We left Fort Meyers, having gratefully relished its sunny breezes. An early morning start heading east on the Caloosahatchee River and into the Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) landed us at a highly-rated marina, River Forest, past LaBelle and near…nothing, really. The purpose of the stop was for an oil change, for which we hear recommendations to do every 100 engine hours….or every 250 engine hours. Take your pick! We putzed the remainder of the day, and then the technician came aboard Friday, and we putzed some more while Steve paid attention and learned some mechanicthings. I know Steve wants me to be able to share in routine maintenance, such as daily oil checks and cleaning of strainers, but after the trauma of falling into the engine compartment last June, I still get a little panicky when down there. Evidently, our engine is due a 3-day 1000-hour servicing,but we don’t have time for that, not today!
The pickings are slim for services along this route, so we felt lucky to snag the 35-foot free dock by the boat ramp at Clewiston where we docked without assistance or drama—an extra high high-five for us! 🥳 We had 5 locks to transit on this trip across Florida which required a different technique than the river locks we are accustomed to. Instead of using only one line at midship to loop over a floating bollard, these locks employ lines hanging down from the top of each lock, two of which I had to grab and secure, one to a bow cleat and the other to a stern clete. Our technique still is not as smooth as we like but experience is a good teacher. I wonder whether those lock operators go home and regale their friends with stories about funny things they saw in their lock that day. The saying goes that sometimes you watch the show and sometimes you ARE the show! After docking, we hopped on our bikes and headed to town to check out the Clewiston Sugar Festival, which was the cause of the marina jam. Country Western music blared from a small arena, big screen TVs showed the action onstage close up, and festival food was everywhere. We finally settled on “Redneck Sundaes,” smoked mac and cheese topped with pulled pork, and a sweet finish of strawberry shortcake, the latter of which was exceptional. A sudden downpour dampened our spirit for exploration, and despite the dry cleaning bags with hoods that the festival generously passed out, we were ready to return to the boat. The remote dock was home to some very raucous birds, and we enjoyed being in a wild place as we spent the remainder of the evening in trip planning.
The arena at the Clewiston Sugar Festival blared country western music.
On Sunday we crossed Okeechobee under cloudy skies. Winds whipped up a 2-foot chop in the middle and created the kind of ride in which one tries not to move around the boat much. There is hype about how shallow Lake O can get, and how it is not a place you want to have any mechanical malfunctions, but for the most part we had plenty of depth and an easy cruise. A flock of seagulls followed in our draft the entire way. For nearly 4 hours, the lead birds spelled one another off, and at the end two of them circled back at couple of times, corralling and encouraging the stragglers. On the other side of Okeechobee we reached our designated anchorage already at 11:30! Recalling the reviews that it was buggy and a nighttime survey of the shoreline with one’s flashlight reflected the eyes of alligators, we decided that we could make it to Stuart. We anchored in good mud in Pendarvis Cove, not our most idyllic setting, but the real estate surrounding it was nice, and lots of other boats were there.
Monday we continued the route east, entering the congestion of the confluence of the Atlantic Intra Coastal Water Way and the Okeechobee Water Way. The St. Lucie Inlet and the Indian River, with the addition of tidal currents create water-flow that require attention to timing and ATONs (aids to navigation), and traffic is challenging as well. Upon entering the ICW, we began cruising northward. With wind on our nose and a nice wide channel up the Indian River, we arrived at Fort Pierce Municipal Marina where we will spend the next few days hunkered down due to high wind.
From Venice, we cruised down to the iconic, congested waters around Fort Meyers. It being Friday and Spring Break season, the traffic was nutty. Our hopes of having lunch in “Cheeseburger Paradise” (Jimmy Buffet) on Cabbage Key were dashed by the shortest finger piers we’ve ever seen. Snazzy power boats surrounded us at the pier, and even though we had called ahead and a slip had been reserved for us, the fact that we always “bow in” (as opposed to “stern in”) rendered disembarking impossible. We gazed at the 6-foot down and 2- foot out jump to that tiny pier and envisioned being younger and more lithe. And then we giggled at the thought of trying to get back ON the boat, and that realization made the decision for us. A lot of boats carry a step stool; finding space to store said step stool is our problem. Sooo, no cheeseburgers for us today. Instead, after vacating the slip we had just pulled into, we snacked on our cheese, summer sausage and PB-stuffed celery as we headed “on down the road again.” Even this disappointment did not mar the gorgeous day!
We arrived at Sanibel Island in much better time than we had calculated, thanks to our aborted lunch plans. Gold loopers Joe and Pat Apicella invited us onto their Mainship 430, Glory Days, for docktails and we enjoyed their stories and advice. Dinner at Gramma Dots at the marina, while highly recommended was unremarkable. Saturday morning we hopped on our new bikes and arrived at LighthouseBeach around 8:00. Already it was packed with folks shelling, wind surfing, walking their dogs, and jogging. We had read about the “Sanibel Stoop” and observed that many take their shelling seriously! I asked a young woman if she would show me what she had collected in her little zippered bag. She explained, as she identified each treasure, that she had arrived at 5:00 and started searching for shells by flashlight. Remembering the big jar of beautiful shells that we sold in our estate sale last May, I was neither disappointed to be late to the morning search nor wishing to return another morning. But it was so much fun to watch the scene!
