Key West

Key West mural

We arrived in Key West on Friday afternoon, so we had a whole weekend ahead of us! Saturday morning, we decided to wander to the State Park/Fort that is on the tip of the island. The fort was pretty interesting and the view was beautiful. Later in the evening we had a lovely meal, and did an escape room. There’s one escape room on the island, and the guy working it lives on a boat on anchor and was fun to chat with. We said we were here for a couple weeks and we’d be back to do the other two rooms later on. Sunday we wandered around and tried several bars and restaurants, discovering that the area near the marina was not actually the activity center of the island, it was actually down Duval street on the south end of the island, which we never went to last year. Oops.

We had invited David’s parents to join us on the boat, but unfortunately they were not able to come. My parents had just learned that their new boat was going to be massively delayed in its delivery, so they decided last minute to hop on a plane and join us!

We were working for the first few days of the week, so after they arrived, they largely enjoyed themselves doing several walks around the island, but we did manage to go to see a famous Key West drag show at La Ti Da. It was a one-woman show with live singing and was extremely entertaining!

EYECONS Show at La Ti Da

The next weekend happend to be MLK day, and both David and I had Monday off. Earlier in the week, the weather looked like it might be good enough for us to head to Dry Torguas, which is 70 miles offshore and requires a 3 day weather window. We had tried to visit last year, but did not make it due to poor weather and instead spent a rocky night at Marquesas Key before heading back to Key West! Unfortunately as Friday rolled around, the weather forecast hugely deteriorated overnight, and unfortunately we decided to just stick around in Key West. We did have to move marinas after our first reservation ended – all of 200 ft across the harbor!

Highwind at Galleon Marina sandwiched between some mega yachts

On Saturday we had great weather, so we took a walk all the way down Duval Street to the “southernmost point” in the US and saw lots of the famous Key West chickens. Luckily our boat out in the marina is far enough away from land that we do not hear the roosters crowing at all hours of the day :).

I decided that I wanted to buy a souvenir to commemorate our wake crossing in Key West!

My metal chicken! 😍

On Sunday the predicted storm rolled in, and in about a minute, it went from being humid and warm to pouring rain and strong winds. Luckily the wind was coming directly to our starboard where there was a 170ft mega yacht which mostly protected us from the wind!

We discovered a couple of leaks in the boat from the excessive amount of rain (more rain than we’d seen ever!), and spent the rest of the afternoon tracking down their sources by tearing apart walls in our bedroom and along the stairs in the salon in the process. When everything dried out in the afternoon, we we did some patching up.

On Mum and Dad’s last night, we went out for sushi and for the first time in my life ordered a sushi boat. It was incredible and delicious!

We had a lovely week with Mum and Dad and said goodbye to them while David and I got back to work, planning to remain in Key West at least through the end of the week.

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Crossing Our Wake

After New Year, a wind storm was predicted for the next couple of days, so we stayed put on our friends dock and set sail later in the week when everything was calmer. We spent one night on anchor (which happened to be my birthday) preparing for our next hop across the Gulf all the way down to Key West.

Sunset on Anchor

Since we had made our plans so late in the year due to not knowing anything about were we might be able to get work done on the boat, we had managed to make reservations for a couple of days at Conch Harbor Marina, a gap of 2 days, and then another couple of days at Galleon Marina. Marina space in the month of January in Key West is at a premium!

We had a beautiful weather window, with the winds picking up in the next few days. Our reservation in a marina in Key West would not start for a few days, but as we were crossing, we called ahead and luckily someone had changed their plans and we would be able to get into our slip early!

The Looper term for completing the Great Loop is “crossing your wake”. That is to say you cross over the path you left behind when you started the trip. As a member of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association, once you cross your wake, you get to swap out your white Looper flag for a gold one. Even though we changed boats at the beginning of 2021, we has boaters had boated continuously from Key West northwards. Therefore we declared our wake crossed once we pulled into our slip in the marina.

(We may also have a mini celebration at Ft Lauderdale, where this adventure began, and again at Stuart, where Endeavour-Highwind will cross her own wake).

