Quiet Anchorages and Busy Clearwater Beach

From Tarpon Springs, we traveled a short distance to an anchorage near Dunedin and Caladesi Island.   Amanda left with us as we traveled out of Tarpon Springs. We were treated to an amazing Dolphin escort while moving out the river to the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW).  The dolphins put on quite a show as a local tour boat followed us so their customers could photograph the dolphins swimming off Sanctuary’s bow waves.  I am not sure who was the most excited Amanda or Teresa–they both sounded like toddlers as they watched the dolphin show.

We anchored by a very small island just off the ICW–so small it does not even have a name.  You can walk all the way around the island in less than 5 minutes unless you stop to pick up more shells (which we have been known to do from time to time).  Locals use the island as a camp site. We traveled from that island to Moonshine Island and anchored again.  Moonshine Island is near Clearwater Beach, so we could use the dinghy to go to town and the beach.   The island is covered with mangrove trees making it difficult to go ashore there.   Picture the opposite view: million dollar houses on Clearwater Beach. We watched Osprey and Egrets on the island. After a night there, we moved on to Clearwater Beach Marina.   The marina is in the center of lots of activity, tour boats, charter boats, high-rise motels, and beautiful pure white sand beaches.    A trip to Clearwater would not be complete without visiting “Frenchy’s Restaurant,” where we enjoyed grouper and a spectacular sunset.

Today was the time Amanda had to return home.   So we sadly sent her off on an Uber to the airport.  It’s hard to believe a week could pass so fast! We enjoyed a lot of fun things together and are so thankful she was able to experience another part of our Great Loop journey with us.

From here, we will travel to another anchorage and then to Marker 1 Marina where we will stay for the month of December.   Family visitors will come for the Christmas Holiday.   Decorations on the boat have commenced and YES we have a few Christmas lights!   Feeling the warm temperatures, swimming in the ocean, beach walking all make it hard to imagine Christmas is coming soon. 

Dolphin Escort





No-Name Island near Dunedin provided a nice anchorage for the night



Camp set up by locals on No-Name Island near Dunedin. All the gear was packed into a small center console boat upon their departure from the island.



Amazing Sunset at No-Name Island near Dunedin



Osprey on Moonshine Island–they make a chirping call that you would think would be coming from a small bird not a large predator bird.  They have a 5-6 foot wind span.  The Ospreys, also known as “fish hawks,” are expert anglers that like to hover above the water, then swoop down for the capture with talons extended.



Osprey on Moonshine Island.




Osprey on Moonshine Island visits Sanctuary



Clearwater Causeway bridge leading to Clearwater Beach.   The ICW passes under this bridge.



Breakfast at Clearwater Beach right next to the marina.   Shrimp and grits, Sweet Potato Pancakes, and a Spanish waffle all very tasty.



White sand of Clearwater Beach


Sunset from Frenchy’s at Clearwater Beach



Night scene at Clearwater Beach



Sanctuary adorned with Christmas Lights!



Closer view of Sanctuary Christmas Lights


Thanksgiving by the pool outdoors and Amanda’s arrival!

After we hung out for a bit in Tarpon Springs, our daughter Amanda arrived to visit for Thanksgiving.  We gathered with a group of loopers by the marina clubhouse and pool.  Imagine actually eating Thanksgiving Day dinner outside in short sleeves and sandals—something we have never done in Michigan.  [Sorry, we heard Michigan’s weather proved a bit dismal and wet. The day Amanda flew south, icy rain descended from above.] Steve and Scott (from Last Call) even jumped in the pool and hot tub after our pilgrim delicious potluck meal. Who says you can’t bake turkey, dressing, gravy, potatoes, etc., in a boat?

We explored Tarpon Springs, visiting the sponge docks, the museum at Stafford House, manatee area, antique shops, and much more.  Harbor Host, Herb, has a link to the local fishermen and boats purchased fresh Stone Crab Claws for us and fresh shrimp from other local fishermen.  Much to wet the palette here with gyros, shrimp, MANY types of seafood—even octopus (no, not us!) A trip to Tarpon Springs is highly recommended … the area abounds with Greek history, picturesque bayous, tourist shops, and don’t forget the historic district. Good news: bicycling allows easy access to all these locations.




