Jamie Whitten Lock looms in the distance to our south,

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The impressive 83-foot Jamie Whitten Lock as the enormous doors open at the bottom.

but in other directions the scene is restful and serene. We watched the wind whip up small white caps over a leisurely breakfast, read our books, and took advantage of the lack of agenda to give the boat a good inside cleaning. We sighted loons and heard coyotes, glimpsed a full rainbow, and enjoyed the daily eye-candy which the sunset nearly always provides. Today it was a wildly neon orange sherbet, layered with charcoal clouds and wide streaks of deep baby blue. Had I seen a photo of it, I would have thought it ruined by photo shopping.

Yesterday’s cruise was idyllic, marred only by the necessity

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Not feelin’ so good…

of scoping out a veterinarian before we left Aqua Yacht Harbor in Iuka, MS. Oliver has, for unknown reasons, experienced a sudden turn-for-the-worse, with reduced mobility and definite pain. The marina courtesy van and GPS enabled us to wind through the 20 miles of Mississippi back country to find the only vet in the area open on Saturday. The young vet examined Oliver and set us up with the anticipated 2-week dose of steroids and muscle relaxers. 

 

Arriving at Bay Springs Lake, we followed Polly Roger into the harbor and right away hit it off with her owners, Bill and Paula Copeland from many places, all west of the Mississippi, and now residing on their boat full-time, their son’s home in Texas being their only land address. Technically, they are not looping yet; still, we enjoyed visiting and I invited them to join us for supper, having made a big Instant Pot of vegetable soup. We shared an enjoyable evening and have plans to go out together for dinner tonight. 

November 7

We’re experiencing unsettled and unsettle-ING weather these days. After an easy cruise and 3 efficient locks, our next stop was Midway Marina in Fulton, Mississippi. Severe thunderstorm warnings morphed into tornado watches, further morphing to tornados aground, and relentless sirens at midnight awoke us and urged us to take cover. Fifteen cautious folks, 4 dogs, and 2 cats took shelter in the captains’ lounge—a small facility with a wall of windows built into a hillside—and tracked the tornado on our cellphones as the sirens continued for another hour-and-a-half. We were greeted in the morning with cloudless blue skies and promised warmth. I had scoped out a free dock near the Aberdeen Lock and Dam, and the lure of enjoying the afternoon ashore was too tempting to pass up. We parted ways with Polly Roger and pulled into a charming inlet, D62C7128-1010-4CD9-937B-3DD944A23D17which we shared only with a few fisher-people. In shorts for the first time since leaving Green Turtle Bay, we took a long walk, grilled steaks and made a big salad, and by 6:00 it was DARK! The fisher woman on our pier assured me that the area was safe, with police frequenting the road above, but she looked at Oliver and cautioned us to keep our dog out of the water—alligators! The plan was to relax this morning, let the forecasted thunderstorms pass and then make the short cruise to Columbus, where we will leave the boat over Thanksgiving. However, the generator was leaking a bit a fuel, and running it seemed unwise. With temperatures in the low 50s and no way to make a hot breakfast or even coffee, the bucolic spot immediately lost its charm! The NOA forecast indicated that we could beat the worst of the storms; the problem, however, was that, forecasts change, and we anxiously watched as the innocuous prediction for 5-10mph winds grew to 17mph. We burned some fuel in “go fast” mode (a rip-snorting 12 knots) to get to safe harbor, and then watched from our covered slip the storm’s greatest fury.

Oliver’s set-back and clear displeasure at being on the boat has distracted my cruising mindset, allowing my attention to linger on activities at home. As I anticipate the crazy schedule with doctors and dental appointments, colonoscopies, hair appointments (oh, Lordy!), and our brood of 5 young adults and a 92-year-old dad all coming for the few days over Thanksgiving, I concede that things will need to be simpler this year. I’ve allowed myself only a few moments of visualizing the accommodating home that we left last spring, and have not been very motivated to make detailed plans for the inevitable crunch we will experience in tighter quarters. It’s not a phase unique to us, this wondering where “home” really is—young and old, alike, experience it. I can hope that the familiar and comfortable will be replaced with Joy at being together; Memories of Mom shared; Excitement bubbling over wedding plans, new business enterprises, house expansions, travels; and hopefully, lots of Laughter. And then, having welcomed such a gathering within its walls, perhaps our condo will begin to become “Home.” May it be so. 

