Update to 2023 GREAT LOOP Plans, Fixing up FELIX after it SANK, and re-prepping it for the GREAT LOOP

After my plans for the 2022 Great Loop trip fell through, I removed most of the things I had installed on FELIX for the Loop. This turned out to be very lucky – FELIX partially sank (one hull, which had contained most of the things I installed for the Loop, and then removed) during Hurricane IAN near the end of 2022. I am in the process of re-installing most of what I removed (the extra solar panels, batteries, inverter, refrigeration, etc.

I plan now to leave on the 2023 Loop trip May 1, as I have an engagement with a band, Rios Rock Band, playing on the boat April 29 for a large group of friends. Also, since four of the locks on the Illinois RIver are closing June 1 of 2023 for four months, I will be doing the Loop in reverse (Clockwise) to get past those lock BEFORE June 1, then complete the Loop at my leisure.

Since re-floating FELIX with the help of some awesome friends, I have replaced most of the destroyed deck, fixed the mangled roof, replaced the battery, and generally cleaned up the mess from the one hull being on the bottom for a few days. Still left to do to restore FELIX to its former glory is to replace the outboard that was underwater, repaint the decks, and repair the fiberglass damage on the port full from being bashed against the dock during the hurricane.

FELIX after Hurricane IAN passed through
The port hull with one of the Mercury 40HP outboards underwater

Partially re-floated at this point
The large hole in the upper hull that made it almost impossible to re-float the boat.
The two holes in the hull that ended up sinking the port hull.
Finally re-floated, but what a mess!
Removing the damaged deck
More of the deck removed – only COOSA decking remains at this point
Replaced the damaged deck with new COOSA – never has to be replaced again
The outboard that was underwater – lower unit is trashed, prop is broken, all electrical is fried. Luckily I have a spare…

Great Loop 2022, postponed to 2023 – Preparing FELIX

FELIX – the picture at Squid Lips being used for my boat cards
Building the new framework for 500W of solar panels
Finished framework for the solar panels
Solar panel installation begins
All solar panels mounted. 100W each on the outside, charging the starting batteries. The two inner 150W panels charge the 200 Amp Hour Li-Ion battery bank which runs the 24/7 refrigeration onboard.
The 200 Amp Hour Li-Ion battery bank with its own solar controller
The battery bank and the Coleman electric cooler it runs 24/7 for refrigeration onboard
The solar controllers for the starting batteries
Fiberglass repair work that has been needed for years on Felix to stop some water leaks – finally getting done
Safety equipment (fire extinguishers, boat hooks and rear anchors) mounted for the trip
All of this was removed from the open compartment which will become my sleeping quarters for the trip. I had actually removed many more life jackets prior to this picture.
This will be my sleeping quarters – lots of work before it will be ready. Mom is cleaning and painting this area as my Xmas present this year 🙂 I will be installing a new plywood platform for the bivy tent I will be sleeping in each night. More pictures to come when the platform and tent are in…
Getting much cleaner…
My Mom at work – thanks Mom!!!

Pictures of SkeeterCat

The start of documenting my 2020 Great Loop trip (which never happened because of COVID).

SkeeterCat – the boat I will use for the 2020 Great Loop…

As you will see next, SkeeterCat was not used for the Great Loop – changed my mind and decided to use FELIX for 2022.

Packing up the bike to ship it to Buffalo

Originally, I was going to drive up and back to Buffalo and take the bike with me. Plans changed and I decided to fly which meant shipping the bike to and from Buffalo, and getting a bunk at a hostel for the day I arrive and the night before I leave to go back home. I decided to use Bikeflights to arrange the shipping. I bought their purpose built bike box to ship the bike in.
They have great videos which show how to put the box together – took me less than half an hour.
Then even more videos which show how to take the bike apart and pack it – this is the frame with padding added to protect it. The Bikeflights box also has mounting holes in it and custom bungies to secure the bike parts to the box so they don’t move around during shipping.
The wheels and tires are pretty big. I really needed to unmount the brake discs before shipping, but none of my hex tools fit the bolts. I even went to Lowes and bought two sets, and none of those fit either.
It all fit in the box – just barely!
Here is the box closed up with the bike in it – all ready to ship! Took it to the local UPS Store this morning – it should be in Buffalo by the 28th. I had it shipped to the local bike shop up there, and they will unbox it , put it back together, and then tune it for the ride. I will pick it up hopefully on my arrival in Buffalo on the 5th of July.

