Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Florida bound

We are under way in the Gulf of Mexico, about halfway through our passage from Mobile Bay, Alabama to Anclote Key, Florida, near Tarpon Springs. So far this is proving to be a perfect window for our crossing, with seas around two feet and a period of five seconds or so. We've been offline since yesterday afternoon, and I am typing in a text file to upload later, when we pick up cell signal off Tarpon Springs.

Last night's sunset over the gulf in our wake.

We ended up spending two extra nights at Point Cadet in Biloxi, bringing our total stay there to five nights. Thursday night our friends Jeff and Cindy drove out from Madisonville (across the lake from New Orleans) and we had a very nice dinner at Patio 44 in downtown Biloxi. It was nice to see them and also nice to get away from the casino and marina.

That being said, the proximity of the casino made Point Cadet a great place to ride out Tropical Storm Cindy (no relation). We were able to walk in for draft beers, dinner, and even breakfast, and the 24-hour sundry shop in the lobby also had the milk we needed for our coffee here on passage.

The storm was not quite finished with us when last I posted here, and Wednesday night we were disturbed to hear a loud flapping sound coming from the flybridge. Winds were still in about the 20-knot range at the time. Upon inspection, we discovered that the longitudinal center seam down the middle of the flybridge soft top had started ripping out. I suspect this seam has been slowly yielding for a long time, as I've been noticing more and more water coming through around the center superstructure beam for the last few months.

We did the best we could to tape the downwind side down so that the winds would not keep lifting and ripping it, and that seems to have kept more damage at bay for the remainder of the storm. The tape is still there, and yesterday when a thunderstorm came up on passage we threw a rope over the top to keep the motion, and thus further damage, down to a minimum. This seam is under a lot of tension, as the cover is laced taught on all sides; now that there's a gap everything is a bit loose and subject to more damage.

A note here is probably in order before I get a lot of comments from armchair skippers who will tell me that all canvas should be removed in preparation for tropical storm force conditions. I would agree with this in general, however, on Vector, this is a non-trivial proposition, and ideally requires a visit to a yard. That's because of the extensive list of items that must first be removed before the canvas can come off, some of which are hard-wired:

  • Two satellite domes, one empty and one containing the gyro-stabilized DirecTV antenna
  • Two hard-mounted VHF antennas
  • A "Flying saucer" amplified TV antenna
  • A GPS "mushroom" receiver/antenna

The non-empty sat dome is fairly heavy and really should be lifted off with a crane, skyhook, or manlift, which is why a yard is preferable. But ultimately everything could be removed carefully with about two days' work. That makes removing and reinstalling canvas about a five-day proposition, not including the storm itself, or the time before and after when the weather is unsuitable for that type of work. Thus far, in the four years we've had it, the canvas has been unfazed by steady winds in the 35-knot range and gusts of 50. So, for us, the risk calculus has been to leave it in place unless the boat has to weather an actual hurricane.

A stormy sunset across the gulf, over our wake Sunday evening.

That soft top is ten years old now and it was probably past due. We'll have a professional marine canvas shop tell us whether the seam can be repaired, likely with a reinforcing strip, or if it's time to replace the entire top. In the time it's off the boat, I'm going to try to make progress on relocating most or all of the aforementioned items so that the canvas is more easily removed in the future. But also, more importantly, so we can possibly be able to lower the mast in the future, reducing our hard bridge clearance from 25' down to 19'8". We opted to live with duct tape and tie-downs until we can get the boat to Florida or beyond before we find a shop to do the work.

We had hoped to take two days to get from Biloxi to Dauphin Island and the Mobile Ship Channel inlet, but conditions on Mississippi Sound Friday were still too unsettled for comfort, with four foot seas on a four second period. We certainly can travel in those conditions, but with calm seas forecast for Saturday we opted to just spend the extra night and make it a longer day on Saturday.

My planned route to our departure point on the SE side of Dauphin Island was 57 nautical miles, about a nine-hour day. But we had a high tide of over a foot and a half when we weighed anchor Saturday morning, and that let us cut quite a few corners that would have been dicey at low tide. We ended up running just 51 nautical miles. We also had a favorable current part of the way, and we spent just seven hours under way.

Our route brought us along the north shore of Dauphin Island, under the Dauphin Island Bridge, and right up to the Mobile Ship Channel. While we did not actually "cross our wake," from here we could see the spot where we entered Mobile Bay just a little more than one year ago and turned north for the Mobile River. Together with the few miles from Anclote Key to Clearwater that we will transit in the next couple of days, this will complete the entirety of the Intracoastal Waterway for us, from its start in Norfolk, Virginia to its end in Port Isabel, Texas.

Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan Ferries in our path.

We circled around the east end of the island, along the ship channel, crossing paths with both the east and westbound Fort Morgan-Dauphin Island ferries. Long-time readers may remember this ferry was one we simply could not embark in Odyssey, at the Fort Morgan end. We then turned back west, up the Sand Island Channel, to anchor in protected water between Dauphin Island and Pelican Island (map). This latter is something of a misnomer, as the shallow pass that once separated the two islands filled in several years ago, and Pelican Island is now a peninsula jutting out southeastward from the middle of Dauphin Island.

