Week 41 – Off AGAIN and Back On the Loop

This is a slow week of mostly waiting.  Because of the flooding on the Mississippi and the fact that we had a guest aboard, we decide to take another road trip for a couple of days.  We leave the boat in Grafton, Illinois where we are watching the water steadily rising.  The whole marina, complete with restrooms, general store and restaurant floats but the parking lot is expected to go under water which would leave us as a virtual island.  We decide that wouldn’t be a fun way to entertain a 26 year-old and so St Louis and St. Charles become our destinations.


We drive along the Mississippi and over the Missouri rivers, marveling at how fast they are both moving and how much debris is galloping along in them.    We see whole trees, refrigerators and even several aids to navigation tangled up in huge debris mats that are rafting up behind unmoving objects like barges, bridges and docks.  We wonder: A) what happens to these islands of debris when a barge actually pulls anchor and B) does someone have the job of removing all of the wood, plastic and other assorted junk from the river at some point or does all of this eventually find its way to the Gulf?


We have a fantastic lunch/dinner at Guido’s on the Hill and decide a walk at a museum would be a great way to burn off some of the calories we have just ingested.  So, we go to the St. Louis Museum of Art and are greatly impressed by the collection at this free museum.  Each of us is drawn to different areas of the collection but we appreciate all of it.   The museum is situated in a lovely park and we wish that we had time to really explore it, along with the zoo but we want to see the arch and find our hotel before it gets too late.


Arriving in downtown St. Louis near dinner time, we walk along the waterfront and up to the museum at the Gateway Arch.  Annelise was here once when she was in single digits but doesn’t remember it.  It is an impressive structure but unfortunately, we arrive too late to take the tram to the top.  The museum gives a good taste of the history that has happened here and we learn a little more about the area before we find our hotel and crash.


The next day, we explore St. Charles which was the first capitol of Missouri and was also the departure point for Lewis and Clark’s expedition.  The town also boasts the longest historic main street in the USA.  It is absolutely adorable.

IMG_7626.JPGWe browse the Lewis and Clark museum, admiring the grit of these people who opened the door to westward expansion and marvel at the fact that on their 2-year journey, only one person died and that was from sickness.  Amazing, considering the winters they survived and the lack of food they experienced several times along the trek.  If it weren’t for the tribes of First People, who helped them, their mission would surely have been less successful and the death toll would have been much higher.


We browse through shops that are unique and full of so many fun things, especially the used bookstore!  We are all trying to be minimalists and so we are happy to look and not own any of the fun things but it is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.  We have a great dinner at an Irish pub and return to our hotel.


The next day, we work in the morning and then use the afternoon to visit Meramac Caverns.  It is a privately owned, 16-mile-long cave system which is south and west of St. Louis and is open while the other cave systems that are run by the State Park system are closed this time of year.

IMG_7645.JPGWe wander through massive rooms of dolomite, a rock so dense that water doesn’t really filter through it into grottoes that are limestone.  The water filters readily through this porous rock to form pools of crystal clear water and formations of stalactites and stalagmites that are delicate at times and massive at others.  The colors range from ivory to dark green and gold to iron-produced red.  The final room is called the theater room and a video tribute to America and her troops is cast against this backdrop of living stone.  It has a definite Bible-Belt feel to it, which is reasonable, given where we are.


The next morning we put Annelise on a plane back to Denver.  I am really sad that the weather, flooding and other issues created an experience that was very different from what I wanted her to have on her visit with us but that is the nature of being boat nomads.  We are entirely at the mercy of the elements and must make mental shifts to be happy dealing with what comes at us.  Her experience on the Camino de Santiago prepared her well for this and it was nice to see how easily she flexed with what was going on.  I still wish it had been different.


We return our rental car and decide that we will move the boat to Alton Marina, a two hour journey from Grafton.  Not a big deal but Grafton has no Verizon coverage and no viable internet at the marina and we just don’t feel comfortable having to sit incommunicado for however long it takes for us to be able to move through the lock that is just downriver.

IMG_7663.JPGWe pass a lot of flooded areas but the trip is uneventful and we join a bunch of other Loopers in Alton (some we haven’t seen since Key West) to wait it out.  Along the journey, many ATONS are missing and we joke about calling the Coast Guard and telling them that they can find most of their missing buoys in the debris mats in St. Louis!


The flooding has backed up the barge traffic and they take priority through the locks.  So here we sit, expecting that conditions will be good enough sometime this weekend to begin to move down river again but in the meantime, we have great internet and cell phone coverage and so are able to research what is happening down river from us and what conditions we can expect once we start moving again!

Week 40 –We’re Back on the Loop

Our Western Loop comes to a close this week.  It has been an amazing experience to see the National Parks of South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.  We managed to put 3600+ miles on our rental car in less than 2 ½ weeks and saw some amazing sights but all good things come to an end.

We enjoy a lovely stop in Denver, visiting daughter, Annelise and sister, Mary.  Annelise acts as a guide and we hike the Dinosaur and Red Rocks trails, logging about 7 miles over terrain that is only challenging because there is no oxygen at this elevation!


The scenery is gorgeous and we hear some great stories about Annelise’s experience hiking the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain earlier this year.  She has some thoughtful insights and many helpful tips for us to consider as we contemplate walking “The Way” sometime in the not too distant future.


We explore the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and are very impressed with the quality and quantity of the exhibits.  The artist commissioned for the wildlife scenarios, supposedly had a sense of humor and began hiding elves within his painted backdrops.  We can’t find even one of them and wonder if this isn’t some kind of PR stunt to make you pay attention to the painted surfaces beyond the stuffed animals and their habitats.

IMG_7551a (4)IMG_7551a (1)

Photo Credit: Annelise Sandberg

We explore a heat sensor exhibit that projects an image of your body according to the heat it projects.  I put my hands up to is and it is evident why they are always chilly, the tips of my fingers read with little body heat but when Annelise does this, her finger tips show up completely black = NO HEAT AT ALL!!!


 Poor baby, I hope we don’t hit a cold spell on the boat because we don’t have a heater.  On cold mornings we put the stove on and the burners heat the cabin very quickly and very well, so we don’t really mind much.

That evening we celebrate Annelise and Maddy’s birthdays and dine at Linger, an outstanding restaurant situated in the former Olinger Mortuary where Buffalo Bill’s body lay for weeks while Colorado and Wyoming duked it out over where his final resting place would be (Colorado prevailed).  The maître d’s stand is an old pew, the lights over the tables are housed in what looks like commercial ventilator vents and the atmosphere is high energy and fun.  We order a potpourri of appetizers, sides and main courses and share them, ensuring that we each benefit from what the others in the group like.  We are full to bursting but that doesn’t stop us from sharing a couple of treats along with the two desserts that arrive for our two birthday girls.  Even those who declare that they are too full for dessert partake enthusiastically.  It is a really nice family reunion and celebration and I want to kick myself the next morning when I realize that I didn’t get a photo to mark the event.

Bright and early the next morning, we depart in our rental in the pouring rain which lasts all day.  We make Omaha, NE (another state I have never been in!).  This is windmill country and we see many erected in the middle of farmland.  We also see the tractor trailer trucks, each carrying one huge blade that will be assembled somewhere out here and still later we see others carrying sections of the upright portions.  They are HUGE!



After 7 hours of passing landmarks like: the World’s Largest Covered Wagon, The Koolaid Man’s footprints and and the memorial to the Martin brothers who were riding together on a horse and were shot by Indians.  The arrow went through one brother, into the back of the other and yet they survived, apparently receiving medical attention and living well into old age.  No, you can’t make this stuff up!


The next day, we are up and out early and under thankfully clearer skies, we make it to Peoria without event.  All along the way we see creeks that are now rivers, rivers that have overflowed their banks and flooded lowlands and we give thanks, thinking that our marina should be easier to exit than it was to access (we bumped the bottom all the way into the marina).

We unload all of our stuff then Annelise and I shop to provision the boat while Jerry sees to engine maintenance.  After returning our rental car, we eat at Alexander’s Steak House which smells amazing from the outside and doesn’t disappoint once we get inside.  There are two monster-sized open pit grills, which are fired up and char-broiling meat and fish.  The salad bar is extensive and we eat till we can’t any more.  We would definitely recommend this place!

The wind picks up during the night, making the lines creak and groan and I wonder if Annelise is getting any sleep.  The front comes through, drops the temperatures and it is chilly when we depart the next morning.  The water here doesn’t appear to be much higher than it was but we are able to exit the marina without too much drama and cheer when we come to the lock.  The water is actually high enough that they have lowered the wickets on the dam and rather than wasting time dealing with a lock, we cruise right over the dam on even water.  YAY! No locks today!  The sun is out and we have a pretty easy cruise to Havana, noting whitecaps and one footers on the river due to the wind but the sun is out and we are warm enough in the flying bridge to be comfortable.  It is fun when we pass the pusher named Anne Elise.  We have seen before, higher up on the river system, prior to our Western Loop and I get a shot of our Annelise in front of her.


We dock at Tall Timbers Marina in Havana, Illinois and get out to explore the little town. We are late in the season now and most marinas up here are starting to wind down operations for the winter.  Some of the little towns that we come through have seen better days, others are revitalizing and being gentrified.  Havana is definitely one of the former but as we stroll through neighborhoods, under their spreading oak, maple and chestnut trees, we catch glimpses of how life might have looked here a hundred years ago.

We depart the next morning to a forecast of rain with a high of 51 degrees…..brrrrrr!  Without the sun to heat the flying bridge, we are not chilly, we are downright cold!  We have heating pads, which I use under my bottom sheet to heat my feet at night but they are now employed as seat heaters!  Even with two blankets and a heating pad, Annelise can’t stay warm and retreats to the cabin where the engines create a bit of warmth.


The Illinois River is a mess.  Because of recent rains, it has flooded its banks and the drift in the water is everywhere.  It isn’t just branches, although they are plentiful.  There are logs the size of telephone poles and stumps drifting along and the amount of debris tangled up behind the buoys is astounding.


If the Mississippi is worse than this, it justifies our choice to go down the Tennessee.


When we have enough service, we watch Hurricane Michael hit the shores of the panhandle and are heartbroken at the devastation it leaves in its wake.  Millions of dollars’ worth of homes have been scraped from existence and the marine industry has been dealt a blow that will probably take years to recover from.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of these areas and we are in no hurry to get that far south any time soon since we are receiving reports of severely limited services in that area.  We have a few months to figure out a plan to either store the boat or heed the advice of the many boats ahead of us as to conditions and plan out route home.

This area of the river seems to have less commercial traffic and is beautiful, with miles of forested shores dotted with small industrial plants and as we descend lower, we are starting to get into hilly country where there are stilt homes here and there along the shore. The river is very swollen from the rains so the stilts are a blessing in some places.


The fall colors are just starting to show and this area will be even more gorgeous in a couple of weeks.  We have the river pretty much to ourselves and are thrilled to watch multiple pairs of bald eagles soaring high and playing tag above us.

We anchor in a nice sheltered area between Buckhorn Island and the main channel because there are really no marinas for the 120 miles between Havana and Grafton and this is a little more than halfway which will make the run tomorrow shorter. I don’t think our anchor has ever set as fast or held so securely as it did when as we put it down here (and it came up clean the next morning!).  We have linguine and clams for dinner, along with a salad, and get massacred by Annelise playing Rummy 500 after dinner (her grandmother would be proud of her acumen!).


 The cabin is warmed by the generator-run stove burners, which are also heating water for coffee since we can’t run all of this and the microwave too, and we have candles lit for ambiance.  Annelise claims that it is like living in the 1800’s only with an I-pad to draw on!


We tuck into bed and snuggle down hoping for some sun and warmer temperatures tomorrow as we begin week 41!

Week 39 – The Western Loop within our Great Loop Adventure

We continue our western loop when we leave Deadwood, SD and choose to drive the Spearfish Scenic Road rather than taking the quicker route straight back to I-90 and what a great decision it turns out to be.  We pass through the tiny town of Lead and then wind up into the mountains where the road is bordered on all sides by aspens in their splendid fall attire, ranging from bright green to pinkish-gold to flat out highlighter-yellow.  Against the green pines, they seem to glow and we feel so lucky to be in this part of the country at this time of year, another couple of weeks later and we would have missed this altogether.


