July 25 to August 6 Sabula to Red Wing

Leaving Sabula, we continued passing through the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Reserve.  This reserve stretches from Rock Island, Illinois to Wabash, Minnesota, a 260-mile stretch of the Mississippi River.  It is an important element of the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route for roughly 40% of all migrating North American shore birds and waterfowl.  I read that Asian Carp are also migratory, but I suspect that the reserve was not actually intended to benefit them!  National Wildlife Refuges provide management of over 560 tracts of land and wetlands in the USA for conservation, management and even restoration.  I was surprised to see that hunting and fishing are permitted in these areas, with appropriate permits.  One hopes that the various ducks, game, and the fish have read the fine print before they decide to take up residence.

A calm morning on the River

As we made our way north, I noticed a warning note on my chart alerting us to the danger of unexploded ordinance.  The note suggested that it might not be a good idea to anchor there…

The signs warn boaters of unexploded ordinance

We passed a prominent wing dam.  These are barriers that extend out into the river, usually created using spoil from dredging, but also tons of rock may have been brought in to create the barrier.  A few are visible above the surface, but most are underwater.  Their purpose when built was to increase the flow, and therefore the depth, in the main channel, while calming the areas between the wing dams and the shore.  Since the construction of the lock system, they are not being maintained, but they are almost all still in place.  They are a huge hazard to boaters.  Some may be just one or two feet below the surface, and since they are made of rock, not mud or sand, hitting one is going to be a big headache for the unwary boater.  Wing dams show up on charts as a thin black line stretching into the river.  Interestingly, they do not all show on all charts.  Dick and I use two charts.  He has Navionics on Nine Lives’ chartplotter, while I have AquaMaps on an iPad.  This gives us two perspectives for navigation.  Often wing dams only show on one or the other chart, not both.  The lesson of course is, stay in the channel!  Not only as marked on the chart, but also using your eyes to see where the red and green channel markers are placed.  Just to make things a bit more exciting, occasionally markers are missing, or worse, they have been moved off station by the force of the water, so one needs both the chart and the markers for careful navigation.  Running aground will always ruin your day, even if the bottom is sand or mud.

A wing dam

The wing dams were built as part of the first efforts to control the flow of water and create a reliable channel for commercial traffic in the Mississippi River.  In spite of several construction campaigns, increasing the initial channel depth of 4 feet to 6 feet, by 1918, barge and passenger companies could not compete with the railways, and river traffic essentially died.  After a campaign by commercial interests and farmers, the 9-Foot Channel Project was included in the 1930 Rivers and Harbors Act.  This project increased the river depth to a reliable 9 feet, by construction of 29 locks and dams between 1931 and 1954.  As did other major infrastructure programs, the first part of the project provided jobs during the Great Depression.  Skilled workers were paid $1.20 per hour, while common labourers got $.50 an hour.  Jobs were given first to workers who were married and had families to support.  The system stretches between Minneapolis and Granite City, Illinois (just north of St Louis).  Unfortunately, one of the negative impacts of the lock and dam system is that some of the migratory fish can no longer move freely up the river to spawn.  As a result, stocks of sturgeon, paddlefish, and skipjack herring, among others, have decreased considerably.

Dredging a narrow channel. Note the position of the red marker behind us, we would normally pass that on the other side, but there was no room!
Lock 7 and the scenery of the Driftless Region

One of the interesting features of locks in this part of the River, is the specially constructed public viewing platforms at each lock, with easily accessible parking.  Further south in Missouri and Illinois, we noticed that access to locks was mostly restricted or made difficult for the public.  On one of his outings, Dick enjoyed watching the full sequence of locking through a tow with 15 barges, requiring the lock-through to be split into two parts.  We are usually stooging below the locks when split tows go through, and it always seems to take forever (it does take a minimum of 1 ½ hours, and often longer).  Having seen it up close, it is easier to understand just how complicated the operation really is.

What is stooging, you ask? Well, this is a highly technical nautical term. It essentially means going nowhere while keeping the engines engaged. Having had a very unfortunate experience last year, when we anchored instead of stooging, we prefer the latter, tiring though it may be. The captain has to keep making minor adjustments as the wind and currents push the boat away from the chosen waiting position.

The first section of barges has been pushed out of the lock, while the second section is being pushed in
the tow pushes the barges into the lock
At last the barges have been lashed together again and the tow pushes the whole lot out into the channel

We arrived in Dubuque Marina at 3:15pm.  The marina is protected by a levee and huge gates, that are normally open, but can be closed if the River floods.  This is a “full service” marina, with a severe shortage of actual service.  Apparently, it is now only staffed between 11am and 3pm (and we had already discovered that the phones are not answered when it gets close to quitting time).  We had hoped for a pump-out on arrival, but instead we had to wait and get it done the next day.  Untying and retying Nine Lives is not a trivial exercise, so it is irritating to have to go through it unnecessarily.  We knew our dock assignment, because the marina has the best booking system we have seen, but we had to call a different number from the main marina phone to get the code to let us back through the security gates after visiting the town.  The showers require a key card, so no joy there until the single staff member arrived the next day.

A cruise boat arriving in Dubuque marina, passing through the huge gates
Dubuque Marina with the museum, and Nine Lives at dock
Dubuque sunset

In spite of lack of marina staff, Dick and I were very impressed with Dubuque.  This is just as well, as I am going to have to stay there by myself for about a week on our return trip.  The historic downtown and the revitalized waterfront are spotless and undergoing major improvements, much already complete.  Old warehouses are being repurposed to both dining and living options.  The marina is surrounded by a major museum. A large casino, a resort hotel, and an extensive business park have been built south of the main downtown area.  It was an easy and safe bike ride for Dick to an excellent grocery and a good hardware store.

Dubuque Courthouse

Our back door latch has been giving trouble, with the door suddenly flying open while underway.  Just before Dubuque it gave up entirely, remaining firmly shut regardless of how much twisting and tugging was applied to the handle.  Fortunately, we have two side doors with zippered entries, so we weren’t trapped!  Eventually Dick did manage to get the door open, and for a brief while we had to use a piece of string to hold it in place (the low-tech option for sure).  Thanks to the useful Dubuque hardware store, and after some considerable fiddling once the latch mechanism had been taken apart, Dick managed to find the correct one of 50-odd ways the pieces could go back together, and the door is working again.  We are treating it like the precious, delicate, and valuable almost-antique it is, knowing that the repair was temporary at best, and until Dick can get a replacement latch mechanism.

Our first evening we walked across the bridge over the railway tracks to a downtown hotel and had a mediocre meal in their dining room.  The Jalapeno maple glazed shrimp were unusual and tasty, but the rest of the menu was uninteresting.  The next evening, a longer walk brought us to Brazen, where we had an excellent evening.  We brought back a lot of boxes, because the waiter explained that theirs is a “sharing” menu.  I didn’t take pictures of the desserts, pot de crème for Dick and Basque cheesecake for me, but they were some of the best we have had.  Both were very “grown up”, in other words, not sweet but very flavourful.  Interestingly, the desserts were also true single portions.  We are definitely going back when we return to the city!

Jalapeno maple glazed shrimp
Dick loved the duck confit at Brazen
I tried the delicious smoked trout pate, with the best house-made chips I have ever had
Fried chicken at Brazen for Dick
I added a few shrimp to the signature pasta dish at Brazen

The next morning, with a relatively short trip and only one lock, we were able to make a more civilized start at around 9am, instead of this trip’s more usual 7:30.  There was zero rain in the forecast, but just as we pulled into the lock the heavens opened, making it a very wet transit for Dick.  My responsibilities in the lock are indoors at the helm, and I was delighted to see the lock doors open and the sun coming out just when it was time for me to get outside and pull in the fenders!

We spent one night in Guttenburg Marina, an excellent example of a well-run but essentially unstaffed marina.  It shows this is possible.  After booking online we received an email with dock assignment, wi-fi code, and shower code.  A follow up phone call was made, a few hours before we arrived, to make sure that we had received all the information.  The marina is quite small, maneuvering is tight, and it would have been tricky if the second space on the transient dock had been occupied.  The shower facility was spotless. Dick explored the town, returning to report that although it is clean and has nice parks, there is little to see or do.  One of those nice places to live but not so much for a visit!

