Niceville, FL

We finally left Orange Beach!  This meant we were on our way across the Panhandle of FL.  Next stop was Niceville, FL and Bluewater Bay marina.  Ben’s Aunt Janet teaches in Niceville and told me to check out the marina there.  It was the most accessible and affordable marina closest to their house in Santa Rosa Beach.  So, we checked ourselves in for 17 days!  Our plan was to spend Christmas and NYE with family and have some much needed playtime with Judah and Frankie, Ben’s cousin Sarah’s little kids.  We tied our lines and bolted for shore.  Janet picked us up and drove us to their house.  Ben and I dumped the kids in the door and grabbed his uncle Tom’s car and drove all the way back to Orange Beach to get our car.  We were exhausted but spent 5 hours in the car getting our car and driving back.  Janet fed the kids and then Sarah took them to hear house to play with the kids.  Sarah kept the girls until late when we finally got back.

We spent a lot of days relaxing and playing with the little kids.  Janet also invited us to her school and gave the girls free reign to go through all her classroom books that she was was getting ready to give away.  We cleaned up.  We took so many books we won’t need a bookstore for ages!!  The weather still wasn’t super warm but Janet keeps her pool nice and heated for the kids so when the sun finally came out the kids were in the water faster than you could say jump.  They hadn’t swam in months and were so excited to be in a pool!

We spent Christmas Eve at Sarah and Adrian’s house.  Tom and Ben’s cousin Isaac did a huge shrimp boil for dinner.  It was delicious!!!  Uncle Tom and Aunt Janet took over the reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas this year.  Although my kids are hard and fast with traditions so we read it again in jammies back at the boat before bed.

Christmas morning arrived and Santa found the boat!  The girls opened gifts and then we went to Tom and Janet’s house again.  Tom made us all breakfast and then another round of gift giving began.  Ben’s extended family thoroughly spoiled the girls.  They (we) are so lucky to have family and surrogate family everywhere we go.  We feel truly blessed.

Christmas day was the first warmish sunny day!  It felt so good to sit out in the sun and watch the girls play in the pool.  Isaac and Adrian took turns throwing my kids in the pool and they had a blast.  The kids took turns between playing in the pool all wild and crazy with Judah and the boys, and then quiet time with Frankie.

After Christmas we gave everyone a day or two to recover and hung around the marina.  The girls and I rollerbladed and scootered and swam at the marina.  The girls found a resident kitty to play with.  And we had multiple docktails with Jack and Patty, the local harbor hosts.

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We enjoyed a rainy day glow in the dark bowling with the family followed by dinner at an awesome local fish place who catches fish fresh daily.  They also used a lot of their new Christmas presents.  They made charm bracelets and string bracelets and crystals!

NYE rolled around and we said goodbye to Tom, Janet, Isaac and Judah as they headed to California to visit their other son Tommy and family.  We spent NYE at the marina with Jack and Patty and had a delightful time.  They invited us to their boat and are the perfect hosts.  We stuck around until 10 or so and wanted to get the girls back to bed.

New Year’s Day the Wilsons left Orange Beach and traveled all day in fog to get to Niceville.  I kept texting Wendy warning her about how bad the fog was.  It wasn’t bad when they left but kept getting progressively worse.  We could hear them coming in but it was hard to see much of anything until they were close.  It was a happy reunion!!!  It had been since Green Turtle Bay since we had seen them.

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We had a couple of play days.  The middle girls worked on selling rocks and making bookmarks to sell.  They played in the sand with the rope swing.  And we took a trip to the marina pool again.  We had a few great dinners and docktails with the marina crew.  And then finally it looked like we had a window to move across the Gulf.  At this point our friend Tim (who we met on day 2 of our first loop) came down to join us.  The plan was he’d boat with Ben for the crossing and the girls and I would drive our car.  Our last day in Bluewater Bay was spent with Ben, Jack and Patty moving our car all the way to Carabelle.  And Tim arriving to the boat.  We then had a big dinner with everyone as a send off.  The marina had become our home for a few weeks and it’s always a little hard to get moving again!

 

Pensacola, FL

Before leaving Orange Beach we wanted to head to the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum.  We planned to stop there for a night by boat but then realized since we now had a car with us it would be a lot simpler to just drive the 45 minutes.

Right when we arrived a trolley tour of the grounds was leaving.  We hopped aboard just in time.  The trolley took us around parts of the restricted naval base grounds we were not permitted to walk around by ourselves.  It was a very cool giant parking lot with tons of old planes.  We thought the planes with folding wings were pretty cool.  Check it out in the pictures.  Our guide was retired navy and flew on I believe 7 different types of the planes and helicopters we saw.  It was a slow day for planes in the air but we did get to watch a few fighter jets take off while we were in the trolley.

Once back inside the museum we started with the Main Street USA exhibit from World War II.  They learned how gas was pumped and talked about ration books.  It’s always a good reminder that we are all very fortunate today.

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Planes, planes everywhere.  We could have spent an entire day studying the history this museum held.  But we had to pick and choose.  The Blue Angels are a favorite of ours.  We watch them perform most summers in Chicago and two years ago on our first loop we were lucky enough to anchor in Pensacola for their fall air show.  During their performance season, visitors to the museum are allowed to watch their practice sessions outside daily.  Unfortunately in January they are not practicing.  So we had to settle with playing on and climbing in their retired planes in the museum.

