Escape From Carrabelle

Beautiful Carrabelle. If ever there was a place not to leave…

Our view every morning.

Our view every night.

How long have we been here? Eleven, twelve days while waiting for a good opportunity to cross the cantankerous Gulf of Mexico. It really doesn’t matter, because once the cold front blew through, the sun returned and warmed our boat and our souls and I fell in love with Carrabelle.

Aglow with beauty.

Hardly a resort destination. Carrabelle has its own unpretentious charm.
There are many working boats. Some nice, some not so much.

F/V Rolling Stone. A well cared for Shrimp boat.

There is something attractive about even the old, run-down, working boats.

F/V Tarfoot.

We watched this old shrimper sink over the course of a few days.


Why do I like this port so much? Well for one thing, everything is close. The supermarket, hardware store, and the Fisherman’s Wife restaurant are right across the street. Within a couple of blocks are two bars, both had NFL football on a big screen.

Watching the Titans whip the Chiefs at the C-Quarters Saloon.

proprietor Ray crunches the numbers.

Watching the Saints crush Cam Newton and the Panthers at Harry’s Bar and Package.

The hospitality at the C-Quarters Marina was the best. Thank you Captain Kim and Norm.


Okay. I fall in love with nearly every place we visit. Guilty as charged. But we’ve spent more time in Carrabelle than any other location, and that makes it all the harder to leave. But leave we must.
A decent weather window opened up and we left Carrabelle to anchor for the night off Dog Island. It was a short hop, but a precious hour closer to Steinhatchee, our destination port across the Gulf. That one hour will mean the world at the end of the day. Docking in the dark sucks.

Anchored off Dog Island.

Other loopers are staging here as well. M/V Kara Mia in foreground. We made arrangements with Captain Mike of M/V Wine Speed (in background) to keep in radio contact since we were both leaving at about the same time and travelling close to the same speed.

M/V Blue Ayes.

At the fist suggestion of daylight we weighed anchor and headed across the Gulf. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick we had less than an eighth of a mile visibility. Under normal circumstances this would be a trip ender, but since we had only one waypoint to head to, and the waves were small, we decided to trust our instruments and continue on.

Imagine staring into this all day.

The view aft.

It was one hell of a long, boring, 96 mile, day long sucker. Interrupted only by the occasional pod of rambunctious dolphins. They love to show off, chasing Ginger Lee, sometimes coming so close we feared for their safety. Once, a mother and calf jumped in tandem off our port bow. So cute. Another time, full-grown dolphins jumped four abreast right in front of us. As we were oohing and ahhing they did it again! Somehow they instinctively know when my camera is present; I’ve yet to capture any of their antics on film. Sorry, no picture.
Finally, the Steinhatchee entrance channel marker appeared like an apparition out of the mist. We were positively giddy at the thought of looking at something else besides the monotonous monochrome of the fog and the unnatural lighting of our radar, GPS, and AIS units. Relief set in. We laughed like children and made stupid jokes as we followed the skinny channel to safety. It wasn’t until we were deep into the river that the fog cleared, but were losing daylight fast.

The fog clears as we enter Steinhatchee at dusk.

At 6:03 PM, as the last rays of light struggled for life, before surrendering into dimness of nightfall, we pulled into our slip next to M/V Wine Speed at the Sea Hag marina in the port of Steinhatchee, Florida. We crossed the mighty Gulf of Mexico! SOCOBO 1/12/18

Ginger Lee and Wine Speed docked at the Sea Hag Marina.



