Friday, September 25, 2020

Saving Midnight Sun III - Hurricane Sally

Hurricane Sally (landfall September 16, 2020)

I wish I was writing this post under  better circumstances, but as they say, "it is what it is".   Let me first say that Janet, Austin, and I are fine as are our dogs Salty and Annabelle.  

We had been carefully watching the development of Hurricane Sally.  This was the storm that came from nowhere, moving across Florida as a disturbance and stalling in the Gulf of Mexico.  The National Hurricane Center first gave it a track towards Louisiana, about 350 miles west of us.  But we watched as slow but sure the model runs started trending east.  Equally worrying, this was a slow moving storm - first predicted to be a Tropical Storm.  But as it moved at a snails pace over the Gulf (3 mph), it grew in magnitude and its path became unpredictable.

Here's what we got

The storm path went just east of Mobile Bay through Orange Beach and pretty much over our home which is located on Perdido Bay.  Unlike most hurricanes, this storm was a very slow mover.  Official reports to date clocked this one as 
a strong Category 2 storm.  Unofficially, we are pretty sure it was a Cat 3.  We know we had winds that lasted for over 4 hours in the 100-130mph range and on either side of that, winds in the 70+ mph range for 3-4 hours on each end.

While we were safe in our house, the noises were incredible. Wind, debris hitting the house, shingles tearing off the roof.  Of course all of this happened in the early hours of the morning and after the power blew out.  We were also watching the rising surge water.  Our floor slab is about 9.5 ft above sea level and a
4-7 ft surge was predicted.  We are on the water but on a bay about 2 miles inland from the Gulf........so I thought we may get 5-6 ft at the house given attenuation from the bay and time needed for water to reach us through the Perdido Pass inlet.  Well that was not the case.  We got about 7-8 ft at the house and water was 6-8 inches from flooding the house (accounting for waves).  We had water in the garage and shed with waves.  

We had moved one car to higher ground - just in case.  The 2 in the garage got wet tires, but didn't flood.  

Fortunately we had made a last minute decision to put up storm shutters and during the storm we braced the garage door with 2 x 4 timbers to prevent it from blowing in.  Strongest winds came from the east across Perdido Bay bringing waves and debris from neighbors' docks that typically run 300-400 ft into the Bay.

We were watching the boat, Midnight Sun III carefully in her slip.  I had tied her in with just about all the lines that I had - about 18 lines in total.  Our dock is very protected and perhaps one of the better spots to ride out a storm.  The boat was tied to the dock, the boathouse and trees.  She was doing very well, then with the water above the dock, and at the height of the 130mph winds, I noticed something was wrong.  With a flashlight, I could see the stern of the boat sitting up and the bow down.  It took several minutes peering in the dark with winds howling to realize that a large tree had fallen on her. With the wind noise, we didn't hear the tree go down.  It was a very stout 50+ ft high oak tree, measuring almost 4 ft in diameter at the base.  Holy crap!....but we could do nothing.  I suspect but can't confirm that we had a tornado amid the storm, and flood waters had definitely saturated the soils and loosened the tree's root structure.   On closer look the mast of the boat was gone, but the boat seemed to be pinned by the tree but floating.

As Morning Light Came



Midnight Sun III pinned by tree

Tree laying across Bows




Debris in our yard


Everyone had debris from destroyed docks

About 50 percent shingles missing from roof


View from Roof


I can't describe it in words, but to see out paradise destroyed was simply overwhelming.  Where do you start?  I remembered the old joke - how do you eat an elephant?   Answer - one piece at a time.  Two weeks earlier I had surgery for a hernia - my instructions were not to lift anything over 2 pounds for 6 weeks.So add overwhelming frustration to those feelings.


When Friends Really Count

Our phones lit up with messages from friends checking on us.  Thank you everyone for your concern.  Janet and I can't thank you all enough!
  