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“Sweet Home, Alabama” in Florence


November 2, 2018

We were awakened at 6:15 yesterday by the din of wailing sirens—LOTS of them—and lay there, wondering what they meant. Prying ourselves out of bed, we saw the owner of the 52’ Carver behind us securing his boat with duplicate lines and fenders, and so we followed suit, knowing the forecast was for severe thunderstorms. The person who answered Steve’s call to the local police station did not know what the sirens meant. As the wind picked up, Steve directed me to open all of the isinglass on the flybridge. I dragged up there and gazed for a moment at the objects, both equipment in use and “in storage” waiting to be taken home to Goshen. I simply could not bring myself to totally open the space, so I vented the zippered closures and thought—well…magical thoughts. I gathered the portable items and stowed them in the salon, where they would stay dry. Upon noticing this, Steve, of course, would have none of it, so together we rolled up those big isinglass windows, opening the flybridge to reduce windage, but also to welcome a sure and thorough soaking of the space that is, in very different weather conditions, so inviting. Not until later did we learn that those sirens announced a tornado having touched down 20 miles downstream and heading straight toward Florence. To officially usher out hurricane season on the Gulf today with a tornado nearby feels ironic, indeed.

Charming Florence, childhood home of Helen Keller and seedbed of the Muscle Shoals Sound, offered  up unique “aha!” insights and interesting trivia. With the marina’s courtesy car, we first checked out the local ceremonial mound of Native American people from as far back as 10,000 years to its most recent history whose end is marked by the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Impressive collections of stone tools which have been uncovered from the various ages are on display, but the question as to precisely how the mound truly functioned in the life of the Native Community remains a mystery. 

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We enjoyed touring the Usonian Frank Lloyd Wright home known locally as the Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum House. A wedding gift of $7500 from Stanley’s parents funded the purchase of 2 beautiful acres (across the street from said parents’ house) and the design and construction of this modest home. Wright’s vision was to build vast neighborhoods of these utilitarian, expandable designs for middle America in the 40s. The failure of this vision to come to fruition necessitated that he return at the end of his career to designing homes for the wealthy with beautiful materials and no budget constraints. Rosenbaums’ home exemplified the typical Wright profile, flat-roofed with horizontal windows high along the roof line, a single carport, and emphasis of the landscape and gardens in back, rather than “curb appeal,” which was not a consideration at the time. Extensive use of plywood and cement was remarkable; and all blended into an efficient and warm aesthetic, blurring the distinction of indoors and out. Ten years later, Mildred finally got her “big” kitchen in their addition that Wright had refused to include in the original rendition, and their 4 sons were moved from 2 very small bedrooms to a large common room adjacent to the kitchen, with built-in bunk beds and individual toy chests. This room became the couple’s TV room after their sons left home, a late concession by the movie theater mogul that TV was here to stay. Highly respected movie critic, Jonathon Rosenbaum, is one of their sons.

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We began lunch with dessert at Trowbridges, known for their orange pineapple ice cream. Even I had to try it, passing up flavors like “salted caramel apple pie” for the flavor that put Florence on the map in 1918. Next door we were seated by Marilyn Monroe and served a great Mexican lunch by Spider-Man, it being Halloween. 

