Salt Air, Oysters and Life in the Boatyard

Gypsies Palace
Crossing Mobile Bay

Inhale, we are done with the rivers.   Inhale, salt air fills our lungs.   Inhale, Floridians can breathe.   Inhale, Gypsies Palace is nearing her cruising waters where catamarans belong. Two things we love:  Salt Air and Oysters.   We were in the Panhandle where we can get our fill of both.   Many years ago Steve and I were bringing a boat to Texas and we stopped in the Panhandle to get oysters and there were none due to the beds being stripped out from the Gulf Oil spill.   Lucky us – oysters are in season and big and juicy!  Panhandle Oysters

Lulu's
Docking at Lulu’s for lunch

After crossing Mobile Bay the first town heading east is Gulf Shores, Alabama and that only means one thing – Lulu’s!   Lulu’s is owned and run by Jimmy Buffett’s sister and is home to a great waterfront restaurant, music and marina. We were Buddy Boating with Firestorm and we decided we needed to grab some gulf fish and fun. During our stay we actually went back another time during a song writer’s weekend. We were treated by a slide guitar player that had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  That was Jim Vest and he was part of the Nashville Cats back with Dylan and Cash. You just never know what treats are going to be found along the way.

Oysters & SteveFrom there we went to Orange Beach, AL.   We had never spent any time there and we definitely loved the area. We were treated to Char Grilled Oysters – oh, did I mention that we love oysters?   We stayed at a place called the Wharf that had access to multiple restaurants, a movie theater and shopping. Plus, they hosted a Food Network cooking competition!

During this time we took a car road trip with our friends on One Eye Dog to the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show. They had actually decided several things:   they want to live a life on the water and they want to sell their current boat to buy a power catamaran, also.   Their 52 ft. Hatteras is a great boat, but they have liked our catamaran so much they would like to switch to one full time.   So, if you know anyone that is looking for a 3 bedroom Hatteras, take a look at this one.   They have a new Aquila ordered and we will meet up with them next year!

Gypsies Palace hauloutWe decided that while we were in Orange Beach that this would be a perfect time to haul our boat out of the water and perform some routine maintenance.   We found a boatyard that could lift this wide cat out of the water.   I have to tell you that it is a scary thing to watch your boat that barely fits into the lift area be raised out of the water!   Gypsies Palace BoatyardOnce it is on the lift they place blocks on it and the boat sits there.   We were able to still live aboard by climbing a ladder.   We have electricity, but many of the normal boat functions do not work.

You might ask why do we stay on the boat if it is uncomfortable?   Mostly, it is so that Steve can oversee the work. We had the bottom painted which is necessary for entering salt water again and all the running gear tuned up.   Plus, we had the engine maintenance and some gelcoat work done. This lasted two weeks. I can compare it to doing renovations in your house. At first, it isn’t too bad, but the second week it is wearing on you.   For us, we were not able to run a heater.   Temperatures were in the 40’s at night.   When it was getting down to the high 30’s we bought a space heater and cranked it up!   The other thing that I failed to mention is that it is dusty.   We were so happy the day we splashed.   We were ready to leave our “dirt condo”!

PanhandleIt felt like “Get Out of Jail” and we headed to Pensacola for Thanksgiving. We were so anxious to leave that it didn’t matter that we were going to arrive in the dark. I knew that another Looper was there and contacted him so that he would be out on the dock with a flashlight showing us the way.   Pensacola is a special place for me as my dad lived in Gulf Breeze for years and we would visit him up there.   We actually even connected up with relatives for a quick dinner. For Thanksgiving I had not planned anything so we did what many people do – we ate out!   It worked!Panhandle Thanksgiving

Joe Patti's Market
Joe Patti’s Seafood Market

The highlight that we found in this area is the best seafood market anywhere, hands down – Joe Patti’s. We went twice and even found that you can dock and shop there.   They have the best selection of gulf fish i.e. grouper, snapper, tuna and will steam your shrimp.   There is also a sushi bar and bakery, too. If I wanted more oysters, they had them, too.   I have been a lot of seafood markets, but theirs is the best.

