Homecoming, life back in Pensacola

My first Great Loop is complete, this was truly a life changing experience!  It has made me realize the good that is always around us.  There are helpful people everywhere you go willing to give you a hand.  For the most part when you put out good vibes, you get good vibes in return and this is humbling.  When no one is around its natures beauty that keeps everything on a even keel.  The experiences, stories and courage this trip has given me will forever help make me a better person in my daily works.

I proudly flew my Pensacola Yacht Club burgee into every marina I stopped at.  PYC was so gracious to recognize me at a couple events for being one of only four members to complete The Great Loop.  They also granted me with Power-boater of the year!  2016 was a incredible year, Thank you so much to my family and friends who have helped make this trip a success for me.

Dog River Marina helped me with a few things I wanted to get done before I brought Pura Vida home.  Which include a bottom job, sending my propellers off for a balance, applying prop speed to the props.  Installed a new refrigerator/freezer and installed a front deck box.   My raw water impellers had right at 1,000 hours on them and still looked good!  This is very impressive because they have pumped tens of thousands of gallons of water through my cooling systems.  Its best to be safe than sorry and change them every 3 years.  Impellers go bad faster from lack of use because the rubber they are made from drys out and gets memory in the blades, affecting how well they pump water.  Chris with Expert Boat Detail got the hull shiny and protected for me once the boat was hauled out.

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“You do not grow on a secure path.  All of us should conquer something in life.  It needs a lot of work, it needs a lot of risk.  To grow and improve you need to be there at the edge of uncertainty.” -Francis Mallmann

134 miles to Mobile Alabama

We had a great night at Bobby’s Fish Camp.  From Bobby’s to the Tensaw River anchorage it is 79 miles, with the LAST lock of The Great Loop Coffeeville L&D at MM 117.  The Tensaw river anchorage is at MM 39 on the Tom Big Bee waterway, this is one of the few anchorages between Bobby’s and Mobile Bay.  We motored about a 1/2 up the Tensaw river and it is around 12′ deep where we anchored just around the bend.  We saw a few alligators swimming around when we entered the Tensaw.  We cooked some fillets and joined Inspiration for dinner.  Phil made home-made pasta sauce and we brought the steaks.  What a great feast!

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The Tensaw River anchorage to Dog River Marine is 55 miles.  Going through Mobile ship channel was very cool,  many ships from other countries, and new state of the art military ships being built by Austal.  Mobile has a neat skyline, handful of tall buildings and the beginning of the salt water !  Dog River Marina had a welcoming for me and my mom when we arrived 2:30PM on Monday October 31st.  Technically Pura Vida has been to Dog River Marina a few times and well she’s completed the Great Loop in under 1 year.  I will let her rest at Dog River a couple of months, do some maintenance to all the hard-working machenery and get some fresh bottom paint.  Hoping to bring her home to Pensacola after Christmas!

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Legendary Sonny Middleton and I after arriving at Dog River Marina where this whole dream got started with Pura Vida back in 2014.

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150 miles to Coffeeville, Bobby’s Fish Camp

Heading to Demopolis was smooth we had only one lock to go through called Heflin Lock.  This leg was 54 miles, Demopolis sells lots of diesel fuel so I fueled up here with about 224 gallons.  This will be the last time I fuel until I make it home.  We saw some beautiful limestone bluffs on this section of the river, and lots of big alligators.

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Passing a tow on the inside of a turn.

Passing on the “1” whistle

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Clotilde signed this bollard a few weeks ago and our friends behind us in their boats happened to see it and added on to the signatures.

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Demopolis water-tower

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Demopolis Yacht Basin fuel dock, there is also a nice man made basin owned by the same people with about 100 covered slips adjacent to here I wasn’t able to find a photo of

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Demopolis to Coffeeville AL, Bobby’s Fish Camp.  This was a long day at 97 miles and one lock, Demopolis L&D.  Bobbies is the last stop on the river until the Mobile Convention Center 119 miles south of here, and the first marina is Dog River which is another 14 miles past the convention center.  Bobby’s is a land mark on the river, the tows slow as they pass the small marina to keep from waking anyone.  The ladies in the restaurant make the best fried catfish around, people stop just for this!