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The following day, the day of the sirens, we again set out for an exposure to a world to which we feel only tentative connection—the recording industry and the rise of music with Southern roots—country, blues, R&B, and gospel—all, my absolute favorites! 🤢 On the tour, only Steve and I had never heard of icon, Rick Hall. Founder of Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, FAME, in 1959, Hall was the complete package—songwriter, music publisher, recording technical director, talent scout—with instincts for concisely emotive storytelling, lean arrangements and solid grooves. In segregated Alabama in the 60s, black and white performers collaborated at FAME: “It was a dangerous time but the studio was a safe haven where blacks and whites could work together in musical harmony,” Hall wrote. Artists who have plied their craft in those humble studios are Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Otis Reading, the Osmonds, Paul Anka, Little Richard, Willie Nelson, and Jason Isbell…and many more (said the violinist whose head was buried in the practice room during those years). Rick Hall passed away in January, 2017, but the studio soldiers on, led by his wife and son. Up the street 10 minutes is Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, started in 1969 by 4 young, local session musicians who left FAME due to a contract dispute with Rick Hall. The guys, given the affectionate name “The Swampers,” caught the attention and patronage of one of Hall’s competitors. Jerry Wexler’s $20,000 loan to set up this facility allowed these wildly talented musicians to preserve their autonomy, setting free their amazing artistic instincts. The studio only functioned as such for 9 years, but in those years legendary greats such as Cher, the Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt, Paul Simon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rod Stewart, “and many more” recorded there. On virtually all of the albums, the 4 owner/musicians were pivotal and significant musical collaborators. The business entity continued in other venues for many years, and three of the four continue rockin’ it out today. Funds from Beats Electronics and Dr. Dre enabled a nonprofit to fully reclaim and recreate this hallowed cement-block structure on the National Register of Historic Places where the magic of 3614 Jackson Highway is still sensed and revered by adoring fans.

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Our visit to Florence ended with dinner at Ricatoni’s, a local favorite for Italian cuisine, with new acquaintances Skip and Bev Schmidt from St. Ignace, Michigan, who are looping on Lark. Having resided in Florida during their early marriage, they are lifetime and expert sailors and racers, and have volunteered their services in the Marshall Islands and Tunisia. He, a high school English teacher and she, a pianist, we shared many interests, and all made for a delightful evening. Tomorrow we leave the Tennessee River and begin to wind south, seeking the sun!

Discovering Chattanooga

Oct. 27

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Chattanooga was once one of the dirtiest cities in the country, thanks to its role in river and rail transportation. But before its industrial history lies a very sad chapter for Native Americans— for us all. Ross Landing was the last site of the Cherokee’s occupation of Chattanooga and is considered to be the embarkation point of the 1838 Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears.

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The beautiful water feature near our our boat which commemorates the Trail of Tears.

Over 16,000 Cherokee were forcibly removed from their homes at bayonet point and looked on as white men looted and ransacked their homes, and 4000–1/4 of them—died of cold, hunger, and disease on their march to the western lands. By this time, Andrew Jackson’s  administration had removed 46,000 Native American people from their land east of the Mississippi, opening 25 million acres of land to white settlement and to slavery. In 1839 Ross Landing was incorporated into the city of Chattanooga, and by 1850 it was a boom town “where the cotton meets the corn” as a hub in railway transport. During the Civil War a few decades later, Union forces defeated Confederate forces in the battle on Lookout Mountain, and The Battle of Chickamauga was the second-costliest land battle of the entire war, with 34,624 casualties. History and pride run deep here.

As Steve and I discussed taking this side trip, I felt a little cynicism for having driven through Chattanooga so many times as we traversed to Florida last winter. Why take an additional couple of weeks and the boat when we could have stopped by car much more easily if we had wanted to?! The answer to this sits at the very heart of this whole looping venture: the point is to discover gems which we have overlooked or have not known; the point is to discover these bits through the back door; the point is to delight in small things and in self-discovery. 

The river wound through the foothills of the Appalachians, and Red Pearl reluctantly pushed upstream against a strong current at 7 knots with 2000 rpm, past industrial sites and along Interstate 24. Chattanooga has a long river front with a few floating docks (always a good thing around dams, where water levels can fluctuate), but the most picturesque spot was on the concrete wall right beside an emotionally-moving fountain commemorating the Trail of Tears and the iconic Aquarium. We sidled along the wall in front of several Looper vessels with whom we had left the rendezvous, and Mike and Brenda Finkenbinder from Velsignet met us and assisted with our lines—the Looper Welcome! And what to do first in the city?! Docktails! 😉 Everyone brings their own beverage and a snack to share.

