And a drum roll please, because we’re heading into serious stuff…the upcoming Gulf Crossing. January 3 – 15, 2020

While we were VERY happy (total understatement!) to leave Mobile, but it meant…yup, we were getting closer to the dreaded Gulf crossing.  From the beginning of this journey, the thought of  the “crossing” was not something Nancy was looking forward to.  It’s sort of an unspoken, yet legendary part of this Loop trip. Any attempted discussion of this part of the trip with veterans of the crossing was brushed off and pooh-poohed.  They told us “Oh, it will be fine.  Not a big deal”, then change the subject. Not a good sign.

We left Mobile on January 3, an overcast and somewhat rainy day,  to make the run across Mobile Bay to Orange Beach.   We passed an old abandoned light house, and as you get closer to the Gulf, oil rigs.

Dreary day on Mobile Bay, abandoned lighthouse on the left, oil rigs on the right

As you leave Mobile Bay and start to head east, the waterway narrows, you see more beaches with trees, tons of pelicans, and signs of civilization!

After a nearly 50 mile run, we arrived at The Wharf Marina around 1:15 pm.

The Wharf

The Wharf Marina, Orange Beach, Alabama

The Wharf is adjacent to a lovely and busy shopping area, numerous dining choices, a movie theater and a ferris wheel!  We were thrilled to catch up with our friends Carol, Ken and Malachi/No Schedule, and enjoyed pizza at Red or White, located right at the marina. A fun night catching up!

After two nights, we departed The Wharf on January 5th.  As we continued East on the Gulf Inter-coastal Waterway (GICW from now on!), we began to enjoy somewhat warmer weather, prettier coastline, and finally, some dolphins!  I actually joked that the dolphins were smart enough to stay away from Alabama, as we didn’t see them until crossing the Florida State line. And, it was really great to see the “Welcome to Florida” sign!

dsc_0911

20200107_11025520200107_11041720200107_110523

WELCOME TO FLORIDA!!  Note the baby dolphin in the top shot!  So adora

Our next stop was Pensacola, where we caught up with Debbie Eldridge, a friend from our old neighborhood in New Jersey.  The marina is right downtown, and we enjoyed wandering around this cute town before we continued east.

Lovely Pensacola

The next day, we made a 53 mile run from Pensacola to an anchorage at Boggy Bayou, just past Fort Walton, and north of Eglin Air Force Base.  The weather was incredible…sunny, 68 degrees and no wind. 

dsc_0922

Worth waiting for!

Just before we reached our anchorage, we saw a huge tower structure along the beach.  Perhaps related to the Air Force Base?

dsc_0920

Boggy Bayou was a beautiful, peaceful spot, but as we approached the anchorage, we were treated to a bit of an air show from Elgin!  Those jets really roar!

Practice flights out of Elgin Air Force Base

A beautiful evening in Boggy Bayou

Spectacular Boggy Bayou sunrise

20200107_075733

Raising the anchor at Boggy Bayou

The amazing sunrise turned into a beautiful day….still warm and sunny, but with a bit more wind.  It was a great day to make the 67 mile run down to Pearl Bayou.  After passing through some sandy cliffs, the terrain flattened out again and became more marsh-like.

Beautiful GICW scenery

Pearl Bayou anchorage

The next day our 57 mile trip to Apalachicola took us through some of the hardest hit areas from Hurricane Michael in October 2018.  It’s a sad, surreal landscape.

Hurricane Michael damage…beached boats and broken trees along the GICW 

dsc_002520200108_121638dsc_0012

Beautiful trees, some dredging work, and an eagle eating his catch along the GICW

Based on all of the weather reports we were reading, and information from both Chris Parker and Marv (boating weather Gods!), we had some time before we had a weather window for the Gulf crossing.  We had heard that Apalachicola is a cute town with the bonus of having good provisioning opportunities, so we decided to spend 4 nights there.  The increasing winds backed up our decision to stay put for a bit!  We stayed right in town at the Apalachicola Marina.  Most of the marina was destroyed in Michael, but they still have power and water for three boats along the waterfront.  While it could be bouncy at times, we loved our views and the convenient location.

dsc_0110

Apalachicola Marina

Appalachacola tree

Merry Christmas, Appalachicola!