When David said to me, about 3 years ago, “I think we should move onto the boat and do the Great Loop”, and after he explained what that was, I was hesitant and skeptical. It wasn’t that I didn’t love boating…we’d just come home from a just-over-a-month trip up to Canada on the boat, where we’d left wanting more. It wasn’t that I thought we’d go mad with each other in the tiny living space. I think what scared me at first was the tiny kitchen, the tiny closet, the lack of laundry machines etc. In short, all the small household/life responsibilities and practicalities that are mine in our marriage. All that is fine on vacation for a month, but to live full time? Not to mention it would mean moving away from our friends and family, and leaving behind Divine Movement and my role there as an instructor.

However, once the seed was planted, the idea began to grow. David started planning how we could get internet on the boat reliable enough for us to work remotely. He started envisioning how we could remove a couch and convert a space in the salon into a dual work station. There wasn’t really one moment for me when the trip became a reality, but slowly the vision began to take shape and then I was asking my boss for approval to work remotely for a year!

Visiting with People on the Loop

After months of planning and some crazy last minute logistics of actually shipping our boat out to the east coast (read here about that!), we few one way to Ft Lauderdale to begin the adventure.

Cities and Landmarks
Sunsets and Scenery

And then, about 2-3 weeks into the trip, Covid-19 had spread enough through the US causing complete lockdown. We changed our plans, spent the summer in Maine, headed back to Florida for the winter and started over in 2021.

More visits with people

How do you summarize two years of adventures? Visiting new places, the fear of meeting new people, the loneliness of digital nomading in the middle of a pandemic, the feeling of seeing family in person for the first time in a year, getting vaccinated, finally meeting people and making friends, seeing the beauty of this country, seeing the ugliness of this country (Trump flags, Thin Blue Line flags, an assault at the capitol), visiting places from favourite novels, boat projects, hosting friends and family on the boat, the food, swimming from the boat, locks, dingy trips, an 8 month summer, visits back to Seattle, tropical storms, perfect seas.

Rainbows on the Loop

And throughout all of this, I am so lucky and privileged to have been side by side with my best friend and my love. He fixes the boat, he fixes the internet, he wows all dockhands with his control and maneuvering of the boat, he has comforted me through some difficult times, he will always take a selfie with me when I ask. We’ve laughed and we’ve been silly, we’ve struggled and we’ve persevered. I cannot imagine living this nomad life with anyone else.

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New Year in Ft Meyers

We had been told that the boat yard would be closed for the week between Christmas and New Year. Even though we technically weren’t supposed to be living aboard, we spent the night on the dock and slept in late the next day since we’d arrived home from the airport so late.

Morning view from the boat yard. Taken to compare with heavy snow in Seattle!

We fired up the engines and set off towards Longboat Key where we were planning to meet up with some friends who also own an Endeavour. We had met them back when we still had the Meridian, but were looking at Endeavours. They pulled in to the slip next to us and graciously let us tour their boat.

The new shaft seal seems to be working fine now, but we still have a small vibraion on that side of the boat. This suggests to us know that we might have bent the prop shaft…perhaps back in Cocoa when I got that line snagged around the prop :(. Unfortunately due to the arrangement of the shaft savers and our props, the only way to examine this is another haul out to completely remove the shaft from the engine. Luckily we are already trying to organize a haul out in the spring for some major projects, so we’ve just added this to the list.

As we were nearing the Longboat Key Moorings Resort, David noticed that the water temp was in the seventies. Knowing that I love the water, he encouraged me to go for a quick swim before we entered entered the marina.

It was a little cold!

When we arrived in the marina, we realized that it was actually a full resort that included a free shuttle to their main complex which had a big pool, poolside restaurant and bar, private beach, and other amenities. Since it was late-ish in the afternoon, but still very hot, we decided to go for a swim in the small pool by the marina before meeting up with our friends for dinner.

We had a lovely evening to cap off our weekend before we started work for the next day. Since we both had a light day and we wanted to take advantage of the weather and the resort, we played hooky for the afternoon and took the shuttle to the main resort area. We had a lovely half-hour relaxing on the beach before swimming in the ocean and then some snacks at the poolside bar.

