Saturday, July 23, 2016

The view from 30,000'

We are back home in Alabama after our whirlwind trip to California. I barely had time to keep up with email, let alone blog; now that we're home and rested I can catch up. We're not in any hurry now, as we paid for a full month here at the Riverwalk Marina in Decatur (map). I had expected to take just a couple of weeks, but the monthly rate was less than even seven days at the daily rate -- a no-brainer.

We arrived here mid-afternoon Thursday (the 7th), shortly after I posted here. We're on the north side of a face dock, and we arrived in ten knots of wind out of the south, making for quite the challenge docking. The marina has no staff, and it was a good ten minutes of back-and-forth maneuvering before I could get the midships close enough to the dock for Louise to lasso a cleat. All's well that ends well, and we tied up without incident.

Sunset over the Tennessee, from the Hard Dock Cafe at the marina.

The marina is actually on an island in the middle of the river, which in turn is really part of Wheeler Lake. A causeway connects the island to Tanner, Madison, and Huntsville on the north shore of the lake, and the "Steamboat Bill" bridge connects it to Decatur proper on the south shore. Consequently, nothing at all is in walking distance here except the restaurant on the property, the Hard Dock Cafe. It's extremely popular, with live music most nights and a good crowd. On the weekends, some patrons arrive by boat.

A unique view of Vector, from 30,000' (click to enlarge). It's the white blob just below the green roofs.

With temperatures in the high 90s and heat indices some ten degrees higher, we opted to just walk the hundred yards to the Hard Dock for dinner when we arrived. The food was decent and the beer was cold, although the joint is open-air. Still, it was better than lowering the scooters in the heat, or cooking. We landed the scooters Friday morning, when it was a bit cooler.

Approaching Decatur. The rail bridge had to open for us; the marina is beyond it.

Also on Friday, a semi-truck from R&L Carriers arrived with our mini-split air conditioner on a pallet. We unloaded it all from the skid as soon as it came off the truck, and were able to wheel the components down to the boat on our collapsible luggage cart individually. This marina does not even have a dock cart. I had not figured to dive right into the installation before our trip, but after uncrating it all and looking it over I decided I could just get started, rather than have it cluttering up the boat.

It took me the better part of three full days to install it, which included a trip to Lowes for mounting bolts, PVC fittings to sleeve the holes in the boat, and a power cord. I've already written up the full installation in its own post, so I won't repeat it here. I'm happy to report that we tested it again when we returned from our week in California and it's working fine, so it looks like my refrigerant connections are leak-free.

Tuesday we cleaned up the boat, got it set up for a week without us, and took Angel to the vet for boarding. The vet turns out to have a patio boat which he keeps in this marina, and he allowed that he had noticed our boat here. We are the biggest thing here. Louise took the cat over in a taxi, and I followed on the scooter to pick her up. We reversed that process yesterday to retrieve Angel, who is still settling back in to her routine aboard.

Executive Connection picked us up Wednesday morning at 0530 for our 8am flight. We had asked for a 6am pickup, but they had a conflict. It turned out to be fortuitous; our 8am flight led to a very tight 45-minute connection at ATL, where connections often involve taking a train to a different terminal. The 5:30 limo got us to the airport in time to make a much earlier flight on standby. This plane was nearly empty; we had a row to ourselves, and we had plenty of time in Atlanta for a leisurely ride to the next terminal and a sit-down breakfast to boot.

A sign that makes sense only to denizens of Stanford University and its environs.

I won't bore you with all the mundane details of our visit to the bay area. Suffice it to say that in six days (seven nights) we had 13 different visits, most involving a meal, seeing some 36 different friends and family members. It was completely exhausting. Beyond that, we normally eat only one full meal a day, at dinner, and have more like a light snack at breakfast and lunch time. On this trip, we ate three full restaurant meals a day, and our bodies were complaining vociferously by the end of the trip.

I made a pilgrimage to our condo building, the first in several years. Our unit is rented out, so even though I have keys I could not enter; in hindsight I should have asked our management company to give the the tenant notice so I could just go in and have a look. I did check out the rest of the building, though, including our storage locker on the garage level. We used to rent this out, too, but it became too difficult to find a tenant among the existing building residents. Long-time readers may remember we stored some items here when we first moved onto the bus, and then had a challenge purging them several years later.

Our storage unit in the garage area. Hard to believe it was once crammed full.

Our last visit to the bay area together was in the bus, at the end of 2012. The economic recovery is in full swing in the bay area, and many new buildings have sprung up in just those few years. I drove around to several of our "secret" on-street boondocking spots, and many are no longer usable due to development or repurposing of nearby real estate. The Sunnyvale Elks lodge, where we'd stayed a few times, which used to have perhaps ten usable RV spots, is now hosting at least twice that many rigs, and there are on-street RVs all over Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and even Palo Alto, a testament to the current housing crunch in Silicon Valley.

The tragic shooting of police officers in Baton Rouge happened while we were in California, and we spent what little time we could spare watching coverage and reading the follow-up. Long-time readers may know that we spent considerable time in Baton Rouge as volunteers for the American Red Cross, and the shooting was not all that far from the area where we worked, also off Airline Highway. The event prompted me to spend some time looking at the area on Google Earth.

The building where our disaster headquarters was housed was a vacant Walmart store, a common occurrence on disasters, as Walmart is a significant donor and we work with their real estate department. Heretofore I could not disclose the location of this facility on the blog, because we continued to use the building as a disaster relief "hot site" for several years; Louise and I, in fact, worked three different disaster relief operations there over several years. We spent more time in Baton Rouge, LA, than any other single place while we were on the bus.