After looking around the main building a little more the girls practiced driving a few more planes and then we headed to Hangar Bay One.

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I loved this building.  We started with the Coast Guard exhibit.  A group near and dear to our hearts.  The Coast Guard risks their lives every day to keep boaters like us safe.  We took a look at the safety and rescue exhibit and Ben showed the girls how the basket is lowered from a hovering helicopter down to a boat or person in the water.  Maddy climbed into the basket for rescue.  We watched a video of actual rescue footage.  And discussed how terrifying it would be to be hoisted up in one of those wire metal baskets swinging through the air attached to a moving helicopter.  Yikes!

The girls climbed in a few more cockpits and drove a few more simulators.  We moved onto the sobering Vietnam exhibit.  And ended with this cute plane painted like a shark.

This is a fabulous, educational, FREE museum if you are in the area!

Back to Chicago

Our stay in Orange Beach was very short as we had to get back to Chicago.  Our plans were to be in Chicago for a month to catch up on work for Ben, orthodontist appointments for Madelyn, Thanksgiving and visits with family.  So, we did the dreaded boat packing up, emptied and shut off one of our fridges, and loaded up a dock cart in between downpours.  One of the Pensacola Harbor Hosts was generous enough to drive to Orange Beach and pick us up.  Unfortunately for a one way rental we had to go to Pensacola for a car.  The rental car office in Orange Beach was very short on cars post hurricane.  So, she picked us and our embarrassing amount of stuff up and drove us to Pensacola.

After a 14 hour drive home (11 hours the first day with a quick 3ish the second day) we made it home in time for the girls to make it to their cooking class.  We unloaded the car and the fun continued.  On top of the unpacking we had the great task of going through 6 weeks of mail and packages.  The boxes emptied and piled up were incredible.  But just as we were going to take them all out to the recycling the girls asked if they could keep them.  With a basement to play in instead of just the boat, they had room to spread out and be creative.  They took all those boxes and constructed a box fort!  Somehow I don’t have any pictures of it, but they went on to outfit it with blankets and camping lights and toys.  Eventually, as a wrap up to an electricity unit in Science, they wired it with lights and a doorbell!  We left it as is when we came back to the boat so they’ll have it when next we are home.

After the humdrum of all of the unpacking and mail tasks we took some time to see friends and family.  Lunch at the Walnut Room with Grandma Cathy has become a tradition for the girls.  While there they mailed letters to Santa.  We went to Danville for Thanksgiving and spent it with my (Laura’s) family along with a local wedding celebration for Emily and Josh.

We did some wintery things.  We faced some of the white stuff….UGH!  Baked Christmas cookies.

Spent some time at the Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.  Ben spent a lot of time on home repairs (sinks and furnaces, plus some trips to the Michigan houses).  We had a great Hanukkah/early Christmas celebration with Ben’s family.  Maddy started her orthodontist work and had a palate expander installed.  We waited two more weeks while Ben turned the device twice a day.  After two weeks they told us she needed more turns but it was time we headed back to the boat.  We arranged to send pictures of her mouth in a couple of weeks and go from there.

So, we loaded the car once again.  We decided to take a car back to the boat with us since we will spend most of the winter sitting still in one place or another.  A car is not necessary but quite helpful and with Ben needing to mail things for Yacht Devices most days a car was important.  It also would allow us to visit friends and family throughout FL while we are there.  Our packing this time was insane.  We’d been on the fence for so long about when we would head back that I finally had to start Christmas shopping.  We also brought our water maker back to loan to our friends the Zeeffs for their Bahamas trip.  Ben had all of his Yacht Devices inventory.  We had all of our bags we came home with.  Three backpacks with work and school stuff.  And three huge bags of Christmas gifts.  We had to order a soft sided car top carrier to fit it all.  An even more embarrassing amount of stuff than we left with!  But we needed it all and off we went.  Our Elf even joined us for the drive.  And no, Maddy did not get glasses, they are fake.

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This trip we stopped at my mom and Jim’s (Laura’s) to celebrate an early Christmas with them.  This knocked two hours off of the drive.  We were in the car at 6 AM the next morning to knock out all 12 hours remaining.  Orange Beach was a welcome sight.  So tired of the car we jumped out and soaked up the warmish air.  Fresh air, some running around, unloading the entire car, and seeing those beautiful palm trees felt great!

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While we were in Chicago a similar amount of packages for Panbo arrived back at the boat waiting for Ben.  He was feeling pressure to get back there and started on a lot of Panbo work.  I took over the front bedroom as Christmas storage as well as Yacht Devices.  It was off limits for dolls and playing until after the holidays!  Somehow I managed to unpack and organize bags while Ben tackled the impressive amount of boxes that had indeed arrived.

Amidst all of this craziness the girls and I managed to get out in the fresh air and try out their new rollerblades!  They also got to try their hand at ice skating in FL.  There was a rink in Orange Beach and they were desperate to try it out.  They had a blast but we told them it was a once and done activity as being in FL meant we didn’t have to sit around in the cold!

Before leaving Orange Beach we had a visit to the Pensacola Naval Museum planned.  Stay tuned….