The road, as many do in mountainous regions, follows a creek bed and winds between up-thrust rocky cliffs, some soft and weathered and others as stark and sharp against the sky as they day they were thrust into being.  We are still in the Black Hills National Forest and some of the rocks that make up the cliffs are actually black stone.


We have noticed an unusually large number of dead pines in the forests of South Dakota.  More research shows that this is the result of the rice-sized Mountain Pine Beetle which has infested about 430,000 acres since the epidemic started in 1996, about a quarter of the 1.5 million forested acres in the Black Hills.


Two ways that humans have combatted this infestation are; spraying the affected areas and/or “cut and chunking” which entails felling the afflicted trees and cutting them into <24” sections so that the drying wood kills the larvae of the beetle.   Seeing so many dead trees leaving much of the upper mountains bare is a sad sight.

The beetles actually do serve a positive purpose by thinning out too densely populated forests and allowing the remaining ones to become healthier.  The dead trees leave air space, allowing more light into the understory.  This encourages growth of different types of trees, which use different nutrients than the pines did, thus keeping the soil healthier. It is hard to watch the devastation but we can see 2-3’ aspens taking the place of lots of the dead pines so it is also a hopeful sight to see.


We drive back on I-90 at the town of Spearfish and continue to head west where the landscape immediately changes from a rocky, scenic road through the mountains into a 4 lane highway bordered by endless plains of softly rolling hills.  We see mule deer and pronghorn antelopes in large familial groups, camouflaged against the buff colored prairie grass.  We pass some long horn cattle playing Ferdinand, sans the cork trees and boom, we are in Wyoming!


Exiting the highway, we drive north and coming over a hill, we see Devil’s Tower Monument in the distance.  It was the first US National Monument designated by Teddy Roosevelt.  You might remember it for the role that it played in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


We are glad to visit it this time of year because, while it is a bit crowded, it must be ten times more so during the summer months.  Walking around the megalith, we can see some crazy people climbing the face of the rock towers and we suppose that getting up must be hard but coming down must be even worse!


The pines at the foot of the tower have prayer bundles tied to their branches by members of some of the First Nations people who still consider this to be sacred ground.  This experience is definitely amazing.


We stop for lunch at an amazing place I find online, called Pokey’s in Gillette, WY.  We walk in and there is a wolf hide, lots of mounted heads and a framed knife collection on the wall along with some taxidermied predators!  We are definitely in the right place!


We split a Buffalo burger and it is delicious but the Mountain Man Mushrooms are to die for (I saw them on their menu online and it was what sold me on visiting this spot).  They are large mushroom caps filled with a combination of ground venison, boar, elk and buffalo and then topped with melted cheese. WOW!!! What a lunch!


Our waitress is a hoot when we compliment the wild game-stuffed mushrooms.  She asks if we eat carp and when we respond in the negative, she replies, “Whew, lots of people I ask actually eat those awful fish.  So if you don’t eat carp, NEVER eat an antelope!” she says.  “They are tough and really sagey tasting! I call them “prairie carp” because they are so nasty!”  We laugh about this over the next few days as we go past giant prairies full of sage and pronghorn antelope.


We spend a quiet night in Buffalo, WY and drive toward Cody the next morning.  The temperatures drop as we climb and the pines and prairie grass here are limned with frost.


There is snow on the ground as we enter Big Horn National Forest and it is just stunning.  The rest of the drive is never dull, especially when we are slowed by a group of cowboys and girls moving a large herd of Red Angus Cattle from their pasture land down to the lower lands along our road.  We laugh at all the moo-ing and mothers trying to keep their babies on the proper path.  This phenomenon slows us down a lot but we don’t care, it’s very entertaining!


Eventually, we pull into Cody in time to take in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Museum which is definitely a great find (thanks, Mom), especially since we are in time to see the last day of the Bierstadt painting exhibit.


He has been one of my favorites since my kids and I studied this area during a unitstudy on Cowboys, Indians and the Wild West.  Bierstadt was one of the first conservationists and used a lot of metaphor, illustrating the demise of the buffalo, First Peoples and western world of that era.


The museum has a fine collection of western art and a separate collection of all kinds of firearms that have been used here. We are happy to have visited here.  We retire early and rise early for our trip into Yellowstone.


We are again taking a scenic route and we wind through foggy mountain gaps where sunlight is just beginning to peak through.  The fog clears as we climb into the mountains and an hour later we are in Yellowstone.  Almost immediately we catch sight of a coyote loping along the meadow beside our road and we snag a pretty good shot!


We had planned to do the north route but as weather for the next day is iffy, we decide to do the southern route first.


We are lucky to walk up just as Old Faithful is erupting and walk a loop in time to see it go again! It is pretty amazing how this one geyser is so predictable when most of the others can erupt anywhere from a few hours to a few months apart.


For those of you who have been to Yellowstone, you know that there is no way that words do justice to the sights and for those of you who haven’t been, my advice is to make this a plan in your near future, it is that amazing.  We spend 2 ½ days and cover almost all of the roads within the park, glimpsing lots of wildlife and amazing sights but we know we could spend much more time in this magical place and never run out of things to see and do.

IMG_7265.JPGThe terrain is amazingly varied and diverse in a relatively small geographical area and around every corner is a sight that amazes us.  The wildlife is also very cool and we catch great shots of bison, elk and some curious smaller critters too.


I will post a few photos of the sights here because trying to describe it all is crazy!



Our last day in Yellowstone, we rise early to try to catch the sunrise over Grand Prismatic and unfortunately weather is not our friend.  As fast as the sun is rising, the clouds are scudding in on a cold front to stand between the sun and us.


The temperature is 42 degrees, the wind is blowing straight at us at about 25 mph and we are freezing!  While it is a little warmer due to the hot spring, we are absolutely soaked from the mist and shivering before we finally give up with the few photos we have.


 When my mom visited, the conditions were such that the sun shot rainbows all through the mist from this amazingly colorful spring, we’ll have to take her word for it!


We drop down out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park.  The first glimpse of the mountains across Jackson Lake is breathtaking and it only gets better from there.  We drive with lots of oooohs and aaaaahs because the aspens are on fire and the mountains are majestically imposing.

IMG_7428.JPGWe stop at Jackson Lake Lodge, on Leland’s recommendation, and we are not disappointed by the view or the food.  The Mural Room looks out on the mountains and is elegant, quiet and a place to rest the senses until the food arrives and then it is sensory overload!  We enjoy the elk chili, a smoked trout Caesar salad and a vege grilled cheese that are all wonderful!


We drive the park loop twice, taking the back loops, stopping to take photos along the way and waiting behind a truck where a man is inserting snow poles along the roadways in anticipation of the snow that is expected to fly hard and fast this weekend and we are thankful that the timing of this spontaneous trip worked out so well.   The parks have no crowds (unless an elk or buffalo are spotted) and many of the services are closed or are closing so if we had come even just a week later our experience would have been drastically impacted.


For days now we have been looking for a moose and have yet to spy one even though we have been up and out early in the mornings.  We do see family groups of elk and it is always fun to hear them bugling to one another across the roads.  They definitely stop traffic!


The aspens are much more lush and plentiful in Grand Teton National Park than in Yellowstone and they are flaming slashes of gold and pink against the green pines.  We comment to each other that we have never used the word “WOW” as often as we have during the last couple of days!


Leaving the park, we travel south to Jackson Hole.  After I graduated from college, my dad spent a couple of years driving the United States and I remember him saying that Jackson Hole was his favorite spot on his trip and we can see why.  It is a fun town in a gorgeous setting.  We spy a spot called the Million Dollar Cowboy and with a name like that we cannot not go in.  I love it, the barstools are saddles!

I think Jerry is less enthralled than I am but he humors me and we saddle up, enjoy a local beer and then walk the town, noting that the town square has arches at each of its four corner that are made of elk antlers, which are shed and collected at the nearby elk sanctuary.


We wander into a store and the sales girl mentions that there was a moose in her back yard that morning and proceeds to show us a photo of a HUGE bull moose on her phone.  We cruise the neighborhoods searching for our own moose near the forest at dusk but to no avail.


The next morning dawns cloudy, cold and rainy but there is no time to wait for fair skies. We have a great time at the Jackson Hole Rotary Club and move on! We come down through the Bridger-Teton National Forest where evidence of the recent fires is obvious.  We pass huge tent cities, set up to house the firefighters who have come from all over to contain the flames and we can see where planes have dropped red fire retardant material all along the verges of the highway.  We spend the night in Green River, WY with an amazing view from our windows.


The plan for the next day is to drive Flaming Gorge which will take us from Wyoming into Utah and then into Colorado.  Off we go and the views are impeded by the weather but it is still a lovely drive.  We find a turn out called Sheep Creek Loop and decide to take it.  It is off the beaten track and is a secluded and quiet dirt road that winds between geologically rich cliffs.  We see rabbits and wild turkeys (much smaller than their Florida cousins) and stop to enjoy the music of a stream as it falls over the multi-hued rocks along its path.


Further up the road I see something moving and signal to Jerry to stop. It is a bull moose and his cow, together in a small clearing.  Jerry stops the car and I leap out to snag photos which turn out not as clear as I would have liked but we have our MOOSE!!! We are so happy watching them watch us until an idiot in a pickup, towing a camper, lumbers around the bend spooking our moose into the forest.  It is all we can do to be civil to him as he passes us but we are.




We exit out of Sheep Creek Loop, winding ever higher into the hills and the rain becomes snow again as we climb.  It is lovely and we carefully drive through it until we watch it transform back into rain as we descend into the Flaming Gorge Dam area.  We decide we can do Dinosaur National Park today and then spend the night half way back to Denver.  The museum here is amazing. It is an actual excavation site that has been enclosed into a museum and it is fascinating to see all of the bones of huge dinosaurs that were caught and preserved in the strata.  This area would be fascinating to hike when the weather is good and hopefully we will be back.



We are so blessed to have been able to do this western Loop inside our Great Loop adventure.  We close the week looking forward to seeing family in Denver, scooping up daughter, Annelise and taking her back to the boat with us for a couple of weeks of river travel before she needs to return to her new home in the mile high city!

Lessons in Locking

When I was learning to fly airplanes, I bought a plaque with a quote that resonated deeply with me. In only a few words, it encapsulated an aphorism that I have tried to live by most of my aviation life and to a lesser degree, in my boating life.

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness or neglect.” I naively believed that the distance between the perils in aviation and the time to avert danger where much shorter than the time to avert the same for the Mariners’ peril. I thought that at least you could float in a boat, right?  I would go back to the author of that quote and ask him to consider rephrasing the “even to a greater degree” line and then ask Poseidon to forgive my ignorance and hubris.

What brought this reflection about, you may be asking yourself, and what lesson or trouble did Jerry find this time? You would be right because I found that aphorisms, whether in aviation, maritime, or any other pursuit by men and women, are born out of the immediacy of experience.

Jean and I are fortunate to have completed two-thirds of the Loop and have entered the remaining one third, known as the river system.  We have had our challenges along the way and are grateful for each, and every experience we have earned and learned from, but for me, the most challenging moment came in the Starved Rock Lock, on the Illinois River. Those few moments in the lock made each of the previous challenges feel like child’s play in comparison.


Photo by Wikipedia

The locks in the states are similar to the locks we have experienced in Canada (the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn mostly) but differ vastly in size and type of traffic that uses them. The closest that we experienced in Canada was the St. Lawrence Seaway locks, and we were immensely happy that we only had to lock through those a couple of times. The “commercial locks” are typically over a 1000′ long and can range anywhere from a few feet to over 35 feet change in water level. In the states, commercial traffic on the Illinois, Ohio, Mississippi, to name a few, have priority and work 24/7 transporting up to 16 barges in one haul up and down the rivers. A single pusher/tow vessel can fill an entire lock and take a long time to load in or out of the lock. It is not uncommon for pleasure craft (known as PC’s to the river captains) to wait hours for an opportunity to lock-through. I am not complaining. The industries (and the public) that benefit by barge transportation is immense, and without them, our economy would be crippled. The amount of materials that barge traffic haul is more than cargo aircraft, railroad, and semi-trailer loads combined can haul. The priorities and wait times are just part of river cruising and are to be expected and endured.  Jean and I have made 120+ lock-throughs learning and gaining confidence with each one. Our last experience has delivered the most powerful lesson in locking-through to date.