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When I first bought Pura Vida Bryson and I came down these rivers from Nashville and I found my entry in Bobby’s guest book from 2014

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Marcus, Mom Caroline, Phil, Pam and I at Bobby’s getting a late dinner.  Connie, Marcus’s wife was nice enough to take this picture!

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Reggie, my friends Marcus and Connie’s dog from “At Last”

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Leaving Bobby’s “At Last” and “Inspiration” about to depart the dock

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Arial of Bobby’s, small joint with a huge heart .  Sometimes they tie the boats up 4 and 5 wide when there are lots of people passing through.  They also rent out camp sites.

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180 miles to Aliceville, AL

Our first let was from Grand Harbor Marina to Midway Marina, MM394 (662) 862-7306, This was a long 56 miles because we caught up with the other 14 or so loopers that were making their way to the gulf from the last big rendezvous.  We had 3 locks on this leg Witten, Montgomery, and Rankin.  Having this many boats we had to wait for all the vessels to make it into the lock to lower us all at once.  Everyone travels at different speeds so this part takes a while to get everyone to lock through at the same time.  Arriving at a marina with 14 other boats is quite the exercise of patience as well.  We noticed one boat with the bilge pump running non stop, they realized they had a raw water leak on the engine and the boat was taking on water.  Scary to think about loosing a boat in this dark river water.  That’s why you have to keep on top of all your hoses as soon as they get brittle they can split or burst at anytime.

Beautiful morning before we caught up with the flotilla

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There are only 10 bollards in each lock, some boats had to raft off to one another to accommodate everyone in the lock.  This is the biggest lock on the system at a 84′ drop

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From Midway Marina we went to Columbus Marina MM335 (662) 327-8450 this leg is 59Miles with 4 locks Fulton, Wilkins, Amory and Aberdeen.  Columbus is a great marina, they have a store, fuel and courtesy car.  Owner T Caldwell ordered some BBQ for all the loopers and we all had a great dinner celebration.  KC and Steve were here from “Jetstream” they are going to be Platinum loopers once they make it to Jacksonville.  And Cynthia and Byron from “Bright Angel” were at Columbus relaxing after crossing their wake and becoming gold loopers!  We celebrated with all the other cruisers this evening and some good stories were told.

leaving at 0700 from Midway Marina,  first wake of the day

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The last leg was from Columbus to Sumter Recreation area in Aliceville, AL.  MM270 this was a 65 mile day with 2 locks Stennis and Bevill.  Sumter Rec area is a good anchorage and there is a launching ramp here too.  I chose to do a Mediterranean Moore where you use your bow anchor and then secure the stern to the land to limit the boats ability to swing.  Our good friend Rusty and Frances invited my mom and I over for dinner at their home in Aliceville.  Rusty came and picked us up at the launching ramp.  We had a great time visiting with them and they are such great cooks and hosts!

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194 miles to Grand Harbor Marina

Leaving Green Turtle we went south through Kentucky Lake, This was very beautiful water with lots to see.  Our first stop was Pebble Isle Marina (931) 535-3827 MM204, this is 74 miles south of Green Turtle.  Kentucky Lake is one of the highlights about coming south on the river system.  Kentucky Dam creates the largest manmade lake in the eastern United States. It backs up the Tennessee River for 184 miles and creates a lake that stretches south across the western tip of Kentucky and nearly the entire width of Tennessee. At maximum normal operating level, Kentucky Lake covers 160,300 acres.

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Friends on S/V Windfall headed for the Keys and Bahamas 

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Pebble Isle has diesel for 2.19 which is the cheapest from here to Carrabelle Fl.  The owner makes great cinnamon rolls every morning for the Loopers and they have a courtesy car you can take out to dinner or on a grocery run.  Driving into this marina reminded me of the Trent Severn.