 

Iuka, MS to Orange Beach, AL

Ben was back from his travels to the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show and it was time to get moving and finish this river run!  We were all ready to head out with the Zeeffs and Herbons and tackle the Tenn-Tom, but of course woke up to fog.  Foiled already and we hadn’t even started.  Thankfully we were only going to Midway marina, an easy 3 locks away.  We waited for most of the fog to lift and dropped lines.

Before reaching our first lock we had to traverse a 25 mile narrow section called Divide Cut.  After the cut we headed through all three locks with no issues.  It was fun to have friends in the locks with us.  We were in a group of about 9 boats that all pulled into Midway marina together.

After checking in the boys (adult) drank beer in the parking lot.  The other boys (kids) played in the wooded area looking for snakes.  And the girls (kids) ran around on the huge grassy hill and eventually burned off some energy and about broke the porch swing.  We checked out the “pool and hot tub” the marina offered and decided against it.  After some playtime we all headed back to our boats for dinner and an early bedtime.  Sunrise the next morning would be here before we knew it, followed by another day of locks.  We planned to make it through four locks the next day.

We woke up the next morning and headed out despite some slightly concerning wind.  We were pretty far back in our line of boats.  I think we had 2-3 ahead of us and 1 behind us.  We got through out of the narrow channel for the marina and into the main channel.  We made it through our first lock and the wind kept picking up.  We knew there were storms coming later in the day but we had plenty of time to get to Columbus, MS before those started.  Just before the second lock of the day we encountered a barge on the side of the bank just waiting out the wind.  We then came into radio contact with another barge coming around the bend.  He was calling to Mike on INNTW telling him he was coming around and Mike better move over.  But where?  There was nowhere to go. The tow driver had an empty barge, making it very hard to control in the wind.  Mike inched out of the channel and the barge made it past.  But what about the rest of us?  George on Livin’ the Dream inched over a bit but it got too shallow for comfort.  Ben and the boat behind us held back in what looked like a wider area but the wind and current were making it very hard to stay in the channel.  The barge made it past and decided he was done for the day.  He pulled over towards the other barge on the bank and ended up kind of crashing into it.  The two of them just hung together on the side of the river waiting out the wind.  Meanwhile Ben, George and the boat behind us decided they were done for the day.  It was about 8:30 AM!  Mike and the other boats decided to continue ahead through the lock while the three of us pulled into glamorous Smithville!  It was unlike any marina I’d seen before.  But they had one long wall with enough room for the three of us boats to tie up.  And they were super helpful in getting us through their channel and tied up safely in the crazy wind.  We got the kids off the boat, ran around the property and had quite the full day.  All by 9:30 AM.  By about 10 AM all the wind had died and Mike and Kelly reported the other side of the lock the wind was no more and it was totally fine. They continued on to Columbus and we hung out for the day.  When the rain moved in briefly we were happy to have friends.  We tackled a huge puzzle, baked scones, played lots of games and had dinner with the Zeeffs.  We made the most of Smithville and were ready to go the next morning.

Next up, Columbus, MS.  Once the wind was gone it was an easy trip the rest of the way to Columbus.  We got to the marina and into our slip just before a “captains’ meeting” to organize the lock schedule for the next morning.  We skipped Columbus during our first loop so we wanted to check out town.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get a car until after dark.  But we and the Zeeffs all managed to pile into the minivan and head to dinner in town.  It was a mild night so we took a quick walk around town before heading back to bed.  Because once again we were getting up before sunrise.  Yawn.

Another day on the water.  This time headed for an anchorage.  We had a HUGE group heading into the first lock with a full schedule another boater put together of who should go in what order.  We stuck together for the first couple of locks and then we were able to split off from the big group a bit.  We, the Zeeffs, and two other boats pulled into one anchorage while others moved onto an anchorage closer to the next lock where we would all meet up again the next morning.  We stopped in a beautiful spot and hung out on Livin the Dream while the kids hung out on Have Another Day.  A good night!

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Our sunrise wake ups continued.  We were heading to Demopolis.  We were all pretty exhausted with the early mornings, chilly temps, and long days.  We pulled anchor and headed to meet the others at the first lock of the day.  We traveled past the beautiful white Cliffs of Epes.  We remember these beauties from two years ago.  We also passed the random phone booth that all Loopers spot on the side of the river bank.

Storms were moving in and we had all been discussing them over the radio.  We three “go fast” boats decided to use our speed for a bit and hopefully reach the marina before the storm.  The others weren’t able to outrun it and were just planning where they may be to let it pass over.  Best laid plans….we got caught right in it AS we were pulling into the marina.  It was horrible!  We’d been on the phone and radio with the marina and Ben had requested an uncovered slip so we wouldn’t have to lower antennas.  I looked at him like he was green.  I asked him to call back!  It was me who was going to have to get absolutely soaked in the rain we couldn’t even see through to try to safely tie lines.  Turns out the marina in Demopolis had another section of covered docks with taller clearance and we fit in those.  Phew!  We safely got tied up, quickly followed by Zeeffs and Texas Two Step.  And wouldn’t you know it…as soon as we were all breathing a sigh of relief the storm was done.  All of the boats stuck out in it pulled into the marina to blue skies and sunshine.

We hung in Demopolis and extra day.  Ben and George were exhausted and we all needed a break.  Since we couldn’t get fuel in that ridiculous rain we took turns the next day untying lines and heading to the fuel dock so we’d be ready to go the following morning.  We also took time to walk into town.  I took a walk early in the day and found the playground and the library.  Those are two top items on our lists for towns!  After my walk I went and grabbed everyone else.  All 8 of us headed out.  While at the playground it started raining of course.  Sigh.  We took cover under a shelter and waited it out.  Then took a lovely stroll through a charming little town.