The rest of the week passed relatively uneventfully and we began to make plans for where we would ring in the new year. Since we were planning so last minute, all the marinas in the Ft Meyers area were fully booked, but our friends from Bella Vita, who had just installed a new dock outside their new house, invited us to stay with them! We enjoyed their hospitality (and their pool and hot tub) for the New Year weekend. We had a lovely low-key dinner with them on New Year’s Eve.

Highwind at Ft Meyers

At this point, we are extremely close to “crossing our wake”, which is the term used by Loopers when they complete the Loop. For us, we have decided this will be in Key West, since this is the furthest southern point from which we boated with Meridian-Highwind. We will probably also give a nod to Ft Lauderdale where this entire adventure began, and to Stuart, where Endeavour-Highwind will have fully completed its loop. We started out the year in the Florida Keys and have visited places both old and new as we cruised up the East Coast and this year went inland to explore the Great Lakes and the inland waterways. We’ll talk more about the Great Loop as an adventure in our actual “Crossing our Wake” post, but this is a post marking the end of 2021. I feel so lucky to be able to have the life that we do and to be on this grand adventure with my best friend.

A few favourites from 2021

This year we were able to get vaccinated and experienced dining indoors anew. We visited museums, were less afraid to meet new people, and we experienced the different attitudes towards Covid through a good portion of the US. We flew back to Seattle and saw family in person for the first time since we moved onto the boat.

This year we said goodbye to Meridian-Highwind and began a new adventure in what many call our “floating condo” the Endeavour-Highwind. We have been thankful for the additional room giving us both a dedicated office space for our work. She’s not been without her technical issues, but overall we are very happy catamaran owners.

Highwind arriving in Ft Meyers

This year I got to meet my colleagues in person for the first time ever, and I got to be a NY commuter for two days. David also met some of his colleagues in person for the first time and we took our first international plane flight since the pandemic for a work trip to Prague.

We are so thankful for everything that makes us able to live this life and to the science that created vaccines so that we could see friends and family in person again. We hope to be able to see more people this year, and host more people to join us in our adventures. Happy New Year!

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Christmas in Seattle and Big Sky

We arrived in Seattle on the weekend and spent our first day in an early Christmas celebration with David’s family . The remainder of the week was busy with seeing David’s sisters more and visiting with friends. It’s always a bit rough for me when we are back in Seattle while working since it means working EST hours from PST – very early mornings! It was quite a busy week in the pre-holiday season, but we neglected to take any pictures!!

The following weekend, we drove out to Big Sky with Eric and his puppy Barli. He had invited us to stay with him at his house on the mountain, which is amazingly beautiful. My parents also joined us there and we had a wonderful and relaxing week skiing and enjoying company. We were later joined by Brent and Mary, their 6mo old daughter Ember, and two huskies, Si and Troy.

We had organized flights back to Florida from Bozeman on Christmas Day. However, due to all the staff shortages from Covid, we found out before we boarded our first flight that our connecting flight from Atlanta to Sarasota had been cancelled. We managed to get on standby for a flight from Atlanta to Tampa, which wasn’t far from Sarasota and would still be uberable back to the boat.

Merry Christmas from the Bozeman Airport

When we landed in Atlanta, I saw a text from Matthew that his flight to Ushuaia had been delayed and he was still in the Atlanta airport! Due to various scheduling constraints, we had not been able to see him while we were in Seattle, and he was heading out on a month long adventure to sail to Antartica on a 100 year old tall ship (https://www.barkeuropa.com/follow-the-ship).

We hopped on the airport train to his gate and were able to say a quick hello before he started boarding. A lovely treat for me!!

A wonderful surprise

Since it was Christmas, all but one of the restaurants in the airport were closed, so we waited in a huuuuuuge line in time to get the dregs of what they had left for our dinner. We waited patiently at the gate and managed to get seats on the flight. With the flight delays and such, we arrived back to the boat at 2am. The yard had told us not to liveaboard the boat, but at 2am we weren’t gonna move, so we just left in the morning.

It was a little bit of a different Christmas than we usually have, but it was wonderful to see family and get a little skiing in after none last season.

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Gulf Crossing to Clearwater

We woke up while it was completely dark, but were glad that we had decided to anchor in the open ocean, since all we needed to do was pull anchor and point the boat towards Clearwater. We did not need to do any difficult navigation in the dark.