Guttenburg marina

It was a very short run to McGregor.  We arrived before noon, and then had to hold in the channel while a workboat pulled several logs out of our assigned slip.  That marina is just about the most rickety we have ever experienced.  It has wobbly wooden docks, most with no rubber, and the whole marina is a magnet for debris.  New owners are trying to make improvements, but a lot more money and time is needed to bring it up to any reasonable standard.  The staff were friendly and helpful, but that was it.  Various pieces of rope and an old rag were trip hazards on our dock, not to mention a large weed rake left right in the middle, tines facing up.  The railway line is just 30 yards away, and trains blow the whistle because the town has a level crossing.  Why is it called a whistle when it is in fact a very loud horn?  I don’t know.

McGregor Marina

We explored the town.  McGregor was once a thriving community, began when Alexander McGregor started a local ferry service.  By 1870, it was the busiest port west of Chicago.  As we are seeing everywhere, it is clean and old buildings are being renovated, but this one has farther to go than most.  One interesting item, McGregor is where Augustus Ringling’s sons, the Ringling Brothers, got their start by giving penny shows to the townspeople.  The house they lived in is still there.

McGregor downtown
A pretty, somewhat neglected, garden in McGregor

There are more boats out on the River than we have seen until now.  We went through Lock 8 with 2 fishing boats, a speedboat with drunks on board, and a jet ski.  Above the lock were probably 100 fishing boats, all speeding (and throwing large wakes) toward a small marina and motel off the main river.  Apparently it was a large annual college fishing tournament.

Spiders love boats. If I forget to spray the lines when we tie up, they invade.

6 years ago, when we drove across the country, we stopped for one night in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  We liked it very much, and have been looking forward to returning.  The La Crosse Boat Club is across the river from the town.  The marina is well protected from waves and currents, and is very active, with boaters coming and going all the time.  They also have a very popular onsite restaurant.  The Boat Club is a short dinghy ride across the Mississippi to the town courtesy dock.  I say courtesy dock, they charge $10 to tie up!  Usually these docks are free, encouraging visitors to stop and enjoy the shops and restaurants.

Dick pays $10 for the La Crosse town dock
Downtown La Crosse
La Crosse waterfront park

We returned to the Charmant Hotel, where we stayed before, and enjoyed an excellent meal in their restaurant.  It was so nice to find that standards hadn’t slipped, in fact they are even higher.  Dick’s starter was the creatively named “Ants on a Log”.  It was escargot (without the shells) arranged on large split pork bones with marrow.  I enjoyed my more traditional chicken pate.  The rest of the meal was equally good.  The hotel is in a repurposed and sympathetically renovated former candy factory. 

The beautifully restored candy factory that is now the Charmant Hotel
“Ants on a Log” I am told it was delicious
I enjoyed a more conventional chicken pate
Duck for Dick and trout tartine for me at Charmant

Our visit to my favourite Duluth Trading store was disappointing.  This season apparently has nothing on offer that is my taste, and most of the old standbys that serve me so well are apparently no longer being made.  We hoped that the Red Wing shop has better offerings.

The next evening, we walked a little farther to Le Chateau, a beautifully restored 19th century mansion.  We started with drinks in the basement bar, accessed by a scary, although gorgeous, spiral staircase.  All wines and drinks for the dining room are dispensed from the basement, and staff use the spiral staircase even when carrying trays of glasses and drinks!  Dinner was delicious.

Le Chateau
Le Chateau cheese plate to start
Le Chateau filet steak
Le Chateau elk chop
Le Chateau desserts

We spent a quiet Sunday.  Dick did some small jobs, including replacing some lights in the salon and the bedroom that had been flickering.  I took care of some laundry, and after Dick went round with the vacuum cleaner I managed to get rid of some of the dirt in the cockpit.  It has been just too hot to tackle that cleaning until now.  The eisenglass is still filthy, but that is a major scrubbing job still to do.  We had dinner at the Boat Club.  It was basic fare, but good, and they did have cheese curds.  These delectable morsels do not seem to have migrated far from Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. A great tragedy.  Cheese curds are usually encased in batter and deep fried, served with a sauce, perhaps marinara, or ranch.  Even Dick suspends his health-conscious objections to most fried food and is happy to share an order when they are on offer. We order them whenever we find them on the menu, but they have proved to be very difficult to photograph.  They disappear before I am able to get the phone out to take the picture!

disappearing cheese curds

Monday we set off with no sure destination.  There are 2 marinas in Trempealeau, and the one that Dick had chosen did not answer any phone calls or emails, or return messages over several weeks.  Their website says they have space for transients, but apparently it needs a revision.  The second marina only answers calls on weekdays during regular business hours.  We were able to make a booking there while we were on the way.  We were the second transient booked that evening, and sadly for us, the other boat got the better dock.  Theirs had full rubber, and was slightly further from the railway track, while ours had one end tilted and nearly under water.  We were about 60 yards away from the tracks this time, and with another level crossing, the horns were blowing all night.  While listening to the blaring of the horns and the clack-clack of the cars rushing past, I couldn’t help but think about photos one has seen of train derailments.  I wondered whether two jackknifed cars would reach Nine Lives….

One of many trains passing the marina at Trempealeau

There are very few places on this trip that we have not been very close to trains, on both sides of the river.  We have seen no passenger trains, only freight.  Dick read that the freight companies in this country own all the tracks, and give priority to freight.  They will not allow a passenger service to keep a schedule.  Friends took a cross-country train trip a while ago, and the delays were so bad that all the scenic parts of the trip were travelled during the night, and the train even ran out of food!  On the waterways, passenger vessels have top priority, followed by freight, and pleasure craft (that would be us) are lower in the pecking order.  On the Illinois River we observed that the lockkeepers would keep pleasure craft waiting for hours (some Loopers have experienced 10 and 12 hour waits), unless they were travelling in a group.  Here on the Mississippi, we have been very glad to find that we are treated fairly, and never made to wait for a tow if we are first to arrive.  Lockkeepers seem to be more used to locking through fishermen and pleasure boats, and they are almost always friendly and helpful when Dick calls.

We passed huge dunes of sand, many of them not natural.  These piles are created from spoil from dredging the river, and the sand is used in winter for gritting the roads.  An information sign at one of these giant sand piles tells readers that anyone can take the sand and use it for free.  They even suggest additional uses, such as general fill, aggregate for concrete, sandboxes, road building, and habitat rehabilitation projects.

sand dune created from dredge spoil

As we travelled north on the River, and thanks to one of the interesting information boards that Dick enjoys reading, we could see how geology has shaped this part of the Upper Mississippi Region.  This area is called the Driftless Region.  During the last ice age, a small part of the region was left untouched by glacial erosion and deposits.  While the surrounding lands were leveled to plains and rolling hills, no glaciers entered this small area, leaving it as the last remnant of the formerly rugged terrain that once spanned the whole of the Upper Midwest.  Tall, tree covered bluffs in this upper stretch of the River remind me very much of the Rhine (without the castles).

Mississippi Driftless Region

After a 3-lock day we arrived in Alma, a good town-run marina.  It was elderly, but well maintained, and Dick was delighted to find immaculate new showers.  Being well off the River in a calm backwater, there is a lot of weed in the marina.  The dockmaster was very helpful, agreed to adjust our location when we pointed out that our assigned dock was very weedy, and also could be quite difficult to maneuver in.  A bike ride into town showed that although clean, this is another town with little to offer tourists.  We ate on board as planned.

Alma marina
Somebody enjoyed building this treehouse in Alma
Shrimp Destin, a favourite dish, cooked on board

We are seeing incredible numbers of bald eagles, often in pairs.  Mature females are 25% larger than males, and the pairs we see are usually different sizes.  Juveniles take 4-5 years to develop adult plumage (white head and tail).  As we passed Wabash, we noticed the attractive modern National Eagle Center on the waterfront.  We expect to stop in Wabash on our return trip, so will look forward to visiting the museum.

