As some of you may know the travels of Hobo (our Sundowner 30) with 2Cents (that would be Tim and Suzanne) began our Great Loop journey on 28 April 2013 (our 29th wedding anniversary) from the George T. Bagby State Park Marina in Ft. Gaines, Georgia. It took us several days to travel south on the Chattahoochee River. After spending 4 years stuck in Ft. Gaines as a result of drought conditions resulting in not enough water to float our boat, we find ourselves with more water than needed and significant current helping us travel down the Chattahoochee River to the Flint River and finally to Apalachicola Bay. We had three locks to travel from Ft. Gaines to Apalachicola and those were done with no issues. Our first mechanical issues of the trip happened while we were on the Chattahoochee River far away from help. The water pump went out on the engine. Here we can't say enough about TowBoat US or the US Coast Guard. Since it would not be possible to tow us to a nearby port TowBoat sent us a mechanic with a small boat to get to us with the spare part needed. It took two days (one for the delivery of the part to arrive to the mechanic and one for the mechanic to come to us). The Coast Guard remained in touch with us to ensure our safety and even contacted a nearby fire department to keep in touch with us if we had any personal physical problems. On the third day we were off and running. In total, it took us 5 days to get to Apalachicola. Our plans were to travel to Carrabelle, FL to prepare for our over night Gulf Crossing to Anclote Key. We were chased to Carrabelle by a significant weather system coming in from the west. Our last night at anchor before exiting the river system into Apalachicola our marine toilet developed a problem and we needed to address this issue while we were in Carrabelle. As it turned out, we needed to rebuild the toilet. We had several days of bad weather before we could make the crossing so we ordered the parts and got on with the task at hand.
After spending 6 days holed up in Carrabelle working on boat projects while waiting for a weather window to cross from Carrabelle to Anclote Key/Tarpon Springs, we were finally able to leave on Friday morning. For us the run should be about 25 hours. Instead it took us 37 hours. We began to experience high engine temperatures at about 8:30 PM. We had been traveling at about 7.25 MPH (1750 RPM) but with the increase in engine temps we were forced to throttle back to about 1000 RPM which gave us a speed of about 4.5 MPH. (We pine for a sailboat right now.) When that no longer worked we went to a cycle where we ran for about one hour and then turned the engine off to cool down for about an hour. We finally shut the engine off for about three hours and opened several access boards, turned on the engine blower and let the engine cool down enough to allow us to do some trouble shooting. After determining what was not the problem we got underway again continuing to run low and slow and then shutting the engine off to cool. At about 9:30 AM the engine temperature began to read a good, steady temperature. Tim now suspects the thermostat was stuck or the instruments were malfunctioning. We were finally able to increase the engine speed again to 1750 RPM.
We were making good time and the engine was maintaining a constant temperature when at about 5:30 PM we were hit by a thunder storm which brought 30 MPH winds and quickly kicked the waves up from less than one foot to 4-5 feet. We were able to surf down the front of some of the waves and several times saw 10.5 MPH on the speed indicator. Our top speed under power is about 8.5 at 2250 RPM so this was really fast for our boat. It was very harrowing but the boat did well. The storm hit in two bursts and lasted for about an hour. The seas, although dissipating, lasted for several hours.
Our spirits were lifted after the storm by the sighting of six dolphins playing in the waves at our bow; a good omen. They stayed with us for about 15 minutes before leaving.
We finally reached our anchorage off the backside of Anclote Key at 11:00 PM and were very glad to put the last 39 hours behind us. Sunday was a beautiful sunny day at anchor and we spent the day on small tasks and mostly taking it easy. Knowing that most things do not miraculously fix themselves, today we begin to search for a competent, licensed/certified Perkins diesel mechanic to replace the thermostat and the heat exchanger so we can continue our travels with a bit more confidence. Anyone out there know someone who fits that description and is located between Tarpon Springs and Ft. Meyers?