After an early lunch, we headed the other way on our bikes to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. We were disappointed that recommendations to allow an hour were not sufficient for our mode of viewing. The shell collections are fabulous but I would have enjoyed learning more about the mollusks that inhabit them. While studying a poster on the anatomy and propulsion of a scallop, I felt sadness for capturing and eating these fabulous creatures, and by our lack of connection to and understanding of our food sources. 😔
The cause for our needing to rush through the shell museum was to catch a naturalist-led tram tour of the “Ding” Darling Nature Refuge, which occupies one-third of the island. (Another one-third of the island is protected from development, in accordance with a very strong resident-steered land use plan). Ding was a cartoonist and a visionary who purchased this protected land in the 1920s. We learned that the white pelican has an average wing span of 9 feet, second only to the condor in the US, and saw a number of them, just before migration time when they head north for the summer. We saw several varieties of herons, anhingas, and egrets (as many as we saw along the rivers, I never knew to look for the elegant “golden slippers” of snowy egrets). In addition, we learned about the important role that mangrove trees play in securing the coasts of Florida; their valuable protection against hurricane winds led to legislation that makes it illegal to remove or even prune a mangrove tree. Having thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon nature lesson, we found ice cream before returning back to the boat, and plans for dinner took a back seat, as the ice cream satiated our appetites.
In the evening, there was a knock on the boat, and there stood Steve from Just Right, a friend and fellow-Hoosier from the Rendezvous and Chattanooga. He and Kathleen (correct—“Steve and Kathleen!”) are here in Sanibel for the night with 5 guests aboard. It turns out that they will be a few days ahead of us as they cross to eastern Florida, but we hope our paths cross again as we head north—they’re lovely people!
The Sunday morning cruise to Fort Meyers was a new experience. Our pier-neighbor warned us that we would be on the “miserable mile,” and while neither Steve nor I understood what he meant, we discovered soon enough. The traffic was indeed MISERABLE! For several miles, within a relatively narrow channel there were at least several dozen boats heading toward us and looking behind, dozens as well, many itching to get around us. We were “waked” numerous times, challenging the enjoyment of my morning coffee routine; and despite extra-careful stowing, the cabin floor was strewn with telltale signs of significant rocking. Finally tucked in at Ft. Meyers Yacht Basin, we were ready to see the city.
Monday was laundry-and-catch-up day and wedding-conference-call-day with Steph and Luke and Luke’s parents Sue and Kieron. During the conference call, a Looper with whom we left Demopolis knocked on our boat, and we arranged to have dinner with him. The afternoon offered time to explore; even though we know cyclists who brave city traffic (aka Boston madness), we felt more comfortable on foot. Historic Fort Meyers has charm with inviting eateries and boutiques in an area of a few square blocks. Come evening we shared a casual al fresco dinner at Ford Garage with Nick from Kaillany, and conversation never veered from looping topics. It was a fun evening.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford
Tuesday we toured the fascinating Edison-Ford Winter Estates, the main attraction in downtown Fort Meyers and one of the 10 most visited historic home properties in the United States. In 1885 Thomas Edison was fishing out on Florida’s Caloosahatchee River, when he noticed several varieties of bamboo growing along the shore. Of even greater importance was a “for sale” sign posted nearby. Edison was working on electric light bulbs, and he thought bamboo might serve as filaments in the bulbs. But further, his doctor had been admonishing him to spend the frigid months of New Jersey in warmer climes for health reasons, and he’dbeen considering buying a winter home. Earlier that year, his wife Mary had tragically died*, leaving the young father with three children and a loan taken out to cover the cost of her burial. Having sufficiently recovered emotionally and financially by the end of the year, he tracked down the property’s owner and bought the land for a carelessly exorbitant sum.A year later Seminole Lodge was built in the newly incorporated town of Fort Myers, and Thomas Edison and his new bride Mina became some of Florida’s original snowbirds. Mina, being the 20-year-old daughter of Lewis Miller, farm machinery inventor and founder of Chataqua, a life-long learning retreat center on the southern shores of the Lake Erie, was an educated and cultured young woman of means, and evidently was well-prepared for life with men of few words and a profusion of ideas! She had been around famous people all her life and was raised to “take charge” of situations. She became matriarch of both the 23-room Victorian mansion at West Orange, NJ where Edison’s main laboratory was located and, of course, this simpler arts and crafts winter home on 17 acres. Though not an architect, Edison drew up the plans for the home and its adjoining guesthouse. Because Mina donated the property at the end of her life to the city in 1947 on the condition that it become a museum, the property is relatively unchanged since the Edisons’ time. The house was built to take advantage of the river breezes, with full-length doors on every side that are thrown open to allow visitors a good look at the rooms over neatly labeled glass dividers. All the furniture is original: early electric-light chandeliers