Bald eagles
National Eagle Center at Wabash

Just south of Lake City, the River opens out into Lake Pepin.  It is a wide lake with good depth right up to the shores, a sailors’ paradise.  We were put in the sailboat part of the large Lake City Marina, because of better depths.  This is the most sailboats we have seen in ages, hundreds of them.  I enjoyed watching them come and go for afternoon and evening sailing on the lake.  There were also a lot of rental pontoon boats from a local Boat Club.  These were some of the best rental craft I have seen, all in nearly new condition.  A great way for visitors and second home owners to enjoy the lake without the expense of maintaining their own boats.  There are more than 85 species of fish in the lake, so it is also a magnet for commercial and recreational fishermen.

Lake City Marina

In 1922, 18-year-old Ralph W. Samuelson built a pair of water skis by steaming 8-foot-long pine boards in boiling water and curling the tips.  He had first tried barrel staves, and then snow skis, being convinced that if you could ski on snow, you must be able to ski on water.  Over the next 15 years, he put on one man water skiing exhibitions, donating the money he earned to Lake City for purchasing harbor and park land.  Lake City is officially recognized as the birthplace of water skiing.

Early morning at Lake City

Beautiful houses line the shores and can be seen on the bluffs above the lake.  We had thought this would mean some nice boutiques and fine dining opportunities in Lake City, but once again, as with Pickwick Lake, we were mistaken.  The highest rated restaurant in town is a Mexican Restaurant.  The food was good, and the establishment was very clean.  On our walk back to the marina we stopped for ice cream.  The amusing board outside noted that they sell “proper” ice cream, made from real ingredients, not low fat, low calorie, or low anything.  They conclude by suggesting that if you want nutrition, eat carrots.  The ice cream was delicious, although I must say I was sad that they had only rather strange flavours, and not my personal favourite, salted caramel.  Dick is a plain vanilla man, and they did have that, so he was happy. The next night we went to a so-called Italian restaurant.  Sadly, it was actually a pizza joint with a few tables.  Trying to eat pizza from paper plates with plastic cutlery is one of my least favourite things.  Most of the shops and some of the few eateries in Lake City are only open on weekends, although there is a very good supermarket.  We can only conclude that it is not really a tourist destination, rather a place of second homes, and the residents bring their own food from the big city instead of supporting local shops and restaurants.

Excellent ice cream

We enjoyed a very short, lock-free day to Red Wing.  As he has begun to do in advance of each destination, Dick phoned the marina to request our slip assignment before we arrived.  Here on the Mississippi none of the marinas answer radios (and many are erratic with phone calls as well).  When given our slip assignment, Dick asked about the width, and was told happily that it was 15 feet.  When Dick pointed out that Nine Lives is 19 feet wide, and that this information is always given as part of the reservation, they put him on hold.  One can imagine discussions while they decided what to do, but eventually they came back and said we would be on the fuel dock.  While this is never our favourite choice, it does offer opportunities for people-watching, and in this case, there was power and water available.

Not too long after we arrived and got settled, a large (60ft?) Hatteras arrived in the marina, and I could clearly hear an indignant “He’s in my spot!” from the captain.  There followed much negotiation with dock hands and various others, while the boat moved majestically into the slip between the two gas docks.  The engines were left running for over half an hour while people scurried about and, I presume, the owner tried to arrange (without success) for us to be moved elsewhere.  Eventually the engines were turned off, and the boat stayed there for the rest of the weekend.  Marinas double booking the few docks that are usable for large boats has not been uncommon on this trip, another good reason to arrive early when we can.

Red Wing sunset

Like many American cities, Red Wing began as a native village.  Over many years, the village chiefs were always named Red Wing, and carried a staff topped by a swan’s wing dyed scarlet.  The first white settler arrived in 1849, and the village was named Red Wing in honour of the Dakota chiefs.  By 1870, Red Wing had become one of the primary wheat markets of the world, shipping over one million bushels annually.  The waterfront is still dominated by huge grain terminals.  The early years of Red Wing featured a variety of industries.  In addition to the expected flour mills, breweries, maltings, and lumber, there were also vinegar works, and button, cigar, shoe, and hat factories.  The Boots on the Bridge exhibition features a series of decorated fiberglass boots, created in 2005 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Red Wing Shoe Company.  Started in 1905, The Red Wing Shoe Company made boots for workers.  Over the years they branched out, including making military footwear for the US Army.  Their first womens’ footwear was a pair of incredibly elegant hiking boots that featured an ankle-breaking heel.  Red Wing Shoes still concentrate on work boots, hiking footwear, and short, soft boots they call mocs.

We took the dinghy to downtown.  This one was the nicest we have seen since St Charles, with shops and restaurants in restored buildings, and an attractive waterfront park.  It was River Days weekend, so the parks were full of tents, food trucks, and an incredible number of bouncy blowups for kids.  There was also a sound stage with live music.  Fortunately, the music was not so loud that it was annoying, but on the other hand, it was not quite loud enough to enjoy from the boat.  We felt sorry for the organizers of the annual event, because it rained all weekend, but we did see that the car park was nearly full, so they did get a fairly good turnout.

Downtown Red Wing
Former Iron Works, now an attractive apartment complex
One of the Red Wing downtown churches
Another interesting Red Wing church

Duluth Trading was again a disappointment, obviously this is not my year for shopping!  Dinner at a downtown restaurant was merely okay.  They put us at a small table in the front window, and the waitress couldn’t see us.  She kept forgetting about us, and I had to wave at the hostess for attention.  We could clearly hear the “Oh!  I forgot them!” from the waitress after we had waited a long time to order, but she continued to forget us for the rest of the meal as well.

Instead of covered boat slips, some marinas in this area allow boaters to build houses for their boats

The next day was very wet indeed, so plans to explore downtown more fully were cancelled.  Dick dodged raindrops and walked into town to the bakery to find some nice fresh bread.  He did manage to do a little exploring, in particular, he noticed that Red Wing seems to have arranged for all the churches to occupy the same 6-block area in the city.  Some interesting architecture.  In the evening we crossed the bridge over the railway tracks, admiring the Boots on the Bridge Exhibition on the way.  The pub had cheese curds, and other tasty pub food, and the forecast rain held off so we didn’t get wet.

Boots on the Bridge
The Boots were originally created to celebrate the 100th birthday or Red Wing Shoe Company
At last, a photo of cheese curds before they disappear!
The last cheese curd
The July summary

Above is the July summary of Nine Lives Voyage. The green bits are where we travelled at “normal” speed, red and yellow are where we speeded up!

July 10 to 24, Port Charles to Sabula

Our meal at Toni’s on Main, in St Charles, was so good that we immediately booked to return the following evening.

Let me take a moment to tell you about marina courtesy cars.  We have only taken advantage of them occasionally, preferring to use our bikes whenever possible.  All these cars are unique in their own way, except that they are universally in such poor condition that you would not even be able to give them away.  One had a locking mechanism that if it was used, the car could only be unlocked if someone crawled into the vehicle through the back window.  Although use is usually free, in all cases you are required to add fuel (fair enough), but sometimes the amount you are required to add exceeds what you could possibly use.  One place charges a $15 fee, and restricts use to one county while all the good shops are in another county, and closer.  The car we had exclusive use of at Port Charles was by no means the worst example.  There was no fee, an honour system request to replace the fuel you used, the vehicle ran well and use was unrestricted.  On the downside, especially given the temperatures, the AC did not work, and the headliner had been covered over with muslin, held in place by Velcro and the sun visors (making the sun visors inoperable).  One does not even want to think about what that muslin was hiding!  Given that there was absolutely nothing in Port Charles, and St Charles was 10 miles away, we were very grateful for the vehicle, regardless of its condition!

Missouri farm

St Charles was founded in about 1769 by a French fur trader.  At the time the area was ruled by Spain following France’s defeat in the Seven Years War.  Originally settled mainly by French Canadians, the city was an important river port, and was considered the “last civilized stop” by the Lewis and Clark Expedition before they headed upriver to explore the territory gained by the Louisiana Purchase.  There is still a French Quarter in the middle of town, although it was clearly never as prosperous as the area now included in the Riverfront and Main Street areas that make up the St Charles Historic District.