Apparently, we did not pull in to the crook between the islands far enough. It was a bit rolly during the afternoon, and for whatever reason it got progressively worse throughout the evening. We were relatively comfortable for dinner on the aft deck, but at midnight Louise woke me up to say we needed to move the boat to a less rolly spot. We seldom weigh, maneuver, or anchor in the dark, but with no other vessels nearby, good charts, and gently sloping bottom we managed OK, with me in the pilothouse looking at the chartplotter while Louise stood on the foredeck with the portable spotlight. We were re-anchored by 12:45 and had no further problems, but I think we amused the fishermen standing on the spit of land just a hundred yards or so away.

Beaches and spendy houses along Dauphin Island from our anchorage.

This little embayment must have been good feeding grounds, because we saw quite a few dolphins swimming around the boat. Also the bait boat came through the area in the afternoon and again the next day trolling a large net. Once we had moved further in, it was a comfortable spot and a great jumping-off point for our gulf crossing. The white sand beach along this protected stretch of Dauphin Island is popular with beach-goers, and seemed to us a nicer place to swim than the less protected beach near the fort at the far eastern end.

In the course of moving the boat at midnight I had to rig the pilothouse for night running. Among other things, that means taping over the always-on power indicator LEDs on the bilge pump controls, which are otherwise too bright and shining right in my eyes. That's when we noticed one of the indicators was out, because the fuse was blown. Thus, Sunday morning involved an excursion into the tiller flat, to find the pump seized.

Sand Island Lighthouse, adjacent the Mobile ship channel, on our way out of Sand Island Channel.

The bilge in there always has some water in it because the deck hatch leaks a small amount in heavy rains, and there is seepage around the rudder post. I carry a spare for this pump, in the form of a used take-out, and an hour on my knees in there had the pump replaced and working and all the water (and rust) out. I'll order a new pump in Florida.

Our voyage time at Vector's average speed is right around 49 hours. However, gulf currents can add to or subtract from that time considerably. Not wanting to arrive in the middle of the night, or have to slow down to an unworkably slow speed, we delayed our departure to 11am CDT. With an ETA of 1pm EDT, that gives us roughly seven hours of daylight on either side.

Seldom do we pass an offshore platform with a helicopter sitting on the pad like this. We were past all the platforms by mid-afternoon Sunday.

As it turns out, we've had a bit of a push for much of the voyage. While I started this post around mid-day, it's now almost 9pm EDT, a half hour into my watch, and the display is anticipating arrival at 9:30am. With some 84 nautical miles yet to go, there's still plenty of opportunity for that to change; we're now running much closer to our typical speed, and an adverse current can still push our arrival well into the afternoon. On the other hand, when we change the watch at 3:30am, if we are still ahead of schedule we will probably slow down a bit, so I can be back on watch well before arrival in the morning.

Things have gotten progressively calmer out here, and by mid-afternoon seas were so calm that I was picking up dolphins on the radar a mile out. Solid targets would materialize, then disappear, then reappear in another position. It took us a while to finally spot one and figure out what was causing this odd radar behavior. That was our cue to stop the boat and go for a swim.

Skinny dipping mid-gulf. The water is so clear I had to strategically place that pool noodle for the photo.

This part of the gulf consists of crystal clear blue water, and right now surface temperature is over 85 degrees. We stopped the boat, shut down the engine, and threw our floating safety line off the back. Then we peeled off our clothes, grabbed a couple of pool noodles, and jumped in. Long-time readers may recall this is not our first time.

The water right at this spot (map) is just 115' deep, not thousands like in the straight of Florida or further out in the gulf. Still, it is amazingly beautiful. While we swam, some of the aforementioned dolphins came within a hundred feet or so of us to check us out. Sadly, within just a few minutes, Louise, who is very sensitive to such things, was being stung by some sort of microscopic organism, probably a jellyfish, and she bailed out. I, too, felt a couple of slight stings and remained in the water only a few minutes longer. Perhaps ten minutes altogether. But after six months on the gulf coast, I finally got to swim in the gulf.

These three fellas swam with us for a long time.

Later in the afternoon we were again visited by dolphins, with three young males making a beeline for Vector and then playing in our bow wave for a good fifteen minutes. These were the lighter gray Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, in contrast to the much darker variety we saw in abundance in the more western reaches of the gulf.

50 seconds of some playful dolphins.

At 17:00 we set the ship's clocks forward to 18:00 in recognition of moving into the Eastern Time Zone. While it seems like a year ago when we left the Eastern Time Zone right here in Florida, in fact were also in that zone during our three months in Tennessee, and we last changed time zones on the ship's clocks when we left Tennessee for Alabama back in October.

