Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Relaxing in St. Pete

Vector is in St. Petersburg, Florida, where we dropped the hook ten days ago at the South Yacht Basin (map). Construction of the new pier is well along, but it has closed off access to the dinghy dock for the mooring field in the Vinoy Basin, where we normally take a mooring ball. The city has closed the moorings, and ongoing repairs at the municipal marina have the transient docks closed as they rotate tenants in from the docks under repair.

Sunset over St. Pete and the docks of the south yacht basin from our anchorage.

For us, there is not much point to being in St. Petersburg unless we can be right here, and so anchoring was our only remaining option. Fortunately, state law changed in 2016, invalidating the local prohibition on anchoring here in the basin. There were two other boats when we arrived, and there have been a few comings and goings in the time we've been here.

Vector at anchor between the docks and breakwater of the south basin. New pier structure is behind us.

Shortly after getting settled, we splashed the tender so we could get ashore for dinner. While the marina would allow us to tie up behind the fuel dock, that closes before dinner time, and so instead we tendered all the way to the city courtesy docks at the northwest corner of the basin. These docks are $1 per hour regardless of length, with a six-hour limit. You note your slip number and then pay at a machine that is just like the ones you might find at a parking lot.

The courtesy dock "parking" meter. A couple of slips could fit Vector.

We poked and prodded at the machine for a few minutes, but the screen was either blank or simply unreadable, and we finally gave up and walked down Beach Drive to dinner at one of our old standbys, Stillwaters Tavern. In the morning I talked to the marina office about the meter; they told me it was frequently broken and not to worry about paying until it was repaired. While the slips are inside the marina basin, the meter is handled by parking enforcement.

One of the good things about tendering to these courtesy docks, versus either the dinghy dock at the mooring field or the marina transient docks, is that they are right along the waterfront and a very short walk to the restaurant district along Beach Drive. It's also a comfortable walk to the Publix, the weekly farmer's market, the multiplex cinema, and even a nice spa.

Our more usual anchorage, the Vinoy Basin, as seen from tony rooftop bar Canopy. Vinoy hotel at left, pier at right. The ferry is a seasonal service to Tampa; this same vessel serves Provincetown in the summer and we've now seen her both places.

Wednesday morning our friends Martin and Steph invited us to join them at the yacht club for lunch at their weekly gatherings. Louise opted out of meeting Steph at the Salty Sisters meeting, which often involves club business, but I tendered ashore stag and met Martin at the informal Briney Brothers group, mostly comprising husbands with time on their hands while their wives run the show. We remember this whole dynamic from our last vist, and I enjoyed reconnecting with several folks I had met there last time, as well as a few new faces. We returned the following week together.

Another sunset. You can see taxiway lights of the airport at left, and the Dali museum behind the boats.

After lunch Martin walked me over to the office and sponsored us for a temporary guest membership, which allows us access to the club facilities for nine days, with charges billed to our credit card. Among other things, this gave us access to the club's dinghy dock, which is gated and also closer to the grocery store, farmer's market, and museums. We signed in with the dockmaster and have used it several times.

In the course of our time here we've eaten at a handful of downtown restaurants, got massages at the day spa in town, got haircuts at the joint next to the Publix that still had our preferences in their computer from three years ago, and have generally been relaxing and visiting with our friends. After about a week we went over to the fuel dock for water and a pumpout before setting back in to more or less the same spot.

The bathroom sink at Ford's Garage burger joint, with gas-nozzle faucet.

In addition to Steph and Martin, we also had a nice dinner with fellow boaters Kristina and Atle, and Ben and Karen came down from Clearwater to visit the Dali Museum, where they are members, and met us for dinner afterward. Martin and Steph are customers of our long-time friend Steve, and they were nice enough to invite us along for a couple of meals while he was in town for a customer visit.

A, umm, different fixture in that same bathroom, made from a beer keg.

Our stay has not been without some amount of drama. You may recall we hightailed it out of Clearwater to make it here before things got rough on the bay, and the high winds behind that had us dragging a bit in the tight anchorage. We had to re-set the anchor and let out more scope, and even then we found ourselves plowing through the mud at a rate of about two feet per hour before the winds abated. We had heard that the holding here is poor, with loose silt over a hard bottom, perhaps marl. The 40mph winds really warranted more scope than we could deploy in such a tight anchorage.

I strolled through Albert Whitted Park, and I spotted a familiar but ancient logo on the "tail" of this airplane-themed play structure. My very first flight was on National Airlines, which went out of business decades before this structure was built.

We were anchored immediately adjacent to the Albert Whitted airport, and the other drama involved a minor plane crash, wherein a canard-wing Velocity Elite with three persons on board overran the runway and ended up on the rip-rap leading down to the bay. All three walked away unharmed, and the phalanx of emergency vehicles that responded left a short time later empty-handed.

The view of the crash site from our deck. You can see the wing of the plane behind the fire trucks.

We took the dinghy around to the bay side of the field to get a better look before heading to dinner; by the time we returned to Vector they had removed it from the rocks and towed it back to the ramp. Going outside the breakwater gave me a chance to breeze out the dinghy, which has otherwise spent the entire visit inside a slow speed, no-wake zone.

Closer view of the canard-wing, pusher-prop Velocity Elite on the rocks.

I've gotten a few projects done around the boat, including the very important one of getting new insurance. The majority underwriter of our last policy withdrew from the marine market, leaving us high and dry at our renewal date this month. Of course they barely gave us one month notice and so it has been a mad scramble. Between having a weird nearly-one-off steel boat, a claim on our record, and massive industry losses from storms over the last two years, insurance has become expensive and difficult to get. I am happy to report that we were able to find suitable coverage at a reasonable price, owing in part to my new professional license, and in larger part to our USAA membership, courtesy of Louise's dad.

We'll be departing St. Petersburg in about a week, when it will be time to continue south toward the Keys. Our next planned stop is Key West, and whether we proceed direct to the gulf, or make a couple of stops on the inside route first, will depend on the weather. My next update here will likely be under way, to one or the other.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Creative Cruising

We are underway southbound in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), headed for St. Pete, with Clearwater in our wake. We had a very nice week in Clearwater, spending a good part of it with longtime close friends Karen and Ben, who now have a nice home here in addition to their awesome vintage Flxible bus, the Creative Cruiser.

This "pirate" tour from Clearwater Beach passed us twice a day in our cozy anchorage.

The week got off to an inauspicious start, arriving, as we did, through the Clearwater inlet on Wednesday morning at dead low tide. After clearing under the inlet bridge, we made the left toward our planned anchorage in Clearwater Beach, and promptly ran aground on a growing sandbar. While the sounder said we had touched bottom, and I could feel the boat slow, we never stopped, and almost as quickly as it happened, we were again fully afloat.

Moonset on my watch in the Gulf. Best my cell could do.

We continued another few hundred feet en route to the anchorage, furiously studying charts to try to guess if we might run out of water again further along. While soundings with the tender later in the week revealed we would have been fine, we ultimately decided the wiser choice was to turn around and take our chances with the bar we'd already touched once. We altered our line with a little guesswork, and made it back out without touching.

These dolphins played in our bow wave before dinner on our passage. The clear Gulf water makes for good viewing.