On Sunday we returned to St Charles, driving through beautiful farmland, and spent some time wandering up and down Main Street.  Major refurbishments have been made to all of the buildings, and many of them have been repurposed under a downtown business revitalization scheme.  Here and there were clever and amusing sculptures of dogs, dressed up in interesting costumes.  The street is full of independent shops and restaurants, and is clearly a mecca for visitors from nearby St Louis and farther afield.  The best of the shops we stopped at featured beautiful glass work, unique Christmas decorations, and interesting art and sculptures.  We were very tempted, but managed to resist and instead bought some oatmeal cookies from a nearby bakery and a couple of small tubs of herbs from a spice shop.  Our dinner at Toni’s was tasty, although we decided on lighter choices after walking around in the heat.

Main Street, St Charles
St Charles
St Charles
St Charles
One of several dog sculptures in St Charles

On our last day in Port Charles we took time to thoroughly clean inside the boat, a chore that had not been done before we started the voyage, as we had planned to engage a cleaning service.  Dick also hosed down the outside and vacuumed the cockpit, but it was too hot for any other outside cleaning.  I washed all the sheets, but we made a note that in future we should try to do that on a cooler day.  The dryer draws a lot of power, so while it is operating, we have to turn off one of the two AC units, and a single one struggles to keep up when outside temperatures are above 90F.

The new engine pump arrived and was duly installed.  It took some hours, and goes to prove what we have observed, boat yards do give priority to emergency repairs, especially for customers who are in transit.

After a busy day, we settled down to sleep.  I was just drifting away, when I became aware that Dick was going up on deck.  He tromped up and down for a while, pausing here and there.  I assumed he was closing the dryer vent (he wasn’t).  Finally, he came back inside and shortly after, he turned off all the lights and everything was peaceful.  Of course, I was now wide awake, and wondered whether he had for some obscure reason started the water tanks filling and then forgotten (he hadn’t).  I was woken abruptly at 5:50am by a wide awake, fully dressed husband requiring my immediate assistance in tracing the reason why the freshwater pump was running continuously.  Apparently, that was what the tromping about had been.  Failing to diagnose the problem in the dark, Dick had turned the pump off completely, and then lay awake half the night, mentally tracing lines and outlets, trying to work out what the problem could be.

Wife duly rousted out of bed, the pump was turned back on, only to find that it was operating normally.  The whole exercise did reveal an up-to-now undiscovered storage area below the washer dryer.  The previous owners used it for laundry supplies.  I have always assumed it was just one of the many mysterious hatches that are all over the boat and give access to the various mechanical gubbins for boat operations.

By our 7:45am departure, the problem was still a mystery.  The pump has since performed as normal, touch wood.

At last, we set off up the Mississippi River, our first day of previously unknown (to us) territory.  We passed the Golden Eagle Ferry.  Our first impression was that this small car ferry runs from Nowhere Illinois to Nowhere Missouri.  In fact, it does, but it was surprisingly busy with several vehicles waiting on both sides as it buzzed back and forth.  Apparently, this ferry allows drivers to bypass St Louis and the inevitable congestion associated with a big city.  There are few bridges over the Mississippi River.  At this point, Alton, to the south, was closest, and then the next was 80 miles north.  It is not surprising that there are several ferries in operation on this stretch.

Golden Eagle Ferry

In time we arrived at Lock 25, and were pleased to be able to go straight in.  This was our first lock in a while with nothing to wrap a line to.  Instead, the lock keeper dropped a line to Dick, and instructed him not to cleat it.  Trying to hold 12 tons of sailboat-shaped boat in place without a helping cleat is difficult.  I used the engines as I do in UK locks, to keep Nine Lives in place and stop her turning and banging against the sides of the lock.  Easy enough with practice, which we have a lot of, but I feel sorry for boaters who experience this for the first time.

That day we went straight through both locks with no wait, and saw no barge traffic at all, even though the lock reports from the previous day had suggested we could expect at least an hour’s wait.  We were tied up in Rockport by 4pm, a long day even without any lock queues.  The marina is very shallow, just 2 feet of water under the boat.

Two Rivers Marina, Rockport

Louisiana, Missouri was across the river, over a highway bridge.  Dick took his bike across and reported that there are signs of former wealth, but 90% empty stores.  However, there is a lot of cleaning and improvement going on, so that may change.  Otherwise, it is an industrial town with little to recommend it to tourists.

Louisiana, Missouri

We passed Hannibal, having had difficulty determining whether or not the marina had a slip for us.  This town is clearly capitalizing on the Mark Twain association.  Mark Twain this, Mark Twain that, even a never-functional Mark Twain memorial tribute lighthouse.  We skipped Hannibal on this occasion, but now that we know they do have space for a boat of our size, we may stop and see what the fuss is about on our return.

There was a delay of about 45 minutes at Lock 22, waiting for a split tow to go through, but we were tied up at Quincy Boat Club by 3:30pm.  We were the only boat there, but a member saw us arrive and came down to catch our lines and invite us to their dinner event the next evening.

Quincy Boat Club

The city of Quincy has an interesting history.  In 1838, the governor of Missouri issued an extermination order, forcing Mormons to flee their homes.  They crossed into Illinois at Quincy, and were made welcome in the town.  In 1839 they purchased land upriver and founded the city of Nauvoo.  Nauvoo was the largest city in Illinois by 1844.

Quincy downtown
Quincy downtown

Quincy was an important port on the Mississippi in the years leading up to the Civil War.  They flourished partly because they managed to be cagey about their sentiments over slavery, and traded enthusiastically with both sides.  Negotiations with President Lincoln by 3 of his friends from Quincy, ensured that the city was allowed to continue trade with the south, in spite of embargoes.  The city supported the northern war effort by producing cannonballs and military hardware, but they also accepted, processed, and traded tobacco products from Missouri when other ports were embargoed.

We had a good dinner at the strangely named Boodalu Restaurant, fortunately only a short walk up the very steep hill.

Boodalu shrimp cocktail
Boodalu carpaccio
Boodalu steak with portabella mushroom
Boodalu creme brulee

The next day was a most enjoyable evening at the Boat Club.  The Club was started in 1933, based in a ranch house on the water’s edge.  The floods of 2019 destroyed the clubhouse and the docks, but there happened to be a failing restaurant in a very attractive building just a few yards along the waterfront.  The Club was able to buy it, and it makes an outstanding venue.  The food was very good, some of the best I have had in a club setting, cooked by volunteers.  Members came up and chatted with us and made us welcome.  The live music was wonderful.  The singer was Liz Bentley, who offered a mix of covers and her own songs, mostly country music but with some country takes on folk and light rock.  Dick even agreed to stay for one more set than his usual tolerance, possibly because of the very comfy seats, but he was also enjoying the music.

Liz Bentley at Quincy Boat Club
Quincy highway bridge at night

We headed up the river to Keokuk.  In this area the river has long stretches of various wildlife reserves, and there is little to see except trees.  We have seen bald eagles, golden eagles, deer on the banks, and of course herons.  As we move north, we are starting to see white pelicans again.  They are migratory, spending winters in Central and South America, and summers as far north as northern Canada.

Bald eagle, not much of a picture, but you get the idea

After seeing very little traffic on the river, we were suddenly overtaken by a lot of small boats.  On the Illinois side we could see a large building that turned out to be the former Warsaw Brewery.  The brewery closed in 1972 after brewing beer for over a century, but the beautiful old building has been transformed into a restaurant.  Lots of the boats had docked there and we could see people walking up the hill to the restaurant.  It always surprises me how few waterfront venues offer any sort of docking for boats.  Those that do are invariably very popular.

Warsaw Brewery
Hydroelectric plant at the lock at Keokuk

At Keokuk Yacht Club we had to tie up on the outside, very subject to waves and wakes, and the day was surprisingly rough. The first evening we rode bikes (my first time this season) 2 miles to a downtown restaurant.  There are some beautiful large homes along the bluff on the way, but for the rest, the roads were in very poor condition, and downtown, although clean, was mostly empty shops.  We did have excellent pizza, but I was not a happy bunny having to ride on the rough road.

Keokuk bluff top homes
Keokuk bluff homes
Keokuk bluff homes
Keokuk Rand Park Garden
Keokuk Rand Park Garden

Sunday afternoon the Yacht Club had an event with live music.  This time it was The Boys, who played mostly rockabilly with lots of covers and some of their own music.  An older couple danced through almost every song for several sets.  Apparently, they are big fans and attend most of their events.  We had a perfect front row seat in the cockpit of Nine Lives, and enjoyed a bottle of wine and a few nibbles.