In other news, just before we left Biloxi I got an email from good friend and fellow seafarer Captain Chris, containing a couple of very interesting photos. It seems he was in Jacksonville coincident with the start of The Great Race and spotted our old digs, Odyssey, there. Other than sporting an official race sponsor graphic and a pair of large Wandering Troubadours of Finland (WTF) graphics, it looks more or less the same as when we sold it a year ago.

A familiar sight, save for the graphics. Photo: Chris Caldwell

One of the ways we knew we had exactly the right buyer for Odyssey was when he told us he was a long-time Great Race participant, and we are very happy to see the bus in its role as official support vehicle for his race team. We'd also previously seen photographs of it, minus the race graphics, taking his family camping, complete with a miniature "Jeep" in the bay we used for our scooters.

Wandering Troubadours of Finland. WTF. Photo: Chris Caldwell

Update: We are safely anchored off Tarpon Springs, behind Anclote Key (map). We only picked up Internet a half hour offshore, not enough time to upload photos and get this blog posted. We had the hook down here before 10am, and it's not yet noon. We may spend the night, or we might rest up a bit and move the boat closer to Clearwater when the tide comes up a bit. We arrived at a low tide of +1' and found just seven feet of water in places. After we rounded the corner from the gulf,  we were greeted with a rainbow to our west, a fitting end to a wonderful passage.

Rainbow over the gulf, from behind Anclote Keys.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Biloxi Blues

We are docked at the Point Cadet marina in Biloxi, Mississippi (map), one of several run by the city. Notwithstanding my prediction in the last post that we'd be docked within the hour, a last-minute snafu had us circling the harbor and even anchoring for a brief time before we could get in to the marina.

Vector docked at the Point Cadet marina.

Shortly after I posted here we were passed by a USCG 45-footer. They had passed us in the other direction as well, and we were also passed in both directions by CBP. It was a beautiful day on the gulf so we just figured them to be out breezing out the boats. But as we approached the western entrance channel to Biloxi, we spotted the 45 with his blue light flashing, preparing to board a small express cruiser.

We'll never know the reasons, but the express cruiser turned around and returned to harbor with the Coast Guard escorting them. We had to slow down briefly to give way to them in the channel. Earlier we had just been remarking, as two law enforcement boats passed us twice apiece, that we've never been boarded in the four-plus years we've been on the water, defying the odds.

The western channel is skinny in sections; we had less than eight feet in several spots at low tide. But we made it behind the breakwater with no problems and the depths in the harbor increase to 12-14'. We steamed past the Beau Rivage, the Hard Rock, and another instance of The Blind Tiger on our way to Point Cadet, whom we had called in the morning to make a reservation.

Approaching Biloxi. That's the Beau Rivage and the Hard Rock on the left, with Margaritaville, the Golden Nugget, and Point Cadet ahead in the distance.

As requested when I made the reservation, we called the marina when we were 20 minutes out, in the approach channel, just after the Coasties passed us. There was no answer, and we continued to call on both the phone and the VHF for the entire remainder of the cruise. My phone log shows we tried nine separate times.

When we were finally abreast of the marina, which has three different entrances, with no guidance on where to enter, what slip to use, or depths in the basin, we ultimately turned around and steamed back toward the small craft harbor. A call to them revealed what I already knew -- 50' was their absolute limit on length. A call to another marina across the river in Ocean Springs, where our friends on Adagio Gul happen to be staying, resulted in an answer of no space available.

At one point we even contemplated returning to Gulfport, with a storm bearing down on us and needing to be securely tied up by the end of the day. In order to sort things out, we finally dropped the hook off-channel near Schooner Wharf, between the Hard Rock and Margaritaville. I called the main number for the ports office, in charge of all of the city marinas, even though I had gotten no answer there 20 minutes earlier. I finally reached a live person who told me the dockmaster at Point Cadet had his hands full with a sinking boat.

We were eventually able to get a slip assignment and directions into the marina, and the lone dockmaster even met us to take lines as we backed in. All told we probably spent an extra 45 minutes between trying to get hold of someone and anchoring, and just in that time the winds had picked up another five knots and it was a bit of a challenge getting backed into the slip.

We did our storm tie-up straight away. This involved a spider-web of lines keeping Vector centered in the slip and well away from the finger pier and the pilings. We put some fenders out on the leeward side, where the pier was, in the event we couldn't get the lines tight enough in the storm. This tie-up has made for some acrobatics getting on and off the boat, but has proven advantageous in the wind and waves we've had throughout the storm.

Vector snug between two sets of pilings and held off the dock. This photo was taken at high water -- it's a looong step to the dock.

We realized we might well be confined, if not to the boat itself, then at least to the closer Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, whose covered parking is just 500' or so from the boat, for the duration of the storm. So we opted Monday night to walk instead next door to the Margaritaville Resort for dinner. We chose the Landshark Grill, which had better reviews than either the Margaritaville Restaurnt or Does Eat Place, the other two dining venues at the resort.

I was rather surprised to find that Margaritaville has no casino. Biloxi is a casino town, and almost every resort here, even family-friendly, is centered on casino gaming. Ol' Jimmy had other ideas, and the centerpiece of his resort is a massive pool complex complete with water slides. Second fiddle to that is a huge game arcade. Unsurprisingly, the whole joint was overrun by kids. The pool looks like fun and I am sorry they don't offer day passes.