We proceeded instead all the way to the GIWW at Clearwater, where we dropped the hook in an uncharted anchorage just south of the causeway bridge (map), just inside the No Wake zone. It was a little exposed, and many skippers took liberties with the No Wake signs, but it made for a short dinghy ride to the day dock at the Clearwater Municipal Marina, where we had docked Vector a couple years ago.

Approaching Clearwater from sea on a perfect morning.

By late afternoon we were both recovered just enough from the passage to splash the tender and head ashore for dinner. We walked to downtown eatery Clear Sky, one of perhaps a dozen eateries along the main drag, Cleveland Street. Tasteful, understated holiday decorations adorned the street, and we saw brightly painted fiberglass dolphins throughout town.

Sunset over Clearwater inlet from our anchorage.

By Thursday evening we were pretty much fully recovered, and Ben and Karen picked us up at the dock for cocktails and a quick tour of their beautiful, very modern house just a few minutes away. Afterward we had dinner at one of their nearby favorites, Rumba, a casual tiki joint. We enjoyed catching up after too long an absence.

When not dealing with pirates, we instead had sharks in the anchorage.

We got together each evening over the next four days, and a couple of days I also spent most of the afternoon at their house helping Ben with the Creative Cruiser. We replaced the three hard-to-reach Group 31 start batteries under the master berth, and diagnosed a misbehaving door-opening solenoid.

Vector anchored in Clearwater. The aground sailboat was our only neighbor; they were very quiet.

We ended up celebrating their anniversary at another old favorite, Slyce in Indian Rock Beach, and one evening we walked into town and met them at the oddly-named Sicilian place, Soul. The other two evenings Karen cooked in their commercial-quality kitchen; she's quite the chef, and our final evening yesterday she served a scallop over gnocchi dish that could easily rival any of the top restaurants in the state.

Best place in town.

I got a few projects done around the boat, and spent way too much time working on getting new insurance when our current policy expires in less than two weeks. Sunday morning we took the tender over to the Clearwater Beach side for a wonderful brunch at the Clearwater Yacht Club, where we have reciprocity. They might just be the best dining deal in all of Clearwater; sadly, it's too shallow there for us to dock Vector.

I passed this cone guarding protruding bolts from a lamp post. Apparently it's been there long enough to have become an art installation.

We also rode out quite the storm in the anchorage, with winds steady at 30 and gusting to 45, but we had a good set and we were not uncomfortable. The dinghy acquired quite the crust of salt, however. We managed to dodge getting wet or plowing through too much slop in all our visits ashore. I had a nice walk through town on my way to get tender fuel; every other building (or more) appears to be owned by the Church of Scientology.

A flock of feral parakeets settling in a tree at a Scientology retreat center.

Today is the last good transit weather on Tampa Bay for a while, and so this morning we weighed anchor while the going is good. We got an early start, because we are facing something of a question mark on arrival: the mooring basin where we normally stay, as well as the transient berths at the municipal marina, where we have stayed on occasion, are both closed. The moorings will not reopen until March, and the transient docks in February.

There is a small anchorage behind the marina breakwater, and if we can squeeze in among the other boats already there, we can get ashore at the municipal courtesy docks. If not, we'll be hunting around for alternative anchorages.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ringing in the New Year at sea

We are under way in the Gulf of Mexico, with the barrier islands of St. George Sound, off Carrabelle, Florida receding behind us, and plenty of open water ahead of us en route to Clearwater Beach. We're already several miles from the nearest cell tower, and soon we will be offline until we are a few miles from our destination.

Not long after I last posted here, perhaps a mile from our turn into the Carrabelle entrance channel, the fog thickened, until we could no longer see more than a few boatlengths ahead. We turned on the automatic fog signal, somewhat alarming the cat, and adjusted the radar. I made a Securite call before we re-joined the channel, and I switched to the quieter fog signal as we approached town.

Fortunately we had no other traffic, and equally fortunately, our planned anchorage was empty. We dropped the hook off-channel right downtown (map), a feat we could not manage on our last visit because we did not have detailed enough charts. There is nary a single decent eatery in all of Carrabelle, so we girded ourselves for fried food and tendered to Fathoms, immediately across the channel from the anchorage. The place was charmless but the food was acceptable, and we both found options that were not deep-fried.

Vector at anchor in Carrabelle, as seen from next to Fathoms.

Yesterday we had a leisurely morning aboard, and after lunch I made a quick run back to town just to see how things had changed since our last visit and the storm, and also to pick up some beer at the local IGA. I wanted to grab a couple of six-packs of the Oyster City Hooter Brown before we left the panhandle; I'm not sure how far this local Apalachicola brew is being distributed. I also stopped by the marina office to confirm the fuel price and that they had enough for us.

We weighed anchor as soon as I returned and headed over to the fuel dock. My logbook says we started fueling before noon, and we did not finish until 2:20 -- a very slow dispenser. We ended up bunkering 1,100 gallons, which will cover us for quite a while. For quite a bit of that time, fellow looper Matt, from Long Way Home, stood with us and chatted. Regular readers may recall we had met him and his family briefly at the dock in Detroit, some four months ago, and somehow our paths had not intersected again until now. We were off the dock by 2:30.

We motored just five miles back down the river and across the sound to Shipping Cove at Dog Island, where we dropped the hook in as much lee as we could find (map). Three other boats were also anchored in the cove, presumably waiting on Gulf weather. It was nice to make the trip in excellent visibility, enjoying the sweeping views of white sand barrier islands and coastal wetlands that we were denied by the previous day's heavy fog.

Sleepy downtown Carrabelle.

We enjoyed a nice dinner aboard and a mostly comfortable night. In anticipation of tonight's watch schedule, Louise turned in by 9pm, and I stayed up until 2:30ish. By the time I turned in, the cove had become a little bouncy, but not too bad. That same chop is what kept us from making the crossing yesterday instead of today.

This morning we again had a leisurely morning aboard, since our departure window did not start until noon, lest we risk arriving at Clearwater inlet too early (during my sleep period). We weighed anchor just before noon, and after battling two knots against us rounding the point, found ourselves with nearly a knot of following current coming out the inlet. If the Gulf Stream is kind to us, we'll arrive towards the early end of our arrival window.

Since Louise will be (we hope) asleep in her berth at midnight, we will celebrate the new year on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), more or less the same as Greenwhich Mean Time, when it will be midnight in London. That will be just 7pm here, after dinner and before Louise turns in and leaves me alone on watch.

No visit to Carrabelle is complete without a stop at the tardis world's smallest police station.

The last time I started "celebrating" New Years on UTC was exactly 20 years ago today. I was running a telecom carrier network, and while we were pretty confident, prudence dictated that we be extra vigilant for any Y2K issues (yes, it's really been two decades). Because carrier networks all work on UTC, I had full staff on duty from an hour before midnight UTC until an hour after midnight PST, where our Network Operation Center was located and also as far west as our network extended.

Of course there were no problems at all, but we all sat around for ten hours just in case, and I had a first-class NYE party, minus the alcohol, catered in the NOC. Small consolation for having cancelled anyone's planned vacation on New Years.

