Friday, May 28, 2010

I want to periodically discuss the equipment/electronics I'm using so first I'll discuss the boat itself. It is a Premier Pontoons S-Series 235 with the PTX, rough water, and 85-gallon gas tank options, and a Yamaha 6 cylinder 250 HP engine for power. The boat has 3 pontoons and can plane on the middle toon above 15 mph. Its top speed at sea level is 40 mph and I often cruise between 20 to 35 mph. The engineering allows the boat to turn and maneuver like a V-hull. The flat deck space is nice to move around on versus the mostly sloping deck of a V-hull. I can lop off big days with this boat when necessary and the bimini top and custom seats make the day comfortable. Not sure if anyone has done the "loop" in a pontoon boat but I think this one is capable. It is definitely not your grampa's pontoon boat at the summer house. So far it's gotten me 900 miles. I installed eye hooks on the deck in front of the engine to carry two 6-gallon gas cans and 5 gallons of water. So far the 3 pontoons cut through chop and waves better than a conventional boat but I'm sure greater tests await. By the way, I always wear my Mustang Survival inflatable life vest - very comfortable to wear but becomes a Coast Guard Type II after 4 seconds in the water. Solo trips demand risk reduction wherever possible. More on the demands of being solo later.

Yesterday I left Fairhope on the east side of Mobile Bay (a very nice community) and arrived in Panama City, FL. Didn't intend to make it this far but weather still holds and it was a chance for a day off today prior to departing for Carrabelle tomorrow (Sat) with Fred Martin. We will leave for the open water crossing of the Gulf from there to Tarpon Springs area on Sunday. Due to the holiday and after spending all morning on the phone there is no lodging available anywhere after leaving here. So, we may camp out tomorrow night on Dog Island and leave at first light. Winds predicted to be less than 15 knots and the thunderstorms have been forming mid- to late-day leaving us a morning window, hopefully. It is 150 miles total, 50 miles off shore at one point, and if we can cruise at least 25 mph we could be across by noon; and I've heard there is some swampland for sale in FL.

It will probably be several days before another post but the SPOT will keep track of us. Hope I don't need to use the "911" button as it will summon national and local help wherever you are (it uses a satellite connection, not cell towers). My portable VHF marine radio only reaches 5 miles but there often are other boats in the neighborhood. By the way, I hope all of you use the SPOT locator on the blog site. If you zoom in on Google Maps you can actually see the terrain features I'm traveling through. My location is indicated whenever I click that button; and I do that several times a day. Leaving the FL panhandle and see you on the west coast of central FL in a couple of days. Here's to you!!
Photos: Top - Jimmy Buffet’s sister, Lulu’s, home; US Air Force practicing ditching.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I would like to thank everyone for making comments on the blog; I can't read them everyday but do catch up on the messages and it means a lot to me to see everyone's interest. I am back in civilization here in Fairhope, AL on the east side of Mobile Bay. Boated from Bobby's Fish Camp leaving the first and final lock of the Tenn-Tom at 8:00 AM and arriving at Eastern Shore Marine around 2:00, 135 miles. Entered Mobile Bay from the north, passing through the ship channel into open water and then taking a GPS tack to the eastern shore through a rain shower. I’ll experience saltwater and tidal conditions from now until the Erie Canal.

I have now completed the first "leg" of the trip - boating about 700 miles to Fairhope. Tomorrow I will travel 20 miles down Mobile Bay to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and head in the direction of Carrabelle, FL, about 250 miles east. Fred Martin may join me for the trip across the Big Bend of Florida if he can make flight connections with his co-pilot friend to near Panama City. Some of you know Fred as he and Janet and children, Chris and Sarah, lived in the Eagle Valley for many years.