The morning begins calm enough with an early departure from the Ottawa City Dock for an hour or so cruise to our first and only lock of the day. We planned to stretch from Starved Rock Lock to Peoria (a run of about 65+ miles) and tie up for a couple of weeks to make a side trip to the west to visit family in Colorado.  As we entered the river, we joined four other boats heading for the same lock. Three more boats fell in behind us, and we all cruised slowly towards Starved Rock. It is customary to call the lockmaster before departure to give him a heads-up, plus find out if we should even untie and proceed towards the lock.  If there is numerous commercial traffic, it pays to stay at the dock and wait without running engines and burning fuel.

The lockmaster said that an 8:30am lock-through was a good possibility, so off we went.  As we got closer the lock-through time increased from 8:30 to 9:00 due to traffic. What many cruisers will do is “hover” in place while waiting for the appointed time.  Makin Memories does not like to hover so we will do a slow up and down the approach to the lock depending on how much traffic is waiting. Others will join in and wait for the lock-master to open the gates and direct us to the spot they want us to come alongside and we will either throw a line around a floating bollard or hang on to lines the lock staff give us. This day there was a pusher/tow in the uppermost part of the lock with Jean and me in the third position. Pusher/tows do not tie up to the wall of the lock, nor do they “hold lines.” They will use their engines to “push” up against the wall to maintain their position. Pushers and tows are river vessels that transport barges (up to 16 at a time) up and down the rivers. They are different than tugs both in size and power available, but nevertheless can be just as intimidating and almost as powerful. A few differences are in design and horsepower available and the ability to pull other vessels. A tug can produce as much as 27,000+ horsepower awhile a pusher can generate, on average, 5000+ horsepower to perform its work. The method of steerage comes in many different forms. Pushers can utilize Kort Nozzles or Cycloidal Propellers, or other vertical axis methods as examples (Google it!). The point is that the thrust vector is confined and powerful and to be avoided whenever possible.


River barge pusher

After about a 90-minute wait on station, all the PC’s were given instructions to enter the lock and give their entry order. Jean and I were instructed to take the third position behind another cruiser and the pusher/tow. The lock-through was slow due to only one of two hydraulic cylinders operating properly, but otherwise uneventful. The fun began when the gates opened, and we were to exit the lock. The lock-master instructed the pusher/tow to remain in place and for the PC’s to proceed around the pusher/tow and exit the lock. The first clue that all was not going to go as planned was when the first cruiser was leaving the wall and was sucked up against the pusher/tow and could not transition around without using a much higher throttle than is typical.  When the cruiser did make it around the pusher/tow, the thrust from the pusher/tow pushed the cruiser into the opposite lock wall. There is usually a moment (upon reflection) that if you could have back to re-do the moment in question, you would. After the first cruiser made it off the opposite wall, I throttled off the wall and began to go around the pusher/tow. I too was sucked towards the pusher/tow and then pushed by the stern thrust into the opposite wall as well. That is only half of what was to come. As my stern hit the lock wall, I throttled up to push out against the thrust from the pusher/tow but had to throttle back to miss the cruiser ahead of us because on the other side of the lock another barge was on the immediate right side preparing for entry into the lock up bound. It was a serpentine maneuver that the first cruiser and myself were in. The entire time the pusher/tow in the lock kept his rpm’s up and pushed the two of us out of position.  On the radio, we heard the lock-master issuing warnings, and cautions to the other PC’s in the lock not to proceed and the pusher/tow to decrease their rpms to reduce the wake output.  By the time Jean and I made it through the exit and past the other barge and pusher, we had hit the wall fairly-hard but made it through.  The rub-rail and the nose of the dingy on the port side took most of the impact but upon inspection safely down the river, they were not severely damaged.

Honest reflection has taught me a few lessons here. The first and foremost was that PFD’s are absolutely a necessity. We hit the wall so hard that I was afraid that Jean would be thrown from the forward deck and into the water. Secondly, I should have never left the wall until the lock-master guaranteed that the pusher/tow either reduced its power output or exited the lock before me. The power produced by the pusher/tow holding its position against the wall was too violent for us to pass by safely. My bad!!  I also did not appreciate the crew of the pusher/tow lined up on their boat to “watch the show.” Very unprofessional and makes me wonder if this was not a planned “event to watch.” Still, when all is said and done, I decided to push off the wall and go. I regret making it now. After the two cruisers left, the lock-master halted the other PC’s and instructed the pusher/tow to exit the lock.  It took close to an hour for the others to exit the lock and continue down river.

As I nurse my LPTSD (Looper Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) over the latest “new lesson learned,” I urge other PC captains to remember that they are the captain of their vessel and ultimately, they are responsible for their decisions and if they feel that the situation is not safe, they, and only they, can make the decision to “go or not go.”

Week 38 – Lots of New Rivers… We Need a Break and Embark on a Different Kind of Loop!

(Note to readers: This week includes what was, for us, a pretty traumatic experience. Jerry will be publishing more detail on this from his perspective later today.)

This week starts with us in Joliet, Illinois, which was a God-send for us.  A free wall, in town and not much else.  When we arrived, we were in the company of 5 other Loopers.  We all kind of introduced ourselves and crashed after a long day in high (100 degree) temperatures on the Chicago River and in its locks.  The next night saw us doing Docktails and laughing at each other’s mishaps. It is amazing. When you are going through the tough times, you swear you will sell the boat at the earliest opportunity but when you get together with other people, these are the times that you share with enthusiasm.  You never share what went right, or what was great or what was wonderful…. You share what almost drove you to the brink of quitting this voyage and you laugh.  Why is this, I wonder?


Anyway, it is nice to be with people who have all been through the same experiences and fortunately for us, Jerry and I don’t share any tales of major prop and strut damage which many others are able to describe in detail along with the repair price tags (OUCH!!!). Knock on wood, we still won’t share this experience when it is all over!

Our fellow Loopers all depart the next morning but we stay, not one but, two more nights, needing to just rest and regroup and then plan what we are doing next.  We had planned through Chicago and it is now time to lay out the river portion in more detail.

The impression of any town in which we stay is shaped by our physical ability to experience it from the boat.  Joliet is an interesting town with, I am sure, much more to offer than what we can see as we are limited by travel either on foot or by bike.  What we see is Harrah’s Casino (from the outside only) and lots of liquor stores and precious few grocery stores.


We eat at the Route 66 Diner and ask our waitress where to get fresh fruit and veges and she tells us about the Supermercado and El Ranchito (nuff said right? We are in what is colloquially known as a food desert).  We bike to the Supermercado where my Spanish is barely adequate but we are able to buy some fresh stuff, which is a good thing!

We plan to leave Joliet as soon as possible in the morning but there is a railroad bridge that must be open before we can progress.  The nights here have been backdropped with commercial traffic noise.  The trains transit the river over the bridge and the tug and barges necessitate lifting the bridges with sirens and clanging gongs accompanying the openings.  It is amazing how all of this fades into a background of white noise because with the cool temperatures at night we don’t need to use our AC and all of our ports, windows and hatches are open.


Finally the bridge opens and the lock master who is a mile and a half away transmits that he is ready for southbound PC’s (pleasure craft) and our three boats take off.  The locks on the river are very different than the ones we have become accustomed to in Canada.  Rather than being 80 feet long, they are 800+ feet long and rather than being recreational, they are mainly for commercial traffic, which takes priority.  We have relatively good luck all day and meet with few delays until our last lock where the water is coming up and we can see a tug rising but it takes him forever to actually get his barges moving and out of the lock.


We had heard the lock master talking to the boats that are waiting below the lock and telling them that they might have a 2-3 hour wait before they can get into the lock.  If a barge is carrying a chemical load, they cannot put PC’s into the lock with them.

Once he finally clears the lock, we and the 6 other boats that have piled up behind us are given the signal to enter the lock.  We all get in and then they put a tug in right beside us but he is sideways facing away from us, we still don’t know why but man, do we get pushed around from his engine wash!


Eventually we all clear the lock to see a three-across, tow-deep barge and tug waiting to enter.

IMG_7022.JPGWe skirt him and then see 9 PCs rafted up and waiting. The sad thing is you can’t even raft up and party (well, maybe others can but we wouldn’t) as you have to have your wits about you when you are locking through.  We feel bad for these folks and again give thanks for how fortunate we were to have timed the lock perfectly and had the good fortune not to have any southbound commercial traffic take priority over us.


We dock in Ottawa and decide to have a communal dinner, with each of us bringing something to share.  Our hosts are Cat and Gilles, a French couple who are doing an around the world gig on a catamaran for a three-year duration.  It is a great dinner (compliments to the chefs!) and excellent company with lots of laughs and stories shared by all.


We depart early from Ottawa after calling the Starved Rock lock master who says there is about an hour wait but to come on down. It is about an hour drive and along the way we pick up lots of the boats that were with us in Joliet who spent a few days in Ottawa.


When we arrive, it isn’t an hour wait, it’s probably twice that.  I think there is a plot among lockmasters where they want all the pleasure boats clumped up together so they tell you to come ahead when they know it will be a long wait.


Anyway, we all wait at the lock, idling and moving slowly up and back, avoiding the shallows, the other pleasure craft and the tugs and barges that are also part of the mix.  Finally, the lock master indicates that there is one tug and barge coming up and then he will load all of us to take us down.  Sounds simple right?

Well, in theory it should be but factor in a tug that had to disconnect from his barges once he got them situated in the lock and then turn himself sideways so that he could fit and then reverse all of that once the lock filled and lifted him to our level and you have a scenario where we are all excited to see the lock doors open and then we sit there for another hour while he sorts himself out, moving his barges far enough forward that he can fit straight in behind them and finally push them clear of the lock.


Then, they load a tug in front of us, our friend Eagle One behind him, then our boat and the rest of the PCs behind us.  It is a long slow and easy ride down until they open the doors.  Usually it is first in and first out, meaning we have all braced ourselves and our boats for the tug wash that will hit us once the tug in front of us starts to move.  To our amazement, he cannot exit the lock because there are three barges side by side blocking the entry.


The lockmaster tells Eagle One to go around the tug, which means a hard left turn out from the wall, a hard right turn to come up the side of the tug and then another hard left to sneak through the tiny space the three barges have left clear and then right again to come up alongside and pass them and their pusher tug.  So, off he goes and heads for an immediate heart-attack experience.  The tug’s engines are running to keep it against the wall and his wash sucks Eagle One into its rear corner 3 times before her captain can get her off.  The tug wash then throws her against the other side of the lock. SHEESH!!! We are dying inside for our friends and their boat.

Okay, our turn.  Jerry is watching the tug wash and aims us close to the tug to lessen its potential impact but to no avail. We don’t have the side-thrusters that might have helped in this situation and it’s as if the tug has picked us up and thrown us sideways. “We’re going to hit! I can’t hold her,” he yells.  The force of the tug wash slams us into the opposite side of the lock, pinning us there.

Jerry guns the engines and we scrape, screeching along the lock wall,  listening to Makin Memories scream and crash repeatedly into the lock wall before coming free of the tug wash and the wall with a mighty lunge forward and a final slam to the rear end of the boat.


We reel for a minute and Jerry, very calmly under the circumstances, fights to gain control of the poor boat, yanking her past the tug and then to the left around the 3-across barge and into the relative freedom of the river.  “Take the helm!” he yells and I scramble from the bow up to steer us clear of the barge while he hurriedly goes below and examines the boat and engine room for damage.


Eagle One is holding past the mouth of the lock and we check to see if they are okay while they volunteer to drop behind us to see if they can see any damage.


Unbelievably, we have both escaped with no major damage except maybe to the two captains’ mental health.  We have sustained a burst fender, a shredded fender cover and the nose of our dinghy, which I think acted as a huge rear fender, keeping us from serious stern damage, is scraped and full of lock wall slime.