Sanctuary and Last Call at Turtle Cove in Tarpon Springs



Looper Thanksgiving



Sponge Boat in Tarpon Springs


Safely across the Gulf – The Big Crossing Complete

We encountered a few waves leaving the East Pass from Carrabrelle.   It was incoming tide and with wind on the bow.   I estimate about 6 to 8  mph for wind speed.   My wind meter does not compensate for boat speed, but it was saying 12 or so……  Later the wind was down to almost nothing.  Nice warm night in the 70’s   (our reference is Lake Michigan and even in July it is cold at night)
We saw 1-2′ waves with an occasional 3′  for the first few hours on the bow.   Good travel conditions and even better later when it was down to about a 6″ chop.    The moon  came up around 10 pm and it was beautiful.
6 boats traveled together for this crossing,   Last Call,   Lower Place, Rascals Retreat, Robins Nest, Southern Cross, and Sanctuary.   We negotiated the travel speed, travel channel, and spacing plan in advance.   We kept  a couple boats  adjacent in the center of the pack.    We did hourly radio call ins, and each boat provided a topic/question.   Like first car, why your boat name,  trivia, where born, most interesting wild life seen on trip, favorite quote, etc……..     
No boat issues, except one crab pot snag, which was easily cut loose.
We are now resting in Tarpon Springs for a week, then on to Marker 1 in Dunedin.




Loopers on the Gulf



Sun Rise on the Gulf



The Finish Mark

More Dolphins and Final Preparations for the Crossing of the Gulf

We delayed the crossing by one day and traveled to Carrabelle.  The weather window looked good for another day and it allowed more boats to join the group.   We actually will be accompanied by Last Call (Scott and Karen Devoll) who left Muskegon with us.  Along the trip, we have separated and rejoined a few times, but they were behind us last week and it did not look like they would make it to join us for this crossing. The Low Place, Racals Retreat, Robin’s Nest, Southern Cross will also be with us.

In Apalachicola,  we enjoyed oysters.   Teresa even tried them in an omelet for breakfast (she can now check that box!)  The town is very quaint with a lot of nice shops.  The most interesting was the Tin Shed–an eclectic collection of antiques, old nautical equipment and gift items.

On the way into Carrabelle, we enjoyed another dolphin escort. They are so much fun to watch and seem to love running just in front of the bow in the waves created by Sanctuary. 

The crossing will be over a 120 nautical miles from Carrabelle.   Six boats plan to cross tonight.   It will take 20+ hours. We will leave at 4 pm today, planning to arrive in Tarpon Springs after 10 am tomorrow.   You need to enter the port in daylight in order to best see obstructions and crab pot floats.   Crab pot floats appear sprinkled all over in the shallow water of the entry. Their line dangles under water attached to the trap. They can be difficult to spot atop the waters, especially when you don’t expect them to appear.

We have snacks, meals (Chicken Jambalya, Pecan Pie muffins and hard-boiled eggs), and a detailed plan for the crossing.

The next post will be after the crossing, so it may be delayed a day while we rest from the all-nighter.   Keep us and the group in your thoughts and prayers as we undertake the open water crossing.




The Tin Shed






Fishing boat at Carrabelle



Sanctuary at Carrabelle getting ready for crossing

More Dolphins, Some Minor Repairs and the Shortest Day So Far


When we left Fort Walton Docks, we crossed Lake Choctawhatchee where a flock of Terns escorted us part way across the lake.   It was very windy and they were drafting alongside Sanctuary coming very close to us on the fly bridge—almost as if they were peeking in the windows at us.

On the way to Panama City Florida, we experienced the best encounter with dolphins so far.  They continued to swim and jump alongside Sanctuary in the wake for a long time.  We got a fantastic video and some nice pictures of them.