On our first night in town, we went to Up the Creek Raw Bar, a super casual, but surprisingly good restaurant next door to the Marina.  While Apalachicola is known as an “Oyster City”, they no longer have active oyster beds.  However, there’s evidence of oysters all over town.

20200110_141015

Mounds of oyster shells!

Even though they weren’t local, Rob enjoyed a good bunch of them!

Up the Creek Raw Bar

We rode our bikes all over town, checking out the cute neighborhoods, historical homes and cute shops.  There’s also a small little museum Dr. John Gorrie, the local man who invented air-conditioning in his quest to help treat his yellow fever patients.  A monument and his grave are across the street in a small park.

Exploring Apalachicola

The weekly Farmer’s Market was small, but we enjoyed wandering the fishing docks along the town park, and picked up a couple of cute air plants.

Apalachicola farmers market and the fleet of commercial fishing boats

Just down the road from the marina, the historic Orman House is open for tours, so we rode our bikes over to visit the home, and the lovely gardens next door.  While we were sitting in the park waiting for our tour, one of the park volunteers engaged us in conversation about the Monarch Butterfly migration.  The gardens have quite a population, and he shared some chrysalis sightings and an unidentified caterpillar sighting he had made that morning while working in the garden.

Monarch chrysalis and a big red caterpillar

20200110_163929

Orman House

In the small park in front of The Orman House features The Three Servicemen monument, molded from the forms used in the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Apalachicola is the only other place to see them.

The Three Servicemen

We didn’t eat out a lot while we were in Apalachicola, but we did hit the Oyster City Brewing Company a couple of times!  It’s a fun spot, where you can enjoy their yummy brews, and munch on popcorn at the tables and chairs scattered on the sidewalk around the brewery.

Oyster City Brewing Company

One of the best things about this adorable little town is how arty it is.  There is an abundance of great shops and galleries, and we had fun doing a bit of shopping!

One of the things we liked best about this bare-bones “marina” was the incredible bird watching.  There was the usual Brown Pelican population, and a good sized group of White Pelicans inhabit the nearby marshes.  We were surprised by how many Bald Eagles there are in Florida, and we were treated to a couple of them hanging out on the nearby channel marker.  They sat there for 20 minutes or so, and were really enjoying one another’s company.

 

dsc_0050dsc_0090dsc_0091dsc_0092dsc_0093

Brown and white Pelicans and a couple of happy Eagles!

The old Chestnut Street Cemetery  is worth a visit, as it’s filled with interesting old headstones, scattered sea shells, and trees covered with Spanish Moss, giving it the eery feel you would expect from a cemetery visit!

Chestnut Street Cemetery

Apalachicola was badly hurt by Hurricane Michael, and there’s plenty of evidence of it still.  While the marina docks are somewhat intact, the electric towers on them and the boats tied up to them are broken.

Apalachicola hurricane damage

Beautiful moon over the river our last night in Apalachicola

After four great days of exploring this charming town and provisioning, we were ready to head to Carabelle, where we would sit until the weather would be welcoming for our Gulf crossing.  

Leaving Apalachicola, and seeing more storm damage from the water

It was mostly cloudy when we left for Carabelle on January 12th, but half-way there, the fog rolled in. Fortunately, it was somewhat clear as we turned into the river for Carabelle, and we were able to navigate the tricky, shoaled entrance without incident.  Fellow Loopers behind us later in the day brushed bottom a couple of times trying to navigate in the increasing fog.