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Pebble Isle to Clifton Marina (931) 676-5225 MM140, 64 miles.  This is a perfect stop for the night, owners are very nice and so is the property 

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Clifton Marina to Grand Harbor Marina 56.3 miles and one lock Pickwick Lock & Dam start of the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway.  My sister Clotilde had been with me from Alton IL to Grand Harbor.  Our parents drove up to see us and my mom traded with my sister so she could get a taste of the cruising lifestyle on the next 400 miles home.  We got to celebrate my moms birthday that weekend as a family and enjoyed the hospitality of northern Mississippi.

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Grand Harbor (662) 667-5551 is a great marina, they have a good ship store, courtesy cars and condos to rent on site.  along with a lot of other things to do.  The marina staff is great and we met over 40 loopers here that were just getting started after leaving the fall rendezvous at Joe Wheeler State Park.  This was super special seeing all the new loopers and hearing about how they got to this point!  “Inspiration” “At Last” and “Pura Vida” cruised south together from this point forward.

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300 miles to Grand Rivers, KY

Alton Illinois to Green Turtle Bay Lake Barkley, Grand Rivers Kentucky

Our First leg was from Alton Marina MM202 to Hoppies MM158. We have 2 locks on this leg, leaving Alton we went directly into Mel Price Lock. Mel Price lock was interesting, after an hour of waiting they finally allowed us inside the lock.   Our suspicions were correct and the lock was full of trees, Full size full-length trees lol. Inspiration was first in and they pushed some logs out of the way for us. This lock only lowered us 4’ because they have the dams’ wide open on the Mississippi to keep the water as low as possible because of all the flooding in the Midwest. They want to keep ahead of the floodwaters to prevent it from backing up on the Mississippi and flooding any towns. So the river is being kept as low as possible. We arrived at Hoppies and Fern Hopkins the Legend aka Hoppies wife made sure we were tied up secure in the 4kt Current. Fern has a Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee River seminar every day at 1600. She started with how to disembark from her floating docks in the heavy current. This was a good refresher for everyone. She told us about all the good safe spots on this 270mile trek from Hoppies to Green Turtle Marina. There are no marinas in between. Fern keeps up with all the river news every day, she has been doing this forever. Hoppies has been around since 1934, this is a must stop while traveling south on the Mississippi. Fern is a doll and we are all so thankful to know her and carry her wisdom south with us.  They don’t make them like this anymore yall. We stayed there with 6 other loop boats. We all went out for BBQ it was a great time! It was great to catch up with my friends Patty and Randy on their way down the river. I originally met them in Apalachicola when I had first started the loop and we crossed the Gulf at the same time. It was so great to see them and know things are going well. They switched from a beautiful sailboat to a really cool Ranger Tug ½ way through their loop! Life is so grand; don’t ever take a second of it for granted. Thank you for all these amazing people that come into my life every day.

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From Hoppies to Kaskaskia mm118 it was another smooth run with no locks. We were tied up to the lock wall by 1330. We convoyed with “Inspiration” and “Sandy Gal” our new Canadian looper friends Rachel and Nick. Kaskaskia is a lock up a river .4miles from the Mississippi, with usually no current. They allow you to tie to the lock wall after you get permission from the lockmaster on VHF ch14. This is one of Ferns recommended stops. She keeps in good standing with the locations so they continue to let you use the locations as overnight stops.

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Kaskaskia lock to Boston Bar MM7.7 we departed Kaskaskia at 0730 it was cold and overcast but a beautiful morning sky. Today was a long run 112 miles; we passed many barges on this leg. Pura Vida was the lead boat so we made all the radio contact with the barges all day and worked out the passing schemes. There are hundreds of blind turns on the Mississippi so watching the AIS and having AIS is so important. We made 12.5kts the whole way. Boston Bar is a great anchorage, we went in first and Clotilde dropped the anchor once we were happy with where we were located. Good 1kt current that keeps the boats in a straight line, and the bar that extends across offers great protection. It also insures no down bound boats will interfere with our anchorage. 8’-10’ depths inside the cove use anchor alarm! We had dock tales on “Sandy Gal” and talked about the next leg of the excursion. We are now only 7 miles from where the Mississippi meets the Ohio River.