Tuesday night's winds started ripping the awning from this unattended RV in the parking lot.

As predicted, the first salvo of the storm, the leading edge of Tropical Storm Cindy, began having it's effect on us Monday night. Winds picked up considerably and we had rain on and off. But the main event was yet to come. Tuesday morning it was still pleasant enough to get off the boat and stroll, and we wandered in to the casino for breakfast.

After breakfast we finished our tropical storm preparations, securing all loose items on deck, removing Textilene covers, and assembling Angel's cat carrier should we need to evacuate ashore. We scoped out the evacuation route at breakfast, settling on a secure elevator tower in the east parking garage as our shelter and assembly area.

By Tuesday evening we were being pelted with rain, and winds had increased into the 20s. Still, there were periods when the rain let up considerably or even stopped briefly, and we made the 500' trek, dodging puddles, back to the casino for dinner, where we regrettably overate at the buffet.

Docks to the east of us fully awash.

The brunt of the storm started hitting Tuesday night. Winds increased into the 30s and the rain came down in buckets. Between the storm surge and the rain, the water level was rapidly approaching the tops of the docks, and I was prepared to get the heavy rubber boots in the event I needed to wade into possibly electrified water.

That fear proved unfounded, because the power to the docks went out at half past midnight, before the docks were awash. High tide was not until 9:30am, at which point several docks were underwater or awash. Our section of the dock was above water by mere millimeters, and I was able to snap some photos. The power remained off and the Internet was inoperative until late afternoon, when the receding tide again brought the level well below the dock pedestals.

Our dock, nearly awash.

By a mere accident of storm timing we again got a window last night to get off the boat and go to the casino for dinner, albeit involving something of a leap from the boat to the dock. I used the bow thruster to get Louise a bit closer before taking the leap myself. We had the happy hour apps at Morton's for dinner -- a very reasonable way to eat at the otherwise spendy steakhouse. The Golden Nugget, like its cousins we've visited in Atlantic City and Lake Charles, is a Landry's property and features Landry's restaurants like Morton's and Bubba Gump's.

Last night the power managed to stay on most of the night, finally tripping off before 5am this morning. It remained off most of the day. The docks were again awash or underwater by mid-morning, and with the increased winds and waves we had water splashing over our dock for a couple of hours. Today has seen the highest winds of the storm; we just recorded a gust of 39mph (34kts) a few minutes ago, and earlier today we saw 44mph (38kts). The awning ripped off a trailer in the parking lot like a paper towel off a roll.

Our anemometer display. These speeds are in mph, showing a peak of 44.

While this location is a little more exposed than some of our other choices might have been, it's been a fine place to ride out Cindy. The all-around pilings and heavy dock cleats allowed for the spider-web tie up, and having the casino just 500' away gave us a lot of peace of mind for any possible tornadoes. The weather alert has gone off myriad times at all hours of the day and night to warn us of tornadic storms, but none threatened us and we have remained aboard. One tornado was reported, north of Gulfport.

In addition to the evacuation opportunity, it's been nice having a full-service resort right here. Long-time readers may remember we parked here in Odyssey, but back then it was the Isle of Capri, and Landry's has made many improvements since taking over. Tuesday afternoon we went to the spa and enjoyed massages before dinner, and a new pool complex has been added in front of the resort with a swim-up bar. Day passes are available for $20, and I would love to take advantage, but the storm has closed it down for the duration of our visit.

Wednesday night finished it off.

Our friends Jeff and Cindy from Madisonville, across the lake from New Orleans, reached out to us to ask if we would like to get together for dinner tonight. It's a three-hour round trip for them, but we are looking forward to seeing them. We hoped to connect while we were in the yard in New Orleans, but Cindy was out of town until after we shoved off. It's very nice of them to offer to make the drive, in stormy weather.

With any luck this will mostly have blown over by tomorrow morning, and we will drop lines and continue east. It's a two-day cruise to Mobile Bay and Dauphin Island, where we hope to make the jump across the gulf to Tampa Bay. It looks at this writing like we will have a window for that from mid-day Sunday to late Monday afternoon, so that will be perfect timing.

It's a wet walk for this boater on another dock.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mississippi Storm

We are underway in Mississippi Sound between Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. This morning found us docked at the municipal marina in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (map), right at the old downtown waterfront.

Post-storm sunset from our anchorage at Half Moon Island.

Yesterday's cruise from Half Moon Island was short and pleasant. I was a bit uncertain coming in to Saint Louis Bay, since my chart showed soundings of 7' and even 6', although we were at a tide of +1.5' on our way in. The bay turned out to be deeper than charted, always a pleasant surprise. We were tied up by noon, having opted to get an early start so we could get plugged in and have air conditioning.

Approaching storm at Half Moon Island.