It’s Friday

What day is it? Usually I have no idea. It’s not old age dementia, unless you consider taking a year-long boat trip around the eastern half of the United States to be crazy. Mostly, it’s the fact that there is nothing to qualify the question. I don’t have a job to go to and my appointment book is empty. So you see, there is no reason to know the particular day unless I’m waiting for something or there is something I want to watch on TV. Like football. There are some great games going on as the NFL season winds down. But here we are in Carrabelle, Florida, where it is quite cold. We’re talkin’ low twenties at night. The frigid temperatures that has assaulted the northeastern part of the country has extended its icy tentacles all the way into northern Florida. The other day they had their first ever winter storm warning. During that night, freezing rain pelted the waterfront and covered the docks and everything else until the sun melted it away ’bout mid morning.
Oh yeah, there is no TV reception, and sadly, no football on Ginger Lee. Between that and the cold temps, I can’t wait to get outta here.Don’t get me wrong. Carrabelle is very nice. We’re enjoying our time here as well as can be expected, but in order to continue our Great Loop adventure southward into warmer climes, and get football on our TV, we need to cross a small corner of the Gulf of Mexico to the port of Steinhatchee, a trip that may take more hours than there is daylight.  Apparently the Gulf can be as fickle and cantankerous as Buzzards Bay. We hear tales of smooth-as-glass seas quickly turning into angry 8 footers, seasoned sailors retching overboard from the constant pounding of broadside waves, and shallow water grounding. We don’t want any of those shenanigans; it’s important to be patient; sooner or later the conditions will be favorable. It’s been a week since we cleated the lines at the C-Quarters Marina, making this one of our longest stays so far.
We’re keeping busy. I’m doing a lot of walking, writing, boat maintenance, and beer drinking. The XO is attending Yoga at the library, as well as biking, cooking, reading, and making a nifty rope rug. So we will wait in unpretentious Carrabelle until the high winds and big waves subside enough to make such a long passage possible.
It looks like we could be here until Thursday. It’s okay though, we lack for nothing except warm weather and football, so I definitely know what day it is. SOCOBO 1/5/17

Florida Pictorial


Pelicans are everywhere.

Apalachicola scene.

More Apalachicola.

Cruising on a rainy day.

Docked at White City.  As you can see, the No Overnight Docking sign faces landward, away from the boats. I can only guess why.
Supervisor: “Take these here signs and install them down at the city dock.”
Gomer: “Yessiree boss. Don’t you worry, I’m gonna install ’em real good.”

Anchored at Shell Island, FL.

The XO making a sand alligator.

The finished product. All ready for the tide to wash it away.

Our Christmas tree. It’s living in an Ace Hardware bucket. We decorated it with shells from Shell Island.

As a Christmas present to ourselves, we spent three days at this hotel in Panama City Beach.

Christmas dinner.


Sunset somewhere.


How far do we have to go to get warm in December?
It was a sunny 78 degrees when we pulled Ginger Lee into Fairhope, Alabama. I really thought I had my answer. We were all tee shirts and shorts, bare feet and umbrella drinks on the aft deck. Yee ha! The deep south! The next day the temperature never made it out of the forties. The next night was twenty-two degrees. Then there was a storm. The day after that it snowed. We were there for six days and never turned off the heater.

Fairhope Municipal Marina on a beautiful but frigid morning. The temperature was below freezing. Colder than our hometown of Wareham, Massachusetts.

Totally unprepared for a quarter-inch of snow, the city of Fairhope closed down due to weather. I’m serious.

Downtown Fairhope scene.


Apparently, Fairhope was not far enough. We moved on.

Flora-Bama Lounge and Package.

The only guest at Flora-Bama. They let us stay for free.

Flora-Bama was nice and sorta warm. Not shorts weather, but I was able to stick my bare feet into Gulf Coast sand for the first time.

Gulf of Mexico sand.

Inside the Flora-Bama Oyster Bar. One end of the bar is in Perdido Key, Florida, the other end is in Orange Beach, Alabama. Hence Flora-Bama.

They invited us to sign the bar. I misspelled my home state!

It was the same story in Pensacola, Florida. The days were gorgeous, the people friendly, the raw oysters awesome (so I hear), and to top it all off, they sold beer and cigars right at the end of the dock. Still, we couldn’t open the windows, and we needed to use our heater at night. It was excellent long-sleeve shirt weather, but not warm.