20200112_103425

The best thing we can say about Carabelle is that we fortunately only needed to stay there for two days.  We had reservations at C-Quarters Marina, an AGLCA sponsor.  When we pulled in for a pump out and fuel, we were showed a slip where we would not be able to get off the boat, as they have short, fixed finger docks along the bulkhead.  Fortunately, The Moorings Marina next door had room for us…and they serve a hot breakfast buffet for free for their hotel and marina guests. And, fortunately, we could get on an off our boat!

There were 5 Looper boats at Carabelle (Saltaire, Salty Dog, X-SES, Salty and Misty)         , and we all got kicked out of the marina the morning of the 14th due to incoming boats.  So,  we headed out to Dog Island to anchor until it was time to make the crossing later in the afternoon.

Getting across the Gulf means making a 180-mile, non-stop voyage, that drops you on the west coast of Florida in morning light.  The timing is specific, so that you can spot all of the lobster traps that are scatterered all along the Gulf, beginning to appear as far as 40 miles off shore.  As it had been the previous few days, a dense fog rolled in, fast! But, we had two other boats to cross the Gulf with, which offered a little bit of comfort.  We all agreed to check in with one another every hour…so X-SES, Salty Dog and Misty raised their anchors and started their crossings at 4:30 pm. And, there’s little difference between traveling in the dark and not see anything, and traveling in the fog and not seeing anything. So…..we were off!

Scenes from our Gulf crossing

It was a long and rolly-Polly night.  While the seas were fairly calm, and the winds were light, the rollers were hitting us on the beam, so we did some rocking.  And, unfortunately, Nancy’s tummy wasn’t happy with it.  Super thankful for the patch, and medicinal Cannibis prescribed in Alton, IL.  Forever grateful for Dr. Dianati, and his convincing argument to get me to swallow a pill.

Happily, right at sunrise, the fog began to lift.  We were super grateful, as while we still had 4 – 5 hours ahead of us, the long dark night took a toll.   And, the famed lobster traps began to appear.  Fortunately, they were no where nearly as bad as reported, and we navigated our way into Tarpon Springs without incident!  Clearly, those reporting about the massive amount of traps have never boated in New England or the Chesapeake!!

Never so happy to see a sunrise, even if it wasn’t the most beautiful, it was indeed spectacular to us!!

Our arrival in lovely Tarpon Springs, Florida…home of a huge Greek community, and the sponge industry.  This smiley sponge face greeted us as we hunted for food before a NAP!!

Well, we did it!! Happy, proud, relieved and exhausted, the next leg of our trip was going to be focused on enjoying the west coast of Florida, find a broker to sell Misty, find a home, and get to Marathon to cross our wake.  Finale…here we come!! ❤️

 

 

 

Adventures in the South, and North…Mobile, Natchez, New Orleans and home to Vermont for Christmas! November 25, 2019 – January 3, 2010

Misty was scheduled to spend December at Turner Marine in Mobile, Alabama to have some work done, and we had some catching up to do and errands to run before we headed to Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans on December 6th. We’re off for some Antebellum exploring and N’Awlins fun before heading to Vermont for the holidays on December 12.  We got to Mobile early to escape the cool weather on the rivers, and were thrilled to be at Turner for their Thanksgiving celebration the day before the holiday. 

Celebrating Thanksgiving with fellow Loopers at Turner Marine.

In between chores, we took some time to explore Mobile.  Unfortunately, the city is quite depressed, but there are a few blocks downtown near the convention center that are work checking out.  First up was the Carnival MuseumMobile was the the first capital of French Louisiana, and began celebrating Mardi Gras, their annual Carnival celebration, in 1703.  It’s the oldest annual Carnival celebration in the United States.   

dsc_0487

dsc_0442

Amazing Mardi Gras costumes and floats, Mobile’s Carnival Museum

Mardi Gras Park sits on the site of the old Mobile courthouse at the corner of Royal and Government.  There’s a collection of brightly colored statues representing different aspects of Mobile’s Mardi Gras traditions:  kings, queens, jesters and musicians that line the circumference of the park.

Mardi Gras Park, Mobile

There are still some beautiful old homes in downtown Mobile, but many are on busy streets, or next to a commercial property.  Some, but not all, are well kept.