The last few miles into Panama City Marina were a little nerve wracking due to the engine losing power and alternator quit charging the batteries.    Thankfully, we made it in without needing a tow. It turned out to be two separate, simple problems.  The engine problem was a partially plugged fuel filter.   I changed out the filters and now all seems fine with the engine.  The alternator required a trip to a local shop.  If you are ever in this area and need starter or alternator issues resolved, go to Panama City Alternator and Starter and ask for Joey.   I removed the alternator from Sanctuary and borrowed a car to take it to the shop.  They started testing and working on it right away.  The regulator was bad, so they ordered parts. The parts came in this morning, they reassembled the system, and called to let me know it was ready.   I got a ride to go pick up the alternator, and once reinstalled, all is working properly again. By the time this was all completed, it was late in the day, but we wanted to leave the dock to test everything out.    We left the marina and traveled just an hour to a nearby anchorage called Pearl Bayou.   Everything worked properly on this short test run.

While at the Panama City Municipal Marina, we watched local fisherman catch fish and shrimp from the pier.  They used a net with weights thrown out into the water to catch bait fish and then used those fish to catch bigger prey.  We met several friendly fishermen, Don, Bill, and Terry. As we walked by, Bill had just caught a Spanish Mackerel. He immediately took out his ruler and measured to make sure it was 12 inches. It was long enough, but then to my surprise Bill threw it near Fred, the resident Great Blue Heron who waited for handouts.  Pete, the Pelican, camped out on pilings near our boat. I’d highly recommend this marina—efficient, friendly staff, great view of the bay and close proximity to good restaurants and interesting shops including several antique and consignment places.

Last night we witnessed a spectacular Super Full Moon over the bay. Many loopers who were ahead of us traveled with the Full Moon last evening with a great crossing.

While anchored in Pearl Bayou, jets from a nearby military base frequently fly right over head, dolphins swim around the boat, and a hawk sits in a nearby tree—quite the contrast!

Tomorrow we plan to travel to Apalachicola to begin getting in position for making the big Gulf crossing.  The run to Apalachicola will be a much longer test to verify if all systems are a go for the Gulf crossing.



Scene leaving Fort Walton



Part of our escort on Lake Choctawhatchee



Sometimes it is hard to tell what color the markers are due to……..


Dolphins playing beside Sanctuary





View at Panama City Marina Dock


Fishermen at Panama City Marina



Fishermen at Panama City Marina





Sanctuary at Panama City Marina



Sanctuary at Panama City Marina



Full moon over Sanctuary at Panama City Marina



Full moon, Super moon




Research ships near Panama City Marina



Jet flying over Pearl Bayou



Jet flying over Pearl Bayou


Big Bird at Pearl Bayou



Sunset at Pearl Bayou

From Dog River to Florida – Dolphins and the World Championship Food Contest

We left Dog River marina and crossed Mobile Bay entering the Gulf Intercostal Waterway (GICW).   The GICW is a protected waterway along the coast of Florida.  You can travel all along the panhandle of Florida without going out into the open ocean by using the GICW.  We will be on the GICW until we reach Carrabelle and cross the BIG Bend which is the Gulf of Mexico.   We will wait at Carrabelle for a favorable weather window once we get there.

After being accustomed to Lake Michigan, is was humorous to hear there were small craft warnings on Mobile Bay with a 1 foot wave prediction.  It usually takes much more than that to have a small craft warning on our big lake.

On the way to Orange Beach, Alabama we arrived at the talked-about Lulu’s restaurant.  Lulu is the sister of Jimmy Buffett.  We tied up Sanctuary at the dock directly in front of the restaurant and had lunch. What did we order: Cheeseburgers in Paradise, of course! We landed in the middle of a musician songfest, so we listened to songwriters and players while we ate.  If you are in the area of Gulf Shores, you should stop at Lulu’s.  It was strange to consider that the boat we were tied up behind on the dock at Lulu’s (Captain’s Choice) was the same boat we were tied up behind in DuSable Harbor in Chicago—only 65 days and 1,400 miles earlier.   We have seen them on and off again along the way numerous times.

