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Cruising Cross Country

We recently took to the highway for a leisurely road trip to spend some treasured time with each other, friends and family.

Our road trip route!

Over the course of two weeks, eight states, and 3,375 miles, we took the opportunity to build upon a trip that initially started as a visit to Carolina Beach, NC for our family reunion. First, we noticed that the Volvo Ocean Race was scheduled to be in Miami just a week before and with Charleston being an ideal middle point between the two, we were set to make a an extended trip of it. Sprinkle in visits with some of our cruising family and other close friends along the way, Matt’s birthday and our anniversary, and we had all the makings of a memorable road trip ahead. While each day was its own adventure, here are some of the highlights.
  • Spent an evening with great friends from Dallas, The Breens, who now live in Clermont, FL. They’re a solid family we connected with at Allaso Ranch (our church’s incredible kid’s camp). We admire their take on life and sense of adventure and now make it a priority to see them anytime we’re nearby.
  • Turned into Tampa for lunch stop, as our good friend Crystal happened to be in town for the day, visiting the local office of her agency 22Squared. Seafood at Jackson’s Bistro, overlooking the canals of Hillsborough Bay, made the sunny and breezy afternoon as good as the company.
  • Kept our eyes peeled as we drove through Alligator Alley in the Everglades on our way to Ft. Lauderdale but didn’t spot any live ones.
  • Enjoyed several nights in the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area, including one at anchor aboard s/v Morning Glory under the glowing lights of downtown Miami with part of our cruising family, Ted and Mili, cheering on Puma in the VOR. Lots more about our VOR adventures in the post below this one.

 Relaxing aboard s/v Morning Glory

  • Did a little dream shopping, stopping to look at two potential “next cruising boats” and gave up all objectivity by pretty much falling in love with one (a tragically emotional move in scouting boats). But no offers yet as were waiting until our little skipper arrives before making any major moves toward our next cruising plan.

 Could this be the next one?

  • Caught up with our cruising friends from Honu Lele, who’ve since moved to St. Augustine, FL. They introduced us to a local favorite, the Gypsy Cab restaurant, showed us where their new home will be soon built and worked on persuading us to move to St. Aug. (it wasn’t a hard sell).
The St. Augustine lighthouse
  • Returned, at a month shy of a year, to a city that captured our hearts (and stomachs) – the always charming Charleston. We made a “babymoon” of our stay in this beloved city with dinner at Coast and strolls about the town. The next morning we were treated to an exclusive tour of Historic Charleston by Laura Wichmann Hipp, whom we met when we sailed in last summer. As before, it was hard to leave. It seems our anchor always sets the deepest here.

Overlooking the Battery Wall of Charleston Harbor

  • Joined the rest of the Butcher/Carlson clan for a family reunion in Carolina Beach, NC. With Matt’s parents and brother in from Idaho, as well as aunts, uncles and cousins from Minnesota, it made a for a fun-filled week. Boat trips, fishing tourneys, golf, swimming, family banter and laughter around every meal and Mexican Train till you drop made the time fly. The time was further punctuated by a good ole low country boil and a thoughtful and lively group baby shower (for us, Matt’s brother Jeff and his wife Mel, and Matt’s cousin Steve and his wife, Edie).

 Boatin’ with Cousin Jimmy

  • Appreciated an easy drive back with complimentary hotel stays along the way, thanks to rewards points earned from Matt’s recent business travel.
As is often the case when you’re having loads of fun, you look up and wonder where the time went. We had a blast and couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by.
Looking Forward While Celebrating 2010

As we look forward to what 2011 has in store for us, we reflected on our blessed-beyond-belief 2010. This has been a year of big changes, new beginnings and celebrations galore.

Looking forward to a walk like this soon

The first part of our year was filled with starting more projects than we finished on Kaleo, learning as much as we could aboard, as well as through Seven Seas University courses, and spending a few freezing weekends planning for warmer weather projects.

Spring brought warmer weather, some great sailing in Galveston Bay, the wedding of our dear friends, Amy & Jeph, and Christie’s parents’ 35th wedding anniversary in April.

May was a landmark month as we became officially debt free, gaining financial freedom. We also moved from our 1,400 square foot townhome to a 650 square foot studio apartment to better prepare for our life aboard Kaleo. And, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary at The Joule, were we stayed on our wedding night. Of course, we spent a few weekends completing some boat projects along the way.