The Bay Saint Louis waterfront has come a long way since the last time we passed by, in Odyssey. The municipal marina is new in 2014 with nice new docks and pedestals and a full-enclosure breakwater. And a half dozen restaurants and bars have opened up overlooking the harbor. We had dinner at The Blind Tiger, a burger joint with several patios including one with a nice view of Vector. We could easily have stayed another few nights and sampled more places, but we needed to move along.

Vector at the Bay St. Louis marina. Tower houses electrical panels, keeping them above the storm surge zone.

That, of course, would be due to the aforementioned Investigation 93L, which now has over a 90% chance of hitting the gulf coast as a tropical cyclone. The last model runs mostly predict a landfall west of us, although a couple of the models still show a more easterly (and faster) landfall. We felt the harbor at Bay St. Louis was not protected enough.

Our view from dinner at The Blind Tiger. Vector is center frame.

Accordingly we dropped lines this morning for Biloxi, where the municipal harbor is protected to the south by Deer Island, and has a better breakwater to the east. Also, while there are plenty of restaurants in Bay St. Louis, there isn't even a convenience store, and no public buildings are made to withstand a direct hit from a hurricane. In Biloxi we'll be next door to two casino resorts with restaurants, shops, and even a spa, and the hotels are hurricane-resistant if we need to evacuate the boat.

Redeveloped waterfront in Bay St. Louis.

First we needed to make a stop in Gulfport. Here, too, is a nice new municipal harbor, and Gulfport has a real downtown (albeit a long walk). We contemplated spending the next couple of nights here, instead -- the marine forecast says we're not moving anywhere tomorrow. But Gulfport is even less protected, and we don't want to walk a mile through storm conditions to get to services. The harbor does have the cheapest fuel on the coast, though, and we needed to take on 350 gallons to get us all the way to southeast Florida.

We had to wait for the CSX rail bridge on our way out of Bay St. Louis. Normally the bridge closes for a train; this time it was a Hy-Rail pickup truck which you can see to the left.

We came in to the harbor only as far as the fuel dock (map) and started to fuel up. For whatever reason, the marina's credit card processing was down and they were working on cash only, so while I pumped fuel, Louise got a ride over to the bank from one of the dockhands and came back with enough cash to cover the fuel we needed.

Gulfport municipal marina, looking towards town from the fuel dock.

The stretch of coast from Pass Christian, which we passed this morning, to Biloxi is lined with beaches, and on a very calm day, cruising just two miles offshore, we have a good view of them, and US-90 behind them. Long-time readers know we've passed through here many times and we have a special fondness for this stretch of coastline. It's nice to see the recovery continues now, even a dozen years after the coast was decimated by Hurricane Katrina.

Latest model run. Tracks are now all clustered west of us (updated since I wrote the post text).

My display now says we'll be in Biloxi in an hour. We've booked at least two nights at the marina since we will be pinned down tomorrow, but we suspect we may have to extend for a third night as well. Heavy winds move in tonight around midnight, so we'll be doing a storm tie-up either on arrival or right after dinner. My next update here will likely wait until we are on our way out of Biloxi, headed for Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pride goeth before a storm

We have again escaped the boatyard, shoving off this morning after a quick stop at the pumpout dock. I am typing under way in the ICW, eastbound toward the Rigolets, retracing our steps out of lake Pontchartrain back in January. Yes, it really has been half a year.

New Orleans Pride.

Much has happened since I last posted here nine days ago. The yard plugged along, touching up all our rust spots and rebedding much of our hardware. They also touched up the couple of scratches we managed to put in the paint ourselves. The new bedding is more generous than the original and we are hopeful this will keep the rust at bay a bit longer.

Our view from Dat Dog. A lone guitarist is playing light jazz.

Summer is upon us now and that means full-on tourist season in New Orleans. After my last post we rode down to Frenchmen Street for a casual dinner at an old favorite, Dat Dog, where we again sat on the wrought-iron balcony to watch the goings-on on the street below. Live street music was the order of the day. This place has great dogs, great drafts, and great people watching. What's not to like?

Moments later he is eclipsed by this drum-and-brass combo. He just played right along.

The timing of our visit had us in New Orleans for a couple of festivals, and last Saturday afternoon we made dinner reservations at The Italian Barrel in the quarter, and headed down to the French Market to catch part of the Creole Tomato Festival.  Examples of every sort of dish made with Creole Tomatoes were available from several stands, and they had music on a stage by the Old Mint.

Main stage at the Creole Tomato Fest, near the Old Mint.

We did not sample any of the tomato dishes, but we did wander around the festival with a draft Abita in hand. It was good people-watching, and the live music was right up our alley. This, however, was just the relatively tame start to our evening; the festival ran from 10am to 7pm and we deliberately arrived toward the tail end of that  window.

Head end of the naked bike ride, just behind the police car.

On our scooter ride into town to our customary free parking spot, along a series of normally empty back streets, we had noticed an unusual backup of traffic. Glancing down the side streets we could see the police escorting some sort of bicycle ride toward the quarter, a few blocks away from us. We guessed it to be an event associated with the New Orleans Pride Festival, going on at Washington park.