We wish all our readers a very happy and safe New Year celebration, and when next you hear from me, we should be at anchor in Clearwater Beach.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Hurry up and wait

We are under way across St. George Bay in the Florida panhandle, en route to the bustling metropolis of Carrabelle. There's nothing, really, in Carrabelle, unless you count their signature claim to fame, the world's smallest police station (a blue phone booth). Nevertheless, they have the cheapest fuel in all of the gulf coast of Florida, at $2.50 per gallon, and so even though we have no need to see the place again, we're making the stop to take on fuel.

Historic Cape San Blas light, now in Port St. Joe, festively lit with light strings.

Thursday afternoon we arrived in Port St. Joe at 4pm and dropped the hook pretty much right outside the remains of the city marina (map). A large No Trespassing sign forbids access to the basin, which otherwise might have been a protected anchorage. That did not stop a couple of small boats from going in there to fish, and there is one remaining tour boat using what's left of the city dock.

The view from our anchorage. San Blas light at right, old marina entrance at left.

At dinner time we tendered around the nearby shoal and over to the municipal boat ramp, which has a long face dock where we tied up. We strolled the town, which was nicely decorated for the holidays. I was quite surprised by how touristy the place was, with a half dozen or so decent restaurants and several shops along the main street. A nearby chandlery and a grocery store make it an excellent cruiser stop, even with the marina closed.

Downtown Port St. Joe.

Equally surprising was the lack of any industrial port activity or even evidence of any equipment along the deepwater wharfage. Perhaps the dredged deepwater channel and quayside is merely a strategic asset for nearby Tyndall AF base. In any event, there was no sign that it is ever in use, but we made sure to anchor out of the turning basin anyway.

Decorations in the park near the boat ramp. The fish flashed alternately.

We had a nice pizza dinner at Joe Mama's (lots of businesses here play on the Joe theme), which made up for the disappointing pizza we had in Panama City Beach. It was a nice stop, and would have been good for two or three days had we been so inclined. The Cape San Blas lighthouse was moved here in 2014 to preserve it from the eroding cape, and we noticed it festively lit on our way back to the tender. It made a nice backdrop from the boat all evening.

Friday we weighed anchor and took the Gulf County Canal from St. Joseph Bay to the GIWW, where we rejoined our previous track. We followed our breadcrumbs back to Apalachicola. On our last pass, we had arrived in Apalachicola after a long, hot cruise, with Louise feeling under the weather. That, combined with relatively lower experience and comfort with river tactics and shallow-water anchoring, we opted not to stop, anchoring a few miles upriver instead. On this occasion we wanted to get ashore, and so we dropped the hook off-channel in a wide spot across from town (map).

Vector at anchor in Apalachicola, as seen from the park and dinghy landing.

That put us directly across from the city dock, a very short tender ride away, and with an early arrival I tendered ashore stag to explore the town. Once again, I found the place surprisingly touristy, although it's less of a surprise here than it was at St. Joe. A half-dozen well rated restaurants, a few shops, and one of my new favorite breweries, Oyster City, are all right downtown, and a Piggly Wiggly is a half-mile walk.

We returned together for dinner at the Owl Cafe, and strolled the town a bit. As if to underscore our choice of dinner venue, we found a live owl perched on a piling, keeping watch over our tender. We returned to Vector to find her exactly where we had left her, and I mean exactly. Strange, considering the tide had turned completely. We turned out to be in some weird hydraulic where the current quickened and slacked with the tide but never changed direction; we did not move more than ten feet in any direction in two full days.

Appalachicola's "tree," a fishnet decorated with pot floats and liferings, and holiday lights at night.

When we first set out for Apalachicola from St. Joe, we hoped to continue on almost immediately, fuel up in Carrabelle, and then make our jump across the gulf. But the forecast deteriorated steadily, and by yesterday morning it was clear we'd not have crossing weather until New Years. Since Apalachicola had far more, and nicer, services than Carrabelle, we opted to spend another day, with an option for two. We walked to the Piggly Wiggly for provisions after lunch, and last night's dinner was a casual affair at kitschy burger joint and raw bar The Station, in what formerly was clearly a classic three-bay service/gas station.

The Station, which I snapped mostly for my good friend Ben.

This morning we awoke in pea-soup fog, with the Coast Guard issuing dense fog advisories through noon on the radio. It looked for a while like that would make the extra-night decision for us, but by noon it lifted to the point where we could see the bridge and downtown, so we weighed anchor to get under way. The fog is still with us, but we can see the markers and other traffic.

This classic Harley hack was parked outside Bowery Station, a local watering hole with live music.

Arriving today will give us all day tomorrow to make our way to the fuel dock and take on around 1,100 gallons of fuel, roughly a two-hour process. We can then head out to Dog Island, the barrier island to the gulf, and anchor to await our opportunity, perhaps Tuesday. We've opted to skip the Steinhatchee stop, as we'd need to arrive close to high tide and that window is passing, so our next hop will be overnight, either to Cedar Key or Clearwater, depending on weather.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Boxing Day after a quiet Christmas

Happy holidays, everyone. We are under way in the Gulf of Mexico, our first open saltwater passage since leaving Atlantic City for New York Harbor seven months ago. Vector is back in her element, and we have perfect conditions here in the littoral waters from St. Andrews Bay to St. Joseph Bay, where we will anchor in the vicinity of Port St. Joe.

Sunday morning we weighed anchor in considerable chop in Choctawhatchee Bay, getting an early start before things got worse. As soon as we were off the bay and into the "canyon," as we heard the tow skippers calling the canal, the water became flat calm, and even the wind was significantly attenuated by the trees on both sides.

The closer we got to West Bay, the more damage we started to notice. We again found ourselves in some chop as we exited the canal into the bay, but with far less fetch than Choctawhatchee, it was not bad at all, especially with wind and seas behind us. Damage was in evidence all along the bayfront, with sunken boats scattered about, many missing or damaged docks, and the ubiquitous blue tarp "FEMA roofs" characteristic of post-hurricane recovery. It has been 14 months since Hurricane Michael devastated the area, and the community still has far to go.

With the bay a little lumpy, and spring tides on a bay-emptying north wind, we decided that the anchorages nearest downtown Panama City were either too shallow or would not permit us to get ashore, and so we continued down the ship channel to Grand Lagoon, which penetrates the eastern end of the barrier island at Panama City Beach. We dropped our hook as close to the north shore as we dared get, before the deep water narrowed down into a marked channel (map). That left us about a mile from town.

The closest place to get ashore, other than the state park dock south of the lagoon, would have been the dock at the sprawling Sheraton resort. That would have been a great place for Christmas or Eve dinner, and they even have a spa. But the docks were destroyed by Michael and have not yet been rebuilt.

Vector at the otherwise empty dock at Treasure Island Marina.

Instead we tendered the mile west to the small cluster of marinas near the bridge. We landed the dink at the fuel dock of the Lighthouse Marina, closed for the night, and had a nice dinner at the on-site restaurant, the Grand Marlin. Sunday night was Prime Rib night, and we split a piece, as is our custom. I give it decent marks.

Monday was much calmer, with the wind clocking around to the east but at much lower intensity. I took the dinghy out stag, sounding out a somewhat closer anchorage (it was deep enough but we decided there was no point in moving), as well as the channel and the docks at the Treasure Island Marina, where I had booked the two nights of Christmas Eve and Christmas. I also scoped out other options for getting ashore in the evening for dinner.