With the Texas summer heat came lots of family and friends visiting the boat, marina BBQ’s, and more boat projects. And in June, the “Cyclin’ Sailors” geared up for our 4th annual Urban Assault Race in Austin!

The Fourth of July was shared with the Wilborns by sailing and watching incredible fireworks shows while anchored out in the bay. Then, we jetted to Coeur D’ Alene, ID to celebrate the newest Butchers, as Matt’s brother Jeff married his bride, Meloney. We topped off the trip to the Northwest with an incredible experience of sleeping 50′ off the ground in the boughs of a giant, old Washington Red Cedar Tree at Cedar Creek Treehouse and touring Mt. Rainier National Park. Of course, we spent a few weekends completing some boat projects along the way.

While the summer heat continued to bake us, we enjoyed a shakedown cruise to Galveston with the Kryzaks and a sailing weekend with The Powers. Of course, we spent a few weekends completing some boat projects along the way.

The fall brought a trip to Minneapolis to celebrate Grandma Butcher’s 90th birthday, visit with family and to Trader Joe’s to stock up on our favorite snacks. The realization that we were now within one month of tossing the docklines helped us get a lot of boat projects wrapped up almost every weekend.

October was a big month as Matt took his leave of absence from work, Christie resigned from her job, we moved out of our land home and aboard Kaleo full-time, sold a car and put another one in storage along with our belongings. We soaked up treasured time with loved ones and were given three outstanding Bon Voyage parties. We also got to celebrate the marriage of Ben and Carly (Matt’s cousin) and spent time with family in San Diego. Of course, we managed another trip to Trader Joe’s for more provisions.

November 8th marked the beginning of our cruising life. Before leaving the dock, we met up with some cruising mentors, The Sittons, and celebrated Christie’s birthday with family and a dear friend, Crystal, aboard. The month was filled with a host of new experiences – from adjusting to life aboard to overcoming unknown challenges and navigating new waters to connecting with new friends along the way. We topped it off with a roadtrip from Mississippi to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with family.

The year wrapped up by crossing the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and into Florida. It was on those passages that we learned to love the open ocean, more fully appreciate warm days and spent time digging our toes into our first white sandy beach. Christmas with shared with family and friends in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida and we were back home aboard Kaleo on New Year’s Eve.

We welcomed the new decade with the most unusual of celebrations for us at this time of year. The clock struck midnight as we pushed two carts down the isles of a 24-hour Walmart. We laughed and shared a little “Happy New Year” smooch in the canned goods aisle and continued provisioning in preparation for the Bahamas and beyond. Yes, really. Oh, the cruising life ;o).

Thank you for joining us as virtual crew along this adventure. It means a lot to us. We wish you peace, blessings and togetherness in your new year!

We’re ready for 2011 and believe the best is yet to come. God has even more amazing things He wants to do in and through our lives so we’re straining to what is ahead. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Crossing a Cold Mobile Bay

Matt’s hands are raw and tingling at their core from puppeteering Kaleo’s lines as she sailed hard across an agitated and arctic Mobile Bay.

Spot Tracker plot of our route from Moss Point, MS to Orange Beach, AL

The day began when we pushed off from the dock a little after 5:30 this morning and made our way back down the Pascagoula River to the mouth of the Mississippi Sound, before sunrise, to resume our route across the Gulf Coast. From there, we set course for Dauphin Island Bridge, the west entrance to the bay.

Kaleo sliced through the remaining Mississippi Sound and with winds building, we began our march toward Mobile Bay with a little trepidation about the conditions that would await us. The metal steering wheel was ice in Matt’s hands with air temperature at its high of 40°, the wind meter reading about 20 knots (23 mph) and with sea water breaking over the bow. But we had come this far and Kaleo was sailing admirably, so we pressed on. Gusts of 25 knots became the norm and then wind continued to build with it blowing up to 27 knots. To meet the ICW entrance on the other side of the bay, we had to change course and the waves starting rolling on the beam (perpendicular to the boat). To ensure that we didn’t have too much sail up for the wind conditions, Matt added a second reef to the main and rolled up the jib completely and she was still cruising along at 7 to 7.5 knots (that’s mighty fast for our sailboat). With a little prayer that the winds hold steady or subside, we sailed on with Matt rotating between checking our course at the wheel and staying out of the wind and sea spray under the dodger.