Walmart has since reopened the building, after significant upgrades, as a Sam's Club, so I can share it now. While I was on Google Earth looking at how the area had changed, I decided to go back through some of the image history, and I discovered a satellite photo from our very first week on the job (and boy, were we green), responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Odyssey is clearly visible in the parking lot of the Cortana Mall, across the street from HQ, right next to the Spirit Of America mobile feeding kitchen. You can see the ground-level photo in this post from, quite literally, the day before the satellite pass.

Our bus, Odyssey, during the Katrina relief operation (click to enlarge). A few support vehicles are with us in the mall parking lot. The western half of the Lowes parking lot is full of Budget rental trucks for distributing food and supplies (we spent time in this lot, too). The old Walmart lot is full of rental cars -- volunteer transportation. We spent a few weeks in the Baptist Church lot as well.

We spent our final night in the bay area at a hotel just north of the airport, ironically surrounded by marinas. It was actually a much nicer room than where we spent the other six nights, but all we go to do was crash for a few hours after checking in at nearly 10pm. Wednesday morning we had to leave first thing to return the rental car to its off-airport location and make our flight.

SF bay from the air (click to enlarge). The GG bridge is shrouded in fog, but SF is about center frame. To the right is the old airfield of Alameda Naval Air Station; long time readers may remember we've spent a bit of time there having Odyssey serviced at a bus shop in one of the old paint hangars.

We had clear skies and great weather for the flight from SFO to Atlanta, and I was able to snap a few photos out the plane window. The bay area is always fascinating from the air, but I also managed to look out the window at just the right time to see our anchorage at Joe Wheeler State Park, most of Wheeler Lake, and even Vector sitting in the marina from 30,000 feet. We had a dinner layover in Atlanta and it was four hours between our flyover and when we'd be back at the boat in person.

Wheeler lake. At far left is Wheeler State Park, where we anchored.

Decatur, AL, with Riverwalk Marina just right of center frame.

Our final flight from Atlanta to Huntsville was, in fact, delayed, and we counted ourselves lucky that we did not miss our limo appointment when we landed. We found the boat in good condition, if intolerably hot, and after cranking up the air conditioning we collapsed. I think I spent most of Thursday in a stupor, after a completely exhausting week, compounded by jet lag.

Yesterday I managed to get back into the swing of things, even starting the project list back up. We had to get the cat in the morning; we intended to pick her up on Thursday but did not realize the vet closes early that day, at 11am, and we moved the boat to the pumpout and back first thing Thursday instead, wanting to do that in the relative cool of the morning. My first project was to try to clear up the last remnants of the mini-split project.

The big one of those, of course, was the shelf I had to remove over the pilothouse settee. This is a really, really nice shelf, with nicely rounded corners and seamless joints; I can only imagine what our friend and former master of this vessel paid for it, but knowing yard rates for millwork, I'm guessing well in excess of a "boat unit." Thus we really did not want to consign it to the scrap heap (which, really, would have been a "free to good home" pile at a marina someplace), but rather to keep it for ourselves. We ultimately settled on a spot for it over the master berth.

Shelf from the pilothouse, now in place over the master berth.

It looks great there, and will give Louise some more storage for quilts. We can't really use it for books, because it's four feet above our heads when we are sleeping and the risk of books falling in rough seas is a real issue. I'm glad we were able to find a use for it on board.

I also moved Mr. Roboto downstairs to the master stateroom, getting a head start on making him operational there. We made a stop at Home Depot to get some parts for the project, to plumb the condensate drain to a hose, by way of a ball valve, so the unit can be drained without moving it from its new perch on the forward dresser top. I'll post some photos as the project progresses.

We had initially thought we'd be shoving off about now for Chattanooga. But as long was we are paid up all the way to August 7th, instead we'll spend a bit more time right here in Decatur. That will let us get past the current heat wave with full air conditioning, and I can also knock down some of the project backlog. The generator needs its oil changed, and both engines are overdue on valve adjustment, plus I need to finish up the portable air conditioner project in the master stateroom.

At this writing, I'm not sure when we'll leave here. We're already ahead of the game on dock fees, so there is no need to stay any longer than we feel like, but, by the same token, we are not in a hurry. If we get a later start upriver to Chattanooga, then it's possible the next upstream lock will be reopened by the time we are done there, and we could continue on all the way to Knoxville if we feel like it.

I'll probably post one more time while we are here in Decatur, and by then I should have a better idea of the plan moving forward. In the meantime, we'll be making some slow progress as we continue to recover from our packed week of travel.


  1. What an amazing picture of Vector at 30,000'.

  2. Please tell us the meaning of "No Dish Parking."

    1. "The Dish" is a Stanford landmark. It is a radio telescope set in the hills above campus (not unlike the one in the movie that was also called "The Dish"). It is surrounded by Stanford's own open space preserve, and there are several hiking trails.

      A popular activity in the area is to "hike the dish." Parking, on the other hand, is limited -- most campus parking is by permit only. People park wherever they can; the sign in the photo is at an elementary school on the university campus.

  3. Glad you made it back home safely. In preparation for your time in Chattanooga I wanted to pass along a recent article from This one about local restaurants seems right up your alley.

    I've lived here since '93 and only know about two of the five author Sean mentions. A couple are easy walking distance from the pier @ Coolidge Park and of course all are "scooterable".

    Happy cruising. Kent

    1. Thanks, we'll check them out. We've actually spent quite a bit of time in Chatanooga, as we had the bus serviced at a shop nearby. We are looking forward to visiting by boat and staying much closer to downtown.


Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!