In late afternoon a sternwheeler arrived, the Mississippi Princess II.  She is the real thing, built 50 years ago in St Paul by a retired admiral.  She has had only 3 owners during that time, and is a private vessel, not a charter.  There was a bit of a flurry on her arrival while a small boat was moved to make room on the other dock.  They had not realized that our dock was the one with power, so after Dick spoke to the owner, we agreed to move Nine Lives back a few yards and use the other power pedestal, making room for them in front of us.  It was wonderful to watch the sternwheeler reposition.  There are two separate paddlewheels, and two rudders, and the captain turns the wheels forwards and backwards as needed to maneuver the boat.  The engines appear to be gas rather than diesel, but Dick didn’t get an opportunity to ask.  Later on, the local Harbor Host, his wife, father, and another couple joined us on board Nine Lives for a drink and chat.  Before they left, they toured Nine Lives, and were most impressed with the space and comfort below.

Mississippi Princess II
Mississippi Princess II

The next morning there had been a mayfly hatch, and the entire windward side of the boat was covered with them.  One can easily knock them off the screens from inside, but you daren’t try brushing or washing them down, as they are extremely delicate and make a disgusting mess.

Mayfly hatch

We passed Nauvoo, the city founded and still occupied by members of the Mormon Church.  The area was very tidy and prosperous looking, quite a contrast to what we have been seeing on the shores so far.

Fort Madison

There are lots of areas of waterlilies along the river’s edge.  Since they only grow in still water, you begin to understand just how wide the Mississippi River is.  The deeper channel can be only a very small part of the whole width, and the shallow areas do not have the strong current.  Wing dams contribute to regulating the flow of the water, as do the frequent locks and their associated dams.

waterlilies at the river’s edge

We came through a railway bridge, that was double decked, with the lower section for trains and an upper deck for cars.  The bridge opened for us, and then stayed open for more than 45 minutes waiting for the sternwheeler behind us to pass through.  We heard someone on the radio complain, I imagine the drivers waiting on the bridge were feeling very hot and frustrated.

Ft Madison railway bridge opening

Further on we passed a barge being loaded with corn for the first time.  Now we know we are in Iowa! A plaque in one of the towns told us that northbound barges mostly carry coal, fertilizer, sand and gravel, and wind turbine blades.  Southbound they carry corn and beans.

corn being loaded onto a barge
coal barges

We tied up for two nights in Burlington.  The marina is very shallow, in fact Dick had spoken to them a couple of times and they were not sure they could get us in.  There had been rain earlier, and while we did churn the mud, we got in and tied up to the fuel dock.  This was fortunate, because while there is an alternative dock (without power) closer to town, we had been a week without a pump-out and knew we were getting close to full.  Opportunities to pump out are pretty scarce on the Mississippi.  Not all states are as enlightened as South Carolina, which not only subsidizes facilities, but requires them to offer free pump out service to any boater who requests it.

Burlington waterfront
Burlington homes

One of the tourist attractions in Burlington is Snake Alley.  No, nothing to do with reptiles, this is a street, built in 1894 to make it easier for horses, vehicles, and pedestrians to move between the residential district on the bluff and the business district on the waterfront.  It still has the original brick paving, with the bricks laid at an angle to keep the horses’ feet from slipping as they went down the turns.  While the whole idea was a good one, it turned out that horses would lose control at the top if they tried to go up the street, so it was, and still is, one way down only.

Snake Alley, Burlington
Snake Alley with cars descending

We walked to Drake’s, a huge restaurant on the waterfront.  It occupied the building that was formerly Drake’s Hardware, once the top distributor of hardware in the Midwest, serving customers from the Appalachians to the Rockies.  Many of the features of the old business have been kept and incorporated into the restaurant.  Dick ordered a duck salad as a starter, that turned out to be a huge meal size, then his pot roast came with a side salad as well!  I ordered spinach and artichoke dip, followed by an interesting lobster chipotle pizza.  Both were tasty, but to be honest, they tasted the same, in spite of being completely different dishes.

lobster chipotle pizza at Drake’s

We had a much better meal the next night at Martini’s, excellent food, professional service. The waitress made sure that Dick’s appetizer salad was not duplicated with a second “side” salad.  It is an interesting (and annoying to us) assumption, more and more, that any starters and all desserts will be shared.  Portions now serve 4 as appetizers.  We don’t always want to share, it means that neither of us gets to enjoy our first choice from the menu.  On several occasions the server has whipped away to put in the order for one appetizer, and we have to call them back to order the other.

Martini’s shrimp cocktail
Martini’s salad
Martini’s ribeye steak
Martini’s filet steak oscar
Martini’s cheesecake selection

We had a small amount of concern the next morning as we left at 7:30am to be well ahead of 3 upcoming tows.  We knew the marina was shallow, and we had churned mud on the way in.  We backed out of the slip okay, but then came to a gentle halt in the marina entrance.  Dick reversed and tried again, slightly more centered and with a bit more speed.  It’s a finely balanced judgement, too much speed can result in getting thoroughly aground with no chance of backing off.  More mud later, we popped out of the entrance and were on our way.

Once again, we set off without being sure that our destination would work.  This uncertainty has defined our voyage so far.  Some marinas don’t respond to enquiries, those that “think” they can accommodate us are not sure.  Keokuk was first come first served, no way of knowing whether the space would be filled with small boats, and no nearby alternative.  Fort Madison marina is only partly built, in spite of having had a grand opening on July 1st.  What is working in our favour, is that there is no competition for any available transient spaces.  Nobody is boating!  We assume it is the heat.  Another aspect of this trip that adds to the uncertainty is a lack of current reviews of marinas and anchorages.  There was major flooding in 2019, and many docks were destroyed or damaged.  Any reviews dated before 2019 cannot be relied on if there is nothing recent.

A couple of pelicans swam into Lock 17 ahead of us, but they did not care for our company and flew away.  Locks would be great locations for photography, but unfortunately, we are far too busy to take pictures.  Pelicans like to hang around during the summer, as the water churns up lots of fish, and eagles congregate during winter, where the moving water is less likely to freeze.

In Muscatine, there is a municipal marina, and our reservation was accepted and money taken.  We were assigned to a dock downriver from the marina.  On arrival, we found that it had no centre cleat, only a large one at each end of the dock.  Nine Lives is sailboat shaped, which means that a bow line cleated first makes it impossible to bring the stern in.  Cleat the stern first in a fast current, and the bow will swing out too far to throw a line.  We managed to tie up, but it took several tries, and eventually Dick had to leap off the boat when it was close and then run to grab lines.

A man who had used the boat launch was quite unhappy with us, as he had difficulty tying his boat while he got his trailer.  He settled down when we explained that we had been assigned (and paid for) the dockage.  There was no power or water, so we ran the generator for over 48 hours, happily with no issues.

Nine Lives at the dock

Situated at last, we were very surprised to see Mississippi Princess, the sternwheeler, arriving beside us.  They had also made a reservation and been assigned the same space!  Once they understood what had happened, they got on the phone and were directed to tie up across 3 open slips in the marina proper.  Dick walked over and helped catch their lines.  The next day he chatted with a Parks and Recreation Dept worker, who told him that the marina was badly designed and has always silted up.  The man said he was surprised that the sternwheeler had got out at all.

In 1833, at the end of the Black Hawk War, the Iowa Territory was officially opened for settlement.  Began as a trading post, by 1840 the town, originally named Bloomington, had grown to 507 residents.  Growing quickly, the town soon had a gunsmith, a hatter, tinsmith, cigar maker, flour mill and packing house, in addition to its main lumber industry.  To avoid confusion with other places of the same name, the community voted to rename the town Muscatine.  In 1853, Orion Clemens brought his family to town and took over the newly renamed Muscatine Journal.  He employed his 18-year-old brother Sam at the paper.  Under his pen name, Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens wrote “Life on the Mississippi”, commenting on Muscatine’s beautiful sunsets.