Midway through the bay we were greeted by dolphins swimming alongside and jumping out of the water just off the port beam. Around 3:30, we sailed into the ICW, the wind dropped and we motored toward our berth for the night at The Marina on the Wharf in Orange Beach, AL. Since we spent most of the day freezing and with temps forecast to be in the low 20’s, we decided to treat ourselves to some shore power heat and a movie at the Wharf theater. This area has been newly built with tons of little shops, bakeries, bars, restaurants and even a gigantic Ferris wheel and movie theater making it quite the treat to walk around.

Other than numb hands and windburned cheeks, Matt said he really enjoying getting to sail Kaleo in those conditions. We look forward to getting a warm night’s rest and crossing into Florida tomorrow!

N 30° 16.76 / W 87° 41.00

Ice Cream Monday

Today was all sunshine, yet a brisk 34° as we spent most of the day keeping warm with a mega migas breakfast, laying down a couple coats of varnish to the coaming tops, some housecleaning (how does a boat get so dusty in just a day or two!?), and looking forward to plans with our new friend and fellow sailor, Dick.

We really enjoyed and appreciated him taking the time to point out some anchoring and route alternatives for the next leg of our journey, being treated to shrimp po-boys at Bozo’s and walking up to get ice-cream cones at Edd’s Drive-In. After treats at Edd’s, we were introduced to some favorite, local ham while picking up a few groceries (Matt’s looking forward to lunch tomorrow!). Throughout the evening, we learned more about the history of Pascagoula and enjoyed hearing stories of him growing up in the area. It really does make such a meaningful difference to connect with new friends in places that could have been just another pin in the map along our route. Thanks again, Dick!

Walking up for ice cream at Edd’s

Tomorrow we plan to get the boat prepared as we’re hoping to untie from the dock early Wednesday morning. Though it will still be quite cold, it’s forecasted to have lighter winds making for better conditions to cross Mobile Bay.

Dick and Matt going over charts for the Mobile Bay crossing

Warm Spirits in Cold Winds

Kaleo is tied to a marina dock in Moss Point, MS (near Pascagoula) with the cold North wind blustering about outside. Despite needing to wait out the weather once again, the engine seems to be up and running and we’re ready to keep sailing toward warmer waters as soon as the cold front passes.

Aboard s/v Blue Dolphin (Thanks for this & many more great photos, Dick)

Yesterday, after an early morning start on finishing up the sea water pump repair and changing the oil one more time (our 7th oil change in a month!), the engine roared to life and ran smoothly for about an hour under load (meaning the engine was running in gear but we were tied to the dock to keep us from moving), satisfying Matt’s repair test.

Weather and engine issues are driving us into marinas with slip fees slowly chewing into our cruising spending plan more than we’d like. Other cruisers reassured us that they too were forced to use marinas more in the gulf of Mexico because there is so much open water to transit (i.e. fewer protected winter anchorages).

In the afternoon, we met some fellow sailors on the dock and asked them about other possible places we might tie up or anchor in the area. After a quick discussion, one of them offered to drive us to a channel that would offer great protection from the coming winds. Dick, not only drove us there and helped us figure out the best way to tie up but also was kind enough to give a tour of the town. He also took us to his marina, showed us his unique and beautiful french-designed sailboat and many of the photos he has taken of his sailing and cruising experiences in the areas we are heading toward, giving us so much to look forward to.

We returned to the boat for a warming lunch and saw how the decorations for the evening’s Christmas by the River boat parade were coming along aboard s/v Blue Dolphin, owned by one of Dick’s friends. Matt triple checked his engine repair and started cleaning up the boat, when Dick stopped by to pass along an invite to join the crew for the parade. To which we quickly said YES, thank you.

The Christmas Crew aboard s/v Blue Dolphin

An hour later we were cruising the river with a stampede of boats each lit up like the Griswold’s house. We spent a little time getting to know everyone on board while waiting for the parade to start and in our matching blue shirts, began practicing “the routine” in prep for passing the judging booth. After wishing the Merriest of Christmas’ to the crowd and judges, we tied up at the city dock in perfect timing for the spectacular fireworks show exploding from the sky less than 100 yards away. Though Blue Dolphin didn’t win first place, she was the best looking boat on the water and her crew were a delight to spend the evening with.