The New Bike

Originally I was going to take my mountain bike on this ride, but after riding it longer distances, decided that another bike would be better for this ride, which is part road and part gravel. After some research, I found this ‘new’ category of bicycle called gravel bikes, which are supposedly a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. I found this Salsa flat-bar bike online from REI, and ordered it. Here I am picking it up at the REI in Winter Park.
Really enjoyable drive, except for the love bugs – got to see parts of Orlando and Winter Park I had frequented when I lived there, to pick up the new bike.
Just about to put it in the car and make the drive back home – it is relatively light, so much easier to load than my mountain bike.
Got the bike home and have already added an underseat bag with 2 water bottle holders. I really like this bike!

Cycle the Erie Canal 2019

Since I did not complete the Great Loop this year, stopping in Norfolk and trailering the boat home, I decided that I did not want to miss the Erie Canal, so I signed up to do the Cycle the Erie Canal 2019 bike ride. It is a 400 mile ride over 8 days from Buffalo to Albany on trails and roads right next to the Erie Canal. I am going a day early to do an optional pre-ride from Buffalo to Niagra Falls and back before the ride starts on July 8. When the ride is complete, I will take the shuttle that brings me and my bike back to Buffalo so I can fly home.

This says 2015, but I will be riding this year – 2019!

Taking the truck and trailer to Norfolk, returning with Adagio on the trailer…

South of the Border – the iconic plaza just south of the North/South Carolina border, on the way to Norfolk with the trailer.
Adagio waited patiently at the dock for me to come get her…
Heading toward the boat ramp where I left the truck and trailer – got there after 12.5 hours of driving starting at 3:30 in the morning (I95 was closed by an accident just before my turn to Norfolk, and then another road on the way there closed from another accident). Took and Uber back to the Waterside Marina where Adagio was.
I drove the truck and trailer over that huge bridge – a little scary, but I actually intend to take the boat on the trailer across it later as well…
The road to the bridge goes directly behind and then next to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
Just about to go under the railroad bridge – glad it wasn’t closed.
The boat ramp is over there – just past the bridge in a nice park, just a 20 minute boat ride from the marina.
Adagio at the boat ramp dock, and I have backed the trailer in at the ramp to load the boat on it.
The truck – did a great job towing the boat home, but only averaged 10.2 mpg.
And there is the bridge I towed the boat over – 35 mph speed limit, and good thing because it took a lot of power to get the whole rig to the other side. So, after the 12.5 hour drive to get here, and about an hour getting the boat loaded and prepped for towing, I drove another 2.5 hours to get to a rest stop on I95 in North Carolina. Woke up at 5:30 the next morning and drove another 11.5 hours to get the boat home – a looooong couple of days, but glad to have me and the boat back home!

Norfolk to Melbourne (by air)

Looking across the river from Riverside Marina towards Hospital Point in Norfolk, a great place to anchor. I see that the Edel Cat 43 Catamaran Sailboat is anchored over there now.
Sunrise over the Riverside Marina from Adagio. Minutes after this I was on my way to the airport using Uber. Flew Delta from Norfolk to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Melbourne – nice flights.
Mom picked my up at the airport, and soon after I got home I took the truck to Grant to get my trailer for Adagio. Here it is in the front yard in Satellite Beach ready to leave at 4 AM tomorrow morning to head back to Norfolk.