Beautiful homes, downtown Mobile

Wandering around downtown Mobile

During the week we were aboard Misty at Turner Marine, we watched the shrimp boats come and go daily.  While they told us the season was winding down, and their catches were smaller, it still looked like he had a pretty good day on the water!

Shrimp fisherman and his catch, Turner Marine

While we were not crazy about this marina (or should I say boatyard?) itself, but the staff were friendly and we had some amazing sunsets and beautiful night skies.

Various night skies from Misty’s aft deck

While looking into airfares to Burlington for Christmas, we discovered that a flight out of New Orleans was a bit less expensive and had fewer connections than airports in Florida and Alabama. New Orleans and Natchez were pretty close by:  Natchez is a 3.5 hour car ride, New Orleans a 2 hour ride.  Sooo…we decided to fly home via New Orleans, and spend some extra time in the area, as Nancy had never been.  But first up is Natchez, where there are several Antebellum homes to visit.  We were starving when we arrived, and decided to grab lunch before heading to our Inn.  Lunch in town at Cotton Alley Cafe was delicious!  Everywhere we went was dressed up for Christmas…it was great!

Cotton Alley Cafe, with a bouquet of cotton on the table!  Yes, we’re in the south!

Downtown Natchez is charming, but small. There are several Antebellum mansions in the area that are open to the public for tours, and we had plans to explore a few.  Before we headed to our Inn, we drove down to the water, and walked around a neighborhood with beautiful, historic homes, including  Rosalie, which is also open for tours.

The Mississippi shore, Natchez, and historic homes in town, including Rosalie

The mansion tours are on a set schedule, and some require a reservation.  We had a 2 pm tour of Longwood, but drove up to another plantation home, Melrose, and toured the grounds with the limited time we had before our tour.

Melrose Mansion, slave quarters and stables

The Longwood House Museum is a unique example of Antebellum architecture, as it’s an octagonal structure.  It is also an unfinished mansion, as construction was halted in 1861 due to the onset of the civil war.  The Nutt family, who built the home, lived on the finished ground level until Julia Nutt’s death in 1897. Two further generations lived in the house, but there was never an attempt to complete construction.  When the family donated to the house to the Pilgrimage Garden Club in 1970, it was agreed that the home would remain unfinished for authenticity. It’s fascinating, as in some of the unfinished parts of the home, there are still construction tools and materials, as if the crew would return at any moment.

20191206_142529

Longwood House Museum

We stayed at the lovely Monmouth Historic Inn & Gardens, which can also toured.

The beautiful grounds Monmouth Inn and Gardens

Our beautiful suite at the Monmouth Inn

Inside the beautiful Monmouth Inn

The Monmouth Inn is also home to the only operating restaurant in an Antebellum home, Restaurant 1818.   After touring the beautiful and fascinating Longwood we spent a leisurely afternoon wandering the grounds of the Inn.  Before our fabulous dinner, we enjoyed mint juleps in the Mansion’s Quitman Study. 

20191206_183257

Enjoying Mint Juleps and dinner at 1818, Monmouth Inn & Gardens

In the decades prior to the American Civil War, market places where enslaved Africans were bought and sold could be found in every town of any size in Mississippi.  Natchez was unquestionably the state’s most active slave trading city, although substantial slave markets existed at Aberdeen, Crystal Springs, Vicksburg, Woodville, and Jackson.  While the buildings that housed the slave marketplace are long gone, there is a sad monument showing the shackles used for the slaves.

20191206_154018

Fork in the Road monument for the Slaves, on the site of the old slave trading post

There’s little to see on the highways in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The roads are largely lined with dense trees or swamp land.  However, as we left Natchez and saw the landmark restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard.  Sadly, she’s in great need of some TLC.