hang from the ceilings; gramophones sit on desks. Edison’s 800 books reside behind glass, and the twin lace-covered beds still stand in Thomas and Mina’s room. It was not long after building before the Edisons were receiving visitors, and by the 1920s they had hosted many of the country’s rich and famous: Charles Lindbergh, the Kelloggs, the Colgates, Herbert Hoover, naturalist John Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone. (I can’t help but choke on these sexist “who’s who” lists. Surely strong and savvy women were included among the roles!) Edison did much of his significant work at their winter home, a lifetime accumulation of 1,093 patents from 1869 through his final year, having set a goal of producing a “minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” Of all his inventions, the phonograph remained his favorite, and Steve and I listened to examples of the original tin-foil-wrapped tubes, wax rolls (which went through many iterations), and 1/4” thick records made of a diamond-infused plastic similar to Bakelite. Another frequent guest at Seminole Lodge, of course, was Henry Ford, who was so charmed by Edison’s surroundings that in 1916 he bought the house next door, called the Mangoes. He and Edison had forged a close bond after the two met in Detroit and older inventor encouraged the younger entrepreneur to continue working on his “quadricycle” idea, even though it was derided by the public. Most of us remember Ford’s pivotal development of the assembly line in 1913, but I had forgotten that the Model T which had previously been built in more than 12 hours, suddenly could be assembled in 93 minutes! The Fords’ home has been furnished with period furniture that reflects their tastes, because it was sold to a single family whose home it was for decades until it was purchased for historical restoration, and then, of course, the Fords’ personal furnishings were scattered. In 1927 Ford, Edison, and their friend Harvey Firestone formed the Edison Botanical Research Corporation and built a lab on Edison’s property to study latex-producing plants. World War I had jeopardized the country’s access to rubber, giving latex immense strategic and monetary value. A multitude of latex-producing plants were growing on the property, and they became subject to thousands of tests in their state-of-the-art lab, which still gleams as if newly built. Here the inventors and their staff (called muckers) dried the latex-bearing plants and ground them into powder. Equipment on several tables outfitted with water, gas, and electricity (both DC and AC—Edison couldn’t hold out forever against AC) was used to determine the latex content of the samples. The distillation apparatus then extracted latex from the plant material and purified and recycled the solvents. Out off 17,000 plant samples from around the world, the big discovery at the lab was that the humble goldenrod had the highest percentage of latex content of all. (A variety that was created at the lab and produces even more latex is named in Edison’s honor, Solidago edisoniana.) The project continued for five years after Edison’s death before the U.S. Department of Agriculture took it over. (Not long after, synthetic rubber derived from petroleum stormed onto the scene, it being a less intensive process. ) In 2014 the lab became the first site in Florida designated by the American Chemical Society as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. Seminole Lodge, the Mangoes, and the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory make up the heart of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Together the properties make for a meticulous time capsule of the lives of these extraordinary people.
The Estate has done a spectacular job of maintaining not only the buildings but the 21 acres of grounds, which were home to more than 1,700 plants representing more than 400 species from 6 continents before the ravages of Hurricane Irma, but is still is a worthy destination for lovers of horticulture. There are latex-producing plants—figs and banyans among them (including the largest banyan in the contiguous United States). There is also quite a collection of mango and citrus trees. The Moonlight Garden—full of plants that flower at night—is tucked away behind Edison’s study. The Heritage Garden which once grew vegetables for the Edisons and Fords to eat and to sell to neighbors now produces its bounty for local farmers markets.
The Wizard Invents gallery houses many of Edison inventions: the phonograph, the kinetoscope (an early motion picture–viewing device), an updated telegraph, and an impressive display of light bulbs. There’s also Edison’s improved stock ticker, his first lucrative invention: Edison’s device could be synchronized with all the other stock tickers on a telegraph line, eliminating the need for employees to monitor and reset them if they fell out of unison. Also on display is the electric pen, which—after failing in its original task of duplicating handwritten documents—had a much more successful second life as the tattoo machine we know today. Into the Wild covers the escapades of the Vagabonds, the name Edison, Ford, Firestone, and Burroughs gave themselves when they went off on their annual camping adventures between 1914 and 1924. What started as small camping trips grew into weeks-long excursions that included family, household staff, professional chefs, and on two occasions sitting presidents of the United States. There were dining tents and a kitchen car specially equipped with a built-in gas stove and refrigerator. Edison rigged up lights for the campsites; guests participated in tree-cutting or sprinting contests. Reporters and photographers covered the exploits like some kind of “glamping” reality show, and their stories played a major role in popularizing recreational camping.