With temperatures forecast in the low 30’s tonight, we’re going to stay tied up at the marina to take advantage of all the amenities (complimentary laundry, shore power to run our on board heater and probably pizza delivery ;o). We are coming to peace with the cost and enjoying the places that we’re getting to visit along the way.

Tough Day, Looking Forward to Tomorrow

Thursday started with an eager 5:00 a.m. wake up to get back underway in hopes of making it to our next anchorage off Dauphin Island, AL.  It didn’t take too long for us to know that the tide had left us in the night as we could see UP to the dock we were tied to in the harbor (while the night before, we were stepping down to it). We took advantage of the time by going back to sleep for a bit, enjoying a great brunch aboard, and getting in some housecleaning.

Once the tide released us from the harbor around noon, we made great progress under full sails on a beautifully sunny day. With only about four hours of daylight left, we decided to anchor off Horn Island inside the Mississippi Sound. A pristine island but very rolly anchorage made for a restless night. We’re still getting used to the whole waterbed effect.

Horn Island, MS

Around 9:00 p.m., we noticed the bilge pump was running more often than normal. Matt went to check it out and discovered a drip, drip, drip from the raw water pump. After tightening a loose screw the drip ceased and we assumed all was well. Since he already had the engine bay open, he decided to go ahead and check the oil then to save a little time on the next morning’s prep routine. It was then that he discovered that our engine crank case was FULL of water. And I mean full. Like a couple healthy gallons full. Ehem, that’s. not. good. at. all.

A quick taste test (eww) revealed that it was salt water which made it even harder to diagnose. We were baffled at how salt water could have gotten into the crank case. After reading the engine manual and a couple reference books (How To Be Your Own Diesel Mechanic, etc.), we narrowed the issue down to the raw water pump seal. We sent off a few “our situation” emails asking for advice and went to bed with plans to call our diesel mechanic (thanks Russell!) first thing the next morning.

Well, that leads us to today. Goooooood morning! The calls started at 6:30 a.m. For the next several hours Matt swapped calls and began taking apart the pump. We decided to play it safe and call for a tow to River City Harbor Marina rather than risk further issues by running a faulty engine. Also, while we had all the necessary parts and know-how  onboard (thanks Matt!), we needed a tool that wasn’t (bearing press or vice). After calling the tow boat at 7:00 a.m., he finally showed up a little after noon from being trapped in his bayou with low tide. Within those five hours, it felt as if the weight of all the engine issues, running agrounds, and general lifestyle changes started to bear down on us (well, me more than Matt but when one crew is down, the whole boat gets down). This became our most trying and disheartening day yet.

After a looooong tow in, we docked safely and with equally long hot showers, we took some time to decompress. We are going to sleep tonight with intentions of resetting in the morning and pray that we have renewed enthusiasm for this adventure. And also for an easy solve and repair in the morning.

Kaleo under tow

At the end of the day we have a tremendous amount to be grateful for, not the least of which are great people who offered to come tow us (thanks Gene), talked us through engine issues (thanks Rusty, Mike and Steve) and offered encouragement to keep our spirits up (thanks Linda, Mom, Jeph and Janay). Good night.
N 30° 24.8 / W 88° 32.0
Family Fun & Exploring Ocean Springs

The past week has been FILLED with everything from giving thanks with family and feasting on all our favorite holiday dishes to exploring and enjoying almost every nook and corner of Ocean Springs, MS.

Here are some highlights:

  • Made a rental car road trip back to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with family

Louisiana marsh from the road

Thanksgiving dinner at Nana’s

  • Decided to spend a few extra days there to help Christie’s mom and Nana put up Christmas decorations, run some errands, and just relax with loved ones

Mom and I putting out the Christmas lights

  • With our rental loaded down with fresh foods, Thanksgiving leftovers! and other provisions, we returned to Ocean Springs with a cold front right on our tail
  • While waiting for the weather to pass, our marina neighbor, and new friend Gene, was generous enough to play tour guide and took us exploring all over Ocean Springs, Biloxi, and D’Iberville
  • We were introduced to the BEST shrimp and crab po-boys along the Gulf Coast at Ole Biloxi Schooner (a local fav and now ours!)
  • Picked up Gene’s favorite baguettes at Le Bakery (with the air smelling so amazing that you could taste the french bread and pastries)
  • Took a tour of Back Bay and learned all about the damage and reconstruction since Hurricane Katrina
  • Received three Mississippi seafood recipe books as an early Christmas present from Gene (thanks!)
  • Stopped by the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (fascinating character, incredible depictions of nature)
  • Had Gene over for dinner and reviewed the next leg of our route through Florida on the charts he’s lending us (thanks for all the advice and tips!)