Our hearts are pounding and we are adrenaline-fueled and angry when we hear the lock master tell the rest of the PC’s that maybe they should hold inside the lock and let the tug exit first.  Where was that wisdom a few minutes ago?!?


The journey, once we clear the barge traffic, is lovely, thank goodness. We pass Bald Eagle sanctuaries where we see lots of juveniles flying and fishing along with their parents.


We have moved from the Chicago River to the Des Plains River and into the Illinois River and while it has some manufacturing and LOTS of barges being loaded along its banks, it is mostly wooded land and beautiful.


There are THOUSANDS of white pelicans gathering prior to migrating south and we are struck dumb by the sheer numbers of them!  We really enjoy this part of the river.


We come into the marina where we have arranged to leave the boat for a couple of weeks.  They have assured us that our 3.5’ draft will be no problem but we continually bump the bottom coming into the marina, a fitting ending to a stressful day!  We are docked in a covered slip, which is nice but man, getting into it was a challenge!

We pick up our rental car the next day and get the heck off the boat, both of us happy to have a bit of a break!  We are blown away by the beauty of Iowa, the cornfields and even the windmills somehow look like they fit out here.


The colors are amazing and we marvel at how much of the world’s food must be produced here.  When we return to the boat, we will be going through a lock whose claim to fame is that 1/3 of the grain produced globally will pass through it at some point!  This drive gives me a better appreciation for that.


We stop in Cedar Rapids for the night after making our first Rotary meeting in a LONG time!


We visit St John’s Cathedral and the USS South Dakota Memorial before turning in, exhausted but really liking this town.


The next day is a LONG drive but I am so excited when we come to the spot where Dignity stands.  I remember reading about this amazing sculpture when it was dedicated and she is even more beautiful in person than she is in photos.  The sculptor has made the colorful tiles that represent feathers on her robe so that the wind moves them and they flutter in the breeze as we gaze at her.  As gorgeous as this sculpture is in the morning light, I would LOVE to see her lit up in the nighttime with the stars and city lights below as a backdrop.

If that wasn’t enough for one day, we continue and enter the Badlands National Park and embark on the Badlands Scenic Loop, laughing that this is a different Loop than the one we originally contemplated making!

IMG_7137.JPGThe video at the visitor’s center gives us a good grounding in what we will see.  The land here is indescribably desolate and beautiful in a stark way.  We stop numerous time to appreciate the changing vistas, some with no visible life, others with buffalo and still others with prairie dogs whistling to each other from atop their little mounds!

We check into Hilton’s new Tru brand of hotel and have to laugh.  Booking online we had no idea that it was atop a casino and restaurant/bar conglomerate.  This brand must be catering to the younger set and we immediately love the upbeat energy embodied by the décor, music and in the young people manning the check in desk in Tru T-shirts and jeans.

IMG_7143.JPGEverything is functionally minimalistic and they are more socially responsible than are the traditional Hilton family brands (no little shampoo bottles and one-use soaps– squeeze bottles of everything hang in the shower and over the sink).

IMG_7165  The young man at check-in warns us that 1-5 inches of snow is expected during the night and we are dumbfounded. We looked at the forecast and this was NOT in it.  After picnicking from our cooler for the last couple of days, we enjoy an excellent dinner at Flyt, one of the casino restaurants.  Steak in this part of the world is amazing!


We go to bed and read, getting excited when the rain actually does change to snow!  In the morning, it is still snowing and a dusting of snow coats the trees and hilltops across from the hotel. This changes what we were planning for the day but we are kind of glad not to have to go anywhere, the places like Crazy Horse memorial and even Rushmore will not be visible at all this morning and so we relax.

IMG_7149.JPGWe sit tight and catch up on work and paperwork and eventually drive out through the adorable towns of Deadwood and Hill City oohing and ahhing over the gorgeous snow-covered aspens and pines.

IMG_7153.JPGIt is just magical especially since we suppose, as it turns out quite accurately, that the snow will all be gone by the afternoon.  When we later retrace our route, everything that was stark white this morning,  is now all  vivid green pines and shimmering gold aspens, shot through with slanting sunlight that is poking holes in the cloud cover. It is equally as glorious in a completely different way.  We are acutely aware of how much of a blessing this day has been.   Our plans for the day have been shattered and we are not sorry at all to trade seeing some man-made monuments for some God-made glory!

Week 37 – Big City Week and Another State!

People have asked why we chose to go down the west coast of Lake Michigan when most Loopers go down the east side (actually, from what I have seen on the AGLCA’s app called Meets, we are 50/50 on either side of Lake Michigan).  We always begin with what Jerry calls a thirty-thousand-foot plan, which is a broad-brush idea of what we want to do and where we want to go, along with an approximate date range of execution.  Over the last 9 months and 5,200 miles, we have learned that getting too attached to those plans can lead to major disappointment when weather or mechanical issues come up.  And so, we have learned to be much more patient and flexible than we were when we began this odyssey, allowing plans to change in response to what’s going on around us.  That means that times change and so do destinations, along with plans to meet people at specific places! That is a real challenge.

Because we had a weather window and a desire to see Jerry’s childhood home, we came down the west coast of Lake Michigan.  This was a change of plans made possible by a weather window that allowed a safe and uneventful crossing of Lake Michigan and allowed us to change our former plan to travel down the east side of the Lake.  The east coast has more lovely lakes in which to anchor and relax and hopefully we will get a chance someday to see those places but the decision to come down the west side gave us opportunities to see cities that I never anticipated seeing, like Milwaukee, which is where we began this week.


Milwaukee from Lake Michigan

We get an early start and so are docked early in Milwaukee.  Blake takes off, leaving Jerry and me to enjoy a little bit of down time.  We definitely have some challenges keeping up with him! He is an inveterate explorer and hits town with a plan and the stamina to execute it, us…not so much, we have the plan but the stamina is sometimes a challenge!


Milwaukee City Hall

Later in the afternoon, we set out and really enjoy exploring Milwaukee.  The architecture is amazing and there are great places to eat everywhere.  We find the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, which is a bar/cheese place that pairs its cheeses with specific beers for maximum flavor.

IMG_6821.jpgWe taste a huge variety of cheeses and end up bringing a bunch back to the boat for later snacking, including a chocolate cheese that is improbable but delicious!  We continue to walk along the Riverwalk and then return to the boat, looking forward to seeing more of the city but done for the day.


Milwaukee Art Museum

Sunday sees me changing sheets and swapping state rooms while Jerry and Blake go to the airport to retrieve Zack.  There is one thing I definitely want to see in Milwaukee and so am really grateful that everybody approves the plan. I offer an Uber but all state that they’d rather walk, at least until we are 6 miles into the journey when there starts to be some whining but luckily, we arrive at Marquette University and quickly find the Chapel of St. Joan of Arc.


Chapel of Saint Joan of Arc on Marquette University Campus

It is just lovely, nestled into a lush garden.  This chapel was originally situated outside of Lyons, France.  When Gertrude Hill Gavin, the daughter of an American railroad magnate and a devotee of St. Joan of Arc, learned of the chapel, she bought it, had it dismantled and shipped to her property on Long Island where it was reassembled stone by stone.  She later sold the property and chapel to Marc and Lillian Rojtman, who eventually gifted it to Marquette University, which required it to be taken apart once more, slightly enlarged and reassembled on the campus where it has been lovingly cared for ever since.


We enter the small chapel and do a hushed and reverent exploration of the building, noting the original tapestries, wooden kneelers and various decorative items.

IMG_6848.jpgWe see the altar stone where legend says that Joan prayed before going into battle.  I am so happy I got to see this and am now good letting the guys call the rest of the activities for the day.


We walk to the Pabst Blue Ribbon facility where they have the Packers vs. Vikings game on a big screen and we watch while we wait for the tour.  We have done numerous brewery tours but this one is particularly well done, in that our guide handles the history of Pabst very adeptly.

IMG_6859.JPGIt is interesting to know that most Pabst beers are now produced and packaged by MillerCoors except for some specialty beers that are award-winners and which are made from old recipes that were found in some of the archives.  Those beers are brewed and kegged on sight.  We enjoy the samples after the tour and I especially like the Pabst Andeker which is a German Helles style beer.


From there, food is in order, so we stop at the Milwaukee Brewing Company, where the game is also on.  I love the space, it is open and airy with large community tables inside it.  We order lunch, which turns out to be amazingly good and it is fun to be in a place where the energy for the Packers is so high.


We cheer with the crowd because you just have to be a Packers fan when you are in Wisconsin!  The game goes into overtime, so we order the DoTD (Donut of the Day) which is an amazing, piping hot, spicy/sweet perfect ending to our meal, as we watch overtime play out and end in a tied game (which Blake had called earlier on).


We explore the city, finding the Bronze Fonze (from Happy Days) and take a photo of Zack with him and then we continue on to the historic Third Ward where I pick up some lettuce at the World Market and we get some coffee for the guys at Kickapoo Coffee.  From there, we Uber back to the boat where Jerry and I are again done for the day.


We all huddle up and laying out a couple of choices for routes, the consensus is to scratch Kenosha and head directly to Chicago the next day, so the guys have more time there before they fly home on Thursday.  Blake and Zack recharge their batteries for an hour or so and off they go.  We have no idea what time they return and hope they had a good time.


Jerry and I are up and ready the boat for departure, making it a couple of hours into our journey to Chicago before we see the boys up and about.  It is a gorgeous day to travel with a light breeze, cool, comfortable temperatures and an amazingly calm Lake Michigan.  Thank goodness!  (As I sit writing this now, in Joliet, there are 35 mph winds and 9 foot waves reported on the Lake!) We are now leaving undeveloped woodland and farms behind and the shore is dotted with large factories and then beautiful high-end homes overlooking the water.  We are definitely entering civilization and after a few hours, we see Evanston and then Chicago emerge from the light mist that is rising from the smooth water ahead of us.


We dock and after getting settled,


(Caption Contest: I know there is a “How many Colemans does it take to ….” joke here somewhere!)

we stroll along the RiverWalk and grab a bite to eat at the Chicago Brew House, after which we come back to the boat and the boys again go on from there, meeting friends and discovering new places.


The next day, Jerry and I set out for a church and a museum.  Intuit, is a museum on the West side of town, devoted to untrained artists. Blake and Zack decide to go to the Chicago Art Institute (we had done this museum the last time we were in town).


We arrive before the museum is open and so, seeing the bell tower, we decide to go visit St. John Cantius Cathedral first.  What a find this turns out to be!

IMG_6932St John Cantius was from Krakow and is the little-known patron saint of teachers, students, priests and pilgrims.  The church itself was started in 1893, finished 5 years later and served a largely Polish community, adding a grammar school as well.  The congregation reached a peak of 23,000 in 1918.  Soon afterwards, major highways were built, destroying much of the neighborhood and putting a dent in the congregation as well.

IMG_6924.JPGThe depression added more stress and the church fell into decline until the congregation ultimately reached 200 parishioners and the school closed.

In 1988, Father Frank Phillips embarked on a mission of “Restoring the Sacred” and the church is now considered to be a treasure of Chicago with a congregation 30,000 strong and growing and The Chicago Academy for Fine Arts is housed in the old grammar school building.

Here is a link to this amazing transformation if you are interested, plus you can actually see more about the gorgeous interior of the building.



We have the church building to ourselves until a tour bus unloads a gaggle of tourists and so we mosey over to the museum, which describes itself this way: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the understanding of and appreciation for intuitive and outsider art through a program of education and exhibition. It is small, with a collection of interesting art ranging from abstract to classical and some just plain weird stuff thrown in there as well.


Brushes with Greatness by Mr. Imagination

From Intuit, we walk back towards downtown and end up at Water Tower Place where we mark my birthday by selecting a new watch to replace my old one that the jeweler declared DOA.  This one I can see even without my glasses! After a little down time on the boat, we meet up with Zack and Blake and one of Blake’s old roommates for dinner at Piece Brewery and have the BEST pizza EVER!!!  It was a very nice way to spend a birthday!


Our last day in Chicago is spent visiting the Museum of Science and Industry, which has a science behind the scenes of Pixar exhibit but even better, I get to see a chicken hatch!