Pensacola beach scene. Wonderful place. The XO used to live here. I love this place!

A Pensacola beach bar. There are tons of them.

Pensacola sunrise.

The only guest in Fort Walton Beach. Free dock with water and pump-out. No electric. Pretty good place near a supermarket. The XO enjoyed a yoga class. Still not so warm. Moving on.

Moving on through the Intracoastal Waterway.

This man-made part of the Intracoastal is called The Ditch.

It wasn’t until we docked in Panama City that we could finally open windows and hang out in shorts. No heater was needed at night. It was great. Then the fog rolled in.

Fogged in at the Saint Andrews Marina in Panama City, Florida. A wicked pea soupah.

A warm, sunny morning. I’m glad we stayed.

Raw oysters and beer.

World champion shucker Honor Allen shows off his custom-made shucking knife.

Believe me, there are worse places to be stuck in port. We met some very nice people and really enjoyed the special ambiance that only a historic working port can provide.

Ginger Lee and working boats.

The XO test drives a fancy water toy by Hobie. Afterwards she proclaimed “I gotta get one.” After hearing the $2,000 price she amended her proclamation to “I gotta get one someday.

Fellow looper Tom gets his unique boat rPAD ready for departure.

Another look at rPAD. She has a custom-made pilothouse, twin hulls, and twin 50 horsepower outboards.

How far do we have to go to get warm in December? As far as beautiful Panama City, Florida. SOCOBO 12/22/17

Dusk at Saint Andrews Marina, Panama City, Florida.


How is Your Trip Going?

“How is your trip going?” The XO asks. She is, of course, referring to the Great Loop. It’s not the first time she has asked this question.
“It’s your trip too,” I answer this time, knowing full well that it is my dream trip. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it without her. So that sort of makes it her trip too.
“Yeah, I know. But I wanna know about your part.”
“It’s great! Beats workin’.”
“Is it like you expected?”
“Hell no. Nothing about this trip is anything like I expected.”
“Like what?”
“Well for one thing, I thought we would have trouble finding places to stay, but that has never been the case. In fact, everywhere we go, we are usually alone, marina or anchorage.”

Alone in a marina.

“Maybe people are avoiding us,” the XO kids.
“Ha! It is odd though. We don’t usually run into the people we meet more than a few times. Maybe our pace is different,” I reason.
“Or our taste in ports is.”
“That’s true. We tend to avoid the popular places. Prefer a good working boatyard over a glitzy destination marina. There’s nothing better than a deserted out-of-the-way anchorage.”

Deserted anchorage.

“It’s the Great Loop. We can only go so far off the beaten path, but you’re right, we have different tastes than most boaters. What else is not expected?”
“I didn’t think it would be so cold. I though we would be fighting the heat. We’ve only air-conditioned twice and we’ve heated hundreds of times. I’m totally unprepared clothing-wise. I only brought one thermal shirt; I still have no gloves; I had to buy a wool hat and a fleece jacket, and keeping enough heating fuel on the boat is a problem.”

Heating fuel loaded onto my Lil Mule.

“The warmest day we’ve had so far had been way north, like somewhere in Michigan, and the coldest day was in the deep south near the Gulf of Mexico in Fairhope, Alabama. It actually snowed for the first time in decades!”

Snow in the deep south.

“What about you. What surprises you about this trip.” I ask.
“Besides the fact that fresh vegetables don’t last more than a day, I thought it would be more relaxing. Some of it is kinda frightening,” she answered.
“We do Summer trips on Ginger Lee all the time. It’s not so scary. Well, not all the time,” I countered.  Boating is, and always will be, somewhat dangerous. Stuff can and will happen, no matter how well you prepare.
“Ya but living on the boat has taken it to another level, but so far, most of the water stays out of the boat; I’m starting to relax a bit. In fact, by the time we get back home I’m gonna be so relaxed you’ll have to pour me into my job!” SOCOBO 12/16/17

Relaxing walk on a Gulf of Mexico beach.