We continued across the Panhandle on our way to Carrabelle.   You see, the route for boaters to go south is to cross the Gulf of Mexico.   Most people will travel all the way to the eastern most point which is Carrabelle to do the “Crossing”.   Weather plays a very important part of the “Crossing” so all of the boaters plan their trip across the Panhandle to be in Carrabelle at the best conditions with little wind and waves.

We had some stops before reaching our destination.   We stayed at Panama City and anchored in a small bayou just past Ft. Walton Beach.   The next stop was Port St. Joe as we were entering the Big Bend in Florida.  Porr St. Joe Marina We couldn’t believe how delightful this town is.   The entire Panhandle is composed of the nicest and friendliest people.   Fishing is their main industry and, of course, oysters are their #1 catch.   Port St. Joe, Apalachicola and Carrabelle are all knowns for their oyster industry.   The other feature of the Panhandle that I failed to mention is that they have the most beautiful beaches.   Not only are the beaches beautiful the state of Florida protects them and entire stretch is known as the National Seashore.   No condos, no development – this is so refreshing for us.

So let’s get back to the “Crossing” of the Gulf.   Most boaters will go to the shortest point to Tarpon Springs, FL.   There is a clear division of “Fast Loopers” and “Slow Loopers” at this point. The slow Loopers would be the trawlers and sailboats.   This will be a 21 hour journey for them.   They know this during the entire Loop and it weighs at them because most boaters have never gone away from shore ever.   Their crossing consists of several Buddy Boats where they all leave together and they maintain radio contact. Because we can go 20 mph we are in the Fast Looper group.   Our plan was for a crossing that would take about 8.5 hours to Tarpon Springs.

Leaving Panhandle
Early departure for Tarpon Springs

We checked the weather reports and proceeded to leave Carrabelle with 3 other Fast boats.   Gypsies Palace was in the lead and we headed out a 7 a.m.   It was a perfect day and the water was like glass for the trip.

Leaving Panhandle
Leaving Carrabelle

We left with an entourage of dolphins jumping around the bow and between the pontoons.   It was cool and each boat had the same thing happen.

Everything went according to plan and we finally have gotten to where it is warm.   We were still chilly in the Panhandle. Now the West Coast adventure begins!

Steve Russell & Jazzy
Capt. Steve & Jazzy ready to go where it’s warm!

“Give Me Oysters and Bear. Every Day of the Year and I Feel Fine”………..Jimmy Buffett

 

 

1st Year on Gypsies Palace – Reflections Of Gypsies in the Palace

Gypsies Palace ReflectonsWell, we did it!   We have officially lived aboard Gypsies Palace one year! So, how do we feel about it? Any regrets?   Do we want to go back on land? Time for reflections on our 1st year cruising on our catamaran.

A year ago October we had so much going on in our lives in order to make the transition to full time cruising. We were truly in a frenzy. Our house closed at the first of the month and at that time we did not have a boat.   We were certain that we were buying a catamaran, but that was about it because our first deal fell through. We had been purging, selling stuff on Craigslist and trying to decide what items that we would need on a boat. Our storage unit was packed to the gills and we were homeless at our friend’s house.  My dad’s health was failing and he required more of my time. It was a crazy month to say the least. By the end of the month we had closed on Gypsies Palace.

We were fortunate to find this catamaran. It is a Leopard 47 Owner’s Version, which means that it has an owner’s stateroom. It was never in charter and a one owner boat. The former owner liked it so much he bought a newer version that is now a 51 ft Leopard. After we purchased it we spent 4 months adding things to make it a liveaboard that would work for us. Things like improving the refrigeration, adding an ice maker, increasing the holding tanks, increasing the water heater on the master side, adding solar panels, adding a watermaker, adding SAT TV, adding more exterior canvas, changing the anchor, fixing a fuel leak and the best gadget – the Docking Master, remote docking. If I could pick just one thing that I love best that we have done is to install the remote docking device.

During this time it really was hard to “love” living on the boat. Things were a mess because the boat was always being worked on. That limited the feeling of space. I won’t lie. The first few months it was hard to love the boating life because we never left the dock except to pump out.   I didn’t want to go back to a house, but I was ready to get rid of the chaos and get moving. These feelings are not unlike having your kitchen remodeled – there is nothing fun about that process.

