Finally it was time. As much as we loved Grand Harbor, it was time to begin our 450-mile trip along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway heading south again. Before we left, John completed refinishing all of the teak, painted inside every locker and cabinet you can think of, and spent days polishing the hull until it looked better than it ever had before. The boat was scrubbed from top to bottom as well. To assure us that it was really time to leave, Grand Harbor closed their swimming pool for the season; a sure sign that we needed to move on.
Early in the morning on October 8th, we pulled away from our dock at Grand Harbor on Pickwick Lake. We were both excited to be on our way and the morning was beautiful. Our first stop was at Midway Marina in Fulton, Mississippi. It was there that we began meeting a lot of cruisers who are making the Great Loop trip, a 6000-mile circle that encompasses the eastern half of the United States and Canada. Previously, we have been out of sync with this group, always going the opposite direction or hanging out where they typically do not go. At Midway Marina, though, we found some of those “Loopers” who were just slightly ahead of the majority, and we began making friends who were traveling south, just as we were.
The following day, we moved to Columbus Marina in Columbus, MS. It was a much longer trip that day than we expected as we were held up for four hours of lock delays. We stayed in Columbus for two days, as did most of the others at the dock, as we waited to see what Hurricane Michael had in store for the area. Thankfully the storm did not appear to be getting close to us so, on October 11th, we departed for an anchorage for the first time in almost three months. It was so nice to be “on the hook” again after such a long time in marinas.
October 12th brought us to Kingfisher Marina in Demopolis, Alabama. There we passed the time for a few days swimming in the pool, using the courtesy car to provision for the upcoming voyage, and enjoying nightly happy hours with the Loopers as we all waited to assess the damage from Hurricane Michael on the Florida Panhandle. Everyone in the group was planning to travel along the shore from Mobile, AL to somewhere on the west coast of Florida, and everyone wanted to find out what the horrible destruction that had occurred meant to them and their plans.
Finally on October 16th, a group of five boats, including AfterMath, made their way to an anchorage called Bashee Creek, and the following day, the group continued on to another anchorage, Sunflower East. That day, the 17th, we passed through the last lock on the Tennessee-Tombigbee River; and despite the two and one-half hour delay due to tugboat traffic, we were happy to have completed our 264th lock aboard AfterMath and to be done with locks on our adventure.
After another night of anchoring along the river, we continued our way southward and we were very excited to enter the very busy Mobile Harbor. It had been a long time since we had seen that much action! Ships everywhere, containers of every color stacked up waiting to be loaded onto ships of foreign ports, cranes lined up along the water’s edge, and busy people working in the port. After so many months and days along the peaceful rivers, we were both surprisingly excited to see so much action. And, as soon as we left the city and entered the bay, we were greeted by Kirby’s favorite entertainment: lots of dolphins. The dolphins were following a shrimp boat, hoping for a free meal, I suppose; it was a beautiful sight and made us so happy to be back in salt water again.
We arrived at Dog River Marina in Mobile, AL that afternoon. John changed the oil in the engines and caught up on more never ending maintenance while we were there. We also enjoyed visiting with the Loopers again and had a nice dinner out with a group of five couples one evening. After getting as much information as we could, we decided it was time to start heading east on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) along the Panhandle. The first night, October 22nd, found us in a gorgeous, peaceful anchorage called Ingram Bay and on the 23rd we finally re-entered Florida! It was so nice to see the white sand beaches along the ICW again and to know we were back in this beautiful state. That night we anchored in Navarre Cove, not too far from Elgin Air Force Base. Navarre Cove was not a particularly quiet anchorage, however, as the Air Force Base was running artillery exercises that kept Kirby on edge for a few hours.
Yesterday we arrived at Blue Water Bay Marina in Niceville, Florida. As we arrived we saw two fishing boats tied up to each other. One, however, was half sunk! There was a lot of activity around those two boats, and, after we docked, the people who work at the marina told us that the sunken one was simply coming into the marina for fuel when the boat started to go down. Apparently it had happened just minutes before we arrived, so, of course, we pulled up chairs on the dock along with our neighbors, and had fun watching the excitement. It was so interesting to see the activity: the Coast Guard arrived, but left after they were sure everyone was safe, the marina personnel had a workboat out to help, and, of course, Tow Boat US remained on the scene in case they were called to action. After a few hours of pumping water, people swimming, and who knows what else, apparently they were able to at least patch up the boat, raise it, and, after dark, they moved it away for what I’m sure will be more repairs.
Today was a rainy and cool day, so we stayed at Blue Water Marina to await a nicer ride tomorrow. We continuously meet up with our new friends now, and expect we will do the crossing with them from Carabelle, farther east along the Panhandle, to Tarpon Springs or nearby, next week when we get a good weather window. It will be an overnight trip of 160 miles and 23 non-stop hours, so we want to be sure it is calm and clear.
This part of the trip has been fun. Although we knew we were leaving a part of the country we might not have otherwise explored, we were ready to leave the rivers. Along the way we have met so many interesting people. We met Steve, from the UK, who is doing the whole loop on a kayak by himself, Ron and Judy, who are probably on the most interesting boat we have seen along the way, Mark and Heather, who came all the way from Australia to travel the Loop, and Lynn and Doug, who have an African Grey Parrot that can talk a mile a minute and can convince Kirby to come to him every time he whistles. We had a wonderful dinner aboard Milton and Julie’s Hatteras, enjoyed Phyllis and Sonny’s company again, as we had met them in Apalachicola and in Dog River Marina on our way north, and so many others.
Tomorrow we will pass through Panama City and, I expect, see the horrible devastation left by Hurricane Michael. We are so sorry for those who lost so much in this storm and during Hurricane Florence, just last month. We are respectful of Mother Nature as we travel, always watching, always adjusting our plans to stay safe. For now, though, we will continue on our way, meeting new friends, seeing new places, and living the dream we have created for ourselves. We wish you all a safe journey; whether your dreams take you near or far, enjoy every day, make someone happy, and be kind and loving. It is the only way to weather any storm.