But what really was amazing was the people that showed up to help.  So I must mention them - with apologies to anyone that I miss:
  • Our daughter Helen immediately loaded up with tarps, chainsaw, gas, rubber boots.......you name it; and drove down (10 hours) from Tennessee.  Then climbed on the roof with Austin (our son) and I to tar holes and place tarps.  Helen and Austin - we love you and can't imagine what we would have done without you!
  • Friend and former colleague Jeff Simons similarly drove from Birmingham and helped for 3 days.  Cutting and moving debris and anything else he could lend a hand with.  Jeff was similarly amazing - thank you so much.....words can't describe!
  • Sailing friends Larry and Tracy and their son Taylor were there despite having damage to their own boat.  They started the process of cutting away tree limbs off the boat........and many other things - thank you guys!  You are the best as always!  The job was looking too big and we needed a heavy lift, so I started the search for a crew with a crane.
  • Jared Patterson came to lend a hand with removal
  • Shaun West and Casey Kimberley arrived.......on a tractor loaned to them by Pirates Cove Bar..  now that was a true "God-send"  Shaun spent the better part of a day 
Shaun and Pirates Cove Tractor

moving and stacking debris, with help from Jeff.  Without the tractor, we would have still been moving debris.  Thank you Shaun and thank you Pirate's Cove!
  • And of course all of our neighbors helped each other where we could.  Mike, Cathy, Ron and Cindy - thank you!  But a special thank you to neighbors Paula and Kenny for allowing heavy equipment access by their driveway!
  • Pirates Cove Bar made burgers for the neighborhood and gave away beer for 2 days, despite having their bar/grill essentially destroyed.
  • The adjacent neighborhood (Stone Quarry) made BBQ for several hundred people
  • The Red Cross showed up with meals, tools, water and supplies.



Saving Midnight Sun

I worked the phones.....filing insurance claims, and trying to find a way to get the tree off the boat.  While Geico (boat insurance) were good, they would not commit to what they would pay to get the tree off.  So I took it into my own hands - it had to come off and quickly if we were going to save her. We will argue about money later!

I got a couple of tree services to quote......after sticker shock, I hired the one that had the crane available.  4 guys and a crane from Trinity Excavating worked for 2 days to remove the tree, and recover the mast from the canal.  They did it "piece by piece" (just like eating an elephant).  They caused no further damage - which was amazing!. 






 More amazingly, it seems that damage to the boat is fairly superficial.
  • no holes!
  • bent stanchions and hardware
  • scratches seem superficial
  • some damage to solar panels
  • broken mast
  • and I am sure we will find more as we get into it
  • After tree removal, it took 60 man-hours to clean off the sawdust and staining from the tree and debris.  I pressure washed her 3 times, and had to chemically clean the decks, coachroof, and cockpit.

The bottom line is - she is saved and repairable!  Midnight Sun III will sail again!  How long it will take to get a new mast from France......????  we shall see.  But our good friends at Zern Rigging are already starting the process.

Our insurance adjuster has now seen the boat and has approved us to commence estimates and repairs.  I know it will take several months, but we will get there.

Branches removed

The Root Ball



Now to start Repairs


The trunk


Mast Recovery



























I will keep you posted as we make progress!.....Thank you everyone for your support and encouragement.   More to follow!


We are Thankful

Our  hearts go out to all of our friends that are in worst shape than us.  There are many.  We are thankful to be living, thankful for no injuries.  For those of you that know us, you will know that sailing and the sailing community here on the Gulf of Mexico is a huge part of our lives.  Unfortunately, about 50 percent of our sailing friends have had major damage or a total loss of their boat plus (in some cases) damage to their homes.  I will not name all the boats that have been lost, as everyone is still dealing with it in their own way.  Although they are fundamentally inanimate objects - boats have a special place in the heart of their owners.  Especially the ones that have carried their owners safely across oceans!



Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Trip to the Forgotten Coast

Back to Florida's Forgotten Coast

Florida's Forgotten Coast

Cape San Blas, Florida
If you read my blog on a regular basis.you may have seen several posts about Florida's Forgotten Coast.  Maybe that is because its one of my favorite cruising grounds.  Having now sailed from Europe, through the Caribbean, Mexico, Bahamas, Cuba......well I have to say, this is still one of my favorite cruising grounds.  Why? - white, deserted beaches; virtually no plastic debris; nice anchorages, blue water; friendly towns and locals........and its close to home.  All attributes that  go a long way towards making it a special place!

Our Trip

Our trip took us from home to Ft. McCree, Pensacola for an overnight stay.  We left McRee at around 8am with nice winds from the S, to SW.  The seas were a little big and confused due to the remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal which came through the area over the weekend.  But all in all not bad and the south winds were perfect for our ENE sail to Panama City.

We made great time with speeds generally over mid 7s and regularly into the 8s and 9s.  We were able to fly our Code Zero sail all the way.  We did get a little close to its rated 20 kt apparent wind speed, but all was good.

I think the top speed that I saw for the day was 10.9kts.  Which is pretty respectable for a cruising cat in winds that didn't exceed about 18kts.