The Feral Girls of Dog River

No one knows where they came from. There was no hailing port on their 48 foot ketch “Mystic Sun”. Even the boat itself was mystery. It must have arrived Sunday night while we slept. Kudos to the crew for navigating in such a wicked fog, and for docking without waking my wife, a light sleeper with a keen sense of hearing. In the morning we awoke and they were there in front of us.
The Mystic Sun has precious little free space on the above decks. It’s packed with all kinds of stuff. From our vantage point behind them, I saw dozens of items. Some that belong on a boat, some that might belong on a boat, and some that have no business being on a boat at all.

Aft deck.

Fore deck.

I can only imagine what it’s like inside. I sipped coffee and wondered about that and about Mystic Sun’s sailors. I didn’t have to wonder very long. Through the diffused morning sunlight, partially obscured by the rustic wooden pilings of the old dock, I watched as three of them appeared in the haze.  Females. Fairly young. Like feral cats they preened and stretched in the warm sunlight. One spotted me and disappeared like smoke. Then the other two disappeared as well.  I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Did I just see that? Naw. I need more coffee. That’s all. Yes. At that time I believed there were only three, although I could’ve been mistaken, given the nature of all true ferals, who shun the light and skulk in the corners of existence, not so much out of fear, but more for survival in a fearsome world.
I ducked low on my seat so as not to be seen. One of them soon appeared on deck. She had white blonde hair, cropped close except for the bangs, which swiped below yellowish brown eyebrows, like the young actress in Kevin Costner’s movie “Waterworld”. She quickly peeled a small orange citrus fruit, possibly a tangerine, fed on it, and tossed the rinds into the fast-moving river. They floated by me down river in the quick current. Fascinated, I went outside onto the dock for closer observation, and maybe to say hi, but was startled by the fact that suddenly there was no longer anybody on the deck, and there’s unintelligible sounds emanating from the inside the old sailboat. It’s like a chant that repeats over and over. I couldn’t make out any specific language.
“What’s that noise”? the XO asked from inside our boat.
“It’s them”, I whispered. “The feral girls”, my body blocking my pointing finger.
“Feral girls”?
“Yes. Girls. Living in the wilds of the waterways. Look”.
Suddenly, another feral emerged from the companionway. Taller than the first, with short dark hair, dark eyes, shorts and navy blue tee-shirt. A quick hop and she was off the boat, bare feet padding down the dock. Just before she reached the turn, she faded away like heat waves coming off a hot black-top road. Or did she simply turn the corner out of sight? I couldn’t be sure.

A rare sighting of a feral girl.

As I refilled my coffee cup, another climbed the stairs into the daylight. She’s older, possibly 15, with dirty blonde pony-tailed hair, faded skinny jeans, and off white Keds. She sat aft on the ornate wooden railing. After peering into a white cell phone for a solid 10 minutes, she grabbed three tangerines and expertly juggled them to the delight of her younger feral sis, who was climbing up the companionway stairs.
At first I thought there were only three, but as I sat sipping java, a confirmed sighting of a fourth occurred. This one had long dark hair and wore a long dark overcoat. She possessed the air of an established older teenager. By her interaction with the other ferals, and the way they followed her movements, I deduced that she was the pack leader. With one swift, agile movement, she leapt off the boat and onto the dock. I heard no sound when her feet hit the old wood, and like her pack-mate, she walked down the dock and faded away in a haze a microsecond before the turn. I know I saw that.

Another sighting.

“You’re letting your imagination run wild again”, the XO said.
“If you look at them too long they disappear. Like smoke”.
“What? They’re just living on their boat, like tons of people”.
“I know what I saw”, I said.
The XO didn’t look skeptical; in fact, she laughed. We often make up stories about people we see and don’t know anything about. It’s simply a fun way to pass the time, but I wonder. Where did they come from? Where are they going? How are they surviving?
Later that day, shortly after sunset, when the moon began its slow glowing rise, we heard the strangest sounds. The same rhythmic chanting over and over that increased in volume, louder and louder. It was impossible to ignore. Suddenly there was absolute silence, equally impossible to ignore. When we heard a large watery sound like that of a person falling off a boat, we jumped up to investigate. But there was nothing there, no splashing, no wake, and no Mystic Sun. There was no evidence of anything, just the dim moonlight reflecting off the grey brackish waters of the Dog River. SOCOBO 12/9/17

There Are No Words, Only Captions.