Suspecting, correctly, that the marina would actually be closed both days, I went in to the office to get our slip assignment and anything else we needed to know before arriving. We were assigned to a T-head that was likely the only spot in the whole marina deep enough for us, but the dock was only 30' long and there were no cleats, just pilings. Good to know ahead of our arrival.

We returned ashore at dinner time, tying up at Captain Anderson's for a short walk to the Panama Pizzeria. The pizza was just so-so, even by Florida standards, but after a month in Bayou La Batre with no pizza at all, we were happy to have it. Captain Anderson's has its own restaurant, too, another dinghy-in option, but they were dark Monday.

We got a fairly early start Tuesday morning, arriving at our berth by 9:30 or so at a blissfully quiet and empty marina (map). We were the only transient boat in the whole town, and the only boat of any sort on our 18-slip dock. Enterprise picked us up at 10:15 for our rental car reservation.

I knew PCB was a popular summer resort area, and so I expected beach bars, mini-golf, and surf shops. What I did not realize was that it was yet another locus of what we like to call "cheesemageddon" -- decidedly un-beachy tourist attractions that we've seen in land-locked tourist traps like Gatlinburg. But on the way to the car rental, we drove right past the Wonderworks "upside down building," and, across the street from it, the Titanic, sinking into the pavement.

Cheesemageddon. The Titanic is actually Ripley's.

Fortunately, it is low season here, and we did no battle with crowds or traffic for anything. Well, except at Walmart, across the channel in Panama City. As long as we had a rental car for two days, which we needed to get to Christmas dinner (in hindsight we could have used the scooters, but we did not know ahead of time we'd have such nice weather), we spent the afternoon of the 24th running errands.

That included a much-needed stop at Petsmart for another bag of prescription food for Angel before her current script runs out, and a stop at Joann's for quilting supplies. As long as we were out in suburbia with a car, we opted to stock up on provisions, and we braved the zoo that is Walmart on Christmas Eve. We waited less than five minutes to use the self-checkout, so it was not too bad, and it had some entertainment value as well.

Since we had to cross the bridge to Panama City anyway, we took a loop through downtown and swung by the municipal marina, where we had stayed on our last visit three years ago. The marina was completely destroyed, and a year later not much has been done towards rebuilding. Also damaged were the nearby performing arts center, and City Hall. Both are closed, likely permanently. City Hall has moved to a brand new facility on higher ground.

On recommendation of our Enterprise shuttle driver, a local, we had Christmas Eve dinner at the Saltwater Grill, which was very nice. We wanted to do something a little upscale, since our Christmas reservation was essentially at a beach bar with one of those kitschy, only-in-a-beach-town names.

Yesterday the waterfront was dead quiet. With a car and an entire day before us, we decided to take a drive out to Mexico Beach, to see how the recovery is coming along. Mexico Beach, straddling the time zone boundary and open to the gulf, was ground zero for Michael. The row of homes along the beach was obliterated, with widespread destruction continuing well inland to the other side of town. Close to 300 people were estimated to have defied mandatory evacuation orders here, and many paid the ultimate price. 53 were killed across the state, in the first Cat 5 US landfall in a quarter century.

While evidence of the destruction is everywhere, still, the town is bouncing back. Many homes have been rebuilt, and resorts are coming along. A number of restaurants are open, some operating out of kitchen trailers with tent pavilions for dining rooms. It is sobering to see how slow progress can be, though, even in this first-world place where goods, materials, and labor are only a highway trip away. It puts what is happening right now in the Bahamas post-Dorian in context.

The road to Mexico Beach runs through Tyndall Air Force Base, which also suffered considerable damage. The surrounding forest  looks like so many broken matchsticks, the trees all uniformly snapped off at about the ten foot mark. The base is off our port side right now, some of the nicest sugar-sand beach in all of Florida, closed to the public. We'll pass Mexico Beach later as well.

We came home for the usual round of holiday phone calls before setting back out for dinner. We had 5:00 reservations at Harpoon Harry's on the beach, the final hour of their holiday buffet. The place has clearly been rebuilt since the storm, and the dining room was actually nicer than I had expected. It was a great spread, with all the traditional holiday flavors and then some. Other than the fact that all the veggie sides were in heavy sauces, it was actually a perfect meal, and we had a great table with a wonderful sunset view. A nice way to finish the holiday.

This morning I squared up with the marina, which had been closed since our arrival, and returned the rental car by way of the post office, where I mailed off a couple of packages. We were singling up lines by 9:30. The plotter is telling me we will have the hook down by 3:30, except by then we will be in the Eastern Time Zone and it will actually be 4:30. The Port St. Joe marina was destroyed in the storm, with no estimate of when (or if) it will be rebuilt, so we will land the tender at the boat ramp to get ashore.

Saturday, December 21, 2019


We are under way eastbound across Choctawhatchee Bay, headed for an anchorage at the eastern end. We are bashing through 1'-2' chop in moderate rain and 2nm visibility. It's not uncomfortable, and we definitely need it behind us before wind shifts to the east overnight, making most of the bay untenable tomorrow.

Notwithstanding my prediction that we would be docked at Homeport and eating at Lulu's Thursday evening, we did neither. That prognostication had been made when the plotter was projecting a 4:30 arrival there, which would ace us out of reaching the anchorages in Wolf Bay, an hour further along, before dark.

In fact, we arrived at Homeport at 3:45, just ahead of closing time. We pulled up to the fuel dock, pumped out our waste tank for $5, and were back under way before 4, leaving us just enough time to make Wolf Bay. We dropped the hook in a familiar spot, off the Orange Beach Waterfront Park (map) and cracked open a beer.

The last time we stopped here, we needed the WiFi the park provided (which crapped out in the evening when a windstorm took out power along the whole shoreline). We no longer need that, but I could still see the signal. There is still a restaurant next to the park, with its own dock, but we again opted to eat aboard and forego the cold dinghy ride. We had a peaceful night with no windstorms.

Today's wet, lumpy, featureless cruise.

Yesterday morning we got an early start, mostly so we would not have to run the generator all morning just for heat, and between that and starting out an hour further east, we were crossing into Florida, east of Perdido Pass, by mid-morning. Even sidelining for a few minutes at Robertson Island to let a tow pass through the narrow channel, we were across Pensacola Bay by lunch time, and through the Gulf Breeze bridge just after noon.

My planned stop was just east of the bridge at Pensacola Beach, which has a nice anchorage, a free municipal dock, and a number of decent restaurants. But with stiff easterlies and a fetch that extended all the way to the Navarre Bridge 15 nautical miles east, the anchorage and the docks were extremely choppy, and we'd have had an uncomfortable stay. Considering we still had five hours of daylight ahead of us, we opted to press on to the next stop.

That would be the free city dock at Fort Walton Beach (map), where we were tied up again just in time for cocktail hour. We checked in with the police department, as required, and at dinner time we walked a few blocks to the excellent Ali's Bistro. We remembered the venue but not the name, so we think it has changed hands since our last visit. We're back in civilization; dinner was easily three times what we'd be spending in Bayou La Batre.