The water was perfectly flat and remained so throughout our entire voyage across. We watched the sun rise ahead of us and settled in for a long day.

We arrived in our marina Clearwater in the late afternoon, dodging a few crab pots to enter. The marina slip we were assigned looked rather small for our wide beam, and as we tried to pull forward, we found ourselves stuck between the pilings unable to pull all the way in! Luckily the marina had given us another option, so we went to find a spot on their commercial dock next to a dinner cruise yacht. The captain and crew were very friendly and helped us to tie off our lines.

We went for a walk along the beach and the main road and found an interesting tap house for a celebratory drink. We discovered an escape room nearby and decided to do a room before dinner.

Both David and I had a couple of days of busy meetings, so we decided to stay in Clearwater for another few days. These were pretty quiet and we mostly remained on the boat. On our last evening we went out for a great Mexican dinner and did another room at the escape room place.

David had managed to find a boat yard that would haul the boat to perform the engine alignment and replace our destroyed shaft seal to hopefully solve our water problem on the starboard side, so we had a fixed date to get to just north of Sarasota. We spent a few days wandering south down the GICW (Gulf ICW), through residential neighborhoods reminiscent of the Ft. Lauderdale area, anchoring mostly in little bays that were people’s back yards, headed toward the boat yard.

On Thursday, the day before our haulout, we were going to anchor just outside of St. Pete, but the anchorages all looked pretty exposed when we went by them, so we ended up just going all the way to anchoring right outside the boat yard. This boat yard would not allow us to live aboard while the boat was out of the water, so we decided very last minute to buy tickets home to Seattle for the week preceding our planned trip to Big Sky, Montana.

That night, while running the generator to top up our batteries (we were not sure we would be able to be plugged in to power in the boat yard), we ran into an over-heating problem. David checked the strainers and replaced the impeller. When trying to restart the generator, he forgot to re-open the through hull to allow the generator to pull water for cooling…ooops! This resulted in destroying the brand new impeller, which happened to be our only spare!

Apparently no one had cleaned the impeller bits out the last several times it had died

Since most of the marine shops in the area were closed, we decided to wake up early and dingy to shore for a replacement part. When he called the boat yard in the morning, they told us that they could actually haul us out within the hour to a place where we could be plugged in, so we didn’t need to worry about replacing the impeller. This lead to a scramble to finish packing and get the boat ready for us to be away for two weeks!

We managed to get everything together and arrived in the boat yard where they were very particular about being off the boat before it was hauled! They had already lifted us partially out of the water when we all noticed that we had left the upstairs door open and they lowered the boat back in to let David back on to close it!

Though our flights were in the afternoon, we headed to the airport after the boat was hauled, and worked all day from there, since there was nothing else we could do at the yard.

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Return to Florida

Highwind underway captured by a Looper we passed

After leaving Mobile, we headed east towards Pensacola and ended up in a beautiful wide open anchorage. We set up in the middle of the anchorage, where the water was around 5 feet under the hull. All three of us were working, with David in his office, me at my desk in the central area, and Nick set up on the upstairs table. We had no problems with all three of us on calls throughout the day. We had a lovely low-key evening and Nick and I played board games while David played D&D online. Nick would be flying out of Pensacola, which wasn’t that far from where we were, so we decided to stay for another night in the anchorage.

On Thursday morning, we pulled anchor and headed to a marina in Pensacola. We knew we were back in Florida when we were accompanied for a while by some dolphins riding in our wake – which was lovely for Nick to see!

A dolphin playing in our wake

After finishing work for the day, we pulled the scooters off the boat and rode into town for a sadly disappointing sushi dinner. There is a running joke with my family now that every time we are in a town marina, we are always separated from the town by a bridge. This means that not only do we have to use the scooters to get to town, but that we have to drive across a bridge in traffic, which is sometimes scary! The joke started way back on the Hudson, where for two marinas in a row, the pedestrian/bike portions of the bridge were closed and we were forced to ride on the highway! Pensacola continued in this tradition for our scooter ride with Nick, but luckily this bridge had a separated bike section :).