This from-the-rear shot is the only other that was not NSFW.

As we stood near the stage at the Creole Tomato Festival, however, we were amused to find it was actually the annual World Naked Bike Ride. It was a hoot, and we were sorry we did not learn of it until after the fact -- we do have a couple of bicycles aboard Vector ;-) Like many other tourists (and locals), I took dozens of pictures, but this is a PG blog so you only get the tamer ones. Worth noting, though, that many children did get to watch it roll by -- a teachable moment.

A stand at the French Market. Tourists are in season.

After the ride whizzed by, we had enough time before dinner to walk a few blocks around the quarter and take in more of the festival and the typical summer weekend crowd in the quarter. And while I had not requested it when I made the reservation, we scored a nice sidewalk table for dinner, with a good view of the festival stage as well as the parade route for the main event.

Our dinner view, the side of the stage. Off-camera to the left is the parade route.

That event would, of course, be the annual Pride Parade. While small in comparison to events in, say, San Francisco or New York, New Orleans fields a respectable parade for Pride, and this town knows a few things about throwing a parade. Just like other NOLA parades, there are "throws" from some of the floats, and while I studiously avoided catching any beads (we have loads), I did score a pair of fuzzy dice from the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi, and we also landed a vuvuzela and a small pride flag.

New Orleans Pride, sponsored by Walgreens. This is the lead float.

We were happy our return visit coincided with Pride. It was particularly moving this year, coming, as it did, just two days before the anniversary of the Orlando nightclub shootings. That date, incidentally, was also the 50th anniversary of the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision. It's hard to believe it took 48 years for the Obergefell v. Hodges decision to extend the same protection to same-sex couples.

Grand Marshal.

Sunday we got a few things done around the boat and then went to dinner with our new friends Jana and Tom from Adagio Gul. We took the scooters, a familiar mode for them since they spent some time living in Taiwan. They immediately recognized the brand of my scoot, a Taiwanese model. It was the first time we've broken out the passenger helmets that we carry aboard Vector for just such an occasion.

Microsoft. A lot of hate gets posted via computer, but Google and Apple are also LGBTQ supportive companies.

Early this week we borrowed the yard's truck and did some provisioning. That included ten gallons of white vinegar to try to dissolve the crud in the black tank crossover pipe; we put all ten gallons in after pumping out this morning. We also used the truck for a hardware store run; I bought some fittings to make a holding tank vent filter, and a piece of plywood to try to make a more ergonomic sewing machine table for the quilt room.

This little bear that I caught as a parade throw at Mardi Gras is still "seated" in the truck's cupholder, where I left him.

Notwithstanding the yard's prediction that they would be done mid-week, it was the end of the day Thursday when they finally declared it. As such things often go, our own walk-around revealed several missed items that they needed to then address Friday. Things finally wrapped up around three o'clock yesterday afternoon.

Very happy to see our denomination represented.

Running so late in the week means we will miss the nice weather window we had to get across the gulf to Florida this weekend. So instead we are cruising more slowly eastward along the gulf coast, hoping for another window in perhaps a week. Also, you will note we are on the ICW instead of the river; we were advised that sections of South Pass might be too shallow for Vector without good local knowledge. The last thing we want to do is run aground with three knots of current astern.

As much as I would have liked to have done the last hundred miles of the Mississippi, I'm equally happy to be going this way, because the stretch of ICW between the Rigolets and Mobile Bay is the only section of waterway in the entire country that we've not done. So a week from now we'll be able to say we've done the entirety of the Intracoastal Waterway, a claim few boaters can make.

Transiting the Almonaster bridge, for, we hope, the last time.

Most of our readers are aware that hurricane season officially started on June 1, and runs through November 30. The busiest part of the season comprises September and October. Knowing that dangerous gulf cyclones are rare in June and even July, we made a calculated decision to remain in the gulf through June, to cruise Texas. We extended our stay by a couple of weeks to return to New Orleans for warranty repairs.

This sternwheeler is being refurbished just across from the boatyard; we saw it arrive back in March.

Odds are just that, odds, of course, and as it turns out we already have a probable gulf storm. Right now it is Investigation Area 93L, with an 80% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone. It's way too early to predict landfall, but the model runs vary from Port Aransas, TX, all the way to Appalachicola, FL, and everything in between. In other words, right where we are.

You don't outrun a tropical storm in a seven-knot boat, and so now we are in the process of developing a panoply of contingency plans in the event the storm catches up with us as a Tropical Storm or, less likely, a Category 1 Hurricane. Unlike the east coast, options for hurricane holes carrying a six foot draft on the gulf coast are very limited.

Maybe our new lucky dice will protect us. Thanks, Elvis!

We'll have a much better idea in the morning, when the model runs will provide slightly better landfall predictions. Depending on speed and direction, we may have to make an all-out run for Mobile, where we can escape up the Mobile River as far as necessary. Alternatively we can seek shelter up the Biloxi River or at one of the numerous marinas in the Biloxi area.