The museum has significantly more material about Edison than Ford. In fairness, Ford moved in 30 years after Edison and stayed for shorter periods. The museum does house a gleaming 1937 Ford flathead V-8 engine, along with a history of the Ford Motor Company.** Come June, porch furniture is moved into the garage at the Mangoes, and significant pieces of furniture, such as Mina Edison’s beloved piano, are transferred to safer locations. It’s a wise move considering that the property has been hit by a dozen hurricanes since Edison’s arrival in 1886.***
Our experience on Wednesday was the consolation for realizing that we have insufficient time to truly immerse ourselves in the mysteries of Everglades National Park. On Wednesday Steve and I embarked on an “Everglades Ecotour Safari.” Whatever. It was recommended in the AAA book, so we rather blindly signed up. It turned out to be a hurry-here-and-there alligator hunt. We started with a boat ride and hunted for dolphins. (We LOVE dolphins! But we’ve seen dozens and dozens from Red Pearl, up close and personal.) Then came the board walk hike through a swamp, which actually was pretty cool, albeit hurried. Next, after scoping out hurricane damaged homes in Everglades City, we ate a seafood lunch, which included a couple of bites of deep fried alligator. (Tastes like chicken. No joke.) Over lunch we conversed with our fellow tour-takers, 1 American from Wyoming, 8 Canadians, and 2 Germans. What fun we had hearing their take on the US political state of affairs! After lunch, we got serious about hunting alligators, all from the van, of course. We sped by slews of them, assured that there were hundreds there. I took his word for it. The day ended with an ear-splitting airboat ride across some lake. In search for more alligators, the most interesting thing we saw was an osprey ripping at a whole fish. Sigh. Not my cup of tea, but the guide worked hard and was well-meaning.
Fort Meyers will be a fun memory—the best, and the not-so-best. Now we prepare already to head across Lake Okeechobee and back north!
* It is thought that Mary Edison probably died from a morphine overdose. “… By 1890, opiates were the main ingredient in everything from teething powders to analgesics for menstrual cramps. Patent medicines – so-called because they often contained secret “patented” ingredients – flooded the market. Some served a useful purpose, but they also became easy methods to get high. One famous product was Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a morphine and alcohol concoction that was marketed to parents of fussy children as a “perfectly harmless and pleasant” way to produce a “natural quiet sleep, by relieving the child from pain.” After the civil war, even more potent drugs entered the market, including the opiate heroin (introduced by Bayer around the same time as aspirin) and the stimulant cocaine, which was used in everything from cough syrups to Coca-Cola (despite the company’s stringent denials).
Opium imports hit their peak in the 1890s, right around the rise of the temperance movement, perhaps because of the demonization of alcohol, or perhaps because opiate use was easier to hide. This was the status quo until 1906, when the federal government under Teddy Roosevelt stepped in with its landmark Pure Food and Drug Act, which required any “dangerous” or “addictive” drugs to appear on the label of products….”
-Excerpted from “The Strange History of Opiates” in “The Guardian”
**Fun Fact: The term “pick up truck” comes from the early days of the auto industry. Trucks were often purchased by mail and the new owner would have to go to the local shipping depot at the train station in order to“pick up” his new truck. The first manufactured multipurpose truck came on a Model TT chassis in 1925.
After two weeks at home, we are back on Red Pearl and raring to go! We had a lovely time with our parents, celebrating Mom Hollenberg’s 90th, and quietly spending Mom Barr’s birthday with Dad. We went to doctors appointments, met with friends, and shared dinner with nephews. And then we returned to Red Pearl with dear friends Joel and Beverly Eikenberry in a rental car. They spent 2 days with us in St. Petersburg on the boat, but we were disappointed that high winds prevented us from truly introducing them to the cruising life; instead we opted for a quick 2-hour cruise during which winds did not exceed 12 mph. We revisited the Dali Museum, picked up our new folding bikes, enjoyed delicious stone crab at Billy’s, and made a quick sashay to St. Pete Beach, which is gorgeous when the weather is inviting—but it was not! On our last day in St. Pete we reconnected with friends Jeff Sickels and Twila Liggett over a leisurely lunch and talked about a possible rendezvous next winter in the Keys.
Before returning home in February, Steve and I spent a lovely day in Sarasota on the Ringling Estate. We enjoyed the fabulous art collection which John Ringling amassed, comprised primarily of works of Baroque European masters, and toured the stunning home, Ca’d’zan, of John and Mable Ringling. John (1866-1936) was one of five Ringling brothers of the circus legacy, and his job was to seek talent for their circus acts, traveling the globe with Mabel. His wealth, built apart from the circus business through investments in oil, ranching, railroads, and real estate, made him the 13th wealthiest man at one point. In 1924, he and Mable finally began construction on a permanent home. The 36,000 square foot residence was the setting for lavish parties, hosting guests such as Will Rogers and New York Mayor Jimmy Walker. Built for $1.5 million, it is valued at nearly $21 million today. Mabel died only 3 years after moving into the home from Addison’s Disease and the complications of diabetes. Nine years later, at John’s death, the tangled web of his convoluted financial affairs, hounding creditors, bitter family rivalries, competing state and local governments, and a scorned former and second wife took 10 years to wind its way through probate. At his passing, John’s art museum and residential estate were left to the people of Florida, and $311.00 remained in his checking account. After leaving the Ringling estate, we drove to St. Armands Circle, remembering how exciting the shopping seemed 40 years ago when we discovered it. (Call us jaded.) We stumbled onto the Columbia (Restaurant), at which I remember the Cuban preparation of our filet mignon way back then, and we savored another memorable dinner there.
Tomorrow we head down the western coast of Florida to Venice. Time is shorter than we had hoped, due to time spent in Indiana and the press to be north of the hurricane belt in May before we head to Ireland for Stephanie and Luke’s wedding. It’s ALL good—special time at home, and weddings abroad! But we are tantalized by the idea of returning next winter for some of the stops we’re having to bypass this time around.
