May and June 2010

moray eelThe big news for May and June has been travel. We covered a lot of ocean during the month of May traveling more than 1100 nautical miles from Roatan, Honduras to Mobile Bay, AL during the month. We tried to get in as much cruising fun as possible in our last few days in Roatan enjoying the diving and volleyball in early May. Ann's birthday was celebrated with all the cruising boats in West End Roatan at a beachside restaurant. As mid-May neared, we said our farewells and waited for two days of good weather to travel north to Mexico. 

Moray eel in Roatan

On May 15 we left Roatan Honduras in boisterous winds and seas (the weather wasn't as good as we had hoped) and arrived in Isla Mujeres less than two days later. Isla Mujeres is a small island off the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico near Cancun. The island welcomes hundreds of tourists from Cancun on hourly ferry boats to shop, eat lunch and snorkel. Near the end of the day the tourist crowds disappear and it once again becomes a friendly laid-back Caribbean island.

Tuna caughtWe were only in Isla Mujeres for a week and most of our time was consumed by identifying a good opportunity to sail to the U.S. Each year we try to have Livin the Dream in a safe place during hurricane season (July - October). This year cruising friends Bill and Pat on Mobetah told us about Demopolis, AL which is 218 miles north of Mobile, AL on the Tombigbee River. After further investigation we were sold on Demopolis over the coast of Georgia or Florida. It is half the cost of other marinas we had contacted, only a four hour drive from Ann's parents and is more protected from hurricanes than any place on the coast.

Tuna caught in Gulf of Mexico

A direct trip from Isla Mujeres, Mexico to Mobile, AL is just under 600 nautical miles and should take about four days. Unfortunately all our plans were in turmoil after the Gulf oil spill.   As we sat in Mexico, we needed to look at predictions for weather and the location and movement of the oil. This made our planning and analyzing more complicated than normal. A direct route from Mexico to Mobile would take us through the middle of the oil. By mid-May we were able to access information on the internet reporting current location and forecasted location of the oil. With this information, we believed that we could "go around" the oil to reach Mobile. 

Bird passengerThe oil moved further east and south so we decided to head toward the west coast of Florida and then follow the Florida coast westward to Mobile. Weather and seas were very calm providing a pleasant trip, but requiring use of the engine since there was little wind. During the first afternoon, we obtained an additional passenger when a white heron landed on deck for a rest. He spent most of his time on the side deck beside the cockpit. He rested for about 10 hours then took flight again during the night. When he left us we were about 100 miles away from the nearest land, so we hope that his "natural GPS" sent him in the right direction!




Bird passenger

When we travel on a long passage there is always one person "on watch". We use the autopilot to keep us on course, but the person "on watch" monitors our progress and course, watches for other boats, and periodically checks the engine and bilge. We usually rotate a watch every three to four hours. The other person can read, relax or hopefully sleep. Most time during a good passage is a little boring, so we are always happy to have some unique visitors or events throughout the passage as a diversion.

About 100 miles off the Cuban coast we spotted a "military-looking" ship about 2 miles away. As we got closer we could see it was flying the Cuban flag. The ship never tried to make any contact with us and stayed about one mile away. It did circle around behind us at one time, we assumed to see our name and home port. That is the nearest we came to any Cuban contact. 

The moon was full as we made our way north. One night, John heard the breathing of dolphins and realized that a group of dolphins were right next to the boat but it was too dark to see them. The next day we spied a large pod of dolphins about a quarter of a mile away. As soon as they realized a boat was near, they quickly turned and raced toward the boat jumping in the air on the way. It reminded us of kids racing each other to a play ground.

Oil platform near Mobile Bay

Oil PlatformsThe oil continued to push onto the coast so we only stopped briefly for fuel in Clearwater after three days and continued on to Mobile Bay. Two days later we wove our way through oil platforms as we neared the entrance to Mobile Bay. On the VHF radio we overheard ships reporting the locations of oil slicks within 10 miles of our position. We entered Mobile Bay on Memorial Day and traveled 25 miles up the bay to the Grand Mariner Marina on the Dog River. The oil arrived in Mobile Bay two days after our arrival. We felt very fortunate that we were able to miss the oil. During the longest passage we have ever made, we had traveled 808 nautical miles in 135 hours (5.5 days) since leaving Isla Mujeres. Our trip was lengthened by 200 miles and one and a half days as a result of the oil spill. Maybe we should follow the trend and send BP a bill for the additional fuel we used for those additional  miles!

We stayed in Mobile for a week, but our travel continued on land when we rented a car and drove about 2000 miles round-trip to Chicago for the 80th birthday celebration for John's dad. His Dad didn't know that we were back in the U.S., so he was very surprised to have us at the celebration.

Tug and barges on the river

tug and bargeAfter our road trip it was time to resume our nautical travel in June. Our journey started on the Mobile River and continued north on the Tombigbee River. This is the beginning of the 456-mile Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, opened in 1985, which links Mobile Bay to the Tennessee River. The waterway is frequently used for barge traffic. Tugs and barges can't maneuver very easily and always have the right of way over pleasure boats.

Lock doors closing at Coffeeville lock

Lock on the TombigbeeRiver travel requires more attention than ocean travel. We discovered that it was better to steer the boat by hand than to use the autopilot on the constantly curving river. One person had to always watch for tugs and barges and floating logs and other debris, while tracking our progress on the paper charts of the river. The trip was tedious and we took one-hour turns at the wheel. The trip also took us through two locks, our first time in a lock on Livin the Dream. The first lock raised us 33 feet while the second lock raised us 40 feet. Each lock is 100 feet wide and 600 feet long to accommodate the tug and barge traffic.

Turtles sunning on the riverAfter three 12-hour days of motoring up the river for 216 statute miles, we finally arrived at Demopolis Yacht Basin, our home for hurricane season. It is hot and humid in southwest Alabama. We have traded the clear blue water of the Caribbean for the muddy river water of Alabama. We have a long list of boat projects to tackle this year and we are doing our part to boost the economy by buying numerous boat maintenance items. 

Turtles sunning at the river marina

This will be our last log for several months. Check back in mid-December to see if there is an update.