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Boston Bar just under the surface

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Boston Bar to Cumberland Towhead Island anchorage, MM0 Cumberland River. We hit the Ohio River 7 miles past our Boston Bar anchorage. Its 58 miles from where you enter the Ohio to where you get onto the Cumberland. The current was now against us, we went from 14kts to 8.5 once we hit the Ohio. The first lock is lock 53 Olmstead Lock. We had a government boat escort us through this lock because its still under construction. The escort lead us for probably 2 miles and also made sure we made it through the old lock 52 which is taken apart but still presents a hazard to navigation. We arrived at the newly named lock 52, its about 18 miles past the old decommissioned 52. We waited here two hours. We made it to Towhead Island Anchorage MM0 Cumberland River right at sunset. This is a great anchorage. Latitude: 37*06’.587N Longitude: 088*25’.759W Make sure you enter this anchorage from the south side, as under water walls extend out on the north end. Come in from the bottom of the island and leave the same way you entered. There is plenty of water and very protected, we slept great all night.

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Cumberland MM0 to Green Turtle Bay resort marina MM32. We only have one lock this leg at MM30 Barkley Lock and dam. Barkley dam was put in to form Lake Barkley and also use the lake water to make electricity with the hydro generation facility inside the dam. The Cumberland River has been smooth and the tows have been very friendly to us. The current is running 1.5kts against us. We had to wait about 90 minutes to get through Barkley because there was a tow going up “Nashville Hunter” there is plenty of room to anchor up in the dam area, we rafted together with “Sandy Gal” and “Inspiration”. Green Turtle is right at the topside of Barkley Lock in Barkley Lake. This is a great marina with tons to do and see. There are hundreds and hundreds of boat slips and 90% of them are covered. Great food here and the whole town is golf cart friendly so renting one for 20$ a day is a great way to see the town. They have a spa gym and anything else you could think of.  Green Turtle Bay 1-800-498-0428  Latitude: N 37* 00.457’     Longitude: W 088* 13.538’

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182 miles to St. Louie

It’s been a great three days of cruzin.  First leg we did one lock. Peoria Lock, distance today 77miles.  The day was great slightly over cast and windy out. Beardstown was our first stop; Pura Vida and Inspiration spent the night on the side of a barge. This is a great overnight spot for people passing through and wanting to check out a great small town.  This is the only transient space in this town, N40-01.05 W90-26.30 Contact Logston Tug Service for space (217) 323-1290 MM88.4 There is a small fee for overnight dockage and no services are offered.  If you phone ahead a deck hand can assist in catching your lines.

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Barge headed up the river at night, spotlights blazing a path

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Second leg is from Beardstown to Harden with 1 lock Lagrange lock.  Distance today, 69 miles with lots of open stretches.  Hilly terrain and plenty of water depth.  The current is helping our speed around ½ a knot on this part of the Illinois. There are lots of cool homes built on stilts, keep an eye out for logs.  Many buoys are broken off and lying on shore.  It’s amazing how many abandoned barges line the riverbank.  This night we are spending the night at Illinois Riverdock Restaurant, formally Mel’s   (618) 576-2363.  It’s a 250’ face dock on the river, no services but only 25$ a night at MM21 Illinois River.

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Third leg is from Beardstown to Alton Marina in St. Louis, distance today 36 miles.  Rain in the AM before we left, the river is very wide in these parts.  Deep water 15-25’ the Illinois joins the Mississippi at Mississippi MM218.  Debris is heavy on Illinois and even more so on the Mississippi.  The current was pushing us an extra 3 knots, this really helps speed and fuel economy.  Tons of logs trees and buoys litter the water, some buoys are sitting right under the surface from the crazy current.  Harbor Master Greg will be happy to have you at Alton Mariana MM202 (618) 462-9860 A bunch of my looper friends are here and we have been having a great ole time.  Watching the Mississippi from the marina is great.  all the goods and materials being moved by barge, and all the debris floating by from the flooding a week ago is a site to see.

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Alton Marina covered slips, buy 3 nights get 3 free.  1$ a foot covered, hot tubs, pools, nice deli and ship store.  Many businesses offer free rides to and from the marina. 

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