Muscatine sunrise
Muscatine County Offices

Just before the turn of the century, John Boepple came to town from Germany, and started a button making industry using the shells of freshwater mussels.  Muscatine became the world’s capital of the pearl button industry.  By 1894 there were 43 button factories in the area, employing 3500 people.  H.J Heinz also set up a pickle factory.  A unique feature of the town is the light system on the bridge.  In 2008, 43 LED fixtures were attached to the bridge, capable of generating 16.3 million colour combinations.  It is believed to be the first of its kind to be installed on a bridge over the Mississippi River.  It was certainly pretty to watch from our ideal location at the dock.

former button factory in Muscatine
Muscatine bridge at night
Muscatine waterfront

Our dock was actually intended for the small boat launch, although a newer launch has been built further upstream.  While Dick explored the area on his bike, I sat and watched a group setting up for a hovercraft meet.  It was fascinating to see these small craft, especially when two arrived by water and just zipped straight onto the land.  They maneuver very like a boat on the water, but on land they are somewhat clumsy and tricky to park.  Several of the men simply stopped where they were and then lifted and manhandled the craft into place.  The meet was set up, but the main events were not until after we left.  It would have been fun to see 15 or 20 of these interesting craft zipping around, although it would have been incredibly noisy!

Hovercraft meet at Muscatine
hovercraft
hovercraft arriving by water
hovercraft arriving by water

I watched a fisherman retrieve a huge net and empty it of quite a few fish, just a few feet from our stern.  There are still plenty of fish in the Mississippi River, in spite of the invasion of Asian Carp.  Catfish is found on menus up and down the river.  Walleye, Sauger, Bass, Crappie, Perch, Paddlefish, Bluegill, and Pike are some of the fish to be found on the waters of the middle and upper Mississippi.

Muscatine fisherman hauling in his net
sorting the fish

The first evening we walked over to an Italian restaurant.  I had very good pizza, and Dick’s choice was an indifferent lasagna.  The next day was a shorter walk, to a hotel restaurant right on the waterfront across from our dock.  The menu looked interesting, and Dick’s grouper was tasty, but my portabella sandwich was awful.  Far too many unrelated strong flavours competing.  I thought of it as the Jackson Pollock chef’s style.  Throw a bunch of stuff into a sandwich and hope it works.

the grouper was tasty
the portabella sandwich was awful

We left quite early the next morning, with no idea where we would dock the next night although our destination was the Quad Cities area.  Dick was never able to get an answer from the marina in Moline.  Finally, we tried making contact with Lindsay Park Yacht Club (which had in fact been recommended), and we were able to make a reservation.

Davenport (Quad Cities)

We called Lock 15 from a little distance downstream, and were told come on up, they were just locking down another pleasure craft.  Dick asked if he should hurry, and was told it would not be necessary, so we proceeded at our usual trawler speed.  As we arrived at the railway bridge south of the lock we were disturbed to see the other pleasure boat was already there.  When we called the lock again, we were told there would be an hour and a half wait while they locked down a split tow.  Quite a disappointment!  Eventually the tow slid slowly out of the lock, but they needed a tug to help align them into the channel, so there was a lot of churning water.  The lock keeper called us in long before the tow was clear, as he had another two tows waiting above.  Dick made three tries at getting into the lock through the roiling water, on the third, Nine Lives spun around through a full 360 degrees before Dick could get her into the channel, meanwhile avoiding hitting the lock walls or the unfortunately placed dredge on our port side.  There was also a railway bridge right above the lock and the operator had said there was 20 feet of clearance, so Dick had expected to have to get out and drop the antennas.  This was impossible while he fought the roiling waters.  Although Dick is generally not pleased that Nine Lives has oversized engines, I am sure that on this occasion we were glad of them.  We were also happy to see that there was enough clearance under the bridge without lowering the antennas, as I can’t reach them.  Rather more excitement than we like!

Eventually we were through the lock and arrived at the Yacht Club.  Three members came out to help us get into an admittedly tricky spot.  Nine Lives is wonderfully maneuverable, but driving sideways is not her best thing!  For a change there was lots of depth.  Everyone was very friendly, and offered advice on what to see and do while we were visiting.  We had already made plans while we were there on this stop, but we will return on the voyage downstream and spend more time.  In the evening, after sampling the offerings at the on-site restaurant, we were invited to join two members for drinks.  We enjoyed a very pleasant interlude, telling stories of life on the Great Loop, while they regaled us with their own tales of handling a new-to-them cruiser through Mississippi locks.

Appetizer sampler at Lindsay Park Yacht Club

Saturday was our 45th wedding anniversary.  I occupied myself with laundry, while spending most of the day writing and preparing pictures for the blog.  Dick launched the dinghy.  The dinghy has no name yet, perhaps it will never get one, other than dinghy, or perhaps dink as an affectionate short form.  Dick scouted the route and the dinghy dock where we planned to go for dinner, and he also went up to the Moline marina that we had been unable to contact, in spite of trying for weeks.  There are lots of large boats there, so plenty of depth.  Dick chatted with a guy on the docks, and found out that the restaurant, whose staff are supposed to take bookings for the marina, would rather keep the docks open for short term diners, so now we know why calls are not returned.

That evening we crossed the Mississippi in the dinghy, and after passage through a very narrow channel that was distinguished by a huge Danger, Strong Currents warning sign (!) we tied up at an excellent town dock.  The steakhouse was just a block away.  It is highly rated, but I noticed that it was surprisingly dirty, cutlery, menus, even the tables were greasy and had food remnants on them.  Dick’s prime rib was excellent, but my beef wellington was truly awful.  No relationship to the menu description, and very overdone, although I will concede that the meat was tender.  The dinghy ride back was somewhat choppy, and I am hoping that in future we won’t have to cross the river to get to dinner.

Danger, strong currents
dinner for our anniversary

The next morning, we passed American Countess, a sternwheeler cruise ship.  She was originally a casino boat, but when Iowa changed their laws to allow casinos on land, the ship was sold for scrap.  Bought by a cruise ship company 3 years later, she was taken to a St Louis yard, where she was cut in half and extended with a new 60-foot middle section to increase her passenger capacity.  She now cruises up and down the Mississippi, still with true sternwheeler propulsion, although we noticed that she appears to need to have her own accompanying tug pushing as well.

American Countess
American Countess
narrow channel after exiting one of the locks
Windmill Cultural Center, Fulton

After lock 13, we came into what is the widest part of the Mississippi.  It is like a shallow lake with many islands, and the channel winds back and forth.  We passed a large pelican rookery.  The scenery is definitely getting prettier as we travel north, with more nice homes on the bluffs and less industry.

Pelican rookery

At Sabula we entered the marina and were assigned a 16-foot wide slip.  We tied up on the t-head instead.  Although our 19-foot beam is always the most important piece of information that Dick gives to a marina when he is booking, and he always stresses it several times, as often happens this was ignored.  The dockmaster apologized and said he was just told 44 feet long.  After the inevitable question, “are you sure you need 19 feet?”  and carefully pacing off the slips to confirm that they really are only 16 feet wide, he calmly made the necessary arrangements and we were able to stay on the t-head.  It meant a little bit of holding my breath in the morning, when the large tug from the next well came out and rounded the corner and passed us with just a few feet to spare, but all was well.

2022

June 20 to July 9 Pickwick Lake to St. Charles

At last Nine Lives is underway again.  Not our most auspicious start, on several levels.

In October last year, we left Nine Lives at a marina on Pickwick Lake, in a covered, in-water slip, where she will spend the next two winters as well.  As usual, there was a list of work to be done (this is boat ownership), and 8 months in which to do it.  Dick also arranged for monthly cleaning, and a major refurbishment of the gelcoat.  In November, Dick returned to the marina to check on things, and finalize all the arrangements.  Through the winter, he sent emails and made phone calls, to no response.  The local harbor host even visited on our behalf. Eventually, Dick visited in person again in April, discovering, and he was not particularly surprised, that nothing had been done.  The boat was filthy, and none of the mechanical work had been started.  He managed to get the most important item on the list, the check of the house batteries, done while he was there, and the required replacement batteries were ordered.  Assurances were made that the installation of the new batteries, the 2000-hour engine service, the bottom paint, and a thorough cleaning and waxing, plus other minor items, would be completed before our arrival in late June.  Follow-up phone calls were made, and further assurances given.