Leaving on the LoopLeaving the dock on April 1st to begin the Great Loop was such a liberating feeling. I remember the day clearly and how beautiful it was. It was an omen that this would be a good life and we were doing the Great Loop!

Looking back the first part of the trip was such a blur as I am sure other Loopers would testify. We definitely planned more at the start. Now we are coming into Florida and we haven’t made any plans!   Our answer is that we will figure it out and we can always anchor. By plans I mean where are we going to be? Do we have a reservation? When we will arrive and how long will we stay? We are still Looping and in a transient state, meaning we do not spend much time in any one place. That will change once we complete the Loop.

We have adjusted to everyday life.   Laundry is sometimes done on board or sometimes done at the marina. Most marinas have had decent WiFi. We record TV shows just like at home. Jazzy has adjusted to life on board, including sometimes using the pee pad on the bow.  Gypsies Palace CockpitWe love our cockpit and outdoor living area.  It is so comfortable to enjoy a nice day or evening.

Maximizing the storage space is every boater’s challenge.   Because we have a catamaran we have more space than the mono hull boats. We are like a sailboat where we also have floor storage. The front of our boat has a tremendous amount of room that is why we call one hatch the “Man Cave”.   I have gotten good at buying the right amount of food and using it. In my house I was always throwing food away, but on the boat I find that I let fewer things spoil. We actually have things on the boat that we put on that we have not used. When we get back to our storage unit those will come off. Mine consist of clothes and shoes that I have never worn. Steve has some tools and misc. things as well.

I thought I would exercise more since I was committed to my Jazzercise workout for years. On the Loop this has been difficult because we are always moving to another port. We have used the kayaks and bikes, but not regularly. Some stops we do a lot of walking, others we don’t.   I confess to not always taking advantage on an exercise room at the marinas. This will be something that I change going forward after completing the Loop and settling into a cruising mode where we stay in places longer.

Stress – there is none! We could stress about the weather, but really what is the point?   The times when we are stressed is when we have to be somewhere on a specific date.   That is the hardest for all of us boaters.   It is usually weather or mechanical issues that doom the plan.

Speaking of mechanical issues, we have not had any except for the time when we caught the line around our props in Canada. Everything else on the boat has worked fine thanks to Captain Steve. We have come across many other boats where they hit their props or had a major engine problem. This boat has treated us well.

Most of the trip the temperatures have been cool.   Daytimes in the 70’s, but 40’s and 50’s at night. That was a surprise to us. Luckily, we had put warm clothes on board and bought some along the way. Coming back into Florida will be a shock.   We have run our heater and rarely the air conditioner. This week we actually bought a space heater!   We have even had nights in the 30’s which I would not have expected.

Before we started the Loop we did sit down to create a budget of expenses and to manage our money. I would say that we are right on target, if not under our projections. Where I fell off was that we eat and drink more than being home!   It is fun to shop at the various farmers markets and local grocery stores. It is also true that we eat out more than being home. Our fuel and marina expenses are under budget now, but we will be seeing increasing dockage charges as we enter Florida.

Looper Gold
April & Larry with Abby and Looper Gold

We haven’t ended the Loop yet, but we have made so many new friends that we will continue to see as we continue cruising. Meeting other boaters / Loopers make this lifestyle so special.   We have more friends than we would have ever had if we had stayed in the house. We have really appreciated the comradery.  Our buddy boat friends on One Eye Dog just crossed their wake in Fairhope, AL and we were there for their celebration.  They now flag the Looper Gold Flag for completing the Loop.

Early next year we will complete our Loop when we enter the Boca Inlet. We will end our “adventure”, but move to the “lifestyle” phase of cruising.   We are excited about this new chapter, too. So, after a year, I would say that this is just the beginning! And, no, we do not miss having a land based home!

