HOME PORT, 12/08/11

It’s hard to believe that we are actually docked at our home port, Lakewood Yacht Club, in Seabrook, Texas.  After 2 ½ years of travel, Bob and I and Spirit Dancer are going to take a well deserved rest. We have lots of deferred maintenance to catch up on, many business projects to complete and we are looking forward to re-connecting with family and friends – and our loft in The Woodlands.

On the dock to greet us were our LYC friends and buddy boaters, Peg and Alan. They were so kind to be there to catch our lines and pop the cork on some great champagne. Their boat, a beautiful Grand Banks, the Muriel June, is coming off the hard this spring in Vermont, and they will continue their Loop adventure and capture their Gold in 2013.

When we arrived back in The Woodlands, our dear friends Karen and Rhese, posted a Welcome Home sign on our gate. It was great! We did bring a little of the boat to the loft, and we will enjoy our “flat tree” throughout the Christmas holidays!

Although we won’t be blogging our adventures on the water for a while, we will let you know when we venture out in 2013 – this time to the islands, Mon!

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Yesterday we docked at Galveston. The weather was “soupy” all day – rain on and off, low visibility, some wind, lots of tows and barge traffic, in general a long, tiring day. We were really glad we had made arrangements to stay at the Harbor House Marina, small, but in the center of Galveston activity – and, as it turned out, it is the weekend of Dickens on the Strand, the marking of the start of Christmas holiday events. Galveston is known for its festivals and this is certainly one of the most colorful (of course next to Mardi Gras).

Being here is kind of bitter sweet. We are one leg away from being in our home port of Seabrook, TX, and then on to our land-base in The Woodlands. It means that we have a life-style change coming up – a land-locked one. So we are going to settle in here at Galveston for a day or two and wait out the messy weather, catch our breath, and make the last leg cruise well rested with better cruising weather.

We are the only boat in the marina, and the last time we were here, we had our Christmas wreath on the stern – very festive. This time, we will save that until we reach Lakewood and then get festive with the decorations.

For now, we will have a wee dram on the upper helm while watching the cruise ships come and go. We also have to explore the sights and sounds of Galveston to see what has changed in the last 2 ½ years, and sample the best seafood restaurants in the region – Willie G’s is just a few steps away from our stern.

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Clarence W Settoon – Seth D – Mr. Devon – Glenn Cove – Cecelia Ann – Cowboy Carl – Jane Mae Settoon – Tetter Menard – Betty G – Louisiana Sunrise – Dudley J Settoon – Kristen Alexis – Dari Lynn – Spirit – City of Jonesville – Rita – Howard Evans – Joe B  – Maynard – Page Gertrude – Ariel – Marie – Kristen Alexis – Captain Ronnie Payne – Holy  Rosary – Gulf Regal – Gracie Clair – Dairy Lynn – Mr Tee – Frank L – Joseph Hamilton – Genie – Master Cade – Nelda Faye – Fred A Settoon –  Lisa – Alexis Alanie – Captain  Jimmy Callais – Miss Rosalyn – John G Morgan – Rachelle Marie – Bonnie Cenac

The above names are just a few of the tows we have passed or overtaken along the GIWW in just the last day. And our greeting from most of them has been, “See ‘ya on the one.”

The standard signal for boats to pass each other has been around way before VHF radios ruled the airwaves. The early skippers used to use a whistle signal to the boat they were meeting head on to pass. One whistle meant pass on the port-to-port (left) side, and two whistles for the starboard-to-starboard (right) side. These signals have not changed, even though the method of delivering them has.

After leaving Lake Charles for the GIWW west and Texas, we have made the acquaintance of probably a hundred captains of ships and tows pushing barges – mostly red flagged, meaning highly explosive cargo. Believe me; you don’t want to misunderstand which side to pass on in these conditions. So “See ‘ya on the one.” Or “See ‘ya on the two.” has become our mantra for this stretch of the GIWW.

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L’AUBERGE DU LAC, 12/02/11

This “Inn on the Lake” is one of our favorite places to come by boat. It is located in Lake Charles and only a two day run from our home port of Seabrook, TX. The marina is small and can only accommodate a few boats, and here we are in early December, the only boat here. Nice!

We have fond memories of floating around their lazy river consuming Pina Coladas. Bob did the math, and it is really a one drink ride around to the float up bar – to order another to sip on while making the next loop. How’s that for a Looper piece of information! It’s a bit too cold for that lazy trip now, but we sure did enjoy it our last visit here.