The Wharf marina in Orange Beach became our next overnight stop after leaving Dog River (where we were excited to renew our friendship with Jaycie Lynn).   Just as we were about to pull into the marina, we spotted dolphins frolicking in front of our boat. After tying up, we went ashore and discovered The World Championship Food Cook Off was being held at The Wharf.    They had numerous competition categories and each category had a $10,000 prize.  The winners of the individual categories went on to compete in the final event for a $100,000 prize. The amount of preparation and planning by each participant was incredible.   Set up and infrastructure for the event was amazing.  Individual cooking areas provided tables, stoves, and refrigerators, but each contestant brought their own needed pans, utensils, ingredients, and much more.   All of the individual contestants’ paraphernalia was removed after their event and the next group then set up their area all over again.  One of the events was BACON—just imagine a whole group of people all cooking BACON.   There were also dessert, steak, seafood, and more categories.   This is really a life style for the contestants not just a hobby.  To compete at this event, they had to win other local events to qualify.

The marina had a shopping area that would rival many malls. Teresa got her hair done at the salon on main street.  Alyce did an excellent job and is also now the owner of one of Teresa’s books. She’s excited to read Life is: Good, Fragile, Precious and claims, “it’s just what she needed!” A huge Ferris wheel tempted us at the end mall, so we had to go for a ride in the dark making this 2 Ferris wheel rides since we began our trip.  One morning we saw a Sea Otter on the dock near us.

After leaving Orange Beach; next stop:  Pensacola, Florida.  After 1400 miles, we FINALLY arrived in Florida!!!  On the way to Pensacola, we saw and heard the Blue Angels overhead practicing for their upcoming air show.     In Pensacola, we walked through “Old Town” and saw lots of interesting historic buildings.

We left Pensacola and docked in Fort Walton at the free city dock just in time to capture a couple of home-grown tomatoes and a jambalaya rice mix from the Farmer’s Market. We walked the town with Captain’s Choice who docked right next to us. The town also was in the midst of a charity drive, so we sampled delicious chicken/andouille sausage gumbo. The chef was really interested in how we liked the gumbo. When we told him it was delicious, he replied,

“That’s a pretty good compliment coming from Yankees!”

They sure know how to do spicy down here. Teresa had to double up on the rice and pieces of bread to swallow hers.

From Fort Walton, the plan is to continue traveling east along the GICW until we can make the big crossing of the gulf from Carrabelle to potentially Tarpon Springs. We’re loving the ever-changing scenery including white sands, small, medium, and huge McMansions with fancy dock structures, high-rise condominiums, pelicans, herons, and playful dolphins.



Teresa trying to get at Dolphin picture….



Gulf Inter Coastal Waterway (GICW)


Houses along GICW



Welcome to Florida



Along the GICW



Sanctuary at Lulu’s – Jimmy Buffett’s sister’s Restuarant


Lunch at Lulu’s


Lunch at Lulu’s



Lunch at Lulu’s



Sea Otter playing on the dock at The Wharf



Sea Otter playing on the dock at The Wharf



Sunset at The Wharf




Main Street at The Wharf




Fishing Practice at The Wharf



New hair style at The Wharf


The World Championship Food Cook Off was being held at The Wharf

Old Town Pensacola


Sailboat America at Pensacola



Sanctuary at Pensacola



Bridges on GICW



Bridges on GICW


Tomorrow we plan to continue traveling east on the GICW along Florida’s panhandle.


On the way to The Last Lock and finally a Horizon on the bay

From Columbus MS, we traveled to Cooks Bend Anchorage, then to Demopolis AL. On the way, we passed white limestone cliffs at Epes.  Along the way, we saw Spanish moss and palm trees–so we must be getting south.