It was a great sail, and we made it into Panama City/St. Andrews Bay well before dark anchoring near Shell Island.
Shell Island, St. Andrews Bay

Salty enjoyed stretching his legs after a long 85 mile day-sail on the shore at Shell Island.and all was good for the night.

The following day (Thursday) we set sail again for Cape San Blas/St. Joe's Bay.  The wind was light and nowhere near as cooperative so it was a motor sail, but with full sail and one engine running, we were making a respectable 6.5 to 7 kts making it a sort 25 mile day to the anchorage at the  tip of Cape San Blas.

After a night at the Cape, we continued on to Apalachicola and spent a night at the Apalachicola Marina.  Well marina is a bit of a stretch - its a long side-tie dock with power and water, an that's the extent of the facilities.  But its a great location right across the street from Apalachicola Ice Company (Bar).  Salty enjoyed talking to the bar staff and listening to the band!
Salty orders drinks at the Apalachicola Ice Company















The following day, we moved on again and headed for Carabelle and Dog Island.  The first night we
anchored just off  Carabelle Beach for a smooth night at anchor.  The following day, we explored Dog Island.  We headed over to the east end first and explored the area around Tyson's Harbor.  I was surprised at the number of homes on this private island and cars - since there is no ferry service that supports the island..  There is apparently a water taxi available from Carabelle.
Anchored off East End of Dog Island



For the evening, we moved down to Shipping Cove on the west end of the island.  This proved to be a great spot with a nice beach that formed a narrow barrier between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  The view from the anchorage was great, and the narrow sandy beach between us and the Gulf provided protection from any wave action.
Shipping Cove - Sandy Beach separating Gulf and Bay

Returning Home

The following day we decided reluctantly to start the return journey.  Looking ahead at the weather, we saw less favorable winds - not heavy, just with a west component making it "uphill sailing".  We decided that we would sail on the outside (Gulf) on the return.  Our boat-buddy, Tra-Sea indeed did this.  We set off out of the pass and conditions were not great.  We were hobby-horsing and the admiral  was not feeling great.  She had been a trouper as she is recovering from a bout of Shingles.  So, given the discomfort we elected to follow our outbound tracks and return via the bay and ICW to Cape San Blas.


We actually had a great downwind (dead downwind) sail across St. George's Bay before motoring along the ICW/Apalachicola River.  It was a nice comfortable trip and I think the admiral approved of the route!  Surprisingly, we arrived in St. Joes Bay just ahead of Tra-Sea and again spent the night just off Cape San Blas.

The following day we moved the boats and anchored just off the entrance to the old marina which as destroyed by hurricane Michael and to date has not been re-built.  It does seem however that a portion of the marina sea wall is actually public and is outside the fenced area.  We ere able to tie up our dinghies to the wall for a  visit into town.  There is also a fishing charter boat that seems to be operating from this spot.  We love the town of Port St. Joe.  It is so friendly and the town is not over-run with tourists (most of the time).  We had a great lunch at Krazyfish, got a few provisions from the Pig (Piggly Wiggly), and of course had "just one more" at the Haughty Heron.

St. Joes Bay
We decided to try a different anchorage for the night and new spot for us.  We moved the boats down
to the south end of St. Joes Bay to an area known as Lighthouse Bay.  We attempted to dinghy over to to a relatively new brew pub called Scallop Republic.located near Salinas Park.  Unfortunately we tried this at low tide and water in the majority of this end of the bay was less than one foot deep.  We got to within about 100 yards..........but the girls were not up for walking in the mud!!.....so it was drinks and dinner on the boat.

The following day we sailed back to St. Andrews and were able to dock at the St. Andrews Yacht Club.  even though still suffering from some storm damage, the club is open, and they have one floating dock available with no power or water.  The staff were great adn very helpful.  We actually stayed 2 nights making use of thier nice swimming pool.  We then headed onwards to Destin. for the night.

Lost Prop!

As we arrived in Destin, we discovered we had lost a prop somewhere en-route.  No idea how or where!  it was definitely on the boat as we motored out of the pass.  We then sailed; but when we headed to wind to drop sails, we had limited control and no drive from the port side.  After safely anchoring in Destin Harbor, a quick dip in the water confirmed that a prop was missing......Geez - no idea where that went.  its a folding Flexofold........so it will be $$$$$$$$$.   The following day we limped home on one engine...upwind.  We motorsailed as and when we could to keep a reasonable speed.   So now the search is on for a replacement prop.  It looks like it will have to be shipped from Denmark as none of the US prop shops seem to stock them.  Ugh......oh well - that's sailing!