We finally are cruising as we envisioned, and we are “chasing 80 [degrees]!” After a thoroughly enjoyable cruise south, we arrived at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, a 600-slip facility. We were asked to tread water for 45 minutes, while a disabled yacht finished fueling and was docked before we were assisted in docking at her bow. We were to be the last boat on the transient wall, with a nice distance between us and the next boat. I was showering for dinner when I heard Steve yell in an unusually high-pitched voice. As I threw on some clothes to be available for whatever Steve needed, I heard it again and then I felt the impact. (Can we just have an uneventful, thoroughly sunny blog with no drama?!) Marina personnel, evidently, changed their mind and directed a madman on a 30-foot boat to our stern, and he had absolutely no docking skills. As he jammed his boat back and forth from forward to reverse at RPMs way too high, he rear-ended us. It actually was our dinghy that he rammed, which swings a bit on its davits, and nothing seems damaged at this point. We are mystified by his lack of concern and his immediate claim that he’s been boating for 26 years and this is the FIRST time he has ever hit anything. First of all, with his lack of finesse, his claim is highly improbable; second, anyone who needs to make a claim like this is probably lying (as one might observe in our current political arena); and third, most boaters, if they are honest, miscue at some point in 26 years, and are wise to learn from their mistakes. We have witnesses of the event and spent the next morning fighting the system 🤯 to file a report with the FWC (Florida Wildlife and Conservation), verifying the skipper’s information, and waiting to assist with his lines as he departed in order to avert another impact—which we WOULD have had, as his plan for releasing his lines would not have controlled his windage. Steve helped him think it through and, thankfully, he was willing to use Steve’s strategy.
With that bit of unpleasantness behind us, we rhapsodized over the treasure at the Dali Museum. St. Pete was the recipient of the over-80-piece collection of philanthropists Reynolds and Eleanor Morse from Cleveland. (More of their story is at the end of this “rhapsody.”*) The collection moved into its current, hurricane-safe home in 2011, and the museum quickly became self-sustaining within two years. One gets a sense of Dali’s quirks as one approaches the building, with its “avant-garden,” extensive use of stone, and the bulbous-shaped geodesic protrusions from an otherwise severe cement cubical structure. We toured with a docent who shed light on this flamboyant personality and mischievous provocateur, whose work was influenced by his fascination with math and science, his vibrant dream world, his love for opera, his preoccupation with religion, and sex. Salvador Dali, born in Catalonia, Spain, was the third in his family by that name, preceded by his father and his deceased brother. Some of his psychological influences can be traced to his parents’ belief that he was an incarnation of his brother who was two when he died. A prodigious child artist, Dali attended the prestigious Academy for Art in Madrid; however, he was neither a compliant nor a serious student and was finally expelled shortly before final exams for declaring that no member of the faculty was competent enough to examine him.
We learned about Dali’s stylistic periods. Quite capable of competing with Dutch and Flemish masters, he found realism boring. Invited by others in the Surrealism movement, he joined this avant-garde group, one in which fantastic and incongruous imagery are irrationally juxtaposed, such as one experiences in dreams. He married Gala, a woman previously married to a Surrealist poet and 10 years his senior, who was truly his muse throughout his life. In the 1930s the Surrealism community expelled him, largely over his fascination with Hitler as expressed in a few of his works. Gala and Dali moved to the States due to WW II in 1940 and lived in New York and California for 8 years, during which time he met the Morses. In his classical period of the 1950s, he created 19 large canvases, characterized by meticulously detailed images of religious, historical and scientific themes, or what Dali called “nuclear mysticism.” He became obsessed with geometry, DNA, divinity, and experimented with visual images. His last large work was painted in 1975, a mind-shattering visual illusion entitled “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.” This fabulous work exemplifies his mastery of perspective and light. We learned about some of the imagery in his eccentric work: ants representing death and decay, a reminder of human mortality and our impermanence; melting clocks being an impression Dali derived from a melting wheel of Camembert cheese and representing the timelessness of the dream world and, conversely, the omnipresence of time and its mastery of the human world; the spiral, which Dali deemed to be nature’s most perfect form, and its presence in his work representing cosmic order. After several hours, Steve and I were enlivened, but also saturated and overwhelmed. We will look forward to another visit!
Dali:“The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning; on the contrary , their meaning is so profound, complex, coherent, and involuntary that it escapes the most simple analysis of logical intuition.”
After the Dali, we went to see the Chihuly Collection, similar to but smaller than the exhibit in Seattle. We marveled again at this iconic glass blower’s huge, whimsical, organic work. Afterward, we watched a glass blowing demonstration by local artists.
On the way back to the boat, we passed a shop on Central Ave. that sells folding bikes—ONLY folding bikes. We would love to have bikes on this journey, and stopped to learn more and were able to test drive a couple. After researching and shopping, we returned a few days later and put a deposit down on them.
Dinner both Friday and Saturday were in the
company of Jeff Sickles and Twila Liggett, friends from last winter at Suntex Marina in St. Pete. We didn’t know them well, but he’s quite a story teller, and she is a creative woman with grit, the developer and producer of “Reading Rainbow,” a children’s TV program encouraging a love for reading, and the proud recipient of TEN Emmys. We’ve had fun reconnecting with these lovely people.