We found a cool abandoned grocery store and had fun looking around at the building.  We all agreed it would make an awesome farmer’s market!

Then we headed to the library.  We always love a good library.  The kids grabbed books and were all happy to sit and chill for a few minutes.  On our way back we stopped by the old fashioned merry go round in the town square area.  Back at the marina the kids all painted rocks in the boater’s lounge and then played Scrabble.  All in all a good relaxing day.

We were all weary and ready to be done with the rivers.  Only three more days!  We set out bright and early after our day of rest and headed south to Bobby’s Fish Camp.  We stopped two years ago and were not impressed. But the anchorages in the area were not deep enough or wide enough for our comfort so Bobby’s it was.  We ended up rafted three deep on the tiny dock but managed to use the full length of our power cords and still have power.  Ben and George went to check in but the rest of us never left the boat.  It rained the entire time and we all just huddled on our boat with the kids playing and the grown ups playing cards.  I think we feasted on frozen pizzas instead of catfish!

Our favorite anchorage from two years ago was up the next day.  On our way we passed the remains of the old Rooster Bridge where a tugboat capsized years ago.

We made it back to the Tensas River and it did not disappoint.  Tough night though.  This was potentially our last travel day and night with the Zeeffs.  We’d really enjoyed buddy boating.  But the next day we were heading across Mobile Bay and into Orange Beach and they were heading into Mobile Bay to have some service done.  So once again with our boating families we had to say “see you later.”

Sunrise was gorgeous.  We gave hugs and said our “see you laters” and pulled anchor.

A few hours later we entered Mobile Bay and you could feel the excitement.  Two years ago this is when we first started seeing dolphins and we were ready.  Ben loves the hustle and bustle of the busy bay.  Huge ships.  Tons going on.  Fishing boats everywhere.  So much activity after the very long days on the river.  Herbons on INNTW had been docked at the convention center in Mobile Bay and were heading to the Wharf in Orange Beach just ahead of us.  We got reports from them on the conditions of the bay.   It had been awhile since we’d been on any open water.

The bay was great, and we headed across and saw our first dolphins!  We made a beeline for the ICW and made our way to the Wharf in Orange Beach, AL.  We were officially DONE with the RIVERS!!!!  We made some vows to never ever do that trip again.  Although maybe we just need some time for the memory to fade.

In the meantime we squealed and enjoyed the dolphin show off the bow and stern of our boat.  We got all tied up in our slip and immediately hopped in a Lyft and headed to Lulu’s to meet up with the Herbons.  We were all overjoyed to be in the ICW and off the rivers.  The kids played for hours in the sand.  We enjoyed hanging out and chatting.  It was a great night.

We were thankful to have safely made it down the rivers.  It felt like ages since we left Chicago and we were tired.  We knew we only had a couple of days before we had to pack up and head to Chicago.  But it was so good to know we wouldn’t have to get up at sunrise and move the next morning!  Time to relax a bit.  This was a long one. Thanks for reading!

 

Green Turtle Bay to Iuka, MS

It was time to make our way down the next portion of the river trip.  We were not nearly as apprehensive about this section.  We had fond memories of this part of the trip and despite the cold temperatures we hoped it wouldn’t be too bad.  We said “see you later” to the Wilsons and they headed to Nashville while we headed south.  Halloween was only a few days away and Ben was going to be out of town.  This was the first Halloween he’s missed, and while the kids are older and it’s not as big of a deal, I didn’t want to be stuck somewhere alone trying to find something to do with them!  So my request before he left was that we land somewhere with other people to play with.  I begged the Herbons and Zeeffs to try to meet up with us by Halloween.  They both agreed they’d be there!  There was fabulous Iuka, MS.  They were both still in Nashville when Ben and I left Green Turtle so that meant they were a day or two behind us.

Our first travel day was a beautiful and easy trip to Pebble Isle marina.  We knew it would be very shallow going in.  The water back there isn’t deep to begin with and had already been lowered to winter pool. But we made it in and to the fuel dock and then to our spot for the night.  We took a quick run around the parking lot and then had docktails with the other boaters there.  It was a docktails that stands out in my mind because I remember discussing how rotten the weather has been and having a couple of the other women tell me they wanted to throw in the towel and go home.  I begged them not to and promised it would all be better the first time they saw a dolphin!  We all just needed a little warmth.

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Old abandoned dock we both remember seeing in 2016

We enjoyed some beautiful fall colors the next day after waiting for the morning fog to burn off.  We had a short day to our anchorage near Clifton, TN so we weren’t in a rush to get moving.  We anchored in a perfect spot with lots of depth and plenty of room.  The wind was howling and we questioned our decision but, as forecast, the wind settled down as it got later in the day and we had a peaceful and calm night.  After a good night’s sleep we got up ready to tackle the rest of the trip to Iuka, MS and our first lock on this section of the rivers.