“We’re gypsies in the palace, there ain’t no wrong or right
We’re gypsies in the palace, and we’re going wild tonight.” ……Jimmy Buffett

 

 

 

Honky Tonks, Turtles and BBQ

Nashville TootiesTime to play and enjoy some Honky Tonks in Nashville and BBQ in Kentucky!  We are half way down to the Gulf and these two states have a lot to offer for boaters. Their inland lakes and rivers make for pleasant cruising, such a nice surprise. Gypsies Palace on the Tenn Tom

When we arrived in Paducah, KY it was during their annual BBQ on the River festival.   This is a large BBQ competition with vendors from all over. We really got some great BBQ.   The hardest part was deciding on which one to pick. During the event there were good southern rock bands which made this stop very special. I was also surprised at the docks by a friend of mine who has been following on Facebook. He and I used to work together and came by the boat to say hello with his wife and friends, Of course, they came on board to enjoy some Gypsies Palace vibe.

Then, one of my best friends decided to join us on this part of the trip and travel with us to Nashville. JoAnn and DebWe have found out how difficult it is to have guests on board with a trip that is always moving. On this part of the trip we had the added burden of closed locks that were backed up with commercial traffic. All Loopers have been warned never set a date AND place because we won’t make it.   We can make a date or place, but meeting both is tough. She arrived early and had to spend a night in a hotel waiting for us. That being said, she and I had a great time catching up and just enjoying the river cruise.

Nashville is considered a “side trip” on the Loop. It is not part of the Loop itself, but Loopers take advantage of the proximity of different towns and venture off the path on a “side trip”. We realized that Tennessee and Kentucky offer many “side trips” in addition to Nashville one can travel to Knoxville, Chattanooga and Louisville by boat. Neither of us had been to Nashville and we both love country music so it was a given we were going to Nashville! It was a two day boat trip from our starting point at Green Turtle Bay to get there. Read more

Gypsies Slow Jam on the Rivers

Gypsies Palace on the RiversAfter leaving Chicago and Lake Michigan the next sequence for the Great Loop is the inland rivers. We were not necessarily looking forward to this section of the Loop because we have been receiving many notices of lock delays and closures on the route. We had been hearing reports of Loopers having to wait a day or more to lock through due to repairs, dredging or the backlog of commercial traffic. It is necessary to traverse more locks on all of the inland rivers on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Locking by itself is not an issue, but due to the amount of commercial traffic i.e. tugs with barges it makes for a slow pace.   Commercial vessels have priority in all of the locks on the rivers.   Their barges are mostly filled with large bulk items such as coal or rock.   River traffic sometimes reminds me of driving through traffic jams on I-95!

The route of the various rivers starts with the Illinois River, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and the Tenn-Tom Waterway.   All of that finishes in Mobile, Al. Steve and I have done the Tenn-Tom to Chattanooga route, but had no idea what to expect with the upper rivers. We were not sure that we were going to enjoy this part of the journey. Read more

A Defining Moment – Reaching Chicago!

Gypsies Palace entering Chicago
Gypsies Palace Entering Chicago

As we have gone along on our Great Loop journey a defining moment seemed to be reaching Chicago. We would have completed the Lake Michigan phase our trip and Chicago was the gateway to the inland rivers. Chicago was beckoning us to explore and stay before we would begin the inland river route which we had really not even figured out. We had a long list of things that we wanted to do in Chicago. We docked right by Navy Pier at DuSable Marina. We were close to everything and decided that we needed to stay 6 days especially since the weather was going to be perfect – sunny and in the 70’s. Chicago Navy Pier

Naturally, lots of Looper boats were also there, but everyone was so busy sight seeing that we rarely saw anyone until the end of our stay. What we loved about the city is that people were out jogging, biking and walking – a positive energy. The dogs were fascinated by all the dogs and people. But, it was not a feeling of frenzy like New York City. Chicago just envelopes you in friendliness and a welcoming atmosphere.