Since we were here, 2 ½ years ago, they have added a beach and Tiki Bar. Those are strong reasons to come back soon – at least when the weather warms up a bit.

The restaurants are great as well as the shops, casino and spa. We took advantage of all the amenities during our three day “vacation” here on our trip home.

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GIWW, 12/01/11

Most of the other Loopers hung a left at Mobile, but a few made the trek to New Orleans. Those that made it to NOLA to party, have now either backtracked to the east and headed for Florida, or left their boats in NOLA and flew home to join family and friends for the holidays.

We, however, made a right (starboard) turn at Mobile, hit NOLA, and kept going West toward Texas. Once heading west in the ICW, the canal becomes the GIWW, or Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The stretch through Louisiana and Texas is probably the best maintained of all the ICW. In most places, it’s very wide, clear of debris and relatively deep compared to those states on the east coast that re-route their ICW dredging money to other priorities.

Most of the LA canal is beautiful any time of year. We first came up this way in the summer, when the huge trees and foliage were every color of green in the spectrum and the gators were lurking (photo) in the shadows. Now, the trees are mostly “winterized” and the hanging Spanish moss is what is waving us on our way – not a gator to be seen.

There is no doubt what industries rein here – fishing (mainly shrimping) and oil. The shrimp boat fleets are abundant and the offshore oil rigs in for repair stand like guardians of the coastline.

Since Dog River, AL, this has been a long stretch of one day runs, with little opportunity to catch our breaths, take many photos, or much less time to write a blog. We are looking forward to docking at L’auberge du Lac in Lake Charles for a bit of wining, dining and a few hands of black jack or a pull of the slots. Stay tuned…

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Three days with Mark and Terri in New Orleans, is just plain fun overload! Of course our first tour day started out for morning (chicory) coffee and beignets at Café Du Monde, the original French coffee stand established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market. The Cafe is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It closes only on Christmas Day and on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans.

From there we got our game on and walked Jackson Square. Talk about sensory overload – the sights, the aroma of Creole cooking, the music, and of course the shopping! We researched everything from hats to hand-rolled cigars to cook books to posing with the locals.

Getting “fortified” at Pat O’Brien’s gave Terri and me the little push we needed to get our palms read. Terri has some surprises in store (all good) in her future, and I got a reading from the daughter of the Gypsy Reader that read my future 2 years ago when we were through here, remember, Katie?

The next day’s outing started later and ended much later (well, we’re boaters, it wasn’t THAT late…) on Bourbon Street. We picked up some decorating tips, and tasted the local brew – several, I might add. Thanksgiving dinner will be at the Bourbon House and we are all looking forward to that.

May each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday, surrounded by family, friends, great food and memorable events.

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We are now safely docked in New Orleans and ready to party. So is Sr Michael Mary, or Francie, as we have always known her. she is one of my classmates from Mercy School of Nursing and we graduated more years ago than I care to share in a blog, but we have remained close friends for all of these many decades… Francie went on to complete her Doctorate in Nursing and now teaches nurses and is working on her Masters in Counseling, as well as, being involved with many other community projects and organizations here in NOLA.

We were delighted that she had time to visit us aboard Spirit Dancer, and after dinner, many hours of catching up, and well yes, a few glasses of wine, she accepted our invitation to stay overnight. Although she knew she would be good at the helm, she wasn’t too excited about a boat trip away from the dock.

We resumed our visit on Wednesday with brunch with Mark and Terri at The Court of Two Sisters, a landmark of New Orleans. Next was a stroll down Royal Street (leaving Bourbon Street for later…) where we continued our worldly discussions on religion, politics, Katrina, and in general, the five of us were able to solve the majority of the world’s most troubling situations and challenges in an afternoon stroll. Possibly more politicians should try this. Ha

The carriage ride and tour of the French Quarter capped off the “required” things on our checklists, and the evening was much more unstructured after that. I do remember that Francie and I did get chased off the piano bar stage at Pat O’Brien’s, but we all did get to stay for a few hours’ worth of singing in spite of our misguided attempt at stardom.  The rest of the evening is a little blurry…, besides, what happens on Bourbon Street, stays on Bourbon Street. Thanks, Francie, for a great visit and reunion in your wonderful city.

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10 HOURS IN THE SOUP, 11/20/11

NOAA (the OFFICIAL) marine weather forecast said the fog would lift by 9 AM. Those jokesters! TerrMar and Spirit Dancer, with Steve and Beth on Gemini in the lead, peeked around the corner outside Biloxi Harbor and sure enough, the fog seemed to be lifting. WHOA, NOAA… not so. We were in the fog with less than 1/8 mile visibility for over 10 hours. Once you get out on Mississippi Sound, there is no “duck in” place – you just have to keep going. So we did – on instruments all the way.