Next, we make sure Zack’s bucket list item of Wrigley Field happens but unfortunately there is no game today.

IMG_6950.JPGThe weather has changed and we are really hoping that it holds for our trip down the river the next day.

Fortunately, we wake to only partly cloudy skies but we can see a line of black coming over the skyline as we depart toward the lock that will allow us passage into the downtown Chicago River.  The wind whips up to some pretty gusty conditions as we enter the lock (typical!) and Blake does well handling the stern line in his first lock.  It hampered his photographic endeavors but it was a huge help to us, given the conditions.


We clear the lock and pray that the bridge heights are as advertised.  They are supposed to be 17’ at the lowest, which will give us a good 18” of clearance above our radar dome, if we get both antennas down.


Being able to cruise downtown Chicago is a highlight of our Loop that we have been waiting and planning for and it doesn’t disappoint!  Since starting the trip, we have agonized repeatedly over whether we could get under the city bridges, finally believing that we can.  I stand on the hardtop to make sure we are good to pass under the first bridge and while it is close, we are good to go!  It is much scarier to stand inside the flying bridge because it feels like we will be decapitated each time we pass under one of the 30+ VERY low bridges.


Traveling the blue-green waters, we gaze up at the beautiful Chicago Tribune and Wrigley buildings, the Willis (formerly known as Sears) and Hancock Towers, The Chicago Board of Trade and the Merchandise Mart, along with my favorite, Marina City (looks like something out of the Jetsons)

IMG_6976.JPGand we see our reflection in several of the mirrored buildings that are close to the water. It is SO cool!


We are all snapping photos and shooting videos and we still manage to make it through without incident.

IMG_6971.JPGWe have deliberately planned to do this run early in the morning to avoid the commercial traffic that will pick up later in the day and so we encounter only a couple of water taxis and one pedal boat.  We pass China town wishing we could stop for brunch but now time is ticking.


We have Google earthed a place just south of downtown where we think we can let the guys off so they can catch a train to the airport and thankfully that goes as planned.  It is sad to see them go, Zack was with us for just a few days but Blake was here almost two weeks and we will miss them.


The river changes very quickly once we are south of the city, going from skyscrapers to rail yards and industrial parks.  Then it narrows down into a stone block lined, man-made canal that goes through a lot of green space.

IMG_6985Still later, we are in the midst of more raw materials than I have ever seen in one place.  Sand and gravel, rock and mulch are all pyramided high and being loaded into waiting barges.


Later, we learn how much energy transporting this material by barge saves. One barge carries approximately the same load as 13.4 rail cars or 58 semi loads!  This is a HUGE energy saving method of transporting raw goods over a long distance and we get to experience it up close and personally!


We are now in with a lot of tug and barge traffic and a few other pleasure craft (PC’s) and it is a cat and mouse game to get past the commercial traffic but we have one boat leading who likes communicating on the radio and he makes it easier for all of us to know what we are doing.  As we approach the second and last lock for the day, we are shuttled over to tie up on the side for an hour and a half while some barges take priority through the lock.  We are now 5 motor vessels and 2 sailboats and once they clear the lock, in we go; big boats on the lock walls and smaller boats rafted to us.


We raft with a darling 23 year-old on his way down to Florida, then to the Bahamas, Caribbean and ultimately to Suriname to join some buddies who want to go up the Amazon.  Having him rafted to us, we learn that he is retired (at least temporarily) and is solo in his very small sail boat and I am glad I’m not his parents having to be concerned about his safety!

We clear the lock and all of us make it to the Joliet wall where we help each other tie off and get situated.  The temperatures have hit 100 degrees during the day and we are all heat-exhausted but we introduce ourselves and trade boat cards prior to relaxing with cold drinks and making dinner.


We are getting reports of a lot of debris in the water lower down on the river and so are contemplating taking some time off the boat to go visit family in Denver. I wouldn’t mind letting the temperatures drop down a bit either!

Week 36 – Our 18th State!

The seasons are changing.  We have learned that animals start to group together in preparation for migrating from these regions.  We have seen this in the behavior of both birds and butterflies.  Several species of ducks and the Canada geese are flocking into great gatherings and we are shocked to actually see a group of 10-12 swans together in open water – never seen that before!  For the last few weeks we have also seen an amazing 8-10 monarchs at a time fluttering in and around our boat while we are underway (yes, a few even passed us!).  None of them seem to be moving south yet but the signs are there that they are getting ready and we too are finally moving south.

We leave Traverse City heading north up Great Traverse Bay with a decent weather prediction only to find that the prognosticators have underestimated the wind and waves AGAIN.  They are to our bow as we go north, which is bumpy but do-able.


A little later, there is spray breaking over the bow and splashing up to the flying bridge.  This is not what we wanted for Blake’s first trip with us but he seems to take it in stride.


The water is beautiful and Gulf-stream blue but it is much rougher than we would like it to be.  As we contemplate rounding the tip of the Leelanau peninsula, we figure we are going to have to tack in order not to be rolling broadside with the waves which are 3-5’ now.  Jerry does a great job engineering the best place to make the turns for the best possible ride.

As we turn south, we are taking the seas to our stern which makes steering a challenge.  The boat gets lifted up on a swell and we are surfing for minute before the bow plows into the next wave and then wallows for a minute before recovering.  This is the ride for the three more hours that it takes us to reach the lovely town of Leland.  The upside of this that we’ve been helped by wind and seas and have arrived earlier than we thought we might.  The approach to Leland looks like the picture postcards I have seen of Bali, sans the palm trees, the water is that clear and that many shades of blue.  It is gorgeous.


We arrive just as the wind starts to gust (typical docking expectations for us these days) and there are a bunch of Loopers there to help catch and secure our lines.  They invite us to docktails in the clubhouse.  I trade some of my fresh basil for some home-grown cucumbers and make some quick tsazicki-like dip to take for sharing and we have a nice time with some new faces and some that we have encountered before.  There are great stories of all the boats that have been boarded by bears this summer up in the North Channel.  Apparently, it has been so warm and dry that the blueberries are not plentiful enough to support the bear population and so they have taken to climbing on swim platforms and rummaging through boat food lockers!

The next day we actually have a calm, sunny day and we move from Leland to Frankfort with little challenge.  We travel south down the coast of Sleeping Bear National Seashore, which is truly amazing and we feel fortunate that we were able to see it by land and now from the water.


The whole shore is giant dunes of tan sand; some bare, some covered in grassy growth and all edged by crystal blue waters.


It is a pleasant day’s trip and we refuel and dock at Jacobson’s Marina in Frankfort, which I would highly recommend.


Blake suggests Storm Cloud brewery and we enjoy tasting the local beer.  He stays to watch a game on their TV and we head back to the boat for a nap before dinner but the empty hot tub beckons and we relax for a while before dinner.  I think we have had bathing suits on maybe 3 times since we left the Keys in January and it is nice to soak in the sun for a bit.


The next day dawns bright and we huddle up over coffee and decide that the weather conditions are favorable to make the crossing from Michigan to Wisconsin.  We all agree on the plan and take off, giving Blake his first taste of captaining a boat when the seas can’t make up their mind which way they want to go. He gets the hang of it quickly and does a great job.


The crossing of Lake Michigan is easy compared to what it might have been and it is a little eerie not to be able to see land while in the middle of a lake!  We change time zones and finally see the peninsula of Door County come into view.   We enter the long canal to Sturgeon Bay, past its light house and Coast Guard station.


Center Pointe Marina makes me wish we were here for a couple of days.  It has a great club house, lots of outdoor cooking spaces and a pool and hot tub, none of which we take advantage of due to our moving forward the next day.  We have another good travel day but the one after that looks like the waves will make travel tough so we will probably explore by car. I think all of us are ready for a break from 5-8 hour on-the-water-days.

Once the boat is secure, we set out to explore the town of Sturgeon Bay.  It is a nice little town though much of it is closed either owing to the fact that it is Monday and/or that the season up here really is close to being over.  It is interesting to see that people are pulling their boats out for the winter already and marine services are starting to become less available.  Bubblers are already working in the marina and will keep the ice from forming around the boats later in the season.  There are trailers and scaffolds standing at the ready on every vacant lot of land near the water.


We find the Door County Historical museum which I would heartily recommend to anyone visiting this area.  It is the most impressive collection of area history that I have seen in a long time.


There is information on the biology and geology of the area with a number of taxidermized animals and birds that frequent this region, lots of First Nations artifacts and then everything from clothing to medicine to patents for things that were invented in or are common to this area.


Two that standout to me are the Father of the Forward Pass and the Mother of Synchronized Swimming!  But the coolest patent, to a mariner anyway, is that the sling lift was actually patented in Door County in 1954!


IMG_6660We wish we were here at the right time when we learn about the history surrounding the annual Door County “fish boil” that now feeds hundreds of people.


We browse the museum’s collection of ancient fire trucks, hand-carved, wooden hearses and jailhouse cells and learn about Door county’s industries from fishing to timber to orchard produce and more.


We end up chatting with a 78 year old docent who is raising her 28th guide dog puppy, Karma, who lies in a crate inside the museum.  She is a tiny ball of fire and says she hopes to raise a total of 30 puppies before she is done and we are amazed that a woman who probably doesn’t weigh 100 pounds soaking wet has a big enough heart to deal with the shenanigans that go along with training a puppy who will probably end up weighing 80 pounds or more by the time she turns her back in for training.  It reminds me of our guide dog puppy, Holly who lived with us for a little over a year before going back to Southeast Guide Dogs for formal training.



We meandered the town, checking out a couple of the local pubs before arriving at Crate Restaurant and Bar for dinner.  It is described as; “Decorated in wood, earth tones and candles, this eatery specializes in inventive sushi, seafood dishes and steak.”  We laugh because a few minutes earlier we had joked that this town would probably not be a good place to order sushi but we do it anyway and our choices are really good.  We end up sharing our orders so we get the best of all worlds!

Jerry and I are up early as we want to get an early enough start so that we dock in Manitowoc before the southeast winds kick up the waves on the lake too much.  He wakes me at quarter to six and we make ready, departing in the dark, thank goodness for the little battery operated headlamps, they really make it easier to see what you are doing with lines and fenders, etc.!  As we come out of the canal, Jerry says, “Nice work, we are underway at 5:15!” Wait, what?!?!?  Obviously our phones reset themselves but we forgot to reset the clocks in the master stateroom.  This is not the first time this has happened to me while traveling, so I am not phased.


I am glad we started early anyway because it takes a while to get out of the 5-mile canal and we enter Lake Michigan as the sun is just rising.  I LOVE this time of day!  Everything is so soft looking and the colors bleed into the sky, suffusing everything in a child’s watercolor wash of pastel pinks, purples and golds.


The ride along the Wisconsin coast is surprising to me; there is a LOT of undeveloped forest.  Not surprisingly, there are also many dairy farms dotting the crests of the cliffs and we decide we really must try the fried cheese curds that seem to be on every menu around here.  A little later, the smell of cow wafts across the water on the wind from a fertilizer plant but it isn’t a bad smell, earthy and well, welcome to Wisconsin!

We arrive at the Manitowoc Marina early because we left Sturgeon Bay so early and we rent a car.  We accomplish our first mission which is to find the spot where the Soviet satellite, Sputnik crashed in 1962.


From Atlas Obscura: “The Soviets had launched the spacecraft into orbit two years earlier, in 1960, 5,000 miles away from Manitowoc. But when the crew had tried to return it to Earth a few days later, the spacecraft inadvertently went even higher into orbit due to a computer glitch. When Sputnik finally left orbit in 1962, most of it was burned in the atmosphere, except for a little chunk that crash-landed in Manitowoc. 


Once the blackened, fiery space junk crashed, most of the people in town ignored it, including two police officers, who assumed it was merely a piece of scrap metal from a nearby foundry. But when the officers heard the news that the Korabl-Sputnik had reentered Earth’s atmosphere, they were able to put two and two together.IMG_6684

The policemen sent the space junk to the Smithsonian, who, perhaps mockingly, sent it back to Russia to remind them of their embarrassment. Two replicas were made, one of which is still on display in Manitowoc’s Rahr-West Art Museum.

