Christmas Day at the Beach on Honeymoon Island, Florida

You can enjoy Christmas on a boat complete with a Christmas tree, decorations, presents, and a nativity! After opening presents with the kids and grand kids on the boat, we rode out to Honeymoon Island finding waves to jump in, shells to collect, and sandcastles to build.

Teresa had special T-shirts made for a photo op on the beach.   Christmas in the white sand and sun is so much better than snow regardless of what “Currier and Ives” scenes advertise. #FeelingBlessed

 

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Christmas in Florida 2016

 

 

 

Sun, Sand, Shells, Swimming, Snorkeling, Shopping, Special Friends and family, getting ready for Christmas

There are many things to do in the Dunedin area.   Popular attractions include Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island—both state parks.  There are miles of beaches on Honeymoon Island.   We took our dinghy over to Caladesi Island which is also accessible by ferry. While there, I captured quite a few bird pictures and shells.

A few days later when Amanda arrived, we took the dinghy to Honeymoon Island.   We collected shells on both islands, but found the north end of Honeymoon Island scattered with hundreds and hundreds of Fighting Conch Shells.   Scott and Karen from Last Call also took their dinghy along for the trip.    We took lunches and enjoyed a long day on the beach.   After swimming, snorkeling, and shelling, we continued around Honeymoon Island in the dinghies completing a circle of the island.

We visited the stores in downtown Dunedin with Bob, Vicki and Angie Rehkopf who drove over from their place in Lakeland Florida.  There are many unique shops to investigate, and unlike many waterfront towns, they are not all T-shirt shops.

Sanctuary is looking very festive with a decorated tree and many Christmas presents.  Since our one and only tree is rather small, the presents are up on the dash area instead of under the small tree.   Stockings (shell collector bags) hung from the ship’s wheel with care. Current Christmas Day weather prediction: 81 degrees and sunny!

 

We are excited to share our lovely weather and venue with our son Andrew, wife Bethany, and the grandkids!  They’re currently making their way down to us by land, so we are getting ready for their visit.  This will be our first Christmas spent in Florida. Normally, we gather in either Michigan or Minnesota. Just think: opening gifts on a boat Christmas morning … space will be tight, but that is okay. All are eager to soak up sun and each other’s presence as we celebrate together the birth of Jesus, God’s only son.

Wishing you and yours a Very Merry and Blessed Merry Christmas!

 

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Birds on the Beach

 

 

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Teresa and Amanda enjoying the beach

 

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Dinghys on the beach

 

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Shell Collection

 

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Collecting Shells

 

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Loopers on the beach at Honeymoon Island

 

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Loopers on the beach at Honeymoon Island Steve and Teresa with Scot and Karen from Last Call

 

 

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Snowman “Olaf” on Sanctuary

Christmas in Florida

 

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Heron visiting boat next to us in marina

 

 

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Just another Sunset……….

 

 

What Were We Thinking………..trading white sand for snow……..

We left the sunshine and 80° temperatures of Florida for a trip home to Michigan.   Just where did I last see my coat, gloves, socks and boots? While it was great seeing friends and family we have not seen for a few months,  the weather was a significant change!    It was warm inside visiting with everyone, but somewhat chilly outside.

So this is our public service contribution for you loopers still south who thought you were experiencing cold weather and for those who might be missing snow.

 

 

 

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Local 8-day forecast

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This is what over a foot of fresh snow on the deck looks like

 

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Sidewalk cleared of snow

 

We plan to head back to Dunedin FL tomorrow.   Looking forward to our children and grandchildren joining us for Christmas in Florida!

 

 

Winter and Christmas Lights in Florida

 

At Clearwater, we visited the Marine Aquarium where Winter the dolphin lives and the movie Dolphin Tail was filmed.  We saw Winter and Hope both swimming in their pool area.   So we can say we saw Winter in Florida.  While we were there, the trainer worked with Winter and gave her massages to help keep her spine as straight as possible due to her missing tail.

From Clearwater Beach Marina, we moved the boat to Marker 1 Marina in Dunedin.  On the way, we stopped by No-name Island where we had anchored before.   The plan was to stop for a swim and have lunch before we headed into the marina a short distance away.  Once anchored, we saw a flock of Roseate Spoonbills fly over.  They were such an unusual pink color and sight, they seemed almost like imaginary. After a short swim, we noticed a cloud and fog bank in the distance that seemed to be getting closer.   In just a few minutes, the weather changed from “sunny, let’s go for a swim” to “fog, misty rain, and I hope we can find our way.”  We quickly pulled anchor and headed for the marina.  The fog and misty rain did not last long and we soon found our way into the marina, but it did add some excitement to the trip.

The City of Dunedin has many interesting shops, restaurants, and hosts a Christmas Boat parade.    Marker 1 Marina is the staging point for the start of the parade where many boats displayed full holiday dress for the parade.  We have never seen that many Christmas lights and decorations on a boat!   Some of the boat installations took many days to create. One of the boats even had a live band on the bow.  It was great fun to see all the boats lighted and decorated.  The best part was watching Christmas lights in shorts, a tee shirt, and sandals.

 

Clearwater Aquarium where Winter and Hope live

 

 

Roseate Spoonbills fly over where we anchored for a swim and lunch

 

A swim and then storm clouds…..

 

Boats decorated for the Christmas Light Parade 

 

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Sunset at Dunedin from Marker 1 Marina

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Sunset at Dunedin on the Bay

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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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.

 

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Amazing Sunset at No-Name Island near Dunedin

 

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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.

 

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Osprey on Moonshine Island.

 

 

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Osprey on Moonshine Island visits Sanctuary

 

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

 

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

 

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White sand of Clearwater Beach

 

Sunset from Frenchy’s at Clearwater Beach

 

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Night scene at Clearwater Beach

 

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Sanctuary adorned with Christmas Lights!