For several days, I traveled in contact with three Alabama gentlemen, Earl, Cliff and Ray. I met them at Pirate's Cove Marina near Aliceville. They are 3 long-time friends, including a banker and the owner of an insurance agency, who always wanted to do the Tenn-Tom River. And so they did - from Pickwick Lake in their pontoon boat with their 40 hp engine (earlier I said it was 75 hp but I'm an optimist). We would meet for breakfast and depart through the first lock and I would see them at the end of the day several hours later. Yesterday, Earl's son, Keith, took them out of the river at Bobby's Fish Camp and provided me valuable information about the Gulf Coast. They joked about my 250 hp Yamaha, or was it envy, but that's another story. The bantering between these 3 friends, offered unending comic relief for all, and a study in trust and dependence among friends. I will miss them. Thanks for introducing me to Alabama and the southern gentleman.

This evening, at the best restaurant I've been to since leaving Colorado, I heard the single lady behind me say to the waitress, "This looked a lot better on the computer than for real.” And on it goes... I'm seeing this great country through the people who make it so.
Photos: Suspension bridge over the entrance to Mobile Bay; Train swing bridge 20 miles north of Mobile; Alabama gentlemen, Earl, Cliff and Ray on their pontoon boat in a lock.

Monday, May 24, 2010

From my phone this evening so this will be brief. Pirates Cove Marina to Demopolis, AL... I traveled about 90 mi today. End of the Tenn-Tom and beginning of the Black Warrior River to Bobby’s Fish Camp, about 100 miles to go tomorrow. Around Bobby’s may begin to see alligators. Remote from here to Mobile and not much communication. So much more I want to share, especially concerning the people I’ve met. Will have to wait until I have a good connection. Photo: Looking towards the stern on the Tenn-Tom above Demopolis.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Left Aberdeen Marina and lock this morning and arrived at Pirates Marine Cove about 2:30... a more relaxed travel day of 50 miles. The Aberdeen and Columbus locks were problematic as they had large amounts of drift in the chambers and I had to push through 30 feet or so of tree trunks and limbs created by flooding over the past few days in some tributaries. At one point on lock exit I was pushing a large raft of limbs ahead of me at trolling speed and using my pike pole to try and dislodge limbs that hung up on the boat hoping my prop would not strike anything large. In addition to the locks, parts of the river had a lot of drift so cruising speed was down to 15-20 mph. A day of holding my breath a lot.

Pirates Marine Cove in Pickensville/Aliceville, AL released all the tension thanks to a friendly staff, and small harbor off the lake and near the dam. Two brothers staying there this winter had come down from MN last year in two "rowboats" with small motors and then rebuilt a 24 ft. sailboat that had been previously underwater. They will leave in June for MN. You never know what kind of great characters you will meet on the river or what you'll see. I passed a 106 ft. cruiser and two smaller trawlers that were headed north; $5-10 million in boats there. Passed two "tows” (tug boats) pushing their commercial loads up or down the river - you stay clear of those big boys. I called the captain on one and asked to “pass on port” and he agreed. Sometimes in smaller river/canals you need to ask as the tow captains want predictability.

The staff at the marina drove me to a motel in Aliceville and then I took a walk to get some exercise - my kind of temp at 92 degrees. On the drive we passed by a large prison under construction that will be the only women's prison in the U.S. Later this afternoon the marina crew brought 3 gentleman to the motel. They are also in a pontoon and are doing the Tenn-Tom from Pickwick Lake to Mobile. Tomorrow we'll eat breakfast together and call the folks at marina to take us to our boats. Perhaps we'll travel together for awhile to Demopolis, 90 miles away. They saw Ranch House, my Premier Pontoon, and loved the boat - wanted to steal my 250 HP Yamaha 6 cyl - they have a 75 hp. That would do the job if your sole travel was on the river. Ninety miles to Demopolis tomorrow, 100 miles to Bobby's Fish Camp Tuesday and 100 miles to Mobile Bay on Wednesday. The weather holds. Beer in the sink is now cold.
Photos: Top - locals netting shad for catfishing; below - cruisers going north.