More of our travels later…
Well, this is later. We chose not to go into Tarpon Springs but to continue on south in hopes of connecting with a mechanic we had heard good things about. We ended up spending 11 days in Gulfport, FL while having various repairs. We had a great mechanic. The biggest problem was that all of the parts had to be ordered from the Annapolis area and had to be shipped overnight. Of course Murphy’s Law applies to all things and we had a real domino effect going on. As one thing was repaired another would go bad. We have most of the items fixed but we are monitoring what could potentially be additional problems. With most of the repairs done we took off again for parts south. Our next stop was DeSoto National Memorial Park where we spent a night at anchor and rowed to the park to see the sights. The following day we motored to the Seafood Shack Marina in Cortez, FL to meet up with my (Suzanne) brother and his wife and family. We spent two days visiting before leaving to continue our way southward. The storms have begun to kick up and each night we have to find a very safe and secure harbor from the strong winds. We spent one night at anchor off Englewood Beach and then two nights at Cayo Costa State Park. This is a great park that offers docks for boats under 30 feet (no water or electric), hiking, beaches, tent camping and primitive cabins and the park can only be accessed by water. It is also a very safe harbor. Because of strong winds and rain we had to stay an extra day at this location. This morning we left Cayo Costa State Park heading for the Okeechobee Waterway. It will take us three or four days to transit the Okeechobee Waterway to the east coast of Florida coming out at Port St. Lucie, FL and then we can head north.
Mid week we learned about the approaching tropical storm, Andrea. We knew we needed to cross Lake Okeechobee before the high winds got to us, so we did a couple of long days to get to a safe marina before the high winds came. On Thursday it all caught up with us but by then we were across the lake and tied up at a Corps of Engineers marina at the last lock on the waterway. We hunkered down for two days and two nights waiting for it to pass. Lots of wind; lots of rain.
We left this morning and arrived this afternoon at a very swanky marina in Stuart, Florida. That means we are officially on the east coast of Florida (hurray) and tomorrow we begin heading north (HURRAY). Please note we are two months behind schedule.
Our next destination was St. Augustine. We planned to be there for two days but we stayed longer. Tim’s cousin, Sharon, who lives near St. Augustine, and her husband, Tommy, drove in for a day to take us out to lunch and then drove us through the city on our own private “City Tour”. Tommy was really good with the history and highlights. We did not stay at the municipal marina located downtown at the Bridge of Lions but instead we stayed up the San Sebastian River at Rivers Edge Marina. Although it was a long walk from there into the historic district, it was a lot closer to a grocery store, which we desperately needed, and they had good laundry facilities. Some close friends of ours have a son who went to Flagler College in downtown St. Augustine and they gave us lots of tips for restaurants and places to visit. To our surprise, we found a Polish restaurant in St. Augustine. Having never eaten at a Polish restaurant, we paid homage to Tim’s heritage and ate dinner there. Too soon, however, it was time to move on again.
Our next destination was Fernandina Beach, north of the St. Johns River. Many loopers go the fifteen miles up the St. Johns River to explore Jacksonville but we are skipping it because we have been to Jax many times. Instead we continued north for another twelve miles and anchored for the night at the South Amelia River, ( N 30° 33.8772, W 81° 28.2441).
The next morning we had only a short distance to cover to arrive at Fernandina Beach, FL. We had read many good things about Fernandina and were looking forward to it. Our first view of the city caused some disappointment because the small picturesque town is bounded on both sides by pulp mills. There are large stacks with smoke billowing from their tops. This is definitely not our idea of picturesque. Once at Fernandina Harbor Marina, however, where we were close up to the quaint town, you don’t notice the pulp mills. Much of the town is made up of one and two story buildings dating back more than 100 years. We walked through the town without giving one thought to the pulp mills back at the waters edge. The only real reminder of these mills was the occasional slow moving train which was picking up materials from the mills. We would have enjoyed another day in this small town but again, the calendar was pressing us to move on. The next day, as we left Fernandina Beach, we decided it was just as quaint and picturesque as had been reported and we would enjoy a longer visit sometime in the future.
The days run north from Fernandina Beach to Jekyll Harbor Marina promised significant currents as we entered Cumberland Sound, crossed the mouth of St. Mary’s River, and re-entered Georgia leaving Florida behind. We passed Cumberland Island, Georgia’s largest barrier island. It is a national seashore accessible only by boat and a favorite tourist destination where we have vacationed with our kids. We saw some of the wild horses that freely roam the island. On the mainland side, we passed Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, the location of several nuclear submarines. Our passage was shadowed by several small Coast Guard boats that were running the security line. Unlike most Coast Guard vessels, these didn’t look friendly. Later in the day, we saw a Coast Guard tug and barge that was adding, removing or relocating navigational aids along the way. They looked friendly and did, in fact, wave as we passed. Later in the day that same tug and barge, after completing its task, was overtaking us from behind. We were running at our normal speed, yet this tug and barge were going to overtake us. This illustrates our leisurely pace.