After dinner we walked across the street to Publix to replenish the larder. This morning I carted all the recycling off the boat, which we've been hoarding since our visit to the Mobile recycling center in the rental car before Thanksgiving. I also walked over to the shopping center for a much-needed massage.

The city only gives you 24 hours at the dock, which is too bad because there are lots of restaurants and easy access to shopping here. Very long-time readers may remember we spent six full weeks here back in 2010, parked at the Elks Lodge on Okaloosa Island while we awaited deployment orders. In that time we became intimately familiar with Fort Walton Beach and, to some degree, nearby Destin as well. All told I think this is our fifth visit here; three by bus and two by boat; it feels a bit home-like to us.

Tomorrow's cruise will take us through the long, narrow land cut connecting Choctawhatchee bay to West Bay and thence St. Andrew Bay. That will put us in the Panama City area, which is our only real option for a decent place to spend Christmas. I've made marina and rental car reservations for Christmas Eve and Christmas, and we have lined up a beach bar that is serving the traditional flavors buffet-style on Christmas Day. We have lots of options for the Eve.

Tomorrow's lousy weather making us cross the bay today means we'll be in St. Andrew Bay two days early, rather than the single day buffer I had left in the plan. I expect we'll anchor someplace with easy access to shore for the two nights before moving into our holiday quarters.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Dauphin dolphins

We are under way eastbound across Mobile Bay, glad to finally be back on the water after too many weeks in the yard. The bay has a 2' chop after two days of heavy north winds that kept us at the dock, but we deemed it acceptable, and decided to put up with it rather than be stuck another day.

Even though I expressed hopes in my last post to be done in a week, it has once again been two full weeks since I posted. All told, we were in Bayou La Batre well over a month. Most of the extra delay can be attributed to weather, but it is also true that things always take longer than they should in boatyards.

This pair of dolphins joined us on our way to the Dauphin Island Bridge this morning.

We spent our final night on the hard hanging in the slings, and as expected, we splashed the next morning. The lift blew another hydraulic hose just as they were lowering the belts to the bottom of the slip, but they were far enough down to let us line the boat out of the slings and tie it alongside in a clear section of the lift slip. We ran through our post-splash checklist, looking for leaks and testing all the seawater-dependent systems.

In the afternoon we pulled around to the face docks along the bayou ship channel and tied up (map). That was close enough to where we had been on the hard that I was able to just pull the power cord across to the new spot. Good thing, because the yard charged us $300 each time they moved the cord. Had we fully understood that on arrival, we would have run the generator that first weekend instead of asking for power.

Back in the slings with shiny new paint, about to be lowered.

Back in the water we were finally able to run the sinks, shower, dishwasher, and washing machine with impunity. Louise did two weeks worth of accumulated laundry, and we tried to clean as much yard dust off things as we could. We also fired up all the reverse-cycle heaters just as soon as we felt the paint in the seachest was cured.

Yard work over the past two weeks principally consisted of prepping and painting two coats of epoxy in the tiller flat bilge where we had removed the rust and gauged the hull, and prepping and painting a few corroded areas on the topsides. Chief among these was the house-to-deck joint, which showed significant corrosion on both pieces, pretty much all the way around. We now have a "stripe" of a different white around the base of the house, in a flat workboat paint. But the rust is gone. They also fixed two damaged spots on the hull near the deck ports, and finished with some color touch-up we had aboard from the last paint job.

Out of the lift, which is broken down ahead of us..

On my end, I got the satellite compass installed, at least in a "trial" location on the old spotlight mount; we'll see if it maintains accuracy so close to a big metal panel. I also splashed the tender to breeze it out once we were back in the water. This later project, which should have been all of fifteen minutes, ended up being two full days.

That's because the Honda outboard gave me an overheat alarm while I was warming it up. I ended up with a crash course on the cooling system, tearing down the water pump twice, which involves removing the lower end (gearcase) from the engine. Backflushing the system a couple of times seems to have cured it, but I will likely never know why it overheated in the first place.

Once we got the dinghy running we took a little trip up the bayou, past the drawbridge. There are another couple of shipyards up that way, more shrimpers, and, amusingly, a pair of vintage-looking wooden sailing ships, which we believe to actually be false cladding over steel hulls. The Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean was actually built here in Bayou La Batre, more or less in secret, and one of these might have been her, or perhaps another movie vessel.

Heading back down the bayou toward the lift bridge, with a pair of "wooden" ships to starboard.

I replaced our venerable iPad Mini, original model, with a much newer Android tablet. The Mini came to us as part of an unlimited mobile Internet deal eons ago. The unlimited deal ultimately ended, and we would have parted with the iPad then and there, except by then it had become somewhat useful to run marine chart software. When we started up the inland rivers three years ago, availability of better charts on an iPad-only app proved to be a real boon, and we've been relying on it ever since.

A few months ago, after a routine update, several features of that program stopped working, and after several emails back and forth with the developer, it seems the app now needs a version of Apple's iOS that is not available for our ancient tablet. In the meantime, they released an Android version, ans so we ditched the iPad for a more modern (but not the latest) Lenovo tablet. All our nav apps are again working, and I am glad to be rid of iOS. The iPad went in the mail this morning to its new owner.

When it became clear we'd be done with all the painting over this past weekend, I called the compass adjuster Friday to see if he could come out Monday to rectify our lightning-induced compass error. He asked if we had a working sat compass, which gave me the impetus to wrap that project up; without it he would need a clear, sunny day. He arrived Monday morning at 9am and we went out into the turning basin for an hour, wherein I spun the boat through every point of the compass perhaps seven or eight times.

These two 120' towboats have progressed quite a bit in a month. A third keel was laid during our stay.

We had five magnets arranged around our compass; he removed one and moved another, and brought our deviation down from 20° to just 6° in the worst direction (due East). I joked about the $450 bill, saying $50 was for driving to Bayou La Batre and moving a magnet, and $400 was for knowing which magnet to move and where to move it. With several hours of easting now behind us today, I can say the compass is working much better, and thus the autopilot is as well.

After the compass adjuster left I had to ride over to the bank and take out a wad of cash. We paid the yard by wire transfer, but the painter, billing us directly, wanted cash. They gave it to me banded, the way you see criminals handing it off in the movies. His rates were quite reasonable, although they made a mess of our deck coating.

At that point we were ready to drop lines and head out, but we had missed our window to get to Gulf Shores, the next protected stop, before dark. Weather moved in overnight on Monday, pinning us down unless we were willing to bash our way through short-period three-foot beam seas to cross the bay. At least we still had power to get us through two nights in the 30s, with daytime highs of just 50°.

Angel loves project boxes. This one, apparently, is "just right."

We spent both days confined to the boat, and used the opportunity to clean up some of the huge mess that goes along with a yard visit, and generally prep the boat to get under way. The rest of the time I spent scrambling to find new boat insurance; the carrier underwriting our current policy, which expires in just a month, is withdrawing from the marine market. I still don't have it nailed down.

We were disappointed this morning to find today's forecast had deteriorated, but we really wanted to get under way. A pair of dolphins joined us in Mississippi Sound after we made our turn, riding our bow wave for a while, and we consider that our official welcome back to the water; dolphins are generally considered good omens among mariners.