Tows are supposed to pull over when visibility gets below ¼ mile, but this captain didn’t get the memo. Also, the two very large Gulf Shrimpers we came in close contact with, had no one at the helm – they were too busy minding their nets. Fortunately for radar, we saw them coming, but still narrowly avoided a collision.

The 120 foot Lady Gayle had REALLY BIG horns and blasted her arrival on our port stern. We were only able to see her when she pulled up right beside us and skated on at twice our speed.

After 10 hours of nerve-wracking boatmanship, our boats pulled up to the Rigolets RR Bridge for an opening. We actually caught our first sight of the bridge as we were pulling through it. Thank God for good radar and chart plotters!

As we entered Lake Pontchartrain, the fog lifted and we cruised across to the marina as dusk fell. We were four happy campers to be tied safely to a dock after a really grueling day on the water. Oh, did I mention, Bob was actually energized by the entire experience! I personally can live the remainder of my life without repeating this day.


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BLACK JACK and SLOTS, 11/18/11

We had a “pretty” good crossing from Dog River, down Mobile Bay and part way across the Mississippi Sound. Those two bodies of water can really kick up with the right wind, so we are thankful we picked a good crossing day. The skies were a brilliant blue and the seas really were only 1-2 feet.

We made the long day crossing to Biloxi with our Canadian friends Mark and Terri on TerrMar. Most of the Looper boats are turning east to run down the Florida Coast, but Mark and Terri are leaving their boat in New Orleans for the holidays and flying home to Ontario, so we’re glad to have them buddy boating with us for the next week or so.

We have seen a lot of tows and barges since we’ve been out, but this double-team is a first for us. Listening to the captains chat, one might have been giving the other a “boost.” The weather was beautiful and we docked at Point Cadet Marina in time for docktails and celebrating a good crossing.

We decided to spend the next day there, and we all played the slots and tried our hands at Black Jack. M&T doubled their money! (Beginners luck?). There was this great WOODIE classic car in the center of the casino, and we did take time to try to cheer MSU to a victory over Arkansas in the sports bar.

From here throughout the Gulf, the memories and evidence of Hurricane Katrina are ever present – as you can see by the (vacated) hotel garage corner. I’m sure we will be seeing more of the devastation Mother Nature can cause as we move closer to New Orleans.

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You can tell we are getting close to the Gulf – saltwater spray and we can trade in jeans for shorts most days.YEA for warmer weather! The early morning departures are still a must, and it’s usually a coin toss to open our eyes to either fog banks or spectacular sunrises.

We made the long run from Demopolis to Mobile with only two anchorages along the way – Bashi Creek (last time Bob had to “bash in” over the Hurricane Ida flood debrie) and Three Rivers (which has always been a beautiful hideaway). We made the run with our Canadian friends Mark and Terri aboard TerrMar, and although we ran right passed the legendary Bobby’s Fish Camp, they forgave us because the catfish restaurant was closed that evening.

We happened upon a (not THE) Captain Jack Sparrow on shore and taking a break from cruising on his bamboo, tarp and water bottle ship. It would have been a treak to see it under sail – assuming it DOES sail…

Equally as interesting was the young couple “camping out” on the water in their homemade houseboat. They had traveled on it all the way from Philadelphia and were meeting family in New Orleans for Thanksgiving. They charged Mark and Terri $20 for taking their photo – good folks that they are, they paid up and supplied them with a couple of beers to go along.

Closer to Mobile, the tow and barge traffic picked up and we did the speedup and pass routines several times. In Mobile Bay, the shrimpers and ocean going vessels added to an interesting mix. We did catch a glimpse of the nose of the new LCS combat go-fast ship, The Colorado, bringing back memories of 2 years ago when we photographed the prototype model, the Independence in the fog as we “hung off” the Mobile Convention center wall.

There are many Loopers here at Dog River Marina, most waiting to get some type of repair work done before heading out again, either across the Gulf, or like us, over to Biloxi and then New Orleans. We plan on leaving tomorrow at first light – IF we have enough water depth to get away from the dock. The past couple of days, the Northeasterner that breezed through here, blew a lot of water out of Mobile Bay. So we’ll have to start keeping an eye on those tide charts again – something we haven’t had to factor in the past couple of months.

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