 

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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.

 

 

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Sanctuary and Last Call at Turtle Cove in Tarpon Springs

 

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Looper Thanksgiving

 

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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.

 

 

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Loopers on the Gulf

 

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Sun Rise on the Gulf

 

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The Finish Mark

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

 

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Spanish Moss along river

 

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Phone booth along river bank

 

 

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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.

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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.

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Cooks Bend Anchorage

 

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Cooks Bend Anchorage

 

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Cooks Bend Anchorage

 

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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.

 

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Approaching Mobile

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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.

 

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Sailboat America greeting us in Mobile Bay

 

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Sailboat America greeting us in Mobile Bay

 

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On the bay Free At Last………

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On the bay Free At Last………

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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.

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Sanctuary at Dog River

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Sanctuary at Dog River view out our window

 

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Nice Yacht Club on bay where we had dinner

 

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Kentucky Lake – Another day another bay……….

There are so many interesting bays all along the “Land Between the Lakes” that create good anchorages.  We left Pisgah Bay and went to Sugar Bay followed by Panther Bay.   Leaving Sugar Bay, the wind was blowing quite strong from the south and we saw the first waves and white caps since leaving Lake Michigan.  While they were only 2’ or so, it was a change from the recent rivers.  Kentucky Lake is a few miles wide at this point so the waves have a distance to build.

After a couple nights in Panther Bay, we plan to move to Richardson Bay and then on to Pebble Isle Marina.  Both Sugar and Panther have simple rustic campgrounds where we took the dinghy to shore and explored.   In Panther Bay, we have been watching Eagles, Blue Heron and Great White Egrets.  We also fished some and caught small striped bass.  At sunset, we tossed our lines in the water and surprisingly caught striped bass one after another! The bays and anchorages are so peaceful and quiet making them a good place to relax and just chill.

Panther Bay is the most remote and quiet of all the bays so far. After the star constellations appeared, we sat on the bow of the boat marveling at their individuality and brightness. With no other buildings, people, or outside artificial lighting, the sky lights up with spectacular brilliance! The virgin sky view reminds us of fond times anchored outside of South Manitou Island in Upper Michigan.

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Leaving Pisgah Bay hitting waves on Kentucky Lake

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Steve and Teresa on the Great Loop 2016

 

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Steve and Teresa on the Great Loop 2016

Celebrating Mary’s (from Jaycie Lynn) Birthday on Sanctuary

 

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Sanctuary anchored in Sugar Bay

 

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Small Stripped Bass in Panther Bay

Some of the Birds along the shore

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Sunsets and Sunrises so beautiful on the bays

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Green Turtle Bay Marina Resort to Kentucky Lake

We finally escaped Green Turtle Bay and after 8 days, it was agreed: time to move on.  We enjoyed our time there and took in a number of local activities.  One was the local play house, Badgett Playhouse, which was playing   “The Sounds of Memphis – the rhythm, the blues, the king.”   We enjoyed the musical very much and has been held over for a number of weeks.   They played tributes to Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Elvis, and many, many more.  The players and audience really get into their music–talk about enthusiastic, get-down, and get excited. What a lively bunch! Teresa decided she lives in the wrong part of the country—this is her type of music. Says she could live on a steady diet of the music and good ole Southern cooking! Especially touching, was their ending tribute to veterans and those serving in service for our country.

We toured town on a golf cart.   Visited the “Pink Tractor”–a ladies clothing store and Teresa just had to climb aboard the pink tractor out front.   Visiting the local bait shop was an experience which included, pet lizards, huge frogs, and lots of unique stuff.  The area outside around Patti’s 1800’s Settlement had many old buildings, shops, and unique bird houses.

On Sunday, we went to a local Missionary Baptist Church. The congregation was very friendly, and the pastor started out by saying   ”Good mornin’ and how are y’all today?”  Singing from an actual hymnal felts like we went back in time a number of years.  Our home church mainly sings praise songs, choruses or has the words for the hymns on the screen.   Teresa gave the pastor a copy of her book “Life is: Good, Fragile, Precious—Loving yourself so you can love others” for the church library, and he was excited to read it.

Once out of Green Turtle Bay, we traveled through the channel, from Lake Barkley to Kentucky Lake.  The two “lakes” which are really dammed up rivers (the Cumberland and the Tennessee) surround the area called “Land Between The Lakes,”   which is a National Recreation Area.   All along the “Land Between The Lakes” are a number of small bays and inlets that make good anchorages.   We traveled to Pisgah Bay and plan to spend a couple nights anchored here. When we leave, we will keep moving south from one anchorage area to another.

The anchorage is very quiet and secluded.  There is a camp ground at either end of the bay.   Teresa and I tried our hand at fishing and caught some striped bass. Even though they weren’t terribly big, they were fighters! Once the clouds cleared last night, it was great to see all the stars.  They are much more vivid away from all the lights of a city area.

 

 

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Bird Houses at Patti’s 1800’s Settlement

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Bird Houses at Patti’s 1800’s Settlement

 

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Steve and Teresa at GTB

 

The Sounds Of Memphis Musical at Badgett Playhouse

 

Sights around Grand Rivers

 

 

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Leaving GTB

 

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Leaving GTB

 

Rocky Shore of Pisgah Bay

 

The Quarry in Pisgah Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starry Night in Pisgah Bay

 

Fishing in Pisgah Bay

 

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Sanctuary in Pisgah Bay on Kentucky Lake part of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

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Sanctuary in Pisgah Bay on Kentucky Lake part of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

 

We plan to stay here another night and then move south to another bay and spend a night or two there and then repeat.  There are many bays to check out on the Lake.

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