We came upstairs and found a wall of fog.  Sunrise through the fog was spectacular.  But we had to wait awhile before we could move.  After an hour Ben pulled up the anchor and off we went.  We could see out to the channel, see boat traffic going past, and could see around the bend.  As we made our way around that bend we hit another wall of fog.  This time we had no choice but to keep moving.  We were in the channel with nowhere to go.  Thank goodness for radar!  Still, even with radar it’s a horrible feeling to not be able to see.  Fog is one of the things that scares us most on the water.  It just gives us a feeling of helplessness.  Soon enough the fog lifted a bit and we breathed a sigh of relief.  We met up with other boats coming out of the Clifton marina and we all lumped up together to head for the lock.  We got through the first lock and made our way to our marina.

We got all settled in our slip WAY far away from all the other Loopers.  They put us in a slip right by the office where we wouldn’t be asked to move at all because Ben was leaving town.  But we were so far away from almost everyone else.  We played a lot of car jenga as soon as we got settled.  We got the courtesy car from the marina, drove it from Iuka to Corinth to pick up a rental car at Enterprise.  The girls and I drove the courtesy car back to the marina.  It was this HUGE pickup truck and I was a bit overwhelmed to say the least.  It was not a good choice for me to be driving!  Ben drove the rental back.  We made dinner and then Ben had to pack.  Ben left the next day to drive two hours to Huntsville, AL to catch two flights to get to Ft. Lauderdale.  The girls and I hung out and watched the horizon to see our friends coming around the bend!  We had to wait until almost dark as they got hung up in the lock.  But alas the Zeeffs arrived and the Herbons anchored close by.  We were so happy to see them!  We let the kids run off some energy at the little playground and the parents were able to visit.

The Herbons came in the next day and we all got ready for Halloween!  The kids were so excited.  This was our third Halloween out of town but the first time trick or treating in the marina!  Iuka is so remote and we kept trying to figure out where to go.  It was rainy yet again and the festival I had scoped out for us was held a day early because of the weather.  But we didn’t find that out until Halloween.  Darn.  The kids were thrilled to have each other.  We got dressed up and headed out early, right after lunch.  Madelyn was Rapunzel from Tangled and Molly was an 80s girl.  She couldn’t believe the hair and makeup of the 80s.  I had fun with her!

They were happy to just play in their costumes and trick or treat on the docks.  The Loopers and other boaters in the marina were fabulous.  Candy, snacks, fun tricks, it was a great time followed by a lot of candy sorting for the kids and docktails for the adults.  All in all a great day, although we missed Ben!

The Zeeffs played tourist with us the next day. We got the courtesy van and headed to Abe’s for lunch and then the Corinth Interpretive Center.  Abe’s was a gem we found two years ago.  This amazing family run diner in this tiny town.  And they remembered us!  It was so fun to have lunch and chat with Abe and his son again.

We really enjoyed the Interpretive Center two years ago.  Much more so than Shiloh. I felt it was a much better fit for the kids and so educational so we headed there next.  It’s harder to get the kids to concentrate while they have friends around.  Maddy and Allison spent a lot of time with their dolls, etc.  But all in all it was a good stop and we hope they all learned or re-learned a little bit!

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We had another quiet day of killing time at the marina.  Kelly and the Herbon kids came over and did some school work on our boat while their boat was having work done.  Then we all hit the playground.  George and Mike played a mean game of basketball while all the kids were on the jungle gym.  Ben was due back that night.  We had a fine week but were all ready to get moving.  Our friends were nice enough to hang around and wait for us to travel south together.

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Just hanging around…

Ben flew in Friday night.  Melissa and George kept the girls for me while I took the courtesy car and did car jenga again.  I drove to Corinth in yet more rain to meet Ben at Enterprise after he flew to Huntsville and drove back the two hours.  Phew.  So much driving!  We got back and picked the kids up and Ben got to hang out and visit a bit.  We had plans to leave the next morning and make our way south!

Grafton, IL to Green Turtle Bay

We were happy to meet back up with the Wilson family in Grafton, IL after the Fall Rendezvous.  We were also very anxious to tackle the Mighty Mississippi and get moving on south.  But alas, we would need to wait one more day.  The winds for the following day were predicted to be in the 20s and that’s just not feasible for getting through locks safely and dealing with an already raging river.

Wendy and I took the girls to a fall festival close to the marina.  There were people camped out in tents staying the very cold weekend outside doing all sorts of reenactments.  There were leather workers, jewelry makers, and many other craftsmen.  The girls watched a demonstration on how to make a belt – starting with the animal hide.  And just to keep the kids entertained there was shopping (Maddy got a beaded necklace), ax throwing (we did not take part) and a candy cannon!  It was a great way to pass the time but after awhile the girls and I couldn’t take the wind anymore and got cold so we headed back to the boat.

The next morning we finally left Grafton, IL and set out down the Mississippi River once again.  The current was still flowing strong but we made it through the locks with no problem and were on our way to the Kaskaskia Lock wall.  We passed through St. Louis and got to see the Arch from the water again.

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Arch….with trees ripping through the water below

St. Louis proved challenging.  There was barge traffic everywhere and with the crazy currents the barges were literally everywhere:  tied up on the side of the river, perpendicular to us coming across the river, etc.  Our boat has AIS which means the barges can see our boat name and position.  But there were about 5 of us in a row and we were in the back.  One barge kept calling Ben giving him passing instructions but we couldn’t figure out which barge was calling us.  Ben finally figured out the barge was calling the boat at the front of our group.  We made it through and kept heading south.  The Kaskaskia lock wall was a welcome sight for the night.  We tucked up into the Kaskaskia River and enjoyed a reprieve from the current for a few hours.  The Wilsons had to stop for fuel along the way but joined up with us a few hours later just as the sun was setting.