Sunday, June 7, 2020

More Progress with our Sailing Videos - Atlantic Crossing!

Latest Video of our Atlantic Crossing Series

Covid lockdown has given me a little more time to work on the video series from our Atlantic crossing.  I really want to get this entire trip chronicled as soon as possible.

Well I am happy to report that I just completed Episode 8 of the series which takes us from Antigua to the Bahamas.  Here is a link to the lastst video in the series.



And if you are interested in viewing the entire 8 episode series.  Here is a link to the Playlist.  i think it will take one, possible teo more episodes to complete the documentation of the trip back to "Sweet Home Alabama"......hopefully I can keep up the motivation and complete that within a couple of weeks!  However, i am planning a sailing trip to Apalachicola........so that might add a delay!

Here's a link to the 8 Episode Playlist:





Friday, May 8, 2020

Social Distancing....Sailing...dealing with COVID

Trip to Chandeleur Islands

In these challenging times, we have decided to "social distance" on our boat and to continue to explore within the limits of the Local State Orders and with reasonable precautions.  Florida, Alabama, and neighboring Gulf States have not outlawed recreational boating and in fact consider it an "essential recreational activity".  To that end, we have been travelling with our closest friends Larry and Tracy (who we spend most of our time with), on our respective boats - SV Midnight Sun III and SV TraSea .

During the last 2-3 months we have explored some of the less well known anchorages around our local area which includes many of the bays between Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay.  I must start by saying that typically when we explore the coastal areas in our area, we typically head east.  Why?  Well the water is clearer, the beaches are some of the best in the world........and some of our favorite destinations such as Apalachicola and St. Joes Bay are located to our east and within a day or two sailing.

But this time, to be different, we decided we would explore west.  We live (and keep our boat) just west of Pensacola, Fl on Arnica Bay, Alabama.  So a trip west starts with a ride down the Alabama Canal (ICW) to Mobile Bay.  Most local sailors (including me) tend to avoid Mobile Bay.  The water is shallow, the discharging rivers provide a high sediment loading, and there are a significant number of oil and gas structures.  It has a reputation for being a rough bay to cross - not huge waves, but under the wrong conditions, 4 ft waves with a 4 second period just make for an uncomfortable ride.

Notwithstanding this, we were looking at a week of terrific weather, and we decided this would be a good time to explore the rarely cruised Chandeleur Islands of Louisiana.  The islands are located in the Mississippi Delta and are known by fishermen as great fishing grounds.  The screenshot below shows our path and their position.  Sorry - I forgot to turn on the tracker until we were offshore, but you can connect the dots from our home (red flag), along the ICW , across Mobile bay, and along the coastal islands.


We spent the first night at Dauphin Island, just on the west side of Mobile Bay.  While this is often a forgotten anchorage, there were actually several sailboats anchored in what we consider the best anchorage on the south side of the island.  The approach looks shallow, but the instructions on Active Captain are good - basically follow the ship channel out to buoy 15; turn west and head for the 4 ft area shown on the chart.....don't worry, there's nothing less than 9 ft even at low tide.  Then you will see that Pelican Island has joined with Dauphin to create an anchorage (8-12 ft deep) that is pretected by low dunes on almost all sides.  It has best protection from north winds, but is fine for moderate blows in all directions.  There is a great little bar/restaurant called Pirates Bar......right now during the COVID Pandemic, they are only serving wings and pizza to go........but normally they have pretty good food and you can use their pool for a few bucks.  


Beach - Dauphin Island  - South Side





The beaches at Dauphin island are quite nice and generally clean.  The water is not great due to the sediment load from Mobile Bay.












There are some good views to be had - such as Middle Light in Mobile Bay.  Its really quite a sight and you can sail by it within a few hundred feet.



But then there are also the other extremes - the oil and (more likely) gas production platforms.  Some in operation, and some abandoned.....but all in all, quite a collection of rusting engineering "junk metal". 


But it is what it is......this is what Mobile Bay and the western Gulf have to offer!  They light up the sky at night with their gas flares, and its quite a sight.




From Dauphin Island we continued west with a short daysail  to Petit Bois Island (pronounced locally as "Pettyboy").  Here, the beaches were a little nicer, and the water a little clearer..  The view to the south was of the Gulf and a few gas structures, but to the north had the appearance of "Gotham City", due to the presence of refineries and shipping facilities in the port of Pascagoula.
But still - it was a pleasant place to be.