Sunday was low-key, with a good walk through the Old Northeast neighborhood past beautiful old homes, to Florida’s first roadside attraction, Sunken Gardens, open in 1903. A small botanical garden, it was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours in the shade of a huge variety of majestic palms and a nice array plantings, visit with personable parrots, and wonder at funky flamingos. Lots of families with little kids were there… and everyone was smiling!
We have now moved the boat from the Municipal Marina to Suntex, where we will leave Red Pearl while we drive home to the frigid climes. We’ll celebrate both mom’s birthdays—Mom Barr’s with Dad, remembering many happy celebrations in the past, and Mom Hollenberg’s 90th! The Hollenberg family will gather at Pokagon in April to celebrate this landmark. We now have a few days to do some small chores aboard and to explore the area a bit more via rental car, reveling in the lovely sun and cool breeze.
*More on the Morses: Reynold Morse worked in the plastic molding business, and Eleanor was schooled in Music, French and Spanish. They first saw Dali’s work in a traveling Museum of Modern Art show in 1943 and being drawn immediately to it, bought ”Daddy Longlegs of the Evening — Hope!” (1940), as a wedding present to themselves. Within a year they had purchased three more Dalis, all from the early 30’s. ”We plunged instead of hedging,” Mr. Morse said, ”and after a while I was becoming known as the nut who was backing a dark horse. Or vice versa.” They embarked on a sometimes turbulent friendship with Dali and his wife, Gala, regularly visiting the Dalis’s villa in Port Lligat, Spain. They had first pick of his New York gallery shows and usually paid the tab for post-opening dinners at the Pierre Hotel. Mrs. Morse’s linguistic background made her instrumental in translating and disseminating Dali’s writings and ideas to a wider audience. In 1989 by order of King Juan Carlos of Spain, Mrs. Morse received the knighting that is the highest honor the Spanish government can bestow upon a non-Spanish citizen. Having collected over 100 paintings and more than 1000 sketches and drawings, the couple sought a place where their collection would benefit the public and remain intact; and the city of St Petersburg was the only applicant willing to comply with all of their requirements. In 1997 The American Benefactor placed the Morses in the 100 Most Generous Americans for this gift.
Of the myriad of choices Loopers have on this 6000-mile journey, there is probably more discussion and angst expressed over the decision as to whether to cruise around the Big Bend of Florida, which is shallow and rocky, or cut across the Gulf 180 miles from the Carrabelle vicinity to either Tarpon Springs or Clearwater. We chose the cut. There being a large field of crab pots* upon sight of land on the other side, one must make the approach in daylight, and preferably late enough in the morning that the sun in not blinding, since it is a south easterly route. Walking back that time table, one calculates that at 8 to 9 knots, one needs to allow 20 hours to cross, which means leaving harbor around 3-4:00pm, cruising overnight, and arriving at one’s destination around noon.
We caravanned with three other boats. Watching the cloak of darkness fall around us stirred up feelings of awe and vulnerability, even with our perfect weather window, the flat seas, the straight route, and the minuscule chance of anything intercepting our path. Steve and I took turns at the helm, an hour-and-a-half on, an hour-and-a-half off. We buddy-checked by radio every 2 hours and reported on conditions more often as needed. While the cabin was warm, steering the boat from below while standing for 20 hours was out of the question, so we bundled up in layers upon layers, topped with our foul weather gear and stood watch with autopilot from the more exposed fly bridge. I was grudgingly warm enough if I tucked my nose under my scarf, but this is not something I want to experience with any regularity!
As well-prepared as we were, each boat experienced its own drama at some point during the night. We watched the lead boat wander off course, as it lost electric power and its ability to steer for perhaps 10 minutes before they identified the problem and were able to correct it. Theincident which affected us happened after dark as we were beset by fog. With radar the fog should not have posed a problem, but Steve suddenly lost the GPS track on the navigation screen and becamedisorientated. The problem with buddy-boating is that it creates obstacles to hit in such situations, and we had a near miss, as a red light** flashed across our bow and then disappeared into the fog. Steve jammed the boat into reverse to avert a collision, and I, now awake from a nap below, saw two loop-de-loop tracks in the lower nav station and quickly had a sense of what had happened. We learned later that the skipper of the “near-miss boat” was also having technical issues, and with his nose buried in his iPad, he was totally unaware of the near disaster. All’s well that ends well, and we are wiser for these experiences—wiser and very grateful.
We were greeted at our destination at Turtle Cove Marina in Tarpon Springs by Loopers assisting with our lines. We wonder if there is any other activity in which one has a ready community nearly everywhere we land!*** We were invited to docktails at 5:00, and after changing into SHORTS (yay!) and washing the salt off Pearlie, we crashed for a couple of hours.