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We got started bright and early again the next morning.  Ben was hopeful that we could get off of the Mississippi that day but it was going to be a long run.  We awoke to Wendy saying she had stepped out of bed into water.  We took Bobby’s wet clothes and tossed them in the dryer.  They ran a pump and got the water out and we headed out.  Ben said this was the worst day for him.  The debris was terrible.  We took a few huge hits off the bottom of the boat.  We spent the day playing the game of choosing what we would hit.  It just wasn’t possible to avoid it!  We got lucky and had no major damage from any of the trees bouncing off of us!

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Incredible sunrise….with trees floating through the river below

We got to the Olmsted Lock and Dam and called it quits for the day.  We thought we could push ahead a few more miles to an anchorage just at the end of the Mississippi but there was a slow construction zone for a few miles and we didn’t want to be anchoring at dark. The Wilsons were still taking on some water as well so we decided to anchor right before the lock and have them tie up to us.  Ben and Bobby spent the rest of the night working on pumping water out and chasing down every system on their boat to try to figure out where it was coming from.  We had everyone on our boat while they worked just to hang out, try to occupy the kids, and stay out of their way.  Ben was able to use a spare bilge pump he had for our dinghy and rig a pump for them to keep the water out overnight.  We kept Ella and AnnaMay on our boat overnight in case an emergency rescue was needed!  We figured the girls were happy and that was two fewer people to worry about.

We all made it through the night.  We left at sunrise again and planned to get to Green Turtle Bay by the end of the day.  An oasis at the end of this section of the rivers!  We kept the girls on our boat for the day.  All the girls did some school work and entertained each other nicely during a long 9 or so hour day underway.  We made it off the Mississippi and were thrilled to make the turn onto the Ohio river….where we were then going against the current.  Our fast speed was gone but we were all breathing a sigh of relief to be off the Mississippi.  Wilsons stopped in Paducah for fuel and we circled and waited for them before happily heading into the Cumberland River the rest of the way to Green Turtle Bay.  It’s a beautiful narrow stretch that is calm and relaxing yet I didn’t take any pictures!

We all made it to Green Turtle Bay (in daylight this time!).  We got settled in our slips and the kids jumped off the boat and made a beeline for the playground.  It was too late in the day to swim so we ordered some pizzas and hung out.  We spent a couple of days taking pictures of the deer, enjoying the pool and relaxing!  Unfortunately it was time to say “see you soon” to the Wilsons again.  They headed to Nashville as we headed south on the next section of the rivers.  Ben had some work travel coming up and we planned to make it to Iuka, MS before he had to fly out.  Goodbyes are always hard.  See you laters are hard too, but maybe a little better….

AGLCA Fall Rendezvous

We left Paducah and finished the long drive south to Rogersville, AL.  We were excited to see so many old friends and meet plenty of new ones at the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous (where I apparently did not take a single picture – but thankfully AGLCA saved some!).  We had a busy schedule ahead of us and weren’t sure how the kids were going to do with all of it.  But they rallied and were great.  It was also a school week so their backpacks were packed with a slightly lighter lesson plan than normal.  But in part, working on math while sitting in a long session was better than being bored and trying to talk to me the entire time.

Maddy Rendezvous

The girls alternated between our room, the sessions and their new dog walking business. They started out just walking Mindy from Let’s Go.  We met Judy, Marshall and Mindy over the summer and the girls were her unofficial dog walkers whenever we crossed paths.  She’s a puppy and they have as much energy as she does some days.  Well, at the rendezvous other boat owners saw the girls walking Mindy and asked if they’d walk other dogs as well.  Then one person tipped them.  And it just sort of caught on.  They went back to the room and created a name, logo and slogan for their business (M and M Dog Walkers, Boat Dogs and Boat Girls Walk Together) and wore their “sign” in their lanyards for the rest of the week.  They made quite a bit in donations from some very lovely people!  And they had a blast doing it.

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Back to the rendezvous…..Ben and I had a busy speaking schedule and enjoyed every minute of it.  Many people found Ben to chat about electronics questions.  He loves writing for Panbo and really is happy to help out.  The highlight of my week was listening to Molly.  She gave her very own presentation on Families on the Loop!  She wrote all of the slides and created the PowerPoint.  I helped her add pictures.  She took speaker notes and practiced and did a fabulous job.  Ben and I were very proud of her.  She gave her presentation and answered questions after.  There is a video we posted of her giving the presentation on our Have Another Voyage Facebook page if you’d like to check it out.

Molly Rendezvous

The highlight of Maddy’s week was the Polo Match event at Bluewater Creek Polo Club.  She just loves horses.  We started with a hayride around the grounds.  Then Maddy got to toss out the polo ball before the first match.  Molly got a turn too.  And at the end everyone had a chance to go out and see the horses.  The best part….we got to meet one of the jockeys who invited us to come back after the rendezvous and find him in the stables!

Ben and the girls participated in the blindfolded dinghy races.  Ben drove, blindfolded and facing backwards while the girls tried to direct him.  It was comical and they had a great time.