Five Looping boats in historic Paducah, Kentucky.  Left to right, Imagine Too, Ginger Lee, Miss Norma, Shangri- La and Samadhi. The brand new floating docks we are tied to can rise the height of those big 65 foot poles.  Sound incredible? There are water marks halfway up those poles, which means that sometime since they were built in the last 2 months, the water level was 20 feet higher!

After a couple of floods, the Army Corps of Engineers built a wall completely around Paducah. Murals are painted on the inside.

Close-up of a mural.


Quaint Paducah street scene.

Cumberland River scene. A truck loading a barge with rocks.

Close-up of the same scene.

As seen during a morning walk in Green Turtle Bay, Kentucky. This deer calmly watched me walk by. I was like 5 feet away.

Grand Harbor, Mississippi. A very nice marina. We used their courtesy car to get provisions at the nearby supermarket.

Anchored behind Wolf Island on the Tenn- Tom Waterway in Mississippi.

The dam in Columbus Mississippi. Those huge gates can be raised or lowered to control the water level.

Thanksgiving dinner in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. With (L-R) Lars Espensen, Alice (Sylvia Parker’s mom), Sylvia Parker, a neighbor, Susan Aprill, and George Hadjidakis.

Tenn-Tom Waterway scene.

White bluffs on the Tenn-Tom.

Tenn-Tom afternoon.

Baffled spillway on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.

Unknown bridge.

The first cotton field I’ve ever seen. Taken in Demopolis Alabama.

Underway on a beautiful Alabama morning. SOCOBO 12/1/17


Our Life on a Boat.

We find ourselves on a boat on a year-long journey. “Remote from all the cares of the people of the land.”We float on our own private island, and remain responsible to keep it that way. Floating that is.
The first rule of boating: Keep the water out of the boat.

Floating in Tennessee.

If we pay diligent attention to our jobs as caretakers of Ginger Lee, she will take good care of us. That’s our hope anyway, but so far we are safe and comfortable.
Here’s a look inside Ginger Lee.

The couch in the living room (salon).

Wife on couch

The kitchen (galley).

The bathroom (head).

The bedroom (berth).

The back porch (aft-deck).

The driving station (helm), drop-down TV, pub height table and chairs.

Our life on the boat is sometimes frightening, sometimes exciting, sometimes boring, and sometimes calm and soothing.

Passing a tow.

Locking through somewhere. One of over a hundred locks.

Massive lock door.

A calm marina.

Serene anchorage.

Soothing lemon light.

We knock on wood often, and light candles for good luck. We try our best not to offend Neptune. It sounds silly but it calms our souls.

The lock luck candle. So far it has worked.  Knock on wood.

We travel from port to port at less than 8 MPH. It takes most of the day to go 40 miles. If we like a place, we stay awhile, if not, we leave in the morning.
There is no particular schedule or destination. That in itself is a luxury and a wonderful way to be. So we embrace this adventure as best we can, because after this trip is over, we may never be that way again. SOCOBO 11/24/17

Thanks for looking. See ya next time!


The Mississippi

At first we were excited to enter the Mississippi River, learn its ways, start a new chapter, become one with Ol’ Man River. I even sang the song “Old Man River” to the XO in my finest baritone. We soon got over that romantic crap. After two days we couldn’t wait to get off it. Why, you ask?
First of all, the current is swift, roiling, unpredictable, and dangerous. Just put the boat in gear and you’re careening along at faster than normal speeds, which actually turned out to be a blessing because we got through it in just 3 days.
Then there’s the tows. I don’t know why they call then “tows.” They’re tug boats pushing as many as 42 huge barges in front of them. These guys are everywhere, they take up the whole channel, and they’re slower than us. Since they have very little maneuverability we always call them on the radio and ask how they want us to pass.