We set off from Hilton Head on Monday, June 20, with the vehicle loaded with all the pantry items that we had removed in the autumn, plus fresh and frozen provisions for the first few weeks.  As we drove off, Dick commented, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we got there and found Nine Lives out of the water!”  Nine hours driving later, we arrived at the marina, and as we drove toward the parking lot, there she was, up on blocks, out of the water.  We later learned that she had been taken out just two hours before our arrival.  It wasn’t funny at all, deeply annoying would be a better description!

A great disappointment!

There was a bit of a scramble to find local accommodation for a few days, with a full-size fridge-freezer to ensure that all the food did not spoil.  For all that Pickwick Lake is a vacation destination, and with many very expensive homes along the cliffs, the area has little in the way of accommodation or restaurants.  We stayed at a hotel and conference center in the State Park at the top of the lake, and Dick checked on the progress of the bottom paint and other work twice a day. 

A large adult beverage was required.

Nine Lives was finally splashed on Thursday, and on Friday morning we were able to move aboard.  Even then, there was  work still being done.  Some things did not happen, including the 2000-hour service, but Dick felt confident that it could wait until we return in the autumn.  The promised waxing did not get done either, just a cursory wash-down, and inside cleaning was impossible to arrange at short notice.  So, Nine Lives is not looking as beautiful as she should.

One thing I can tell you, appalling as this seems, not getting the work done in a timely manner is absolutely normal at all the boatyards we have dealt with (so far, we are 4 for 4).  There is huge demand for skilled work, and constant boating emergencies, so regular maintenance work and non-essential repairs are given low priority everywhere.  Friends ask, can we go somewhere else?  The short answer is no.  All of the reputable boatyards are the same anyway, and this is an ideal location for our next 3 year’s plans.  We have a covered slip at a good rate for the time we need it, not easy to find.  That said, the yard manager assured Dick that this will not happen next winter.  We will keep fingers crossed, and Dick will have to attend in person more often.

We spent Friday and Saturday on various start-up tasks, including sanitizing the freshwater tanks, launching the dinghy and testing the motor, adding new cords to lessen the sway of the dinghy while we are underway, fuel, pump out, and fresh water fill.  I occupied myself with various jobs, including of course bed making, putting away all the provisions and pantry items, and preparing fresh bags of cloves.  A number of other inside jobs were completed, and some were postponed until later.

Fuel fill, pity we didn’t do this last autumn.

I was surprised and pleased to find no evidence of unwanted critters inside the boat, and almost none in the cockpit.  This, in spite of the condition of the outside, and the lines, fenders, dinghy, and power cords being festooned with spider webs.  I put this down to multiple precautions.  All food that is left on board is kept in plastic storage bins.  Bounce sheets are placed in all drawers and closets, bags of cloves are distributed generously in the pantry cupboards, and I did a careful and complete spray inside and out with spider control as we left.  No way to know which of these precautions is working and which are boating myths, and I have no plans to “test” by leaving any of them out!

freshly prepared clove bags

We tried several local restaurants during our enforced stay in the area.  The only upscale eatery was in Corinth, a 30-minute drive away.  The town is an interesting mix of new and old, and everything is well cared for and clean.  The meal in the restaurant was good, and we will certainly return.  As we drove out, we saw three middle-aged men, sitting on chairs on the sidewalk, with guitars, jamming with no audience but having a wonderful time.  Nice town.

Corinth downtown
Smoked trout pate at Vicari
Bananas Foster at Vicari
Bread pudding at Vicari
Pizza on our last evening at Aqua Grill

We were finally able to get underway on June 26th at 8am.  Unfortunately, there was already an up-bound tow at the Pickwick Lock, and we had a 3-hour wait until it was our turn to go through.  Later in the afternoon we were caught by thunderstorms.  The winds were so strong they lifted up the fold-down seats on the bow, then the rain came down in sheets.  This helpfully dropped the temperature from 95F to 71F, at least temporarily.  We anchored behind Swallow Bluff Island, first time for our new anchor rode (chain) and markers.  Dick had to wear his bathing suit in the rain for the anchoring exercise (fortunately for me, my role in the anchoring process is inside at the helm!)  I posted on facebook to complete our first day, and Dick wondered why nobody asked for a picture of him out there in his swimming trunks!

Bye bye Aqua Yacht
Pickwick Lock

With the sun shining, and our first day successfully complete, we enjoyed our traditional toast to the season’s boating of bubbly, accompanied by cheese and crackers.  Dick fired up the grill for an excellent meal of steak, baked potatoes and mushrooms.

First night toast
Ready for the grill

Before dinner, Dick took time to fix the new boarding ladder. He used his purpose-bought pipe cutter to trim the supports. When that broke (mutters about cheap piece of junk), he made a second attempt using the vastly more time-consuming hacksaw. Sadly, the supports were still far too long and the boarding ladder was still unusable.

Fix the boarding ladder part one
Fix the boarding ladder part two

When we anchor, I set alarms on two devices, to ensure that we are alerted if we move more than an acceptable amount during the night.  Of course, deciding how much is too much, is somewhat of an art. One has to take into account currents, distance from shore, amount of chain we have out, and whether or not there are tides.  On this occasion the research said that the current would keep us in line in the channel, so I set a fairly small radius on the alarms.  At 4:38am I was rudely awakened by a loud Whoop Whoop Whoop a few inches from my ear.  I leapt out of bed, calling for Dick to wake up, and rushed up to the cockpit.  Instant relief to see that we were nowhere near either shore, followed by absolute puzzlement when I could see from the anchor light on the other boat in the anchorage that we had turned completely around and were facing the opposite direction.  This would be expected in an area with tides, but on an inland river it was mystifying.  We could only conclude that the upstream and/or downstream dams had stopped moving the water, thus minimizing the current.  Later that morning the other boater came by and told us that a huge wave had come through during the night and completely repositioned his boat.  Since we were already wide awake after the excitement, coffee was made, and we watched the sunrise and got an early start.

Sunrise at Swallow Bluff Island

This first part of our summer voyage required retracing our route from last autumn for nearly two weeks.  In order to catch up with the plan, we ran for two long days and missed a couple of anchorages.  Our second night was at Pebble Isle Marina, an okay spot, but it will be too shallow when we return in autumn, and it has little to recommend it.  This area is all part of Kentucky Lake, a long ribbon of artificial lake created by the Tennessee Valley Authority through the beds of several rivers, including the Tennessee River.

The basin outside Pebble Island Marina

We passed the Tennessee River Lighthouse, a 70-foot structure, high on the bluff, that used to show a continuous white light.  Anecdotally, it was used as a navigation aid for some years, but it is now sadly derelict and falling further into disrepair each year. 

Tennessee River Lighthouse

Ospreys nest on the taller daymarks, and some had nearly grown chicks still being looked after by their parents.

Ospreys nest on the daymarks
Repairing pylons

We arrived as planned at Kentucky Dam Marina.  As is not uncommon in this part of the world, there was no response to the radio, and our phones did not have enough signal to call.  We had to go to the fuel dock, and ask for docking instructions by calling out to the attendant.  The first suggestion was to “take any of those slips”.  I pointed out that they appear to be 14-foot-wide slips, and Nine Lives is 19 feet.  Oh.  The uncovered slips in the marina were mostly empty, but we elected to go all the way to the end and take the t-head.

The nearby restaurant was closed except for weekends, so I made jambalaya on board.  It was the first time for that recipe, won’t be the last!

Dick took the time for one of the undone chores, installing the new TV.  The previous one, although working fine, was not a smart TV, so Dick decided to replace it.  This will allow us to stream regular programs (acceptable wi-fi permitting).  We also installed a new DVD player, and are continuing with our usual evening tradition of watching murder mysteries and other box set programs.

Installing the new TV

Kentucky Dam Lock was very backed up, and the lock keeper advised Dick that pleasure craft have a difficult time using that lock, plus the river above has heavy barge traffic.  We decided to take the longer route through Barclay Lock and up the Cumberland River, expected to be faster even though it is considerably longer.  We had an hour wait for the lock, and met several tows on the river in both directions, but it was an easy day to Paducah.