20191207_112048

Mammy’s Cupboard, Natchez

It was close to lunch time by the time we got to Baton Rouge, so we stopped to wander around a bit before finding something to eat.  Downtown is very quiet, but it looks like they have made a real effort to spruce up the waterfront and surrounding area.  We stopped first at the “new” Capitol building, and wandered around the large park in front of it.  The building was the vision of  Huey Long, the controversial Louisiana Governor and Senator.  His statue stands in the park facing the Capitol.

Louisiana Capitol Building

Baton Rouge Waterfront…Oh, and the Coke truck was blasting Christmas Carols

The “old” Capitol building served fas the state capitol from 1905 until 1928. In 1928 the legislature moved to the current building.  It is now the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The stained glass dome in the lobby And the staircase below it are spectacular!

Louisiana’s Old Capitol Building

Our lunch at Cocha was wonderful and entertaining.  Both the food and drink were delicious and inventive. Our waiter was a former “famous” drag queen in San Diego, and his dramatic narrative of the car accident in the parking lot was, well, dramatic!

An entertaining and delicious meal at Cocha

There are numerous restored Antebellum homes along the Mississippi River, and a visit here has been on our bucket list for a long time.  Our next stop was Oak Alley, where we were staying in a cottage on the plantation grounds.  The cottages on the plantation are believed to have been built by the second resident owners, and used to house the hired hands. These cottages were referred to as “Quarter Houses”, as each unit was divided into four parts with a common fireplace chimney in the center, with an opening in each of the four units. 

20191209_090958

Our charming cottage at Oak Alley, and the fragrant rosemary tree providing holiday cheer

We loved having the space (something we usually do without!), and while the restaurant serves a full breakfast and lunch for guests, they do not serve dinner.  Instead, you can order from their menu, and they will deliver your fully prepared meal to your cottage for you to heat up whenever you want. It was traditional Southern Creole cooking and it was delicious!

It was fun to have the run of the grounds after the house closed for the evening…felt like we lived there!

20191208_172423-1

Beautiful evening walk at Oak Alley

The next morning we drove up river to visit Nottaway Plantation.  This spectacular plantation house is an Inn, and has cottages and restaurants scattered around the grounds.

20191208_102747

20191208_104003

Nottaway Plantation, and hanging out on the porch

Nottaway sits across the street from the river levee, where huge bonfires have been erected on the top.  While the bonfires are now a Christmas tradition, it is thought that they were originally burned to both guide ships on the river, and lead parisioners to church.

20191208_102744

Christmas bonfires smoldering, and others ready to go

After touring Nottaway, we returned to Oak Alley for lunch, a tour of the plantation house, and the slave exhibit on the grounds.

dsc_0630

The beautiful oaks, some over 300 years old, rule the day at Oak Alley

A moving tribute to the Oak Alley slaves.  A rare acknowledgement.

Our last morning in river country was spent touring Laura Plantation, an authentic Creole Plantation. 

20191209_100420

Laura Plantation, bursting with traditional Creole color and a sad history

This was a fascinating place, as we learned a lot about the Creole traditions, and some troubling realities of slavery that go beyond the obvious.  Slaves on Creole plantations only spoke French, which they could not read or write.  After the civil war, French wasn’t being spoken, so when they were freed, it was into an English speaking country.  So, many stayed on the plantations.  While they were no longer called slaves, and given “pay”, it was not in currency, and could only be used at the plantation “store”.  This further tied them to the plantation, as they purchased their food and goods from the plantation, always at inflated prices, often driving the freed slaves into debt. The freed slaves were still very much under the control of plantation owners.  We were told that some slaves lived under these conditions for generations to come, some as recently as 1977 in North Carolina.

20191209_101243

Sugarcane plantation map along the Mississippi in Louisiana

Behind the house at Laura Plantation are several slave quarters, and it’s thought that this was where the household slaves lived.  The field slaves would live in quarters far out in the fields, and likely never saw the plantation house.