The crash landing of the “Kerplunknik” space junk is perhaps Manitowoc’s biggest claim to fame, and it has even been the inspiration for the annual Sputnikfest, a space-themed festival featuring the Ms. Space Debris Pageant, the Cosmic Cake competition, the Alien Drop raffle, and various other extraterrestrial oddities. What’s best is the ridiculous costumes that emerge, spanning from coneheads drinking vodka to Russians with a hammer and sickle.

Unfortunately for us the SputnikFest was last weekend so we miss that but we  find the brass ring memorial in the middle of 8th street and dodge cars to take the obligatory photos, it is actually kind of cool!


The point of renting a car is that Two Rivers is right up the road; we passed it on the way south and it is the last place Jerry lived before moving to Tarpon Springs when he was 12.  He is bent on finding his childhood home which was above a derelict cheese factory and was also right on the river.  Blake and I are suspect of the mission but we are supportive anyway.  We drive through beautiful rolling countryside, rife with farms of all types from corn and alfalfa to livestock.


Suddenly Jerry yanks the wheel to the right and exclaims, “There it is!!!”   I can’t believe it but he has actually found his old home.  The rusty steel bridge has been replaced with a paved concrete bridge but the home looks the same to him.  We get out and take pictures while he tells stories of what happened all over the property.  “Here’s where dad build us a zipline, right on this hill and BJ got going so fast one time he hit the side of the garage!”


Here’s where I learned to really love fishing but the river looks faster and higher than I remember it!”

IMG_6692We stroll down memory lane with him, swatting herds of bloodthirsty mosquitoes in the process.   We drive from there up to where his school was but it doesn’t look as familiar.  It seems that all 3 schools were on one property when he attended but the high and elementary schools have been moved somewhere else now.

Next we go out to the Coast Guard Station where his friend’s father used to let the boys play on the Coast Guard boats, like the one in the photo below.


This man eventually came to St. Pete to swear Jerry into the Coast Guard.  We are able to walk out to the stone pier where Jerry fished as a boy and it is wonderful to see how happy he is in remembering this part of his childhood.


On a wild hair, we decide to go to Green Bay since none of us has ever been there, we have a car and it isn’t all that far away.  The countryside is gorgeous, Green Bay is smaller than I imagined it would be but we find an absolutely excellent pizza place called Jake’s where we enjoy icy cold PBR’s and a square cut pizza that is to die for.


Afterwards we go to Lambeau Field because you just have to do that when you are in Green Bay, right?


And we stop to sample the wares at Hinterland brewery afterwards.  Nice day!

The next day is museum day and we take in the Rogers Street Fishing Village Museum in Two Rivers where we learn that this area was actually settled by French Canadians.


We visit a restored home in which they might have lived and see how the lighthouse, fish packing house and Kahlenberg engine building might have functioned back in those days.  They have a nice artifact museum and a lot of Coast Guard memorabilia.


From there we return to Manitowoc to the Rahr Art Museum which is right next to the Sputnik memorial.  It is housed in a lovely old mansion that belonged to the Rahr family.


They have a large collection of Boehm birds that is especially impressive.  I never knew Boehm made porcelain birds of this magnitude.  You might not be able to tell from the photo but this eagle mom is about 2′ tall.


The museum’s collection is small, eclectic and makes a nice way to spend an hour or so.

We return our rental car and walk through town to the Courthouse Pub where Jerry and I sample our first ever fried cheese curds.  Blake has had them many times but declares these to rate high in comparison and we LOVE them!


We explore the Maritime Museum on the way back to the marina and learn about the subs that were manufactured here in Manitowoc (who knew!).  They launched them here and piloted them down to Chicago where they were loaded onto barges and then floated down the Mississippi to be armed in New Orleans and deployed from there.


We get a very cool guided tour of the Cobia, a sub which wasn’t actually built here but which is a pretty good representation of what one of them would have been like.


The Maritime Museum’s collection includes a nice display of America’s Great Loop!  We have covered over 5,000 miles of it now!

The next stop is Sheboygan, where we are all impressed with the effort that has gone into downtown revitalization.  The marina is sheltered by a rock breakwater and the waterfront along the Sheboygan River is rimmed with brand new docks and new muti-family housing that is clean and modern.  There are tons of bars, pubs and restaurants along the walkway and on 8th street which runs through the middles of town.  They are gearing up for an Octoberfest in a park that has a nice bandstand.

That night we go to sleep laughing because as it gets dark about a hundred ducks have gathered in each of the fairways and we are tickled to listen to them quack back and forth, some seem happy and some definitely don’t!


We leave Sheboygan on a calm morning with the water of Lake Michigan as smooth as glass and once clear of the city, the coast is mostly sandy beach with pines.  There are farms in the distance but not much developed area close to the water, which surprises us.  We arrive in Port Washington, explore a little and get ready to hit Milwaukee to pick up Zack and then on to Chicago! As Zack says, “Good times are coming!”  Hope Jerry and I can keep up with them!

Week 35 – Mind Games

Disappointment comes when reality and expectations are not aligned.  Being disappointed is a choice but it is a tough choice not to fall victim to disappointment when you have built expectations over a long period of time and have invested a lot of mental energy (as well as time and sometimes money) into the creation of those expectations.


Little Strawberry Lighthouse under cloudy skies

This week has been one of mental readjustment for me (I won’t speak for Jerry because I think he feels the need to cover distance so that we reach Chicago on time more than I do).  As we came up the east coast of Florida and since then, we have sacrificed stopping at some spots where we would have if we had two years to do this trip.  The primary reason for the push was to get up into Canada and to be able to spend a lot of time here, thinking that we will probably not have another chance to see these areas from the water.


Mechanical and weather delays, added to an unexpected trip home, combined to move us from being one of the first of the 2018 Looper boats to maybe being either the last of them or among the first boats in the Class of 2019.  While being out of season is wonderful from the standpoint of fewer people and boats competing for the same slips and secluded anchorages, the cost is that the fall weather up here has deteriorated into a miserable gray stretch of rainy, windy days that are forecast well into next week. UGH! The boat is starting to take on the smell of a lake-swimming Labrador who never really dries out.


We had planned to do the top of the North Channel, seeing Baie Fine (a natural fjord), the Benjamin Islands (reputed for bears and blueberries this time of year) and some of the other highlights of that route.  In Killarney, looking at the weather forecast of strong wind and thunderstorm advisories coming from the South, we must reevaluate the safest route for us to take.  Staying to the north would expose us to the onslaught of nasty weather in open water and having had a taste of how bad that can be last week, we decide to alter our plans and take the more protected southern route across the northern coast of Manatoulin Island.

We leave Killarney and head north to explore one of the stops we would have made in nice weather, Covered Portage.  Here is a lovely, protected cove surrounded by white quartz cliffs, which can be hiked for a splendid view down to magnificent blues of the anchorage.


Friends of ours sent us this photo and we would love to replicate it with ourselves and our boat in the shot but the misty rain and gray skies steal the blues from the water along with our desire to get out and hike.  It is at this point that some major effort comes into not being heartily disappointed that we don’t have a week to wait out the weather so that we can make these kinds of memories.

Bending the thought process to focus on the new reality takes some effort but we do pretty well.  Heading south again, we pass flows of white quarts that look like glacial ice even in the low light of gray and cloudy skies.  It must be magnificent when the sun is out.


This area is known for quarrying the finest silica in the world and we see evidence of this along the waterway.


We bypass Snug Harbor, another gorgeous anchorage when it is a pretty day.  If I were to do this trip again, I would definitely make time to anchor in Bad River (where we were at the end of last week), Covered Portage and Snug Harbor.  Actually this whole area is heaven for people who like to live “on the hook.”  The number of protected anchorages that are secluded and surrounded by natural beauty is just amazing.  “Okay, stop thinking of what might have been and focus on what is!” I tell myself again!

We motor past the Port of Little Current, which is the town on Manatoulin Island that is the gateway to the mainland.  The only bridge that connects the two is right here.  Jerry calls the swing bridge to confirm that the chart is correct and we have 18’ of clearance only to find that there is only 16’!  Thank goodness he thought to call or we might have decapitated our radar and goodness knows what else!  Gotta love my captain!


Under gun-metal-gray skies we pull into the Gore Bay and I am in love!  Somehow we have been misdirected from our marina to the CWC Yacht Charter area (they are right next to each other) and a kid says we can stay there free of charge if we don’t need services!


Gore Bay is lovely, carved by glaciers with steep, rocky cliffs on one side and a settlement on the other side.  Towering white birches line the coast and there are nature walks and a lot of Rotary presence here.


Again, I would love an extra day to do the hike along the ridge that overlooks the bay.


We substitute a walk where we are scolded by a squirrel who alerts the nearby deer of our presence but they don’t seem to be overly concerned.  These deer are HUGE!  Their red and buff coats make them easy to spot among the greenery but they are so busy eating that I can’t really get a good photo of them.


There is fish hatchery here somewhere but we can’t find it in the gathering dusk (I wanted to take a picture for Annie C!) and so we retire to the boat and anticipate a very early start in the morning.


I get up in the middle of the night and am excited to finally see stars and a moon clearly visible but by 5:30 AM we are totally overcast AGAIN!  We make our way out of Gore Bay to the scolding from a very disgruntled flock of Canada geese who are making it loudly known that they are less than happy with our early departure.


As the sun rises, we travel the coastline of Barrie and Manatoulin Islands in its morning light.  It brightens up a bit but then remains mostly misty and slightly gray.  To the north, where we would have ideally been, it is dark and rainy and I am glad we aren’t up there as the wind from the front will have built the waves there.  We made the right choice as we have an 82 mile run to make today and the water here is sheltered by Manatoulin Island and is glass smooth most of the way.  When the sun tries to peek through the clouds a couple of times the water is a beautiful blue.


We land in Drummond Island a little over 2 hours sooner than we thought we might owing to the windless conditions and we refuel and clear customs in a little room on an I-pad! After 62 days, we bring down our tattered Canadian courtesy flag and are sad to leave Canada but are happy to be back in the USA!

We do some cursory cleaning and then enjoy dinner and a movie aboard – YAY, being back in the USA means that our Amazon Prime will stream again!  We finish our first day back in the States with an amazing sunset that paints the sky with fire.  We literally stand and watch for at least a half hour; it is that awe inspiring.



IMG_6499Fortune smiles on us with the news that some friends of 30 years will be in St. Ignace and we have 68 miles to run to meet them for a late lunch.  The water is a little choppy but not too bad and we come through the Straits of Mackinac under hazy but partly sunny skies…YAAY!


Straits of Mackinac Lighthouse

We have almost forgotten what the sun looks like.  We pass beautiful Mackinac Island off to the north and spy the 7 mile long Mackinac Bridge that is closed this morning for an annual charity walk.


We marvel at the clarity and color of the water as we pull into our marina.  Standing on the bow, waiting to throw lines to the dock crew, I can see straight down 10-15 feet to where mighty boulders make up the bottom of the fairways.


We get docked, grab a quick shower and meet Bob and Diane for lunch, which we eat outside under perfect skies with lots of laughing and some good local beer.


After lunch, they take off for Sault Ste Marie and we decide that we better catch the ferry and tour Mackinac Island today because the weather (of course) is going to close down again tomorrow.

We grab a five thirty ferry and travel to Mackinac Island. It is a nice ride and we enjoy the town which is a little touristy but if you can think back a bunch of years, you can envision how lovely it must have been.


There are no cars allowed here, so horse-drawn buggies carry people all over the town.   We walk up hill to the old Mackinac Hotel.  We think fondly of Jerry’s mom, Sharon who vacationed at the hotel once when she was a young married woman and talked about it with incredible fondness for the rest of her life.  We feel her presence with us and her memory is warm and fresh as we walk the grounds of this magnificent old hotel.


We are rained into St. Ignace for the next three days.  Really it wasn’t so much rain that kept us in the slip as the gusts of wind ranging from 45-60 mph!  A couple of times we had a tough time standing upright as we tried to tour the town between bands of rain.