We had food at the top of our list – Portillo’s Hot Dogs and Gino’s Pizza. Chicago PizzaWe also had to get to Al’s Italian Beef before we left! I had been yearning for Gino’s Pizza, but we actually found another that we liked even better at Labriola the night we went to a Blues Club.   We just stumbled on the place as we were walking.   We wanted to experience the blues in Chicago and found a club called Blue Chicago. It was just what I pictured in my mind – small, intimate, no food, great band and everyone enjoying the vibe. My only disappointment is that we were pretty pooped from the day and couldn’t stay for a 2nd set.Blue Chicago

Those of you that know me that I tend to cram as much into a day as possible and in Chicago I got my wish. Steve even kept up as he didn’t want to miss out on a thing.   As we pulled into the marina another Looper gave us a good piece of advice to check out Groupon for tourist deals.   They had also taken a Segway Tour with their Groupon and highly recommended it.   They had never done it before and neither had we or One Eye Dog. So, the four of us were in for the adventure. It was the best experience!!   Steve took his Go Pro and put together a cute video of us. We then “paid it forward” by suggesting this to other Loopers as they came in. They also loved it!!Chicago Segway  Read more

Meandering the Coastline of Michigan

We left Mackinac Island on August 18th and spent 25 days meandering the western coastline of Michigan. For boaters Michigan has created numerous harbors with really nice breakwalls and entrances that are every 20 – 30 miles. The state intentionally made these “Harbors of Refuge”. We decided that we would explore places and take our time so that we would not arrive in Chicago until after Labor Day.

Lake MichiganThe concern most Loopers have about Lake Michigan is the winds and the waves. Most of them are in smaller trawlers that roll back and forth going about 8 mph. The chop and the waves make for an unpleasant ride. We are still traveling with our Buddy Boat, One Eye Dog, a 52 foot Haterras that can power up. The four of us would all check our weather apps before venturing out on the Lake. Our plan was to arrive in the town by noon and spend the entire next day there enjoying the town and relaxing and leave the 3rd morning.   There were only two times where we had to wait an extra day due to windy conditions.   At this point in the season we were seeing more winds from the north which would be off of our stern.   Wind off our stern was good for our boats and we cruised along about 10 mph. If the waves picked up we would increase our speed to smooth out the ride.   Gypsies Palace rides really nice in most conditions and we avoided anything with waves over three feet on the Lake. We have been so happy with the smooth ride on this catamaran!

Enterting Michigan harborA typical day for us would be to leave the dock around 8:00 and arrive somewhere around noon. Once we got the boat secured and got checked in, the four of us would walk around the town to see what was there. We would select a restaurant for dinner in this process.   Sometimes we would luck out and they would have a Farmer’s Market.   We would purchase local produce, baked goods (especially if the husbands were along) and other goodies. My buddy, April and I never passed up a Farmer’s Market, Fish Store or grocery store in these towns. You never know what you may find! Read more

Northern Michigan – Fudge, Ferries & Friendly Ports

Grand Hotel Mackinac Island
Grand Hotel from the water

We are now on the Northern Michigan adventure of the Great Loop.  We left Canada to head straight to Mackinac Island.   We were able to check back into the states using a video phone at the docks in the marina. It was a simple process for us. We had a Frequent Boater Card and BR Number from our previous trips to the Bahamas.   This worked for us on their check in process.   We were now in Northern Michigan, more specifically Mackinac Island, a prime tourist destination.

Growing up in Michigan you would have thought that I had been to Mackinac Island, but this was my first time and I was excited.  Grand Hotel dinnerOur stay was close to our 26th Wedding Anniversary so we planned for a special dinner at the Grand Hotel. They can seat over 1,000 people for dinner, but the quality of the food and service is above average. We got to tour the grounds and inside and tried to imagine what it must have been like years ago with people arriving with steamer trunks for the summer.   When you are on the Loop you look for these special moments and this was one of them.  Also, Mackinac is a special place when you are from Port Huron and I was delighted to see this picture on the wall at the Pink Pony.  Mackinac Race

However, must of our memories involve fudge and ferries.   Anyone who has been to Mackinac knows that fudge is everywhere. We got ours!   But, mostly it was the memories of the ferries in conjunction with bad weather and wind.   All day long numerous ferry boats arrive with tourists and they dock within the marina. Their wake slams all of the boats against the pilings and the docks. We were constantly adjusting our fenders and our lines and we were not alone.   All of the boats were rocking, including one trawler where they actually got seasick from the wave action.   We were there three days and it was a relief to be away from that turbulence. Read more