20191209_110224

Laura Plantation back gardens and slaves quarters

After leaving Laura Plantation, we were on our way to New Orleans…finally!  Rob has been there on business, but Nancy has never been.  We stayed at the lovely and conveniently located Hotel Le Marais, on Conti Street, just off of Bourbon Street.  The staff was great, and the concierge sent us to Johnny’s Po’ Boys for lunch soon after we arrived.

 Hotel Le Marais

Johnny’s Po-Boy for lunch…Welcome to New Orleans!

We had a great day wandering around acquainting ourselves with our neighborhood, and enjoyed a carriage ride around the French Quarter.  

Our Carriage ride around the French Quarter

We continued exploring the neighborhood after our carriage ride, and enjoyed a Hurricane at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar.

Cheers!

20191209_141108

Jackson Square and the beautiful Basilica of St. Louis

Inside Basilica of St. Louis

We walked all over New Orleans, loving every minute of personality this city has to share!

Fascinating retail opportunities!

Beautiful buildings, plazas and bars

We enjoyed a wonderful meal at Antoine’s, a fifth generation family restaurant in the French Quarter since 1840.  They claim to have created Oysters Rockefeller, and are also known for their meats and their ridiculously large Baked Alaska (for 2).  We enjoyed another traditional New Orleans drink, the Sazerac, along with a variety of oysters & the fish special for Rob, shrimp remoulade & filet de boeuf Marchand de Vin for Nancy, with a side of Antoine’s famous fried puffed potatoes…all delicious!  

Dinner at Antoine’s

Wandering around Bourbon Street in the evening is entertaining and colorful, from people watching, to the neon signs and street performers.

20191209_203626

We loved Pat O’Brien’s Piano Bar, where we enjoyed daiquiris and the fun and spontaneity of the piano bar entertainment.

Enjoying daiquiris at Pat O’Brien’s

We spent an entire morning at the National World War II Museum.  It’s a remarkable presentation of this devastating part of history, and it was an incredibly moving experience.

20191210_120952

The National World War II Museum

After a quick, and mediocre lunch at the museum, we wandered over to the Pharmacy Museum.  This is definitely worth a visit, as it’s like no other museum you’ve ever been to!  It’s interesting and quirky, and makes you extremely grateful to be living in a time where medicine has made such incredible advances!

The Historical Pharmacy Museum

We’re extremely grateful to all of our friends who gave us such incredible recommendations for things to do, but most especially where to EAT, in New Orleans. We absolutely loved our dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro…rabbit, shrimp and grits and profiteroles for dessert, not to mention the bottle of Schramsberg! 

Mr. B’s Bistro

We had tickets to Preservation Hall, a haven for traditional jazz since 1961.  The interior of the club is sparse.  You sit on wooden benches in a small, run down, but funky room. There are no restrooms, and they don’t serve drinks, but you’re welcome to bring your own. Pat O’Brien’s is conveniently located right next door, and everyone in New Orleans is very accommodating with to-go cups! The ensemble changes almost nightly, and often don’t play together regularly.  The talent we saw was astonishing.  An incredible, 1 hour show. Perfect!  No photos or recording are allowed, but you can grab CD’s recorded by the various performers.  

Preservation Hall

It was really great to be in New Orleans just before Christmas, as the entire city was completely decked out and gorgeous!  The high end hotels, as in every big city, have pulled out all the stops. All completely different, all spectacular!

The Roosevelt Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton

The Royal Sonesta

A visit to New Orleans would not be complete without a visit to Cafe du Monde for Beignets, so before we headed to the Garden District, we stopped there for breakfast.  The menu consists of Beignets, coffee and hot chocolate, so the decisions are few!  It was delicious, but super decadent.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

We were planning on taking a self-guided walking tour of the Garden District, and the scheduled 10:30 tour of Lafayette Cemetery.  Unfortunately, the cemetery is closed for restoration, but we were able to peek through the fence to get an idea.

Lafayette Cemetery

Despite the cold, we loved our walk around the Garden District, filled with beautiful, historic homes and gardens.  We even saw actor John Goodman’s home and an interesting lawn sign!

20191211_100829