We desperately need to pump out, having stretched our tank to over a month, and so while we normally prefer to anchor, tonight we plan to tie up at the Homeport Marina, adjacent to Lucy Buffett's restaurant, Lulu's. Normally we'd never make this stop, and we zipped on by last time, but as long as we're here, we'll see if Jimmy's little sister can cook.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Yard report

Today marks two full weeks since I last posted here. We are still in the exact same spot in the Metal Shark shipyard, but as of this morning, we are again hanging in the lift slings. This morning the painters sanded, prepped, and primed the five places they could not previously access due to the blocks holding the boat up.

Posts are few and far between when we are in the yard. In part, that's because I am incredibly busy. When I am not out dealing with the yard guys, I'm either tackling projects of my own that have been languishing, waiting on a block of downtime, or else I am on the Internet researching something for their projects or mine, such as going blind comparing antifouling paint datasheets. And in part its because we're not moving and there's not a lot of interesting stuff to report, other than yard progress.

Shortly after my last post the yard wrapped up installing the beefy new line diverters in front of the fins, and also popped the fins off and replaced the seals. All looked good, and there is no evidence that the shafts had been pushed in at all. The speed with which the fin project moved gave me some optimism about the rest of the work, but yards are often two steps forward and one step back, and a holiday week in the mix did not help the schedule.

It was fascinating to watch the new builds happening. Here part of the deck house, assembled in another part of the yard, is lowered onto the main deck of a new hull. We're still under the lift here and I had to shoot between the belts.

Friday afternoon at closing time, we walked out to the parking lot to wait for Enterprise to pick us up. There was quite a hubbub at the gate; the yard was handing out a frozen turkey to every worker. They even offered one to us, but with no way to cook it we politely declined. Enterprise was a bit late, and with a twenty minute drive back to their office it was nearly 4:30 by the time we were driving away with our car.

Pretty much anyone who knows me, and especially Louise, will tell you that I'm, uhh, "frugal," and I almost always book the cheapest available car, whatever that is. And in this case it was "pot luck" -- a lower rate offered at booking time to take whatever they had available at pickup. As it happens, that turned out to be a high-zoot Cadillac XT5 compact SUV. This car far and away had more bells and whistles than anything we've ever rented heretofore. Shortly after we got it home, I had to dig the ~500 page owner manual, still shrink-wrapped, out of the trunk to find out how to operate everything.

Our first stop after picking up the car was the local Costco, where I needed some items from the pharmacy. On our way into the store there was a nearly identical XT5 sitting in the entrance, from Costco's car-buying program, with the sticker on it: $52k. Holiday shopping had already begun there, but other than my pharmacy purchase, we walked out empty-handed. We drove to a nearby Italian place, Mirko, for dinner, which turned out to be mediocre.

Vector and her neighbors, towboats under construction. We were much more exposed when they finally moved the lift.

We don't get shipyard workers on the weekends, but the paint crew is a contractor that works whenever they can. Saturday, however, was rainy and so we had the day to ourselves. We took the spiffy new car out for a morning drive around Alabama bayou country, driving out past Coden and then back the other way toward the marine research station. I worked on projects in the afternoon, and then we drove out to Dauphin Island for dinner.

This proved to be something of a goose chase. The well-rated place I had my eye on turned out to be closed for no apparent reason, the backup choice closed at 6 and had only outdoor seating, and the third choice place had either a smoky bar upstairs, or a dining room with no booze downstairs. We ended up at Pirates on the beach, which happens to be the place you can dinghy to from the gulf-side anchorage. After years of "missing" Dauphin Island (there was no place to park the bus, and we can't get into the marinas), we can now safely say we don't need to return.

Good friend, long-time boater, and former master of this very vessel reminded me in a comment on my last post that he did his captain's license right here in Bayou La Batre, at Sea School across the channel. He asked if there were still shrimp boats up in the trees, and I am happy to report the answer is no. It took a very long time, but with federal cleanup grants the remaining abandoned vessels have finally been removed. One of the parks we passed on our drive had an informational sign about the program. The town, though, like so many, has never fully recovered.

One of a number of signs around the area discussing rehabilitation.

One of the things on my to-do list for the weekend was to find a restaurant within an hour's drive that was serving the traditional flavors for Thanksgiving dinner, and make a reservation. But after reading in my last blog post that we'd be renting a car, our friends Dave and Stacey on Stinkpot, who are spending a month in New Orleans, invited us to come over for the holiday meal.

It's a two-hour drive to NOLA, and we ruminated about whether we could make the drive back after dinner, or get a room nearby that would allow us to bring the cat. Or whether we could leave the cat aboard for one night with no heat in the boat (we won't run the little portable electric heaters when we are not aboard). Ultimately we decided to make it a day trip.

With that big question solved, we spent the first part of the week using the car to run errands every day after closing time. That included a giant run to the Mobile recycling dropoff, where we were finally able to get rid of our accumulated glass bottles, including some 60-odd beer bottles, that we have not been able to recycle since Illinois. We also made runs to Walmart, Lowes, Joann Fabrics, and a number of other stores for project supplies and provisions. We made a trip every evening so that we could also have dinner someplace other than Bayou La Batre, where we're now on our third trip to every restaurant.

In the meantime the paint crew began working in earnest, sanding down our bare spots and getting primer on all the damaged areas. I sanded the propeller down myself, and the yard had the local propeller guy come over to look at it with me. We've been concerned about dezincification since our 2016 haulout in Bradenton; the yard guys have been saying it looks fine, and the propeller shop basically confirmed that we had little to worry about, but suggested it was time for a tune-up at our next haulout.

Prop mostly sanded. You can see some pinkish areas where some dezincification has occurred.

Things wound down quickly as the holiday approached, and basically nothing happened Wednesday. Thursday morning we made a fairly early start for NOLA, as we wanted to take the longer US90 route. Long-time readers will know that we transited US90 many times in the bus, and not only do we enjoy the drive, but it is interesting to see how things have been slowly returning since Katrina. The debris is all gone, but many empty lots remain for sale, some sporting the parking lots of long-gone businesses.

We left early enough to make a big loop through the city when we arrived, passing by many of our old haunts from our long stay there three years ago. Without thinking about it, our drive ended up bringing us past the demolition area for the damaged remains of the Hard Rock Hotel project, and the rerouting around that dumped us right onto Canal before the Quarter. It's never a good idea to drive near the Quarter on a holiday, as NOLA uses any excuse to close off streets and have a parade, and we ended up being late arriving at the marina.

That marina is literally right next door to where we spent three months getting the boat painted. We're still a bit traumatized by that experience, so we did not stop in. Fortunately we were still on-time for dinner, which was wonderful. Dave somehow found a way to cook an entire turkey in a tiny galley oven, served with dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, squash, and homemade cranberry apple sauce. We brought a couple of pies, some hors d'oeuvres, and a bottle of wine along with us, and everyone was appropriately sated at the end of the meal. We returned home, leftovers in hand, via the faster I-10 route and were back in quarters before bed time.

Propeller freshly painted. Muddy red spots on hull are new primer.

With the yard closed, Friday would have been a good day to get out and do something fun, but I needed to take the opportunity with the painters gone to finish up the propeller. We did take a nice drive around the coast and back through downtown Mobile in the afternoon on our way to return the car. We had the leftovers for dinner.