From Petit Bois, we headed SW towards the Chandeleur chain.  We had very settled weather.  once we got midway along the chain, we saw a number of "hotel boats" used by fishing guides to accommodate charter fishing trips.  Some were larger boats (50-70 ft) and another was a "pole boat" jacked up on spuds.  The guides use these as a base and take out their clients out on small skiffs......needed to navigate the shallow waters.

We spent a couple of nights here and did some dinghy exploring and fishing.....but unfortunately not much catching.  We are sailors - not fishermen, and we were either in the wrong spot at the wrong time, or had the wrong tackle.....or more likely, both!

So the Chandeleurs are certain beautiful in a remote way.  But I have to say, there's no protection in a blow;
Chandeleur Islands - near North Islands
land access is very difficult due to shallow water (even with dinghy), mangroves and few beaches. We took our dog Salty......he wasn't impressed by the one island we accessed which was comprised of broken shells and bird poop........with an alligator pond in the middle.  So after 2 nights - well Salty was ready to leave - and so were we.  We were so glad to have settled weather as this is not the place to be in a blow!.

Horn Island....Salty enjoys a swim!





We headed back along our tracks, but stayed the night at Horn Island.  To me, this was the nicest stop on this trip with very nice beaches, and pretty good water quality.  We stayed at the eastern anchorage marked on Active Captain -
and thoroughly enjoyed the overnight stop.  From there, we went back to Dauphin Island for the night and offshore to Ft. Mcree, near Pensacola Pass.






TraSea flies their Spin!




But Ft. Mcree, Florida.....still one of our favorite spots (but avoid weekends in summer!)


In Summary

We enjoyed our trip to the Chandeleurs.  We have meant to do this trip for several years but always favoured heading east.  I am glad we made the trip - the area is beautiful in a remote way....but I think we will continue to favor heading east on future coastal trips!  Horn Island was the nicest stop of the trip to me......I would definitely return there.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

It's been a while ....dealing with COVID

Hello friends!
I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe in these very trying times.  Today is my birthday (April 15) and I feel so blessed that thus far, our family has not been seriously impacted by the COVID -19 virus.  I say "seriously impacted" a little tongue in cheek as we have many family members, in both the UK and USA that work in the healthcare field, and are dealing daily with patients and the very worrying risk of bringing something home.  My hat goes off to all healthcare workers that are continuing on a daily basis to take care of sick patients and help us through this time.

SV Shenanigans anchored in Tarkiln Bay
Janet and I are at our home on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  I cannot think of a better place to self isolate - our county is reporting very low number of infections.....but who knows how many they are testing!  Outdoor activities (which includes recreational boating) is still considered an "essential activity" in both Alabama and Florida.  For the
Exploring Tarkiln Bayou by Dinghy
most part, I have seen most boaters (especially sailboats) being very compliant and sensible with maintaining social distancing.  But lets face it, if you anchor, you are typically more than 100 ft from your neighbor, and most people don't travel with over 10 people on the boat - heck 3 can be a crowd!.....So we have been exploring some little known/little frequented local anchorages.  Yes, we have seen power boaters on the beaches in larger groups......and I am not profiling "powerboaters", it just is what it is; and in Florida, FWC has been breaking up such groups.

So, we have been spending a few days on the boat, then returning home to replenish supplies, then we head out again.  The weather for the most part has been exceptionally good, with daytime temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s and 60s at night.

Salty takes a "Sand Bath"

We were happy to be joined for a few days by our friend and long-time crew-member Patrick.  He is a dentist and obviously his practice is currently closed - so he joinud us for some much needed outdoor recreation.





Solar Project

Framing and two 315 Watt Rigid Panels
Larry and Patrick also helped me finish off my solar addition project on Midnight Sun III.  I have added another 630 watts of solar giving a total of around 1kW.  And this seems to be working great.  A big thanks to Ron Bray for helping with the fabrications needed for the framing, and also to Gary Peaden for getting some of the fittings for me!   It took a lot more effort than I anticipated, but its done - and thank you to everyone that helped



solar controllers and wiring - almost complete!
So, in these uncertain times we don't know what the future will bring.  I do know that our plans for a Bahamas trip and a cruise up the NE coast of the USA are on hold.  To steal a phrase from our President,  "We'll see what happens!", but i think our cruising will be limited to local trips for the remainder of 2020.  Stay safe my friends! and keep in touch...

SV Tracy rafts to Midnight Sun III in our slip to ride out a Cold Front (boats not occupied!)