We managed to visit the Ojibwa museum where we learned the amazing amount of skilled work it takes to build a birch bark canoe.  Ringing a birch and removing the entire vertical section of 15 feet actually doesn’t hurt the tree, which we are glad to hear.  It was a really nice little museum and a great way to spend a rainy day learning about some of the early culture in this area.

The next morning, we have a weather window with lots of wind but no rain and we take advantage of this by riding our bikes 4 miles to explore Castle Rock.  It threatens to rain on us the whole way but doesn’t.

IMG_6553The legend has it that Paul Bunyan was the greatest lumberman in the area, when the mosquitos would get big he’d knock them on the heads with his mighty sledge hammer, driving their beaks into the logs.  They’d fly away carrying the timber to the mill for him!  He and his Blue Ox, Babe got tired and sat down to rest against Castle Rock when an arctic blast came through and froze them to the spot and here they remain (not sure why Babe was frozen with her tongue sticking out but there you are!).


I don’t so much care about the legend as I do about the family owned gift shop that was built on site in the early 50’s by a group of local Ojibwa artisans.  The entire roof is made from birch bark and the seams are edged with stripped roots just like in the video we watched about constructing a birch bark canoe the day before.  All the supports are birch poles and it is old but it is a true work of art.


We huff and puff our way up the steep steps that take us straight up 200 feet to Castle Rock and the view is amazing.  We can only imagine what it looks like when the sun is out and the water is a million shades of blue.  Oh well, I will take pictures of the forest instead of the Lake!


The next morning dawns bright and, as forecast, the wind is down and we happily scoot out of the slip at dawn and go under the Mackinac Bridge, which is an impressive piece of architecture.


We head to Beaver Island and cannot believe the colors of the water. It is every bit as gorgeous as it is in the Florida Keys, with hues ranging from teal, to Gatorade Ice to Gulf Stream cobalt.  It is SO nice to have the sun out and our journey is a short 5-hour uneventful trip to Beaver Island.

Beaver Island Drone

Again, my camera cannot pick up the colors, so I have borrowed an internet image from above to show the different shades of blue around Beaver Island.  Our little marina is at about 10 o’clock on this image but if we were here again, I would probably anchor right in the middle where the sail boat is.  This is a lovely little town, peaceful and quiet and its claim to fame is that it has a zero-crime rate!  We are now past Labor Day so most of the businesses are shuttered but we enjoy a walk around town any way.


We depart a little before dawn, taking advantage of another good weather day.  We pass the red spot from the lighthouse and say good bye to Beaver Island and are off to meet Blake in Traverse City today.


We dock at the West Harbor Yacht Club (the only spot that had room for us) and meet Blake.  It is a nice facility with great amenities and when members’ boats are away, they rent them to transients for a great price.


We are short on time but manage a whirlwind tour of Sleeping Dunes National Seashore which is an amazingly gorgeous experience.

IMG_6604Again, the colors of the water are stunning, ranging from a silvery shimmer to a cobalt blue with all the colors in between.  We don’t do the 450’ hike straight down the face of the dune to the water but are impressed to watch a few people who do.


Next, we are on to Leland because we aren’t sure if we will get there by water.  We have a great dinner at the Cove and grab a Leland shot glass and T-shirt for my Leland and drive back to the marina with a stop to sample some of the local breweries’ products.



IMG_6615We head back to the boat, give Blake a tour and the low-down on what’s what and turn in, hoping the weather will favor a good first day out on the water for him and that this isn’t our experience when we depart Traverse Bay into Lake Michigan…


Week 34 – Batten Down….Well, Everything!

I mentioned Ken MacDonald’s briefing at Bay Port Marina in Midland last week.  He shared best routes and lesser known hidey holes with us and a pair of Loopers from Texas.  He helped us highlight our charts of the 30,000 Islands in the Georgian Bay so we would be sure of where to go and where not to go.  Some of the routes in the charts he detoured us around due to challenges he and friends have had in them and other routes he reinforced as being the best and safest ways through the rocks and we are so grateful for his wisdom of these rocky waters.


Ken MacDonald teaches us local secrets of Georgian Bay!

Our first day out of the marina, we used to stay at the last place available for using our Parcs Canada pass, Beausoleil Island, named for a French-Canadian trapper who made his home here after being displaced by the War of 1812.  This large, dragon-shaped island is AMAZING!


There is deep water right up to the shores and there are lots of docks and anchorages even for our sized boat.  During the season, we probably wouldn’t have gotten dock space or maybe even an a clear spot to anchor but we are now running about two weeks behind the peak season, which is fine with us. It is less crowded and the fall weather, while a little damp and windy ☹  this week, is still temperate.


We get a great slip, near the visitor’s center at Cedar Spring, on Beausoleil and set off to stretch our lock-weary legs.  It feels great to walk through the woods and explore sites like the native burial ground of Wendat people who were some of the aboriginal settlers here.


We also find a Y-camp which is just sending 300, 6-15 year-old campers home by boat after the last summer session.  The teen counselors are cleaning the cabins to the strains of the latest hit music and spirits are high.


When we return to Cedar Spring, we attend a couple of the scheduled talks held by the Parcs rangers. We learn about the archeology of the area, inspecting a timeline of the people who have lived on this island as well as some of the artifacts they left behind.


 It is amazing to see that they traded with people as far away as Quebec City, as evidenced by some of the tools made from stone that is only sourced from that area.  We marvel at how far and accurately an arrow can be launched from a tool that predates the bow by many years.

Next, we learn how to knap stone into serviceable tools, using a copper nail and some copper covered antler “boppers” and then we share in a fire making lesson before it starts to sprinkle.  Sean, our teacher is clearly passionate about what he knows and he totally enjoys sharing the processes he has mastered. It is a great way to spend the afternoon.


Later that evening, the sky has cleared a bit and, as the sun is setting, we are the entranced audience for Mike, who is a grade 4 teacher during the school year and a Parcs ranger in the summer.  He has had the privilege of interacting with many people whose families are native to this area and has learned some of the stories that have been handed down over the ages.  He tells us that stories are really gifts from one person to another and should be treated as such.  He must be a fantastic teacher judging by the way he makes each and every person feel like a valuable part of his stories by encouraging participation and interaction in the dramas he unfolds.  We are all sorry when the sun sets and the story telling session is over but I know we have been given gifts that will last a lifetime.


The next morning dawns gray but thankfully clears into a partly sunny sky and we are grateful to have sunshine with us as we make our way into the part of the Georgian Bay where the water looks like the Keys of Florida and is dotted with rock islands that resemble Connecticut’s Thimbles.


Pink, gray and sand colored granite reaches out of impossibly blue water and we are thankful again for our tutelage at Bay Port Marina because as we contemplate buoys with wave-on-rock action 5 feet away, we are confident that we are actually in the right place!  Rocks are everywhere and we prove that an active lookout is much more valuable than a chart of this region is, because during the winter the ice can actually pick up the rocks and move them so that they are not where they were the season before, thus rendering the charts and chart plotters inaccurate.  YIKES!!!

We meander through gorgeous anchorages surrounded by rocky walls that are topped by wind swept pines and declare that the Trent Severn was worth navigating to get here, no matter how many locks it had!  This area has a stark beauty that the camera just cannot capture.  We anchor in a quiet cove, out of the wind and enjoy a peaceful night.  After a month of being in marinas or on lock walls, I LOVE anchoring out again!


The next morning our port engine refuses to start. This has been an on-again-off-again problem that we had hoped was fixed in Lakefield, when the starter solenoid was replaced.  We fear that the whole starter will now have to be replaced, which will mean we are down for another week waiting on parts and we are currently in the middle of nowhere. It is beautiful, but it is remote.

We call a couple of marinas in Parry Sound which was to be our destination a few days later but can find no mechanic who isn’t booked 3 weeks out.  Finally, one of them recommends Steve at Le Blanc Marina on Frying Pan Island which is only about 5 miles from us and when I call, he says he would have to order a starter but to come in and let him see if that’s really the problem.  We limp carefully between jagged rocks and through narrow channels and reach the marina on our one good engine.



IMG_6310Steve tests a couple of things and tells us that we have a broken wire in one of the relays somewhere in the eight feet of wiring between the starter and the battery.  He and Jerry pull the lower helm station and trace wires, testing them for electricity and voila!

 It was actually two broken wires but three hours and a nominal repair bill later we are back in business and are not very far from where we had planned to be either. This is a major victory!

We are now motoring to an anchorage that was highlighted on our chart back in Bay Port Marina, as one of Ken’s favorites.  There is no channel marked on our I-pad or paper chart and we are out of cottage country and into the isolation of the Massasauga Provincial Preserve.


What little there is of a channel is so narrow in spots I wonder if our beam will make it between the rocks on either side of us but amazingly there is 30-50 feet of depth under our hull!  This trip has given us a whole new respect for the power of the glaciers that carved out this area!  I know I wouldn’t make it long but I would love to see what this part of the world looks like in winter.  It must be ethereal.


We snake out of our little channel and the water opens up into Port Rawson Bay which is rimmed by rock, pines and lots of little satellite anchorages.  We pull into ours and drop anchor and, in the stillness, we can hear the loons calling to one another and the crickets chirping in the gathering dusk.


As the sun sets, we see a V spreading out in the water but it has no bird creating it.  Upon closer inspection, we find a beaver swimming by us, taking the latest addition to his lodge, home for appreciation.


I have read that there are few places on earth where you can be and hear absolutely zero, man-made noise for a span of 15 minutes or more.  I think we have definitely found one of those last remaining places on earth.  There are no planes, engine noises or leaf blowers (something we never seem to be able to get away from).  We settle into the stillness and just breathe. Grateful seems like an inadequate word right now.


The next day we wind our way back to Frying Pan Island and have lunch at Henry’s Fish Camp. Many say that you haven’t done Georgian Bay until you eat at Henry’s.  We meet a lovely couple on a Nordic Tug, which docks soon after we have and we get to know one another while we wait for lunch.  When Henry’s opens, we sit together and they share their love and knowledge of the area. They are from Toronto but spend 3 months a year on their boat in the North Channel and Georgian Bay.

We enjoy a nice meal and good company and get back under way, taking the South Channel to Parry Sound.  Here we are rained in for the rest of the day as well as the following one but we enjoy a great evening of fellowship with Rex and Donna aboard Bella Blue (we have been leap-frogging with them since the Carillon Lock) and another couple on a brand-new-to-them Nordic Tug, who have extensive knowledge of the area and we laugh until we cry at some of the stories shared.

We all depart for our boats, turn in and not much later are woken by a blinding light and crash of thunder very close to our marina.  Everything is battened down so Jerry and I choose to sit up on the back deck and watch the light show for a bit.  It is absolutely gorgeous but we finally crawl back into bed around 1 AM.


We had really hoped to leave the next day but the wind is still blustery with 35 mph gusts and rain slashes down in bands from leaden clouds.  We decide to stay safely in our slip.  We use some time between bands to explore the town, which has a lot to offer.  We buy some bread and fresh fruit, browse in some bookshops and other mom-and-pop places and enjoy an excellent pizza before heading back to the boat to tuck in and stay dry for the rest of the day and evening.


The next morning dawns with promise of better weather and we depart without a firm destination in mind. The water is calm and the sun starts to peak out and typically we try to make the most of days like this.  We cruise past Byng Inlet which would have been a good stopping spot and continue on to the Bustard Islands, hoping to anchor somewhere among these starkly beautiful rock islands.

It is not to be.  The places where we can safely get in, don’t offer enough swing room for us to be comfortable and so we try to get into another spot. I am on the bow when suddenly HUGE rock slabs appear right under our bow. I don’t normally panic but this is too close.  I yell to Jerry to stop and he can’t understand why because the depth sounder says we have 14 feet.  I offer to trade places with him because these rocks look like they are capable of making mincemeat out of our props and our friends, who hit a rock back near Hastings, were laid up 9 days and are now $10,000 less well-off after the incident.

There are waves breaking on more exposed rocks off to our right and our left and we make the decision to back out the way we come and so extricate ourselves with no damage done.