As you know, we have been having trouble with our starboard engine for a while now (since Lake Michigan). David has been in communication with many shops, technicians, Yanmar experts etc, and we had been thinking that we may need a replacement of the entire injection assembly. Recently however, David learned that Yanmar just released a new protocol which would allow for replacement of a particular portion of this system, which would be SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than replacing the entire system. We were finally able to get in contact with Yanmar techs in Pensacola who had the necessary computer that would be required for calibration after the replacement AND they would be able to fit us in their schedule.

They arrived in the morning and since David had the day off, he was able to oversee the work. Amazingly they were able to replace the part on both engines and perform the calibration, plus confirm the fix with a quick test voyage all before the early afternoon! They also were able to identify that the starboard engine was not aligned, which is the likely cause of the persistent vibration and poor engine numbers. This has also destroyed our brand new shaft seal which is the likely source of most, if not all, of the water issue on the starboard side. (We believe we’ve had this problem since Virginia, when the techs in Deltaville did not bother to check the engine alignment after we had all the work done on the props). Since the engine numbers were looking better and we know the bilge pumps on that side can keep up with the water coming in from the seal, we decided to keep pressing on and push to find a shop that can deal with the engine alignment somewhere on the east coast of Florida after our gulf “crossing”.

Nick’s flight was on also Friday morning, so we said our goodbyes. We had also heard from some Looper friends just east of us, so with the engine work completed we headed out of Pensacola and to the marina where they were staying. When heading to our dock, we were instructed by the marina to enter on the left side of the covered dock – which we did. However, we quickly discovered that they had given us the directions from the perspective of land – so we had to do a tight circle to head back out to the right side of the dock!

David executed the maneuver perfectly and we got tied up just in time for an amazing sunset view.

Sunset at Two Georges

We met up with our friends for a this-time-not-disapointing sushi dinner. While at dinner we were talking about our plans for making the gulf “crossing”. Loopers typically cross from Carabelle to Clearwater, where at 8knots (the average looper boat speed), it can be made in a ~20 hour all-day-and-overnight stint. Since our planing speed is 15knots, we are able to go much further. We had been somewhat nervous about this leg of the trip, since it requires a full day, plus a weather window, which is hard to plan around work schedules. While our friends needed to stay put another week for some dingy repairs, we looked ahead and the weather for the weekend and discovered there was little to no wind or waves predicted for the crossing. Though we had been planning to continue towards Carabelle and make the crossing there next weekend, we decided instead to cross this weekend!

We needed to fuel up, and had arrived at the marina after their fuel dock was closed, so our plan was to get fuel in the morning and head towards St. Joseph, going outside of the ICW for the day, to anchor for Saturday night. On Sunday we would wake up early and make our crossing.

On Saturday we had a gloriously uneventful outside passage toward St. Joseph. Completely calm seas, warm with a light breeze, and just some light clouds. As we were getting closer to St. Joseph, we realized it was still pretty early in the afternoon – there was plenty of light and if we went a little further, it would cut off time from our long day tomorrow. Since the weather was so calm and no wind was predicted over night, we decided to do something a bit crazy…we’d anchor in open ocean a few miles off shore. This was minimally risky since were not in a high traffic area, the depth was less than 20ft, and we had the holiday lights up on the boat, so we are REALLY visible. We set the alarms for 4:50am and settled in for the night.

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Thanksgiving in New Orleans

Our friend from Seattle, Nick, would be joining us in New Orleans for Thanksgiving and then on Highwind for the rest of the week. After work on Wednesday, David and I drove the rental car into New Orleans and we met up with Nick at the AirBnB. We were in a great location on Royal Street within walking distance from everything in the French Quarter. We had a great dinner catching up.

On Thursday, we walked around the French Quarter and grabbed some late breakfast before heading back to our AirBnB to play a boardgame before our Thanksgiving dinner. Since we had made our plans relatively last minute, most of the nice/famous restaurants were already booked up for Thanksgiving Dinner, but I had managed to get some reservations at a distillery restaurant. Sadly the food was not amazing, but we had brought with us a very nice bottle of wine, and we still had a good time.

On Friday, we had booked a walking tour of the French Quarter in the morning. We tried to get beignets for breakfast at Cafe de la Monde, however the line was 2 blocks long!! Our tour guide was decent and shared some interesting stories about the multi-cultural background of the area. We walked along the Mississippi, where we would have come on Highwind had we decided to boat all the way down the Mississippi.