We love this beach

  • Meandered all over town, stopping along the way to enjoy a good old fashioned buttered pecan milkshake at Lovelace Drugstore on Washington Street (Ocean Spring’s “Main Street”), picked up pecans that had fallen from neighborhood trees (we must have at least 3 lbs onboard), and played at the beach.
  • Discovered that the first restaurant we dined at in the marina, Harbor Landing, had closed. We heard they were selling to the city for office space but we are hoping someone reopens it for others to enjoy. It was a gem along our route.

Some pretty tasty milkshakes and malts are made here

Ultimately, we learned that connecting with friendly folks like Gene are what makes the difference between just being tourists in a new place and truly becoming part of the community for a little while. We have so enjoyed this charming town and are grateful to have spent some extended time here. Tomorrow, we untie from our slip and get back underway toward our next anchorage at Daulphin Island, AL.

Adoring Ocean Springs, MS

We’re spending a few days in Ocean Springs to get ahead on a couple boat projects, wait out some weather blowing through, and to take a roadtrip back to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with our family. While here, we’ve had the chance to explore the town and absolutely love its character and charm in the quaint small town atmosphere, white sandy beaches and genuinely gracious and kind neighbors.

In between traversing about town, we’ve:

  • Replaced a few port (window) screens and seals
  • Polished all the crazed ports (scuffed and oxidized windows that needed some love to become clear again)
  • Started revarnishing the coaming tops
  • Got a personal visit from our diesel mechanic, who happened to be passing through town, to inspect the engine and put our minds at ease (completely a God thing!)
  • Did a little maintenance on the head plumbing (completely a Matt thing!)
  • Took advantage of our beautiful surroundings to get in some evening jogs and walks
  • Spent some time with a fascinating group of a few gentlemen who gather each evening on the harbor docks to talk about all things boating. They have a wealth of knowledge to share and we appreciated them making us feel at home in their group and for keeping an eye on Kaleo while we’re away.
  • Been the recipients of a ton of blessings by people willing to go out of their way to help and encourage us along our journey.

N 30° 24.15 / W 88° 49.45

We’re in Mississippi

We’ve spent the past few days motoring from New Orleans to Rabbit Island, Rabbit Island to Cat Island (no, didn’t see or hear either creature out there), Cat Island to our current tie up in Ocean Springs, MS. Three relatively easy days with great weather, other than a little fog before leaving Rabbit Island.

New Orleans to Rabbit Island

Secluded Rabbit Island anchorage

Rabbit Island to Cat Island

We were greeted this morning with a thick fog that reduced visibility to about 100 feet. That was a no-go for the first couple hours so we took advantage of the time to leisurely enjoy some breakfast and reading. By about 10:00 a.m., the fog lifted and we were on our way to our anchorage for the night at Cat Island. We were treated to some wide open waters of the Mississippi Sound and our first sights of sandy beaches (versus mud banks). A great change of scenery from the narrow channels we’ve been navigating thus far. Once at Cat Island, Christie dropped the hook and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and moonrise in near absolute silence of the glassy Mississippi Sound.

Morning fog at Rabbit Island

Cat Island to Ocean Springs, MS

We pulled the hook up early and headed for Ocean Springs, motoring along with dolphins joining us for much of the way. The jib sail was unfurled for the last couple of miles into the harbor and Kaleo was running at 7 knots with the sail full. Dolphins again playing all around the boat. We cautiously navigated into the harbor as the depth meter told us of ground just inches below the keel. After pulling into the best looking slip we could find, the boat yard manager said we were welcome to stay the night for free as the office wasn’t open until tomorrow. Bonus! Our growling bellies told us it was time for lunch and conveniently enough, the marina had a highly recommended restaurant right above our slip. While dining on meals that lived up to their reputation, we met Norm and Jan, two other full-time cruisers and swapped sailor stories, advice and laughs. The evening wrapped up with an invigorating 6 mile jog/walk along the beach and over the Biloxi Bay Bridge with some local musicians playing bongos next to a large bonfire on the beach.

Taking a break on the Biloxi Bay Bridge

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