Elizabeth City to Norfolk via the Dismal Swamp Canal

Today was the best day in over a week – going out with a bang, lots of pictures. A very good day, one to remember.
So many opportunities for good pictures – dead calm and great scenery…
If only every day of this trip was like this…
Turns out this will my last day on this year’s trip – decided the boat needs some things it doesn’t have for a single-handed voyage. Making the most of it – doing the Dismal Swamp, which I did not do last year when I brought Catitude home…
Looks like a dead end, but there is a turn there – onward to the Dismal Swamp…
Now on the Dismal Swamp Canal – looks like infinity, but it is 11 miles of this before a 20 to 30 degree turn and then 11 more miles…
Two locks in today’s voyage – needed to make the first opening at 8:30 AM, about 15 miles from the marina I stayed at, so left early this morning – waiting for the opening here.
Only two of us going North for the first opening today – going in after the gate opened. We will be raised up to where the dark stain stops.
Turns out this boat is easy for me to handle in the locks by myself – here at the bottom…
Now at the top…
Part of the North Carolina Civil War Trails.
A bridge in front of us whose opening is coordinated with the lock opening – the lock master is actually the bridge tender as well – he is in the silver van driving from the lock to the bridge…
A little traffic at the bridge – there is a South-bound boat coming through while the two of us are heading North.
Following the much bigger boat (40 feet) in front of me – if there is something to hit, he will hit it first.
The mile markers tell us how for from Norfolk we are (mile zero).
Coming up on the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center – a very popular stop along the way. Most of the boats behind me are staying here for the night. There is a swing bridge for pedestrian traffic across the canal, which opens for passing boats – just opened for us.
They don’t want people speeding up and down the canal (erosion and other damage), so there is sort of a forced speed limit. The locks at each end only open every 2.5 hours – and you can’t make it between the two in 2.5 hours (22 miles), so there is actually 5 hours available to go the 22 miles. So, I took advantage of that and stopped at the visitor center…
Nice relaxing place to stop and stretch the legs.
The visitor center – also a stop for cars along the local highway.
Very hospitable place – they registered my boat and gave me a lot of local information.
Leaving the visitor center to make the far end lock opening.
Now following a sailboat with 5.5 foot draft – anywhere the go successfully, I will be able to go.
We are now entering Virginia – so happy, North Carolina has not been good to me.
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
Finally the bend in the Dismal Swamp Canal – only 11 miles to go!
You can see the bend on the charts.
There is a dredge ahead of us – the operator has not been lowering the hose far enough and several boats have hit it, one bending one of his props.
The sailboat is going past the dredge now – so far so good…
It appears that we successfully passed the dredging area – but wait, the sailboat just a few hundred feet from here came to a sudden stop after hitting his hose further down, as I went around them I hit it too. Turns out they had some damage – lost their speed sensor, while I had none – but I am now in front of them.
An old abandoned railway crossing – nobody in front of me for miles.
Believe it or not, there is actually a boat ramp in there somewhere.
A fire truck was practicing spraying from their high pressure hose over the canal and stopped just as I got there.
There is a bridge associated with the last lock, once again operated by one person. The bridge does not open until 1:30, so they supply a spot to tie up to wait – here I am tied up to the big boat that was originally in front of me, and the sailboat has a spot to tie up behind us.
The bridge only has four feet clearance, so I can’t get under it – but, there are several restaurants in this area, so I took time to go get some food…
Sure enough at 1:30, the lock master opened the bridge for us – I had the other two boats go first, since they are both faster than me and would pass me later anyway.
The lock master has just closed the lock gate behind us…
At this top of this lock…
Now at the bottom – time to head to Norfolk. I’m really glad I did the Dismal Swamp – kind of boring, but beautiful!
Heading out of the lock.
A really tall bridge – the board read 145 feet.
Norfolk Naval Shipyard – 1767.
Lots of work going on with Naval ships at BAE.
Ships in the water and dry-dock.
Better shot of the dry-dock, that ship really has a slim hull!
Coming in to Waterside Marina where I am staying tonight. Pretty much right downtown.
Nice safe spot to leave the boat while I fly home, get the truck and trailer, then come back and get the boat on the trailer.
Went to the Norfolk Maritime Museum – awesome!
And look, you can stay overnight on the Battleship Wisconsin!
And there is the Battleship Wisconsin.
Inside the museum now – huge place, three stories.
The view of Norfolk on the water from the re-created bridge of a decommissioned naval warship.
Part of the actual bridge of the naval warship.
Most of the rest of it.
The rear guns on Battleship Wisconsin.
They are creating an eco-port for container ships here.
The ‘brain’ of a communication/fire control station from an old naval warship.
Hard to read, but Americas first metal battleship – built in Norfolk in 1895.
The shell from the Wisconsin’s guns weight the same as a Beetle.
Wisconsin’s front guns.
A local IPA from the Taproom.
Norfolk Taproom
Some good sayings at the Hell’s Kitchen bar in downtown Norfolk.
Hard to see, but my IPA, me and the Hell’s Kitchen sign in the window.
Hell’s Kitchen
Customs House
World Trade Center
Norfolk Waterfront
My view of the naval shipyards from the boat.
My route today.