Even though it was still a holiday weekend, the paint crew was in on Saturday and Sunday, and they got the second coat of primer on and a spot coat of antifouling. Two full coats went on earlier this week. We stumbled into the Alabama-Auburn game at dinner time at the Lighthouse restaurant; down here in bayou country they are Crimson Tide fans, but I'm sure our friend John was happy for his alma mater to emerge victorious in a close game. We kept a low profile.

Among the several projects we're having done here is to re-coat the tiller flat (lazarette) bilge with epoxy paint. Years of salt water leakage around the rudder gland had taken its toll, and way back in April, before my attention was diverted by a lightning strike and embarking on the completion of the Great Loop, I discovered significant rust damage in the bilge; thick chunks of epoxy-coated rust flakes came off on my scraper. So early in the yard visit, one of the yard guys came out and scraped and sanded most of the damaged area down to bare metal.

They splashed the Lawson just before the holiday. She takes up much more of the lift, and this photo sharply contrasts with the one of Vector in my last post. Monday the crane barge picked up the full-size crew van and put it on deck, the towboat faced up, and they headed back up the rivers.

After the sanding, the yard's opinion was that it was not bad at all and would likely not need reinforcement. Last week the yard brought out its audio gauging equipment and measured the thickness at the worst spots. We had readings of 0.268" at worst, and thicker in most places. I don't have the original specs on the steel, but the plans call for 1/4". With these readings, likely 2-gauge was used in this area. In any case, it's still over 1/4" and will need nothing other than sanding and a fresh coat of epoxy.

In and among all the yard projects, I've been knocking off a list of my own. Now that we're back in salt water, I needed to change the engine anodes. As usual, they broke off inside the heat exchanger, which I had to take apart in order to retrieve the pieces. I found an old impeller vane in there, too, so I also pulled the raw water pump and replaced it with the spare; all vanes were present but a couple were starting to crack, so it was due.

I've also been working, on and off, on the ComNav G1 satellite compass that I bought on eBay three full months ago. I did not realize it would come without a cable or connector, nor did I realize that getting the pinout of the connector or finding a cable would prove so difficult. I finally got through to someone at ComNav support, and while they did not give me the pinout, they gave me a part number for the cable.

Measuring the connector to try to find its mate. There are over a hundred circular 18-pin connectors on the market.

I was not about to spend $275 on a cable when the entire unit only cost me $800, but the part number led me to a site, in Dutch, with the connector pinout. No spec for the connector, so I spent a bit of time measuring it and trying to match it up online. After one failed attempt yielding the wrong part, I managed to source the mating connector, and with a lot of patience I got eight pins soldered to a CAT-5 cable I had lying around. I've been fiddling around with settings and updating the software, and my next challenge is to figure out where and how to mount it. Once done, this should put to rest all of the compass error issues we've been dealing with.

One project I had to knock out early on was to install another "dry" power outlet under the helm. Pretty much every outlet on the boat comes from the inverter, with two exceptions, one being deep inside a cabinet for the original refrigerator (abandoned since changing to a household fridge, which needs the inverter), and the other being on the aft deck. The former is essentially inaccessible without getting behind the fridge (in hindsight I should have left an extension cord back there), and the latter is outside the living space.

This generally has never been a problem, right up until we were sitting in the mud at Dog River and realized we could only run two of our three portable electric heaters at a time without tripping the 30-amp breaker on the inverter output panel. Even though we had two 50-amp feeds available on board, we were thus limited to a single 30 amps. At Dog River we ran an extension cord from the aft deck back in through a window to get another heater running.

After six years of service holding Vector at anchor, this Crosby alloy shackle is done, the pin worn to an unacceptable level. I've replaced it with a cheap import while I try to source a proper replacement.

Having the window open a crack, of course, lets some of the heat out, but here in the yard it would also let a bunch of nasty things in, such as yard dust, paint fumes, and the rotting fish smell that permeates the area some evenings. So I installed a quick-and-dirty non-inverter outlet under the helm, near the electrical distribution. With this setup we still need to use an extension cord to get the heater where it's needed, but it's entirely indoors. I could sprinkle some non-inverter outlets throughout the boat, but that's a lot of work, and this issue has literally come up just once in seven years of cruising.

One of the things we discovered after the haulout was that the "stationary" part of our line cutter on the prop shaft was missing altogether. Going back to the photos from the Green Turtle haulout, it was missing then, too. My guess is that the diver we hired in Fort Lauderdale to reposition it after our transmission work, who seemed baffled by the device, failed to get it back on properly and/or fully torque the two setscrews, which backed out from vibration. I had to have Spurs ship a replacement from Fort Lauderdale, which I installed myself to be sure it was done right.

We marched through this soft, sometimes muddy dirt multiple times daily on our way to and from the boat. At least we had beefy steel boarding stairs.

In between the rotating part of the cutter and the propeller hub itself we had a shaft anode that had been custom-cut to size for us and installed in Fort Lauderdale during our haul-out two years ago. That anode was done, and the yard could not source a replacement. I found a couple in California and bought both of them; the yard did a real butcher job cutting one to size (the last guys had a machine shop), but at least it's back on. We've also changed out three (out of eight) of the large hull anodes that were installed over three years ago.

Other projects included replacing the pump in the cat's drinking fountain, which failed completely one night, and installing a handheld nozzle in place of the spigot on our filtered drinking water system, so we can just pull it over to fill the coffeemaker rather than have to transfer the water in a container (rough life, I know). Lots of minor things got fixed around the house as well.

Life in the boatyard is a dirty affair, dirtier here than most. That's because the yard is neither pavement nor gravel, but just bare earth, with a fine coating of blasting media, metal dust, old paint, and hydraulic fluid and motor oil from all manner of equipment. The lack of surfacing is understandable considering one of the machines is a Manitowoc 888 crawler crane, which itself weighs over 150 tons and has a payload capacity of over 200 tons, nicknamed Mr. Marty. It routinely moves around the yard loaded, including once coming right up next to Vector. Not many surfaces can support that kind of weight.

Mr Marty approaching to squeeze between us and the towboat under construction to our starboard.

We have to traipse through this dirtpile multiple times each day, to get to the scooters which are parked off-yard on pavement, and to get to the bathrooms in the main building, in order to conserve waste capacity. Normally we can go three weeks on a tank, and it's been longer than that since our last pumpout at Dog River. We can probably go another week or two at the rate we are going, but only if we remain diligent about going ashore.

Update: It is the end of the day (blogging has taken a back seat to dealing with yard guys multiple times) and we are still in the slings. The primer took longer to set than expected, and the painters ended up having to do the topcoat after the lift crew ended for the day. We will splash first thing tomorrow. It will be nice to be back in the water, which is warmer than the air temperature most of the day, and where we can run the big heaters and use as much water as we'd like.

With any luck the topside work and the bilge work in the tiller flat will be done by the middle of next week, and we can be back under way before another weekend passes. We went to Kain's Mexican restaurant tonight, the best joint in town, and were recognized and warmly greeted by the staff, a sure sign we've been here too long.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Metal Shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

We are on the hard at Metal Shark Boats, in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (map). While most Alabamans pronounce it like "buy you luh bat tree," locally the "you" all but disappears. Today marks a week since we arrived here. We spent the first five nights in the water, at their docks, where we could run the heaters as needed.