Dock tails were fun, with unapologetically liberal folks from Wisconsin and Utah…and quieter folks from Alabama. One guy who worked in the State Department asked Steve if we’re readers and wondered if we would read his novel. As much fun as we had, the snacks were mostly stale chips, and so we scoped out a lovely Greek restaurant and shared a Greek salad (traditional, with a hidden scoop of potato salad in the middle–yum!), a gyro, and baklava cheesecake (evidently, the Greeks invented cheesecake, too!), and I savored a thick, muddy Greek coffee.
Tarpon Springs still today is the largest Greek settlement in the U.S. The sponge industry moved northward from the Keys, by 1900 Tarpon Springs was the largest sponge port in the US. The Greeks, having depleted their sponge fields, set their sights on the vast supply in the Gulf of Mexico. In the next few years they brought experienced divers, and by using rubberized diving suits and helmets, were able to increase the harvests. By 1905 over 500 sponge divers were at work, utilizing 50 boats, attracting sponges traders in silent auctions and supporting industries, such as restaurants. For the next 30 years, the sponge industry out of Tarpon Springs was the largest industry in Florida, larger than the citrus industry or tourism, and Tarpon Springs became known as the sponge capital of the world. Fortunes shifted quickly when a blight in the 40s nearly wiped out the sponge fields. Finally in the 80s new beds were found, and sustainable sponge harvesting started booming again. The Deep Horizon BP oil spill also posed a major setback for the shallow beds around the Big Bend area, where the most desirable Wool Sponges grow, but they, too, are gradually recovering. Steve and I couldn’t resist the pitch: luxurious natural sponges—antibacterial, sustainably managed and harvested, lasting 5 years, a way to support local industry, light and highly packable for schlepping on the boat…. We bought a sackful! On our final evening in Tarpon Springs, we met our Gulf crossing partners to celebrate and debrief. It was a spirited evening, and we look forward to running into these good folks again.
*Crab pots are cages set out and tended by fishermen which are marked by a floating ball attached to the cage by a rope or wire. In these waters, they literally catch stone crabs, but boaters use the term “crab pot” generically, meaning any sort of fish or sea life trap. Tangling your prop in one of these can ruin your day.
**A red light is the port side (left side facing the bow) navigation light. Seeing the red light in front of us meant that the boat was crossing our path from our right to left and communicated to steer right to go behind him to avoid colliding.
***How do folks know we are Loopers? Well, we all sport a burgee, a pennant on our boats. One Looper has said that the burgee is better for meeting people than a puppy. Loopers also stay in touch! We added our name to the “Class of 2019” through the daily online forum, and one of the newest technologies for tracking Looping boats is through NeBo. A lot of folks watch to see who is coming into harbor and are ready to lend a hand. Others keep track of fellow loopers who they want to remain in touch with through NeBo. If you are interested in watching our progress, you can download the app and…ask Steve to coach you.
Immediately upon leaving Fairhope, the dolphins greeted us, three of them crossing our path and then playing in our wake. We entered the Gulf Intra Coastal Waterway (GICW), and the landscape changed; we’ve left industrial Mobile and entered the playground of the Southeast. While, we still encounter commercial tows, white sugar beaches, and beautiful homes and condos with their water toys at water’s edge, line the coast. A short 20 miles later we arrived at Barbour Marina near Orange Beach, a lovely marina with nothing around.
The next day again, the dolphins greeted us and cormorants escorted us another 20 miles on a gorgeous, sunny 63-degree day east to Pensacola, where we slipped at Palafox Marina right downtown. We are finally in Florida! Here we hunkered down for a stormy day spent indoors at the highly-acclaimed Naval Aviation Museum. In the last few days, I had discovered that I left my Drivers License at home, and I discovered that it is absolutely imperative to have a government-issued photo ID to enter the naval base. This meant that Steve went to the museum alone, and I spent the afternoon doing things that I have trouble finding time to do when Steve is around. Steve’s report of the museum is that “there were lots and lots of planes.” 😂 I heard as much about his conversation with his cab drivers as I did about the museum.
Another 45 miles east found us in Fort Walton Beach. A number of military bases around here have been closed, but it seems that there are still a lot. As we cruised through “The Narrows” by Santa Rosa Island, planes took off and landed, and a cadre of 8 helicopters hovered. We arrived at Two Georges Marina at Shalimar, and one of the dock crew helping with our pump out saw that we’re from Indiana and told us his grandfather built the grain elevators and started the public library in Shipshewanna! Small world.
The sixty miles to Panama City was beautiful cruising, but we wished we had gotten an earlier start. Scenery turned from upscale residential to remote again, trading the red clay of Alabama for sandy, eroded banks. We eked into Lighthouse Marina just as the sun was dropping behind the horizon. This area having been heavily damaged last fall by Hurricane Michael, we feel lucky to have found any marina open. It was fun to be greeted by Dale and Merna Hartwig on The Journey, who spent a month (!) at Dog River, and we joined them for appetizers and lively conversation at the marina restaurant, Grand Marlin. Dale having been a hospital administrator, we had lots to talk about besides Looping.
TV images of hurrican damage came to life as we observed the scenes.