Angel loves Amazon deliveries. We got several during our week in the yard.

Tonight we should be anchored behind Half Moon Island, at the mouth of Lake Borgne. In the morning we will know whether our next stop is Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, or Biloxi.

Update: We are anchored off Half Moon Island, at the very eastern edge of Louisiana (map). A thunderstorm is moving in (we rode one out at the dock last night, too) and we are hunkering down.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Back at the Boatyard

We are again docked at Seabrook Marine in New Orleans, Louisiana (map). After a quick stop at the fuel dock to pump out, the yard had us proceed directly to the work dock. Everything here is so familiar, and we've already been back to three of our favorite local joints.

Vector at the work dock at Seabrook Marine. The handrails are already off.

Not long after my last post here, we arrived at the small waterside community of Jean Lafitte, LA (yes, that Jean Lafitte). Here the ICW intersects with the Barataria Waterway, which leads to a minor gulf outlet through Barataria Bay, and Bayou Villars, connecting Lake Salvador. This is all very close to New Orleans, and is the epicenter of popular "swamp tours." We passed no fewer than four giant airboats with perhaps a dozen tourists apiece, as well as a large pontoon boat. Judging from the cameras aimed at us, we were just part of the tour.

One of numerous airboat tours. The boats are very loud.

Shortly thereafter we passed through the floodwall (and yes, our compass went crazy again) and approached the Boomtown Casino. We were disappointed to find our primo spot from last visit occupied by a small cruising sailboat, and the other two possible spots along the wall taken up by towboats. We might well have rafted to a towboat if we could speak with them, but no one was manning the radio watch.

Instead we proceeded past the casino to a small basin marked as a good anchorage on our chart.  It would have been great, except that a large offshore equipment company recently took over the property and is using the basin to load and store deck barges, so we had to squeeze in with three barges and a towboat. The towboat was unoccupied.

Our tight anchorage. Vector and the tugboat are shown to scale, but the tug's orientation is wrong -- it's actually pointed to the bank to the right, butted up against a barge that does not show on this plot.

It made for tight quarters but we had few other options. We put out just 30' of rode and swung in a tight circle that had the skeg swinging through the mud on the shoreward side, and brought us close to the towboat in the other direction. Still, it was quite secure, and we splashed the tender to go to the casino for dinner.

We landed the tender right next to the aforementioned sailboat, and enjoyed meeting Jana and Tom aboard Adagio Gul. They, too, are eastbound on the ICW, having started in Texas just next door to where we stayed in Kemah. We chatted briefly about the logistics of the Mississippi, and the fact that they were stuck at Boomtown for a bit due to a problem with the Lapalco bridge, which we can fit under without an opening.

Numerous shipyards along the canal, beyond the Lapalco bridge in the foreground.

We walked into the casino for dinner and were disappointed to discover that the nicer restaurant was closed on Sundays. That left either the buffet or an Asian-themed casual restaurant, and we chose the latter. The place was incredibly popular, including doing a brisk take-out business, making us wonder if it was not, perhaps, the best Asian food in Harvey.

Two big river towboats in drydock for repairs.

We decked the tender when we returned to the boat, and had a comfortable night. Monday morning we woke of natural causes, but still got a fairly early start for the short trip north to the Harvey Lock. The canal here is lined with all manner of shipyards, many doing work on the enormous Mississippi River towboats. I was amused to pass a small paddlewheeler and a larger faux-riverboat barge that I recognized as having been part of a tour operation in Memphis when we were there. Apparently they were brought downriver for repairs.

We saw these "riverboats" in Memphis. The faux one is drydocked.

We arrived at the Harvey Lock behind two lightboat towboats just as they were starting to downlock traffic coming from the river. The two towboats had grabbed the last good spots on the wall and I had to stationkeep for 45 minutes or so; just as we were all ready to enter the chamber a Hatteras sportfish also pulled up.

Waiting behind the Dorothy Ann for a boat to exit the lock through the open bascule bridges.

By the time we and the two towboats got settled in on the downstream wall, where the lockmasters could pass us lines, all the good spots were taken, and the Hatteras had to settle for pins on the upriver wall. That proved a challenge for them as the lock began to fill, and they ended up smashing their pulpit against the lock wall twice, pretty hard. I radioed for them to proceed out of the lock ahead of us, just before I called Vessel Traffic to clear us onto the river.

The Hatt getting sideways during lockage. Guy on the foredeck is desperately trying to work the line.

The Mississippi is running at a good flood right now, at +14' gage. That's how far the lock had to lift us, but it also means the river is very swift. I powered out of the lock forebay at full speed, angling a bit upriver into the current. After turning downriver we averaged about four knots behind us, although we actually had a countercurrent eddy against us at Algiers Point, where I had to move to the inside of the bend to make way for an upbound freighter.

Water pours in from the river-side gates. We're going up 14'.