Alligator River Marina, across the Albemarle Sound, to Elizabeth City

Left this morning at 5:30 to try to get across the Albemarle (20 miles across, which takes me over 3 hours) before the wind came up. This is my first view of the day – conditions are not bad – blowing about 10 mph, when the weather says zero (calm).
I can see better now, to be able to see the markers and avoid the numerous crab traps…
Sunrise is getting better, wind conditions a little worse.
The sun is coming up over the horizon – I hope these conditions last my whole way across, about 18 miles to go at this point before I get to sheltered water.
The wind is coming up and conditions are getting worse, the boat is rolling so much I have to stand and hold on – stuff is already on the floor. But, my destination, the sheltered point coming up is in view.
Its blowing about 14 here, when it wasn’t supposed to be over 10 for the whole day – and it is only just after 7 in the morning at this point – good thing I left at 5:30!
This is before the worst of it – still over an hour to go – during that hour I couldn’t even hold the camera, had to hold on with both hands to not get thrown off my feet.
Across the Albmarle Sound and into more sheltered water now – whew! That large building was used in WW II to make and maintain military blimps. It is now a private military contractor make blimps for surveillance and communications purposes.
Just passed Elizabeth City and went under their bridge – continuing on to a Marina further up the Intracoastal. Originally I had planned to stay at the Elizabeth City free docks, but when I saw that there was a bridge I had to go under, and the chart said the height was two feet, I felt I had to make the marina reservation and get through the bridge today. As I approached the bridge I was that it was not 2 feet – so I called the bridgetender and asked what the clearance was. He told me 12 feet, but as I got there to go under, I saw that the board said it was only seven feet! Luckily is was more like 10 feet, so I made it under.
Coming into the channel to Lamb’s Marina. I decided to stay here because I need to get to the lock another 15 miles up the way by its first opening at 8:30 AM, and I was worried that the previous bridge would not open for me that early (of course I found out I could get under it anyway…).
A nice marina – a lot of liveaboards and I’ve heard it is a great Hurricane hole. Adagio happily at the dock, with free power.
The marina is also a gas station on the local highway – unfortunately, the restaurant was closed. A lot of us here were looking forward to going there. Later I rode my folding bike back into Elizabeth City to see my friends who were staying at the free docks and tour the town – the road is definitely not bike friendly!
The were remodeling the office and store, which is why the restaurant was closed.
These are my friends on A River Derci (you can see the name on the dinghy). Been travelling off and on with them since Beaufort NC.
The front street of Elizabeth City – the free docks are a little was down the road.
Elizabeth City has been welcoming Great Loopers for a long time – the roses come into play in a moment, everyone who landed at the free docks today was handed a rose as they got off their boats.
These are my Great Loop friends at the free docks – Bella Gatto in the middle.
The stone monument that explains the roses – the Rose Buddies.
The local brewery – in an alley paved with bricks. Unfortunately, it was close – but, at the next bar I went to with the guys from Bella Gatto, they had some of the brewery beer on tap. I mixed the two they had and really enjoyed it – then got to meet the brewery owner and he though it was pretty cool that I had done that.
The brick pavers in the brewery alley.
Went to this amazing free museum in the town.
The museum takes up most of that huge two story building – very friendly people, and as the next photos show, great presentation of the local phases of history in the area.
Full size shad boat hanging over the lobby.
“The South part of Virginia now the North part of Carolina”.
An original 1700s home moved and put up in this museum…
The origins of the Dismal Swamp Canal, which I will traverse tomorrow.
An original fire engine.
And an old farm tractor – I figured my friend Grant would like this…
A roving playhouse, moving up and down the rivers town to town.
Elizabeth City waterfront – I really like this town.
Happy Hour with the Loopers here at Lamb’s Marina.
My route today – tomorrow the Dismal Swamp and Norfolk.