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

 

 

 

When It All Falls Down………Set Backs for Gypsies Palace

Last you heard we had left the Erie Canal and were on Lake Ontario. Our route is to head west on Lake Ontario, dock and traverse the Welland Canal to Lake Erie.   That was the PLAN, but…………………………Gypsies Palace had other ideas.

The day started picture perfect.   Lake Ontario was like glass. We were going to stop in Rochester, but it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of the flat seas and push on to Port Dalhousie (St. Catherines) Ontario, Canada. Everything went according to plan and we came into the marina in windy conditions. We had no one to grab our lines so Steve needed to make a couple of passes at the dock to check wind and current.

About 10 feet from the dock, disaster struck. We heard to big clunk and the next thing Steve knew, he did not have use of the Starboard propulsion! The Engine was working fine but he couldn’t put the transmission in gear. We later found out that with the water levels so high on Lake Ontario there is stuff floating everywhere, most right under the surface and our prop grabbed a submerged line Submerged Lineand it wrapped around the shaft so tightly that it pulled (broke) our transmission off of the engine! We later heard that someone had hit a refrigerator floating just below the surface not far from the marina. So, a lot of crap is out there under the water.

We weren’t out of the woods yet. Steve only had one engine to control the boat and it was the wrong one with the winds and current. Everything was pushing us into the rocks and breakwater.   Gypsies Palace could not make the dock on one engine with the wind pushing us away from the dock. Steve managed to get us out of the marina and we anchored in the Lake just outside the Breakwater. What we needed was a tow to the docks.   We sat on the boat and tried to contact SeaTow or TowBoat US, but they had no one nearby.   So, what were we going to do? Read more

Canal Days!

Erie Canal CelebrationHow lucky are we that we are traveling during the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal! It took 8 years to build and it took us 8 days to traverse. There are 2 routes and due to our height we had to take the eastern route which would put us in Lake Ontario. The other route comes out around Buffalo on Lake Erie. What this means to all boaters on the Erie Canal this year is that all costs are free so we saved close to $200 in fees. Additionally, many towns are planning Canal Days celebrations.

Travel on the Erie Canal is slow due to speed limits and the amount of locks. We did 30 locks and a typical day was comprised of about 6 locks. This is “small town America”, for sure. There are no big marinas and the appeal is really having “no plan” and just stopping when you feel like it. Each town around the locks have walls with the ability to tie up your boat.   Some of the walls have electric and water and others have none. Loopers love this part of the trip because not only are we not burning much fuel, we are not incurring marina charges. Some towns will have a payment system that could be something like $30 to cover the electric. Not only is it an enjoyable trip it is less costly!

What we enjoyed about the Erie Canal is that wherever we stopped we had instant friends because other Loopers were either already on the wall or they arrived after we got there.   One day we were around Lock 14 and the town of Canajoharie (where?) and we tied up at the last place along the wall. Before we knew it other boats also were stopping there so we double rafted everyone up. A funny thing that happened is that the Lock Master for Lock 14 actually walked down to all of us to ask why no one was coming through his lock. Our answer was “We’re done for the day!”. Additionally, the local people commented that they had never seen so many boats there at one time and wanted to know what was going on. It was just “Docktails, of course”! Read more

Slowing Down the Pace on the Hudson

It is not as if we are traveling at a fast pace, but we do move along nearly every day to a new location. It is mostly about the timing to hit Canada and northern Michigan in the summer when the weather is the nicest. We realized that we had not been able to anchor out since Georgia and we really thought that we would have done this more. We are somewhat restricted on anchoring because we have not been able to train Jazzy to go on the bow of the boat and we would need to dinghy to shore. That means two things that we would be concerned with: Is the weather nice to get us in the dinghy and, is there an actual place to get the dinghy into?  We were dying to slow down the pace with some nights “on hook” and the Hudson would be the perfect place.

From my previous blogs you might gather that a lot of the month of May was chilly, windy and rainy.   Who wants to get in a dingy in those conditions? It is much easier to dock somewhere. But, once we left New York City we finally found Summer! We also did some sightseeing and other fun things.

Gypsies Palace on the HudsonGypsies Palace Hudson AncshoringWe anchored out along the Hudson River and explored with our dinghy. This was great fun and so peaceful. We used Active Captain to locate some good areas along with the Waterway Guide. One time we anchored off of a state park which gave us some good dog walking with Jazzy. The second time we saw fireworks and a beautiful moonrise, but when we went ashore there was mostly brush and not good dog walking.   We really enjoyed this time with the warm weather.  Golfing on Gypsies Palace Steve had been dying to hit golf balls from the bow of the boat so he got out the “doggie artificial turf” and had a blast!

Leaving that area we met up with 18 other Loopers at a place called Shady Harbor for 3 days.   They hosted a pig roast with entertainment to show their appreciation. The weather was beautiful and everyone took advantage of it to clean their boats! Read more

Our Biggest Surprise

Recently, we were asked “What is your biggest surprise?”   Both Steve and I took some time to think about this before we answered, “Just how much we like this lifestyle”.   It is true. We do love living on Gypsies Palace and do not regret a thing.   We don’t miss our house, yardwork, Home Depot or any of the other routine tasks that were part of our life.  Not too long ago, we needed to rent a car and drive back to Florida. We felt the tension from the traffic pace and just the amount of cars on the highway.  Now this is somewhat ironic for me since I was driving 30,000 miles a year in my job and faced this routinely.  Right now what we love most of all is being a Looper and taking the journey with others and the slower pace at 10 mph.

I have to apologize as there is a big gap in my timeline of where we have been and what we have been doing. May was basically a miserable weather month for us Floridians.   We were in Maryland and it was highs in the 50’s, rainy, windy and just plain bone chilling cold to us.   Thankfully, the boat has heat!   Maybe that is another big surprise:  how cold it has been.  Notwithstanding, we did some really fun things though. Read more

North & South Carolina – Fresh Shrimp, Great Weather, Docktails & a Funeral

Great Weather sceneryAll week we continued to have great weather for our travels through the Carolinas. This area is one of my favorites to experience. We stopped at old favorite places and found some new ones that drew us in. The boat is performing perfectly with no issues. We have continued to travel along at our 10 mph and around 50 miles per day.

I have always heard good things about Beaufort, SC and we happy that we decided to spend 2 nights there. The marina is right in their downtown district. It is dog friendly place even to serving a Pet Menu in one of the restaurants that we stopped in with the dogs. They let me know that it was “Yummy”. We were there for Easter Sunday and attended a sunrise service right by the marina. Afterwards Capt. Steve whipped up an Easter Brunch and my friend, Martha made her special Bloody Marys. It was a beautiful morning.  Easter Bloody Marys

Charleston is always worth 2 days and that is definitely to enjoy their fabulous restaurants. We had our fill of oysters and seafood in the short time that we were there. This is a mandatory stop. Our favorite place is Pearlz Oyster Bar, but found 2 others that ranked high, also.

Fresh ShrimpShrimp BoatsWe went off the beaten path and tied up in Georgetown for a night. We were excited to see the shrimp boats and bought 3 lbs of their “off the boat” shrimp.   This was another cute small town and walking around was very pleasant. Time spent there was short, but I liked it.

We had been waiting for Myrtle Beach to pull out our golf clubs again. The dock master let us use his car to get to the golf course. We all played well and I loved having the Red Tees set so far forward. This made me feel that I was really hitting my clubs far!   While we were there we had some waxing and cleaning done on the boat while we golfed. It was a productive stay! Read more