Soon after that ended, we had booked a Food Tour of the French Quarter. Since we had not eaten breakfast, we decided to head straight from our walking tour to the restaurant where the food tour would meet and grab a snack and a drink. Our next tour guide was there early, so we had a chance to meet her. The food tour was amazing! We learned about the history of all the food we ate, including Gumbo, Pralines, Muffaletta, Boudin, Red Beans and Rice, and Bread Pudding. I was worried we would only be getting small samples, but we ate a ton and were really full at the end. Completely stuffed, we headed to an escape room for an afternoon of puzzling.

After brunch the next morning, we walked through some art galleries on Royal Street. We were headed back to the escape room place to do another of their rooms. Along the way, we had some time to kill, and the line at Cafe Beignet was not as long, so we stopped for a treat. At the escape room place, we discovered that a group of 5 others would be joining us in the room – not ideal. They also didn’t show up on time, but instead of turning them away, the escape room place let them join us 15 minutes into the room. This turned out to be a huge distraction, and we don’t think they had ever done an escape room before (they suggested entering “5555” for one of the locks). With so many people, we required a ton of hints to get through the puzzles, but did make it out with 15 mins to spare.

Mmmmm…Beignets

We had booked another escape room at a different place later in the day, but with some extra time decided to find some live jazz music. It turned out to be harder than we thought, but eventually did find a great group in a tiny bar and listened to them play for a couple of hours.

The second escape room place was amazing – one of the best that we’ve been to. You entered through an unmanned room decorated like a 50s detective office where after a few minutes you hear a voice through a Charlie’s Angels speaker on the desk. All of the rooms there are loosely tied together in a narrative of being in a large mansion owned by an eccentric wealthy family. The lobby is decorated like their living room with incredible detail. We had chosen their hardest room where we were warned that the majority of our time would be spent in compete darkness. However, after we solved the first few puzzles and entered the room that was supposed to be dark, we discovered the lights were on! Apparently some other guest had wandered into the room and turned on the lights while trying to find the bathroom. They realized pretty quickly and turned off the lights so that we could finish, and we still enjoyed the experience, but they said we could come back later and do another room to make up for the mistake. Our dinner reservations were not far, so we returned later in the evening.

On Sunday we drove back to Mobile and spent the day doing errands while we had access to a car including picking up some holiday decorations and doing a large grocery run ready for the next week of boating with Nick. Nick has plane tickets out of Pensacola for Friday midday, so we have ~5 more days of cruising and hanging out before he heads back to the west coast.

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Demopolis and Bilges

Dusk over Demopolis

Our week in Demopolis was largely uneventful, with the brief exception of being denied use of the marina’s courtesy car due to lack of car insurance (we no longer own any cars!), until the last night, when I decided, at 11:30 pm after my shower to clean out the shower’s bilge box. Unfortunately, during the process, we discovered that the hose to the through-hull had turned into a siphon and promptly began ejecting water into the bedroom storage room. We realized that the through-hull for our shower and bedroom sink are placed so low on the boat, that when we are in fresh water and with the boat live-aboard-heavy, they are actually below the water line.

Thus ensued a 45 minute saga involving me holding the end of the tube above David’s head while he did some creative problem solving with the also apparently broken pump. We finally managed to get a solution in place that stopped the siphon, but with the issues on the pump and the knowledge that the through-hull was still underwater, we decided to stop using the shower, at least until we returned to salt water.

Since we’ve been having problems with lots of water in the starboard engine bay, that night David had also coincidentally been working on the bilge system. Unfortunately we discovered during our shower project disaster that the float switch for the bilge system had come free from the hull and was therefore failing to cause the regular bilges to run. In addition, the new dry bilge system David had been installing that night also seemed to be non-functional as well, which David later discovered was due to having installed the pump too high on the wall. We were finally able to drain enough of the water to discover what appears to be a small leak in the spot where the bulkhead in front of the diesel tanks is fiberglassed to the hull. When fixed, the dry bilge system is able to keep up with this leak, so we’re not going to sink, but obviously something we need to further troubleshoot ASAP!