Friday morning the head of repair and refit, Mickey, came over to chat with us about the project and the schedule. We agreed that it made no sense to haul out before the weekend, since no work could happen and it did no good to be on the hard all that time. He sent the head electrician over after our chat to get us some power. It's only 208 volts, so all the lights are dim and the dryer takes twice as long, but at least we could run all the heat.

Vector on the hard under the enormous lift. Hull of a new-build towboat is behind the screen to our starboard, and beyond that the Stephanie Pasentine is undergoing refit.

After our meeting I got to work getting the scooters ready and on the ground. They've been sitting on the deck, in the weather and without being run, since Rochester, four months ago. Mine needed air in the tires, but otherwise started right up, and after warming up for a few minutes was ready to go. Louise's recently acquired Buddy 125, however, was a different story.

First off, it would not start. I start them up on deck, because I have access to unlimited 12v power up there, using a purpose-made cable connected to the davit winch. While my scooter is fuel-injected, the Buddy has a conventional carburetor, which does not do well just sitting, full of fuel, for four months, even with stabilizer in it.

Arriving to Bayou La Batre we were greeted with the sight of the Argosy Casino Lawrenceburg, a failed casino boat from Indiana, towed here to await its fate.

The much bigger problem was that when I released the front brake, which has to be applied to start, the handle went limp, with the plunger on the master cylinder remaining in the fully applied position. Not good. I will spare you all the gory details, but suffice it to say I spent much of Friday afternoon and most of Saturday working on it, to no avail.

With at least one working scooter I was able to run some errands on Friday, knowing that time to do them once in the yard would be limited. To wit, I rode the 20 miles to the sewing shop to pick up the replacement Juki motor that I had ordered, and afterward ran across the street to Home Depot for a couple of key project items and then Walmart to replenish the larder.

There is a Sea School professional mariner training here, and I've seen classes of students out practicing their lifeboat rowing in the turning basin.

Friday night we ended up going to dinner two-up on my scoot, at the nearby Mexican joint, Kain's, which was surprisingly good. It was also quite busy on a Friday night. Being one of just four restaurants here in town open for dinner, we've already been back there once, and it won't be our last before leaving town.

After conceding defeat on Louise's master cylinder Saturday, I ordered a used take-out on eBay as a replacement, and I put the rest of the scooter back together after adjusting the rear brake. It's only a few blocks to town from the yard, on low-speed local streets, and we reasoned she could get by on the rear brake alone for a couple of nights. I had finally managed to get it started still on the deck, with the brakes torn apart.

USACE Lawson just released from the slings.

Monday we were all ready for our haulout, but, as anticipated, a much higher-priority customer arrived and had to be hauled ahead of us. That turned out to be the US Army Corps of Engineers towboat Lawson, which arrived with its crane barge Choctawhatchee. They left the barge spudded down in the water and lifted the towboat with the enormous 600-ton Marine Travelift.

The Lawson displaces 434 tons, and somewhere during the lift the Travelift went into alarm. When we dropped by the office to sign the paperwork we learned we'd have to wait another night while they got the lift squared away. We were comfortable at the dock so that was fine by us.

Tuesday morning Keith, one of the foremen and also the lift operator, came by to pace off the location of the fins and where to place the slings, and told us to head over to the lift well at 9am. We got the boat squared away and took one last opportunity to discharge gray water overboard, and drove over to the lift promptly at 9. I'm not sure what Monday's alarm was about, but Tuesday morning the lift blew a hydraulic hose, so we tied up in the lift well to wait.

Vector coming out of the water, looking diminutive in the giant lift. The historic wooden Ship Island ferry, the Pan American Clipper, is at right, with the Choctawhatchee's crane behind her.

We're no strangers to hydraulic hose failures, and I am certain that someone from the yard had to drive to the exact same hose shop that I rode to when we blew a steering hose on Odyssey over at Dog River. That was a two-hour round trip, plus whatever time it took to make the hose, and it was well past lunch time by the time they were ready to lift us.

We're also no strangers to Marine Travelifts, but heretofore, the largest lift we've been in has been 75 tons. That's a comfortable capacity for our 55-ton weight, as opposed to the smaller lifts we've used, where I grimaced the entire time we were in the slings. Most recently a 70-ton lift was unable to move after they slinged us.

This lift makes Vector look like a tub toy.

Even at 75 or 100 tons, we sweat it every time. The slings are operating near capacity, and it does not take much of a nick or cut to cause one to fail; stories abound of heavy yachts dropped out of ill-maintained lifts. I can honestly say, though, that we had no such concerns whatsoever in the 600-ton lift, where the biggest issue was how to fit the enormous slings properly under Vector.

The spreaders on typical lifts are also always a cause for concern, usually coming quite close to our hull during the lift. Here the spreaders we so far above our flybridge there was no chance of that happening. In fact, Vector looked like nothing so much as a bathtub toy hanging from a lift that, just the day before, hauled a 96'x40' towboat.

The cat is always blasé about lift day. She's happy to have a new shoebox from one of Louise's fabric deliveries.

The bigger they are, the slower they move, and it was closing time by the time they had us blocked and out of the slings. The lift is still sitting here around us, though, while the yard continues working on whatever ails it. The operating machinery is so far above ground they need a man-lift to access it, and, much like the way some of my projects go, in the middle of working on the Travelift today they had to stop and fix something on the man-lift. There is a lot of heavy machinery here.

Speaking of blocking, there are no jackstands in this yard. Our keel is on sandbags on top of cribbing; the sandbags can be cut open later to move cribbing to access different areas for painting. And side-to side we are balanced by a single pair of enormous concrete blocks, topped with more cribbing and a dozen or so wooden wedges, driven in by hammer. It's the weirdest blocking for Vector to date.

This photo I took of our new pot diverters being installed also shows the cribbing and wedges holding us up.

This week we've received a number of items in the mail, including the custom-made tool to remove the stabilizer fins, since the yard does not have one of its own, a few miscellaneous project items for which I've just been waiting to have a good address, and the replacement master cylinder for Louise's scoot, which I installed yesterday.

There's a marine supply store across the street which is something of a cross between a chandlery and a well-stocked hardware store. They sold me the parts for a new snubber and found a guy who could make it up for me. I paid $19 for the rope and a thimble, and $20 for the marlinspike work, with the total easily less than half what I've been paying for snubbers. They also had the plumbing parts I needed for a project in the galley.

Almost to our spot. Lawson is behind us. Two workers at left show you how big the tires are on this lift.

At the rate things are going here, it looks like we will be here through Thanksgiving, even if we do not opt to increase the scope of work. But at least there are a few stores and four restaurants, the others being The Lighthouse and Catalina, both fried seafood joints, and Phnom Penh, which is sort of pan-Asian and not just Cambodian food.

Considering nothing in town will be open Thanksgiving day, we've rented a car for a week, which we will pick up tomorrow afternoon. In addition to getting us someplace for dinner on Thursday, that will also give us the chance to get a bit farther afield this weekend, and make it easier to run errands next week.