White City was a short 40-mile hop. We were sobered by hurricane devastation and felt an eerie absence of wildlife on a stretch in which the trees were snapped off and uprooted. White City, named for the Chicago’s Worlds Fair “White City” and both founded in 1893, boasts a population of 3700 and has a “ghost town” history. After a shyster named Colonel Meyers came to town, took down-payments for a land scheme, and collected residents’ savings for a promised bank, he disappeared. Scamming is not new. The next year, the area suffered a big freeze which wiped out all the crops and destroyed the local economy, scattering the desolate little community. 😭 We chatted for quite a while with a fellow who is living aboard his boat here at the free dock. He weathered the hurricane here with minimal damage to his boat, but after the 5-foot surge, his boat was left sitting on the pier. He said that recovery in this area has been heroic and, as a retired electrical engineer, he is amazed at the quick return of services. Still, he says that nearly half of Panama City was destroyed and will be recovering for years.
High tension line work
Now to the other side of the ICW. Yee hah!
Last stop, Carrabelle! We experienced a nail-biting pass of a huge dredge just past Appalachiacola. Already a narrow channel in which we dinged a prop on our northerly trip in June, the dredge operators did little to assist us in our pass, and we fought to get to deeper water when our depth alarm sounded. Dolphins accompanied us now and again as we crossed the wide-open waters of Appalachiacola Bay and St. George Sound and we sighted a bald eagle. A tiny burg of 1300, with more people inside the local state penitentiary than living on the outside, Carrabelle, too, was hit hard by the hurricane. We found the brave little town to be rebuilding industriously and its inhabitants to be friendly. The coast line has a communist Soviet Union look, with grimy buildings, missing shingles, ramshackle piers, and clutter everywhere, but there are cute pockets in town.Moorings Marina serves breakfast every morning to their guests, a couple notches more delicious than Holiday Inn Express fare. We met Gabe, a congenial Looping 11-year-old, who was walking his dogs and then met his parents at breakfast. And a big, long breakfast it was! Gabe came over in the afternoon and invited us to their boat for dinner, a casual, grilled pork chop dinner. Gabe’s dad was raised in the salvage tow business and has been on the Gulf in every condition imaginable, and he builds dragsters—he is an engine man! It is fun to hear his stories, and those of his friends Len and Terry, who have cruised all over the world for 40 years. We also met Gold Loopers Alan and Sherry Johnson on Sea Jamm,joining them for lunch at the cute Carrabelle Junction Cafe and then scoped out the glass bottle house, built by a local artist from wine bottles and mortar. Unfortunately, the artist was not around to give a tour, and the skies were cloudy, so the colors did not sparkle. Our to-do list includes installation of the engine compartment vent with its new louvers, laundry, frig defrosting, hair cut, group trip planning, and provisioning before our Gulf crossing tomorrow.
We departed Dog River with a flurry of last minute tasks, one of which was to visit the shop of outboard engine repairman to get a lesson on the tricks of this old and unusual Mercury engine. Paul hadn’t found anything wrong with it, but he was also testing it in a 50-gallon oil barrel. Not learning anything particularly new, we thanked him and loaded it into the courtesy truck, uncertain that anything will change its poor performance. And so we departed Dog River with a couple of repairs yet waiting for the right time, the right parts and equipment, the right frame of mind, and the right budget allocation.
We cruised directly east across Mobile Bay, feeling vulnerable as we crossed the heavily-trafficked shipping lanes and recollected sobering stories of other cruisers’ close calls with huge commercial vessels. A short cruise of 20 miles landed us in the tiny and beautiful town of Fairhope, Alabama, dubbed America’s most romantic town. Founded in 1894 by a group of 28 people, 9 of which were children, it was a socialist community based on the Single Tax Theory of economist Henry George. The town’s proximity to Mobile was strategic in developing their trades. Also notable in Fairhope was the formation of an organic “no fail” school in which the well-being of the entire child was valued and much of the learning was hands-on. This school continues today as a private school and is able to avoid the testing climate by side-stepping state accreditation. The town today continues to be a pocket of intellectualism and progressivism in a very conservative state, and more published authors live here per capita than anywhere else in the United States.
We called an Uber to go into town and were greeted by streets lined everywhere with blooming red tulips, cheery daffodils, and cool dusty miller amid sprinklings of pansies, dianthus, and sweet alyssum. We savored brunch at Julwin’s, “Baldwin County’s oldest restaurant where country cooking is a tradition and customers are our passion,” spent a pleasant hour at the historical museum with friendly docents, and walked out on the long community pier. Dessert at Sandra’s, whose coconut cake has been featured in Southern Living Magazine beckoned us, and then we retraced our steps all the way back to the pier for my lost scarf—sadly, still a necessity these cold days. After browsing some boutiques in the attractive business district, we hit the market for garlic, and the two bags of provisions we exited with precipitated our return to the boat. Come evening we took a short dinghy ride to Sunset Point, a local favorite which has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” The seafood lettuce wrap and the mahi mahi fish and chips did not disappoint, and even though we did not need it after our afternoon cake, we had been told not to miss the key lime curd. Essentially a piece of pie turned on its head in a jelly canning jar, it was topped with a deliciously crisp Grahm cracker crust. So delicious.
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!)
As we waited at Dog River, we went to New Orleans twice, first 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
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!
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.
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.
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,
Duck confit croquettes
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.
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!!!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.