Cliffs at Epes



Spanish Moss along river



Phone booth along river bank




Palms along the river

Demopolis is where we met Troy (Bob and Vicki Rehkopf’s nephew.)   Troy operates earth-moving tractors in the area and has helped build Catfish farms. He is currently working on building a shrimp farm.   Troy took us to an operational catfish farm where we got to see him feed the fish pond.   They use a special truck that sprays the fish food pellets out over the water.  The catfish hear the truck and the pellets hitting the water and immediately start a feeding frenzy churning up the water.  The ponds are much bigger than expected; they are shaped in a square and measure two-three football fields wide.

Feeding at the Catfish Farm



After Cooks Bend Anchorage, it was a few miles to the Heflin Lock.  We passed a pusher tug with barges on the way to the lock.  When got to the lock, we hoped to get through before the barges, but were told we would have to wait.   This would mean about a two hour delay waiting for the barge to catch back up, pass us, lock through, and then wait for the lock to refill and be ready for us.  The barge traffic has priority, over pleasure boats, so all we could do was enjoy the delay … MUCH to our surprise, the barge captain said it was OK if the lock operator let us go through ahead of him.  So we quickly entered the lock with another boat (S/V Songlines) and locked though.   We thanked the captain and left a treat for him and the crew on the lock wall.


Sunrise on way to Demopolis Lock


After the catfish feeding, Troy to us to a cook out at one of his church family’s home.  It was great meeting them and sitting around a campfire eating dinner.  It was very heart warming to meet such a nice group of people.  After dinner, we sang songs around the fire. What great singers they are with excellent harmonies!   They sing acapella at their church.  We would have like to have stayed a few days, but need to keep moving south.

The river below Demopolis is very twisty and curvy. Many times the part of the river we just covered was only a short distance away over the banks.  The switch backs had us traveling north on our southern route many times.

From Demopolis, we went to Bashi Creek and anchored with two other boats rafted off of us—The Lower Place and Southern Cross.   Later, two sail boats—Country Dancer and Song Lines–came in and anchored behind us in this quiet secluded anchorage.


Cooks Bend Anchorage



Cooks Bend Anchorage



Cooks Bend Anchorage



Double Highway Bridge Along The Way

On the way to Three Rivers Lake anchorage, we went through the LAST LOCK.  In celebration of completing the last lock, Steve played a few tunes on his trumpet which included Anchors Aweigh and When the Saints Go Marching In. Those within hearing range loved hearing him play. The waterway now has tides, since there is nothing between here and the Gulf of Mexico.  The Coffeeville Lock is the last one till we get to New York (unless we take a side trip to Lake Okeechobee).

This was the 30th lock experience for this trip. We are excited to not have to secure fenders and lines to get ready to go through locks.  We locked through the Wilkins and Wheeler twice going to the rendezvous and away again.

From Bashi Creek, we traveled to Three Rivers Lake anchorage, which was a long passage back off the river.   It felt like we were really getting into the back woods.  We probably would not have gone that far, but we talked to another boat M/V Captain’s Choice that was already in the anchorage.  We were the fourth boat in that anchorage.  We did not see the alligators that the reviews talked about. Teresa was happy about that.  The river waterway ends at Mobile on Mobile Bay.  Travelling through Mobile proved extremely congested.  We saw many ships barges pusher tugs, navy ships, and more.



Approaching Mobile


Our wake looks much more frothy

Mobile shipping area

Once past Mobile, the water opens up into the Bay, and we saw open water for the first time since leaving Lake Michigan back in September.   The water is now salty and our wake looks much more frothy.   The open water allowed us to see the horizon over the water instead of the next river bank–a much welcome change.   One of the other boats saw dolphins on the way into the marina. We’re eager to see them also very soon. The sailing vessel America greeted us as we entered the bay.



Sailboat America greeting us in Mobile Bay



Sailboat America greeting us in Mobile Bay



On the bay Free At Last………


On the bay Free At Last………


Channel Marker on the bay



When docked at Dog River Marina, we plan to change oil, filters, get supplies and catch up since this is the first Wi-Fi in a while.


Sanctuary at Dog River


Sanctuary at Dog River view out our window



Nice Yacht Club on bay where we had dinner