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Friday morning we said our goodbyes, checked out and headed back to the farm.  What a special treat!  The girls (and Ben) got a private polo lesson.  Maddy got to help get Sugar all ready to go and then she grabbed a helmet and was boosted up to ride over to the polo ring.  Claudi taught her how to play polo!  Not sure Maddy riding a horse with a mallet in her hand is the best idea but she managed to hit the ball a few times and was just thrilled to be up on Sugar.

Molly got a turn next.  Her arms are a little longer to hit the polo ball.  And then it was Ben’s turn!  Claudi insisted.  Ben used to ride when he was a kid but it’s been a few years.  He managed to get up on Sugar and was told to take her for a ride.  Maddy was not happy that Ben was given the reins and told to go for it.  I explained he’s an adult and he’s ridden before.  Ben had fun and figured he may feel it the next day!

After well over an hour we headed back to the stable.  Maddy and Molly got to untack Sugar as well and then take pictures with her.  It was such a special day.  Couldn’t have been a better way to end the week.

We then had to face the long drive back to Grafton.  We were anxious to get moving on the water now that the Mississippi had crested and calmed down slightly.  And somehow it worked out that the Wilsons arrived in Grafton the same day we drove back!  We got back in time to have dinner and lot of laughs and hugs after what felt like a long time apart.  Even better, we had our friends to travel with for the next leg of the trip!

St. Louis, MO & Paducah, KY

Picking up where I left off, in Grafton, IL, we got up as planned the next morning to tackle the Mighty Mississippi with all its flooded current, floating trees and craziness.  Three of us left Grafton just at sunrise, two sailboats had already gone ahead towards the first lock.  It took us about an hour to get to Alton and the first lock of the day.  By then the wind was insane, the current even worse, and the debris off the charts.  Barges were having trouble finding any control and the Coast Guard made one of many announcements again advising pleasure craft to stay off the water.

As we approached the lock Ben made the call to turn around.  But we didn’t want to pull into Alton.  We were there two years ago and the marina has a phenomenon where it can be plenty deep and then water levels are changed at the dam and many feet of water get sucked out of the marina.  We knew at this point we would have to leave the boat until after the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous and we didn’t want to be stuck sitting on the bottom waiting for the water to come back up when we got back.  So the hour trip down, took us 3 hours to get back up to Grafton.  We tied up, made our peace with staying put until after the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous and made a plan.  We had to rent a car now to make the 7 hour drive to the Rendezvous so we got the car early and play tourist in St. Louis.  Two years ago we saw the Arch and that was about it.  We wanted to see a few more things this time before packing up and heading out as the flood waters continued to rise.

We started the day with the Anheuser-Busch tour.  Maddy adores horses and the Clydesdales and their stable did not disappoint.

The grounds are beautiful and the tour was quick an informative.

Next up was lunch, a quick walk through the farmer’s market and on to the City Museum.  The kids played and played and wore themselves out.  Having older kids meant we did not have to climb all of the structures or go down the slides with them.  Ben did climb up to the ten story slide with them.  I waited at the bottom.  Their favorite section was outside.  We skipped the rooftop but they loved all of the other outside structures and slides.

We headed back to the marina to pack up.  While we drove to St. Louis and played tourist, the Herbons braved the Mississippi and in a couple of days made it down to Paducah safely.  The Zeeffs were there for awhile so we hatched another plan.  Have to make lemonade when you get lemons from the weather!  We packed up and left the ever higher flooding marina and started our long trek down to Rogersville, AL for the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous.

We stopped in Paducah for the day and night to hang out with the Herbons and the Zeeffs.  We were so excited to have a day for the adults to catch up and the kids to play.  It was a Sunday.  And nothing in Paducah is open on Sundays.  So, we walked around, looked at the awesome murals on the town wall, and found one restaurant that was open.  And then Ben took turns shuttling everyone to our hotel to swim.  Who doesn’t like an over chlorinated hotel pool with 7 screaming kids???  It was a fun treat for all of them (and us!).

 

 

Hello 2019, Need to Finish out 2018

I dropped the ball completely on blogging.  Our trip down the Mississippi was not fun.  And it continued for awhile longer of unpleasant rain and cold temperatures on down to Mobile Bay.  So, I was grumpy, wet and cold and found no energy to write about any of it.  But it’s a new year.  And looking back on my pictures we had a lot of fun times as well.  Even way back in October.  Yikes that was a long time ago.  I’m going to try to do a few catch up posts and get back on track.  We are currently in the panhandle of FL waiting out a long string of rain and fog days to move east and cross the Gulf down to Clearwater, FL, hopefully next week.  We’ve been enjoying family time here and celebrated Christmas and NYE.  More on that after I catch up on the entire fall.

Thanks for tuning in despite my lack of writing….I’ll do better!

The Illinois River

Well, we moved back onto the boat.  Our fall schedule is crazy.  We knew we’d only be on the boat for 4-6 weeks before having to go home for a month for work, Thanksgiving, and orthodontia.  Our goal was to get the boat moved down to the Gulf in that time.  There were so many obstacles.  Ben, Molly and I were all scheduled to speak at the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous in Rogersville, AL October 15-18th.  Before Ben left for FL the IL river was too shallow for us to get to many of the places we needed to go so we were already leaving later than we liked.  So, we’d ruled out getting the boat down to the rendezvous and settled on getting the boat to Green Turtle Bay.  By the time we finally left the river level was up and we had enough days with a couple of wiggle room days.  In addition to a tight schedule, the Mississippi River was now flooding and both the IL and Mississippi Rivers were full of debris and raging currents.