We left Demopolis on Saturday with a small flotilla of boats just before dawn headed for the first lock. Being the fastest of the bunch, we headed first out of the lock. As I mentioned in the last blog post, there’s not much in the way of marinas or anchorages between Demopolis and Mobile, so our plan was to try to blast our way down to Mobile in the two weekend days, assuming smooth passage through the remaining locks.

This last section of the Tombigbee River was incredibly annoying as the distance we needed to travel was essentially double the miles as the crow flies.

We pulled into the Three Rivers anchorage via a narrow and tree branch framed entrance and set up on the hook for the night.

Our last day down the river was very uneventful and put us through our last lock on the inland river system with no trouble. Since entering the Erie Canal at Waterford we have travelled through 95 locks! 29 on the Erie and Oswego canals, 44 on the Trent-Severn in Canada and 22 on the inland waterways from Chicago to Mobile.

Highwind on the wall in Mobile

Due to our easy passage on the last two days, we ended up arriving in Mobile several days before our reservations started at Turner Marine. Unfortunately all marinas in the area were fully booked due to it being Thanksgiving week, and Turner Marine was not open on Sundays. We were able to grab a spot on the not-quite-free wall in the heart of Mobile for the night and we hoped Turner would be able to squeeze us in the next morning.

With plenty of the day left, we decided to do a bit of tourism in Mobile, starting with a visit to the USS Alabama. The museum was incredibly good, with almost all areas of the ship open for exploration. We also walked through the submarine USS Drum. It was our first taste of the warm southern weather, which was very welcome after the last month of cold nights and frosty mornings.

After the battleship, we went into town for an escape room, and with a little time to kill before our appointment, we found a beignet shop and had a treat.

The next morning we spoke with Turner Marine who found space for us to come in early, so we headed through the final portion of the Tombigbee River and entered into Mobile Bay. We were now situated and ready for the Thanksgiving weekend, where we planned to rent a car and drive to New Orleans for the long weekend.

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A Weekend in Nashville

We’re in Nashville!

While in the car on the way to Nashville, Dad had managed to make us reservations at Etch. It was late when we arrived, so after putting our stuff in the AirBnB, we immidiately hopped in a Lyft and headed downtown. The dinner was absolutely delicious! After dinner, we walked through Broadway, which is the main party street in Nashville. It was incredible. There were live bands (sometimes multiple!) in every bar and huge lines of people (no masks) outside to get in. The cacophony on the street was unbelievable. Party busses, party tractors, and party barges were driving around filled with people dancing. Also, since it was Halloween weekend, people were wearing costumes too! We did not stop anywhere here – our plan was to catch some more relaxed, sit-down-while-you-listen music on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, we ate a huge and delicious breakfast at Tenn before taking a sight-seeing tour of the city on a golf cart. We saw quite a bit of the city and learned that the main things to do here are eat, drink, and enjoy music! We drove through Centennial park and our driver explained out the different areas of the park symbolize East, Middle, and West Tennessee. Our driver recommended that we go to Printer’s Alley to check out some music.

After the tour, we headed to Printer’s Alley and went into Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie where we caught the end of one show and most of the next. It was early afternoon, so the venue was reasonably empty. The music was excellent and the bands were really fun.

We stayed until it started getting packed as evening crept in and then headed off to find some dinner. We hadn’t made any reservations anywhere, so we picked a random eatery that still had space and had a mediocre dinner of tacos with Hot Chicken and other meats. After dinner, we found a whiskey bar called Gertie’s and enjoyed some fantastic cocktails.

Cocktails at Gertie’s

On Sunday, Dad had arranged a Whiskey Tasting Tour. We were picked up at our AirBnB, and then taken to Nelson’s Green Briar first. We learned about the history of this distillery – that started before the prohibition, grew to be one of the largest distributors of Whiskey in the nation before completely shutting down during prohibition. Several years ago, through some amazing luck, the great-great grandsons of the founders discovered this piece of family history including the original recipes and decided to resurrect the business.

This distillery was in a revitalized industrial block called Marathon, named after the primary original occupants, Marathon Motor Works. They were a small volume custom car company in the early 1900s, and there was a small museum for its glory years. The rest of the museum had wine and whiskey tasting rooms, where we ended up buying some port and whiskey from the locals.