The turn into the industrial canal forebay was a matter of turning the boat sideways upriver of the entrance, waiting until we were nearly abreast, then powering forward. We made it without having to push back upriver at all. Once in the forebay we cleared out of Vessel Traffic and called the lock, and they asked us to tie to the small waiting dock. That dock, however, was full, occupied by an oyster boat and our old friend the Hatteras. They told us we'd need to raft. The Hatt was a bit too short and dainty for comfort, so we ended up rafting to the oyster boat.

We had about an hour wait for the lock. One of the towboats with us at Harvey also showed up, and when the lock cleared us in we were first in line with the towboat behind us. The lock asked the oyster boat to tie off to the towboat, and asked the Hatt to tie off to us. After watching him smash into the lock walls at Harvey, we implored the lock personnel who were handing us lines to leave us and tie the Hatt up elsewhere on the wall -- no way could we tend lines on both sides of the boat. After Louise told them the pulpit-smashing story they agreed, much to our relief.

Passing Carnival Triumph at her home dock near Riverwalk. Her lifeboats are lowered for a drill.

Somewhere in all of this the thruster switch on the flybridge quit, and we spent ten minutes drifting in the turning basin at the ICW junction while I quickly replaced it with a generic SPDT switch I had lying around. I did not want to have to dock without thrusters or from the pilothouse. We then proceeded through the Almonaster bridge, which opened this time on first call, and on to the fuel dock at Seabrook for a pumpout.

I know some of you are here for the schadenfreude, and I don't want to disappoint, so let me say right here the pumpout was both necessary and dreaded. That's because after our last offshore passage we were smelling a faint sewage smell near the bilge, and upon inspection we discovered the forward tank was full, even though the aft tank was mostly empty, having just pumped out in Corpus Christi.

Downtown from the river. Hilton at left, Jax at far right, abandoned World Trade Center in the middle.

This really should not be able to happen, as the two tanks are connected together at the bottom with a pipe. The idea is that they act as a single tank of larger capacity. When we pump out, we draw from the slightly lower aft tank and the forward tank drains into it by gravity. For the two tanks to have different levels, there has to be a blockage, either in the connecting pipe, or, less likely, the vent.

Our heads are the macerating type. So no large solids can enter the tanks, leaving me scratching my head about blockage. Once we arrived at the pumpout, I removed the inspection plug on the forward tank before starting the pump, just to be sure it was not a vent problem. When the aft tank was empty with no change in level forward, we tried to remove the blockage by covering the vent line. All that succeeding in doing was to suck all the water out of the master head.

Approaching the Almonaster Bridge. Disappointed to see "Folgers" now painted on what was the Luzianne coffee plant.

I'm sure you can guess what happens next here. The blockage needs to be removed mechanically by rodding it out, and the only way to do that is to stick my arm through the 3" access port on the top of the (now empty) lower tank and run a snake through the connection, which actually comprises three barbs, two 90 elbows, and two sections of 1.5" sanitation hose. This really needed to be done before we started putting any more effluent in the tank, and so I tackled it first thing Tuesday morning.

That did the trick and the tanks have now equalized. This particular maintenance task was performed au naturel, of course, in order to make a straight egress directly to the shower upon completion. We concluded that the blockage was actually a buildup of uratic salts, a common problem in systems that use very little fresh water for flushing. We'll have to use acid to try to dissolve the salts after the next pumpout; we're going to start by trying several gallons of white vinegar before resorting to hydrochloric acid, a known solution that will be hard on the metal ball valve leading to the macerator.

Bedding failure at new latch installation.

Also first thing Tuesday morning, the crew from the yard got started on our issues. We're back here principally because we already have rust all over the boat, in spite of not even two months since a full paint job. A good deal of that rust is emanating from hardware mounted to the steel, indicating improper prep and bedding, and by the end of Tuesday the crew had already removed most of the stainless handrails around the boat.

Paint/primer void that led to cracking.

Various latches and other hardware also need to be removed and rebedded, and some areas where there are simply voids in the paint need to be treated and repainted. Some overspray and other items also need to be addressed, and as long as we're here, we'll have the yard touch up the various dings we've already put in the new paint job ourselves, such as the chain rash we got in the Calcasieu.

Another prep failure. Overmaskng led to lack of primer.

Tuesday evening our new friends aboard Adagio Gul arrived here at the marina; they were planning on just a couple of nights but they decided to get hauled out for bottom paint so they'll be with us a few more days. We all just squeaked through the Harvey Canal; yesterday a crane barge hit an overhead power line, closing the canal for a full day and disrupting power to 10,000 customers.

The yard is estimating completion by the middle of next week. We figure that really means Friday. Our good friend and former master of this vessel, John, once told me that everything in a boatyard gets finished Friday afternoon, and if it doesn't, then it will be finished by the following Friday.

Once we are done here we will be making a beeline for Tampa Bay. It's two full days down the Mississippi to reach the last anchorage before the gulf, and from there its about 365 nautical miles to the first anchorage at Pass-a-Grille, or a crossing of two and one half days. We'll cross our fingers for a window that long, but, if need be, we can break it up into two or more hops and some additional mileage.