A tugboat pushes barges down the roiling Mississippi. They work all hours of the day.

Wing-dams are everywhere as well. These are piles of rock put on the sides of the river to channel the current into the middle. Sometimes you can see them, sometimes not. They could be submerged just under the surface and they’re not marked.

Standing on a wing dam doing my wing dam dance.

Finally, there are no docks, fuel, or services of any kind for pleasure craft, except for one just south of St. Louis.
Hoppies Marine Service is a few barges strung together on the side of the river. It’s the last fuel stop for well over two hundred miles.

Hoppies Marine Services in Kimmswick, MO. It’s not pretty, but if you don’t stop here for fuel, you might not make it to the Ohio River.

Ginger Lee at Hoppies.

After Hoppies we tied up to a lock wall on the Kaskaskia River. It was off the Mississippi and very calm.

The Kaskaskia Lock. If you ask the Lockmaster nicely, he will let you tie up for the night.

The next night we anchored in a small inlet called The Little Diversion River. Also off the Mississippi, and very calm as well.

Anchored with two other Loopers in the Little Diversion River. The red boat is Miss Norma, the larger boat is Shangri-La.

After that we anchored behind Boston Bar. It was our last night on the perilous Mississippi River. We both breathed a sigh of relief when we made that left turn onto the Ohio River. It was like sanity had returned to our lives. SOCOBO 11/17/17

At anchor at Boston Bar. There was a wicked thunderstorm later that night.



The End of the Illinois Waterway–Mile 00.0

“Uh-oh. There’s transmission fluid in the bilge water.” I said, trying not to sound alarmed.
“That’s not good,” the XO said.
“We gotta check it out right away,” I said. “We need the closest anchorage.”
As luck would have it, we were within a mile of one. I tucked Ginger Lee behind an island and off the main channel into a small waterway with the unenviable name of The Dark Chute. Almost immediately, the XO started chanting the name with spooky, Bela Legosian overtones.
“THE DAAHHK CHUUUTE,” she moaned.
As if on cue, a large grey and black cloud moved in overhead and blotted out the Sun.
“THE DAAAAHHK CHUUUUUUTE,” she moaned again, this time with extra vibrato. Rain spattered the windshield.
“Maybe I’d better start checking things out before she congers up the devil,” I thought.
I lifted the engine covers and hopped down in between Castor and Pollux, our two Lehman diesels.


Standing between the engines.

I did my usual thing when trying to figure mechanical stuff out, just poke around until something makes sense. In this case, after finding transmission fluid all over the area of the dip-stick, but not anywhere else, I focused my attention there and pulled that dip-stick out. When it came out way too easily, I knew I had the problem literally in hand. The darn thing was loose! It’s supposed to fit tight enough to seal. The transmission had disgorged almost all of its life blood out the dip-stick tube! A simple fix, but jeepers, if I hadn’t stopped to check it out, the transmission would have run dry enough to destroy itself.

The loose dip-stick.

We continued on to Grafton Illinois, the last stop on the Illinois Waterway. Mile 00.0.

Grafton, Il. The end of The Illinois Waterway, and the beginning of the Mississippi.

Making friends with Butch Magee, the bartender and owner of the coolest bar in Grafton called The Bloody Bucket.

The Bloody Bucket.

We stayed in Grafton for a week because the Army Corps of Engineers closed the Mississippi River until November 1st. Yeah. They can do that. They have that much power.
There were more Loopers here at one time than we’ve previously encountered our whole voyage. That would be a total of three boats. All stuck here for the same reason, but it’s a great place to be stuck.  SOCOBO 11/9/17

Stuck in Grafton with fellow Loopers Chan and Jeanne Priest