We docked at Jekyll Harbor Marina for the night, at Jekyll Island, GA. We had a nice seafood dinner at the marina restaurant and then walked across the narrow island to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean side. We left the next morning in spite of low tide, which gave us only a foot and a half of water under the keel in Jekyll Creek. We just went slowly and made certain we stayed in the middle of the channel at all times.
Our next two days were spent traveling through Georgia’s expansive salt marshes. We spent our nights anchored in winding creeks just off of the Intracoastal Waterway. The first night was spent at Back River anchorage, (N 31° 23.6460’ W 81° 19.4627’), near Doboy Sound, just north of Darien, GA. This lovely anchorage is sometimes shared with shrimp boats waiting to head out to the Atlantic on a fishing expedition. Although Back River has no channel marks, it is also used as a cut-through for these fishing boats and indeed, during our 15 hour stay we were passed by at least four shrimp boats. I say four because that is what we saw. During the night and early morning hours we were rocked several times and it is likely that a shrimp boat was heading in or out. Our next anchorage was at Birthday Creek, ( N 31° 47.6555’ W 81° 09.9237’ ), a tiny creek near Ossabaw Island. The interesting thing about this place is the tide. When we got the anchors down and we were settled in for the night, there were steep banks on either side of the creek with tall marsh grass all around. When the tide crested, you could barely see the tops of the grasses that flank either side of the creek—our protected anchorage had been transformed to an open and exposed anchorage by the eight foot tidal range here in Georgia.
Our next day passage would take us to Savannah, GA. Here we needed to pause and re-evaluate our plans. We had developed a leaky fuel injector pump and a transmission fluid leak where the shift linkage enters the transmission. These problems were growing greater every day. We needed to have these items repaired which would easily set us back another two weeks and perhaps more. The only way to do the Great American Loop is to follow the geese—go south for the winter and north for the summer. It was June and we were in Florida and Georgia. Most recent temperatures were in the lower 90’s. We had been rushing through so many places where we would have liked to linger. We were so far behind schedule, it was now getting impossible for us to be far enough north to enable us to get through and out of the Great Lakes before the marinas began to close for the season and the water turn to ice. We needed to be approaching the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes with most of the other looper boats, not down here in Georgia. We decided to take a break from our cruise and resume next spring and head north with the geese.
On Friday, June 21, we arrived at Sail Harbor Marina, just off the Intracoastal Waterway. It was the first of the marinas we had considered for leaving our boat over the winter. It is a working boat yard that has dock space, a travel lift for moving our boat in and out of the water, and also has long term storage for boats out of the water on land. It was just the kind of place we needed and it had competitive prices. Most of the other marina/boat yards we were considering were located in Charleston, SC. We decided this would be the place to have the repairs made and to store the boat until next spring. We discussed our intentions with the marina management, made the necessary arrangements, and picked up a rental car to drive home to Atlanta the next day.
We returned to the boat about three weeks later. The engine repairs had been made the boat was ready to be hauled, cleaned and blocked for storage. We removed most of the day to day living items, food, clothing, bedding, etc. and brought them home. We have several projects we will be working on over the fall and winter months and then we will return to the boat, have the bottom painted and the boat launched so that we can resume the loop beginning early next spring. We should then be travelling in synch with other loopers and with the geese. The weather and time should be more favorable for our meanderings and our travels will be a bit more leisurely.
At this point, we have a break of two years. We did move the boat from Sail Harbor Marina in Savannah to RiversEdge Marina up the Ashley River in North Carleston. Although we only intended to stay until October of 2015, when we planned to move the boat to Osprey Marina near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, because of severe weather and flooding along the east coast of South Carolina we had to alter our plans and remain in place.
This brings us up to date. Our current plan has us slipping the dock lines at RiversEdge Marina with the out going tide on Saturday morning, 30 April.