After dumping all of our stuff on the boat and spending the afternoon unpacking we got to bed and set out the next morning for Joliet, IL.

Seeing as we were starting in Dolton, IL, not Chicago, we had a short day.  We made it through our first lock, dealt with a lot of barge traffic, and got to the Joliet wall all by ourselves by about 1 PM.  We were the only boat there all night.  The girls made a dash for the park.  They remembered it from two years ago and couldn’t wait to get to the zip line.  It had rained quite a bit and everything was wet.  The girls had a blast going down wet slides sitting on their life vests and then just soaking their clothes.

The next morning we set out for Ottawa, IL.  This was only 50 miles away but we had 3 locks that were known to hold boaters up.  We had trouble two years ago with one of these locks and this trip would not prove any different.  Our 50 mile day took 12 hours.  Seven of those hours were wasted waiting on locks.  Ben was very stressed out about arriving in the dark because we barely had enough water to get into the channel to the marina.  He needed to be able to see.  At our last lock, after deciding to turn around and go find somewhere to tie up, the lock master called the tow behind us and asked if he could lock us through first so we could get in before dark.  The Miss Doris was in front of us and she was a double tow that took absolutely ages to get through.  The tow behind us, the Honeycutt, said sure go ahead.  So so nice!  Even so, we watched darkness starting to set in and Ben got more nervous.  FINALLY the Miss Doris got out of the way and we were able to get in the chamber.  The lock master tried everything.  We were too long to fit or he would have locked us through with the second run of the tow.  He worked with us and did what he could.

While we were waiting we asked the girls to make a couple of thank you cards.  When we pulled in the lock we handed off a thank you card to the lock master with a couple of candy bars. And we passed off a bag with a thank you card, some candy and a 6-pack of beer for the tow operators behind us on the Honeycutt.  We asked the lock master to pass it off.  The lock master came out while we were in the lock and said the girls’ card was the nicest card he’d ever gotten.  We got out of the lock and into the shallow channel with no issues and tied up for the night.  Exhausted.

We just kept on moving.  The next morning we started early again and got through the Starved Rock lock and on down to Peoria.  The wind was brutal.  It was so bad there were 1 ft waves on the river with white caps.  We stopped at the Peoria Town Docks since Ivy Club was too shallow for us this year.  It was a great stop!  Free and easy to dock and plenty deep.  There was one other Looper there too which made us feel a little better.  We’d heard some reports about safety on the docks but had no issues.

We spent the afternoon walking around.  Our first stop was the Caterpillar Museum….but they wouldn’t let us in because they stop selling tickets about 20 minutes before we arrived.  So we went to the gift shop and pretended like we’d gone to the museum.  Next up we walked through the Holocaust button exhibit.  Truly moving.  Each button represented a life lost.

We had to make a run to the post office to mail Yacht Devices packages.  Then we walked up a huge hill and found the baseball stadium.  Maddy found a foul ball outside and picked it up.  So then we pretended we had gone to the Caterpillar museum followed by a baseball game!  Next up we found a GIANT statue of Abraham Lincoln.  A public art exhibit depicting Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address to the common man.

We continued walking and found some huge props followed by a park!!!  The girls were thrilled to have a playground and as they were playing we watched tows going by.  Ironically they were the two tows that we passed the day before!  We followed this up with a gorgeous sunset and dinner on the boat.

After our night in Peoria we left and headed to the Peoria lock and got in pretty quickly.  The next lock was open so we were able to go right through and we headed on down to Logsdon Tug Service.  It was my birthday.  But we were on a mission to get south so it was also just Tuesday.  We got to Logsdon.  They let boaters pay to tie up to their barges.  It was quite an experience.  There is an incredibly scary staircase over the water to climb to get off the barge.  Ben went up to register and came back carrying flowers!  The Wilsons (Wendy) managed to get flowers delivered for me there.  So sweet.  Seeing as I wanted to get out for dinner and ice cream I pushed back my fears and climbed the staircase.  Ben had to hold on to me after he got the kids up safely.  I have an incredible fear of heights.  We had a great dinner at a local Mexican place and found a Dairy Queen for Blizzards.  But then we had to climb the scary staircase back down.  We safely made it back onto the boat and headed to bed.

Day 5 it was time to head to Grafton, IL and the END of the Illinois River.  The river was somewhat debris filled and Ben was exhausted.  Grafton marks Mile 0 of the IL river but also would be our start of the Mississippi River.  The further south we got the worse the current became.  Close to Grafton the current was pretty strong.  Ben called the fuel dock and they asked if we had thrusters.  Ben said yes.  They said the other guy on the fuel dock didn’t and it was apparently pretty ugly getting him tied up.  But Ben landed us on the dock just fine.  We got fuel and got to our slip with not too much stress.  There were entire trees flowing past our boat out in the channel.  We just watched and watched.  The Herbons were in Grafton and we were excited to have someone to travel with going forward.  For the afternoon though I got the girls off the boat.  We ran a package to the post office and walked up and down the one street.

We quickly determined there was not a single thing to do there and it was freezing so we headed back to the boat for the night, ready to tackle the Mississippi River the next morning.