It is now getting late and we head for the only other spot we know that offers shelter and scenery, from the current wind direction.  As we cruise into Bad River, the glacial impact on this region is again apparent.  The gray and pink granite is worn smooth and rounded heads of stone emerge from the clear, clean water.  The wind is another presence here causing the poor spindly pines to grow sideways, reflecting the prevailing northerly winds.

IMG_6354We wind through narrow channels and arrive in a basin that has a few other boats already anchored. We recognize one from Rex and Donna’s description.  She is a gorgeous aqua-hulled Grand Banks Northeaster called Island Bum, and is from West Palm Beach.

IMG_6358In the opposite direction, a boat is tied directly to a steep rock wall, which is a first but apparently there are steel rings for this purpose in many places.  Maybe we’ll try it….next time!


It is a peaceful night and we awake to a beautiful sunrise and are under way shortly thereafter.

IMG_6355We exit Bad River into a roiling mess of darkened water and whipping winds that were not predicted at all.  We have been really challenged in Canada with being able to get accurate weather forecasts.  This is much easier to do in the States.

IMG_6366 The sky squats low over our heads, dark and foreboding and the line of the weather front is clearly defined just ahead of us.  Its ragged edges are spawning waterspouts in several places and I rush to batten everything down including my basil plant which has, once again, been thrown over on its head. SHEESH!

Jerry does a masterful job getting us through the waves that want to push us onto the rocky shoals all along the coast here.  We literally have to tack back and forth in order to make it to the Beaverstone Inlet, which will give us an hour of respite on our run towards Killarney.

IMG_6377 The wind and waves calm and we are again in the midst of a beautiful, serene sanctuary of glacial rocks, Keys-blue water and and windswept pines.  This is the back way into Killarney that Ken MacDonald shared with us back in Bay Port and we are again so grateful for this local wisdom.  We revel in the quiet, knowing that we still have to go back outside into open water for the last hour or so to Killarney.  We pass lots of beaver lodges here, some more technologically challenged than others!

As we come around a narrow bend, we can see Killarney in the distance.  It looks like snow dotted mountains which we know are actually huge expanses of white quartz shining through the pines and it is really beautiful.


We emerge back into open water, as blue as it was in the Tortugas and fight our way to the Killarney cut, again having to tack to avoid being side-rolled by the waves.  We make it safely though the mouth of the cut and to our marina at Killarney Mountain Lodge.  This is a gorgeous place.  We have heard that the creator of Carmax, who was bought out for $650 million has bought it and is building a convention center here.  It will be an awesome destination but I’m not sure what the families who have been coming here for generations will think of the loss of its isolated quaintness.

There is a circular bar with a fireplace in the center and a heated swimming pool, sauna and game room.  The icecream in this area is Farquahr’s which is from a local dairy and is probably the creamiest we have had so far and we have had some GOOD icecream!

Dinner is amazing.  We share a smoked trout appetizer, a buffalo ribeye (it was SO good) and a pasta dish. The food is lovingly prepared and the service is excellent.  After camping for the last bunch of days and eating almost all of our meals aboard, it is nice to enjoy a little pampering!

We are really sad because the weather for the next few days looks windy and rainy and we really wanted good weather to be able to explore the North Channel before heading back to the States.

We have traveled 4500 miles and have been underway for a total of 25 days and 19 hours of our lives.  So we will continue to focus on being truly grateful for the gift of this time to explore; come rain or shine, we will make the best of both!



Weeks 32 & 33 Slow Start but a BIG Finish!

Weeks 32 and 33 are being combined in one blog post because they were VERY slow going for us, which is tough after losing a whole week going home the week before this.

While some valuable things happened, we also spent about a week and a half sitting at marina docks due to mechanical issues and then weather challenges.


This is frustrating because we are seeing the first signs of Autumn in some of the maple trees that are trading their verdant garb for yellow, rose and gold.  It is beautiful but we feel it is happening WAY too quickly!

We have become subconsciously aware of the clock ticking down toward our arrival in Chicago, if we are to be there by the first week or so of October.  We still have so much territory we want to explore prior to that!

All that being said, let me recap these last two weeks because there were some very cool experiences as well as some major Loop milestones.

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The first milestone we check off is the Peterborough Lift Lock in the Trent Severn Waterway.  This is a feat that we have been anticipating since we first started planning this trip.  Herb Seaton, the AGLCA Harbor Host for Tarpon Springs introduced us to the idea of the Loop almost 3 years ago and this lock was a real attention-getter and remains one of the most talked about sections of the Loop when Loopers get together!

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It was built in 1896 and most of it is the original structure.  It is comprised of two huge bath tub-like caissons each of which is perched atop a 7.5’ diameter, water-filled, steel ram (like a big vertical, metal tube).  These rams are connected and at the appropriate time, the valve shifts the weight of water from one to the other – there used to be a granite ball which eventually became pitted and so was replaced by the valve.

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One caisson of water is up and the other is down.  Each loads as many boats as will fit inside and a gate closes off entrance to and exit from them.  Then the valve opens and the water in the upper caisson’s ram is channeled into the lower ram forcing it 65’ upwards. No power is used, only gravity and it is almost eerily quiet as you move towards your destination.  The feeling is awesome and honestly this lock is probably the easiest we have navigated because there is no water turbulence. Once you are in the caisson, the water that is it is static and so it is a very smooth ride, unlike many of the other locks where we are trying to hold a 12 ton boat steady against a torrent of water rushing into or out of the lock.

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We were pretty pleased to make it to and through Peterborough but our engine has really been having issues.  The constant stopping and starting in the locks and the low RPM at which we have been running between locks has been making her smoke like a chimney and we finally make arrangements to have a mechanic look at her later that in the week.

We enjoy the Trent Severn and some of the interesting sights along the way but once we are in Lakefield (supposed to be a 24 hour turn around) we are there for 5 days and 4 nights.  Although it is a nice little town with an OUTSTANDING fresh market, we find that we are just not comfortable staying in one place that long anymore!

During this time, Jerry pays for and earns another semester credit in his Baccalooperate degree under the wonderful tutelage of his mechanic/mentor David who is supposed to be retired but I think he really enjoys the teaching part of his job!

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They “rock” the valves or pistons or something (really Jerry should be writing this!) and generally tune up the engine and change the oil and filters.

32 (97)They repair the oil return and re-scribe the dipstick so that it is now accurate.

32 (104)As we suspected, the port turbo elbow was reaching temperatures of over 750 degrees, which is not good and when the mechanic tries to clean it, he says that it pretty much resembles a colander.  So, a new one needs to be manufactured in Toronto, as this part is no longer available in the market – hence the delay in getting back on the water.

In the meantime, we have Danielle (the adorable 27 year old electrician/diesel mechanic who is buying David’s business and reminds us a little of Annie Causey) refreshes some of the older wiring aboard the boat making her safer and more reliable.

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And so we are finally able to get under way.  We spend the next night on the lock walls at Bobcaygeon (busy tourist town with GREAT shops and restaurants) and then on the new floating docks at Talbot lock (a quiet, bucolic setting that we like better!).


We lock through the highest point on the entire loop when we clear the Rosedale lock at 850’ above sea level and we did another, smaller lift lock at Kirkfield (I know, I stink at selfies!) with a boat similarly named to ours.  We are now locking downward, thank goodness as it is much easier and less stressful than locking up is!

We traversed Canal Lake, biting our nails the whole way as our depth sounder was only registering 3-4’ of water and were happy to see the end of it as we went through the hole in the wall bridge, built in 1905.


Along the TSW we have been moved from our marina dock space twice to make room for Calliope, a 75’ boat which amazes people up here, especially when they find out that her owner’s  110’ “big” boat is in Florida because she can’t fit through the locks up here.  The majority of boats up here are in the 30′ neighborhood which makes sense for scooting around the shallower water in and about the islands and canals.


We have twice seen the Kawartha Voyageur (think back to the post about the river cruise boat that can fold her bow up in order to fit into the locks on the Rideau and Trent Severn) though she hasn’t inconvenienced us again with lock delays since that time at Jones Falls on the Rideau, thankfully!


We emerge from the Trent Severn Waterway into Lake Simcoe, where we are amazed to see the water turn from river-brown to Florida Keys azure. The lake is gorgeous and the little town of Orillia is charming as well.


Rotary is well represented here though when we try to attend a meeting, the Rotarians are nowhere to be found, in spite of showing the day as a meeting day on their website (this is unfortunately something we have found frequently on this trip).


We sit at the Port of Orillia Marina on Lake Couchiching (Ojibiwe for “inlet”) for 4 days and 3 nights waiting on the weather to clear. It has been raining with wind gusts to 35 and 40 mph.  The marina is fabulous, with newly renovated bathrooms and complimentary laundry facilities.  So, everything on our boat is now freshly laundered and smells great!


The Zebra mussels (pictured here inside a lock wall) that live in the lake eat the particulate which makes the water VERY clear but this also results in monster 8′ tall weeds  and grass that threaten all the intakes of the boats in the marina.

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Consequently, this boy has the job of raking the weed out of the marina slips and getting rid of it each day and I want to ask him if he knows who Sisyphus was!!! Between this and cleaning the prodigious amount of Canada Goose poop off the dock every morning, his job is definitely an uphill battle!



We depart Orillia after a wonderful evening of a community band concert followed by the movie American Graffiti at the Rotary Aqua Theater in Lake Couchiching Park.   The skies finally clear for a gorgeous sunset, it gets cool and then cold and we watch  most of the movie before a stray shower sends us all scurrying for home!

The trip from Orillia takes us back into the Trent Canal, narrow and scary-shallow.  It probably isn’t as shallow as our depth sounder indicates; we think the sonar is bouncing off the dense vegetation along the way.


The pine boughs are close enough to brush our flying bridge and we are fortunate not to encounter a boat headed in the opposite direction as there literally isn’t room for more than one boat at a time here.


We have a new experience in the Swift Rapids lock, dubbed the “Colossal” lock.  It raises and drops boats 50 feet in about 8 minutes, which is SUPER fast!  The Parcs attendant loops my line around a pipe and walks away (first one with a bit of an attitude). I look at this pipe and think, “this isn’t going to work,”  Once we are down about two feet my line will be hung up here and that is not good.

IMG_6200Another person explains to me that the pipe is set onto a floating buoy inside the lock wall and will coast down beside me.  Okay, that’s a first!  It works amazingly well.

The highlight for the day is the Big Chute Marine Railway that lifts 4-6 boats totally clear of the water in slings and transports them across a hunk of granite that is part of the Canadian Shield and which would have been difficult to blast through to create a lock. It is the only marine railway operating in North America and it is a greatly anticipated ride!


We round a corner of the waterway and there are 3 small boats ahead of us on the blue line (where you wait to lock through) and we hear from them that the operators have closed Big Chute for a half hour of maintenance.  No problem, we all chat and the excitement is palpable, especially for those of us who are first-timers.  Finally the Parcs folks finish pressure washing big Chute’s deck and doing what all else they needed to do and are ready for business.  A loud speaker booms across the water, announcing the order in which they wish the boats to enter the tram as it glides on rails into the water.


Three little boats go ahead of us and we are the last boat in.  It is amazing how easily this all works.  Each small boat hits its mark, one, two, three and in we go.

As we glide into the tram behind the smaller boats, the attendants work the sling lifts upwards against our hull which slows us to a stop right where they want us.  From here on out it is an easy ride.  The tram moves upwards to its peak and then glides down the opposite side.  Tourists are racing down the steps to keep up with us, snapping photos along the way.

IMG_6224Finally, the tram starts to submerge and the small boats begin to float. Engines ignite and off they go and we follow suit with a successful exit from Big Chute now behind us.  What amazing feats of technology we have experienced on this cruise!

We have completed 123 locks and finished the last one we will encounter for a while at Port Severn. We opt to spend the night at Bay Port Marina and are so glad we. Not only is it a lovely marina, the owner Ken MacDonald has a HUGE heart for Loopers and does an hour and a half tutorial on the best places to go in Georgian Bay.

18009You literally could spend years exploring these 30,000 islands and we wish we had more time but we will spend the next week and a half or so exploring the Georgian Bay section of Lake Huron before we cross over the North Channel and head for Mackinac Island – and back into the States!