We took advantage of our weather window the first day 7A8E5C37-F650-4060-8524-247A995318E8and took a Lyft to—I’m almost embarrassed to admit—the highly-commercialized Rock City on Lookout Mountain. Remember the barn roof media blitz, “See Rock City,” as one drives in the Southeast and Midwest? We wanted to see the panoramic views of Chattanooga and to learn more about the Lookout Mountain Civil War history, and Rock City was a natural. We were prepared for its commercialization—and here we found the first Starbucks on our trip so far!—but not its undeniable beauty. As we followed the flagstone paths around huge boulders and rock cliffs, admiring fauna that we know and love from home, I felt my body unwind and lighten. 26F9357F-7CCA-4559-8624-EF0B343CDB71There is a vista in which one can view seven states, but it was the smaller-scale creativity that caught me by surprise. The project was fashioned, similarly to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, by Frieda Carter, whose husband Garnet was a busy and otherwise-occupied businessman. She created and won awards for the rock gardens, in addition to a dozen fairytale scenes tucked into small alcoves in the caves featuring German gnome figurines. Garnet was the advertising brains behind the attraction and, interestingly, the originator of Tom Thumb Golf, now recognized as America’s first miniature golf course. 

 

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A sector of the view of 7 states. The tiny barn at the center advertises, “See Rock City.”

The next day, with rain and drizzle, we toured the Chattanooga Experimental Whiskey Distillery with Mike and Brenda. We learned about the history and the recipe of the libation. Prohibition of distilling alcohol for commercial trade remained Tennessee law until 2010, and there still remain some dry counties. American Bourbon Whiskey requires a distillation of 51% corn, but the rest of the recipe is open-ended, and this facility boasts 150 different experimental recipes in oak casks at any time, aging and awaiting tasting and assessment. The tour ended with a flight of 6 tastes. Very interesting! Next—our visit to the Moonpie General Store, while listed as one of the top 15 things to do in the city, was a bomb. We discovered that Moonpies, no mater how fresh and local, are NOT delicious!

The Aquarium, whose expansion was part of the 1995 revitalization of the downtown area, was a great way to spend our final day in Chattanooga. The Ocean, The Rivers, and the IMAX are all distinct buildings and each is a small gem. We enjoyed learning about agile and frisky Lemurs, walking amidst butterflies and watching them emerge from cocoons, and petting (small!) sharks and stingrays—and of course, lots of fish and turtles—local and exotic, small and huge. Our fun week ended with the mundane necessities of laundry and provisioning.

This morning we left Chattanooga before sunrise in order to beat the 8:00am closing of through traffic on the river for Paddleboard and Kayak races today. Last night the entire riverfront park filled with small, colorful vessels and their hale and hearty owners dressed in sock caps, wet suits, and flip flops. Fog hovers over the hillside but, thankfully, not the water. Sadly, we are leaving the forested hillsides still before fall color has really begun. However, it’s time to seek sun and warmer temperatures, so off we go! Cruising downstream at 10 knots, we hope make it back to Goose Pond—an 85-mile day with a lock—in time for a great dinner there again. 

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This photograph from an Aquarium display exemplifies why cruising the rivers of Tennessee is so amazing. It shows the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers and their tributaries in the state of Tennessee. WOW.

We said goodbye to Mike and Brenda yesterday, as their unique itinerary includes continued work and the month of February in Hawaii. We hope to meet up again in the spring on the east coast of Florida. Our journey is already delivering on the promise of nice folks whose lives intersect ours—sometimes once, but often repeatedly, lovely friendships formed, the option of myriads of paces and itineraries, and the discovery of kind people everywhere.