Marathon Motor Works museum — they’d found a few of the original vehicles and restored them!

Throughout the day actually we learned a lot about the impact of prohibition on the Tennessee Whiskey business (it killed it for generations). Most of the distilleries are quite young and it was only recently that distillers other than Jack Daniels were even allowed to begin in Tennessee! We also visited H Clark which was started by the lawyer who helped pass laws allowing Whiskey to be distilled and sold in counties other than the one where Jack Daniels is located. Our last stop was Leiper’s Fork. Throughout the trip, we drove through the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee and got to see some absolutely beautiful fall foliage also.

The tour took most of the day and we decided to have our driver drop us off at a place for barbecue for dinner. Although David and I had planned to spend one more night in Nashville, we decided that it made more sense to drive home on Sunday evening so that we would be back on the boat for Monday, so after dinner we headed back to the AirBnB to pack and say goodbye. We had a great week on the boat cruising the Mississippi and Ohio rivers with Mum and Dad, plus a fantastic weekend in Nashville to cap it all off!

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Mississippi and Ohio Rivers with Crew!

Highwind passing the St. Lous Arch

We needed to make good time with Mum and Dad aboard as our plan was to get to Nashville for the weekend where they would fly out early next week. This meant we had some 200 miles to go on the Mississippi River before we would then turn upstream into the Ohio River and travel upstream against the current until we could join the Tennessee River. Our first leg from Alton would include two locks. The locks on the inland rivers are primarily for commercial traffic, and give precedence to the HUGE barges that travel up and down the rivers each day. Some of the barges are so big that they have to be separated and sent up/down in pieces before being re-connected at the top/bottom. This means that as pleasure craft boats, we may get extremely lucky and sail right through the lock, or we may end up stuck waiting for 3 or more hours before a gap where pleasure cruisers are let through. We woke up before dawn to call the lock and find out the situation. He told us he was just finishing up bringing up a barge, so we quickly untied and started making our way to the lock (1nm from the marina). We had a short wait for some accompanying loopers in the Marina to join us and then we were on our way.

The next lock is apparently the busiest lock in the entire United States at Chain of Rocks. As you are cruising along the river, you come to a fork, and there is a gigantic arrow pointing you towards the left. Jeremy made sure to warn us to turn left! If you do not go left, you end up in rapids that are so dangerous, a sailboat who missed those directions about a week ago got stuck on the rocks, and after two failed extraction missions eventually sunk.

There were a couple of barges in the queue at the locks, so we dropped anchor to wait our turn. The current was extremely weird here and we had to re-set our anchor multiple times. We eventually got through, and then after a little bit longer, we cruised past down town St. Louis. We went outside for a quick selfie, and David tried to fly the drone to get a shot of the boat with the arch, but unfortunately there was an issue with its calibration and it tried to fly itself into the water, so we gave up on that!

We pulled in to Hoppies, which is a well known marina and the only place to stay for a long stretch of the Mississippi. It is a collection of 3 barges tied together that you tie up to. David and I set up for working and Mum and Dad headed into the nearby village to do some exploring. Since I had a short gap in my schedule, I joined Mum and Dad for a quick afternoon dessert break!

The next morning, we again woke up at dawn with the aim to get as far as we could before David and I needed to get working. However, Mum and Dad volunteered to keep driving the boat while we worked. It’s very useful to have boat-owners as crew!! We arrived at the next safe anchor spot right around sunset and dropped the hook. It was a pretty narrow spot and we were the only boat there.

The next day, we again had an early wake up, and a long cruise completed by Mum and Dad and we arrived in the late afternoon at Paducah on Thursday. When we arrived at the dock, we were greeted with the most amazing complete rainbow across the river.

Amazing Rainbow at Paducah

We decided that we would not be able to make it by boat any closer to Nashville so instead we would extend our stay through the weekend and rent a car to drive to Nashville. On Friday, Mum and Dad explored Paducah – they visited the National Quilt Museum, which sounded amazing, and the wall of murals that depict the town’s history. David and I spent the day working on the boat :). After I was finished working, I went to pick up the rental car and we planned to head out after David’s afternoon meetings were complete. We were all very excited as none of us had visited Nashville before!

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