An attractive waterfront property at Green Turtle Bay
A tow enters Barclay Lock, only a few feet of clearance, skilled driving required!
Osprey nest above Barclay Lock

There were a lot of dead Asian Carp, and Barclay Lock smelled like a bad fish fry.  Not sure which is more unpleasant, dead ones, or the live ones leaping out of the water, hitting under the boat, and potentially jumping into the dinghy.  A tree in the river even had dead fish festooned in its branches, which also speaks to how high the river gets during spring flood stage.  We saw lots of turkey vultures, ospreys, and a bald eagle on the shore was deciding whether a dead carp that had washed up looked tasty.  It was clear from how undercut the banks were that the river has been particularly high this spring.  Tree roots were exposed, but the trees themselves still had leafed out.

Exposed tree roots show how high the water was this spring

At the turn into the Ohio River, there are two Federal Mooring Cells.  These are huge steel structures that are set up for barges to moor to while waiting for locks.  One of the two at this inlet had collapsed.  You can see in the picture the sheer size of the structures, and imagine the power of the water that caused the collapse.

Collapsed Federal Mooring Cell

We liked Paducah last fall, and were not disappointed on this visit.  We stayed two nights.  I had time to do a quick load of laundry, and Dick spent the day running errands on his bike in 100-degree heat.  He found some great bread from the bakery, beautiful fresh strawberries and other fruit from the market, and he made a run to both the grocery store and the hardware.  There were so many items, he sadly forgot the main reason for the hardware store, which was a replacement pipe cutter.  As mentioned earlier, the boarding ladder that replaced the one that we lost last fall (oddly enough at Paducah), needed the ladder supports to be trimmed to fit the boat and make it useable for me.  Getting on and off has been quite a challenge, the step from the back is usually too long for me, so without a ladder I can be stuck on board.

Paducah Docks

On our first evening we tried a highly rated and trendy new restaurant.  It was in a re-purposed freight warehouse, but unfortunately it was rather too trendy for us.  Leaving aside décor that consisted of a basic coat of paint and hard metal chairs, we were told to scan a QR code to see the menu, which we refused, so paper menus were reluctantly provided.  The only option for the wine list was the QR code, go to the website, or order completely blind from the choices rattled off by the waitress that gave only varietal, not origin, winery, or price.  We did choose from the website, but requiring patrons to bring and use a smart phone does not endear us to any restaurant.  Dick’s food was quite good, mine was not.

The next evening, we returned to Cynthia’s, a restaurant we enjoyed last fall, and it was a much nicer experience.  The setting was another historic warehouse, but sympathetically renovated, and there were tablecloths, wine glasses, and menus!  The crepes Dick had for dessert rank as one of his top ten restaurant desserts ever.  Given the number of business and personal restaurant meals he has had all over the world, this is saying something.

Chicken pasta at Cynthia’s
Dick enjoyed the Grouper
Chocolate dessert
Crepes, one of the best desserts Dick has ever tasted

After filling up with water, we set off by 9am, but we anticipated a 3 to 4 hour wait at Olmsted Lock.  We arrived at the lock at 11:30 and went straight in.  Last fall when we came through the water was high enough that we didn’t even go through the lock itself, instead we were directed to pass right over the wickets (dam).  Olmsted replaced two other locks on the Ohio River, and yet it can still be under water when the river is running high.  The 30-year lock building project was both the largest and the most expensive inland waterway project ever undertaken in the United States. Olmsted carries the most tonnage of any lock in the entire Army Corps of Engineers system. 

A dredge on the Ohio River

As we made our way down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, we passed many barges at anchor, and being gathered together for transit of the river system.  Barges are the containers, huge floating steel tubs usually 195 feet long by 35 feet wide.  They get lashed together and are pushed by a tugboat, called a towboat, more often shortened to tow.  Boaters learn very early to call the tow, if you try calling the oncoming vessel a barge they may not answer, as that would be a bit like trying to speak to a railway car instead of the driver.  There are essentially two types of tow.  Smaller tugs, amusingly referred to as lunch bucket boats, push and pull the barges into place for loading and for lashing together.  The reason for the name is that the 3-man crews work the same tug in the same part of the river, bringing their lunch aboard and going home after their shift.  Larger tugs handle the transport up and down the rivers, and may have more crew, who of course sleep on board.  Last autumn on the Illinois River, we saw barge trains of up to 3 wide and 4 long.  This spring we have seen several that are 5 wide and 6 long, for a total of 30 barges.  These exceptionally large barge trains are only possible south of St Louis, because of the limitations in the size of the locks further north.  The tonnage of the materials carried is staggering, and these run 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  We will easily meet or pass 10 that are underway each day as we travel.  Mostly the barges are filled with sand or different types of stone.  Some carry chemicals, and some are carrying scrap metal.  Many are covered, so we don’t know what is inside.  Later in the year there will be many carrying grain and flour.

Barge 5 wide and 6 long

At Cairo (pronounced Kay Row to our private amusement), we turned the corner, and were at last in the Mississippi River, a week after leaving Pickwick Lake.  We stopped for the night at Boston Bar, an anchorage we visited last fall.  Naturally, just as we got into position to set the anchor, the heavens opened, and there was no time for bathing suits, so Dick just had to get outside and get soaked.  The rain stopped as soon as the anchor was set.

anchoring in the rain
He got wet!

Boston Bar is not our favourite anchorage.  There is a strong current, and it was particularly strong that night.  Our anchor held, but there is a large bridge abutment and a wing dam of riprap directly behind.  It would have been very close getting the engines started in time to prevent disaster if the anchor had come loose.  We are planning a different stop on our return in the fall.  To add another reason, as if one was needed, Dick thinks that the combination of the strong current slightly starving the intake of water to the raw water pump, and sand in the river getting into the impeller, contributed, if not fully caused the generator to break down.  In the morning, when I came up to the cockpit with my coffee, there was a strong smell.  I mistakenly identified it as diesel, and Dick duly sniffed and said, no, he could not smell any diesel.  In fact, it was burning rubber.  Next time I smell something strange I will not try to be specific.

The next evening, we anchored in Little Diversion Channel, just south of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  This is a pretty, but narrow channel, and one of the few safe anchorages between St Louis and Cairo.  It took several tries before the anchor set, most unusual for our trusty rocna.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of current to hold us in place, but as Dick discovered when he jumped into the water, there was plenty!  He immediately found himself 10 feet behind the boat, and had to swim very hard to get back.

Dick started up the generator, and was just getting ready for our traditional beer after stopping for the day, when the generator stopped.  Several tries more and it was clear there was a problem.  It was humid, 90 degrees, and we really, really wanted the air conditioner!  The air conditioners cannot be run without either shore power or the generator.  Dick began his investigations and found that the impeller for the raw water pump was completely worn out.  We carry replacements, so he installed that, and then cleaned the strainer.  Still the generator overheated, and it became clear that the pump was not moving the water.  The only conclusion (after Dick jumped into the water to examine the outlet, just in case a piece of dead fish had been caught there) was that somehow there was a problem with the pipe.  (Ultimately, we learned that the problem was the bits of the worn impeller blocking the pipe, something Dick could have fixed if he had realized the issue.)

Worn impeller and the replacement
Maybe the problem is out here!

Little Diversion Channel was quite a pleasant stop, well off the busy river.  There were butterflies flitting around the boat, and a hummingbird circled us a couple of times, but I had nothing to offer them.  A couple of fishermen went by, and some pontoon boats.  Local law enforcement passed several times, carefully slowing right down to pass us without a wake, most considerate!  We enjoyed a very nice dinner, another new recipe, but it was awful cooking in the heat.

Sunrise at Little Diversion Channel

Although it was really hot, we made the decision not to stress the engines by running hard for the 8 hours it would have taken to get to Hoppies, and we proceeded as planned to Kaskaskia Lock.  Running that far against the current at high speed would have cost an extra $250 in fuel, plus it would be quite hard on the engines.  At Kaskaskia we tied to the lock wall, and spent a quiet night (sadly no fireworks visible, although it was July 4th).  We did skip the planned exploration up the Kaskaskia River to Evansville, and proceeded the next morning to Hoppies.

As we travelled up the Mississippi River, we were struck by the amount of coal being carried on the many barges.  It had been my impression, from reading news reports and articles concerned with climate change, that coal is on the way out, having been replaced by other fossil fuels (and of course other forms of energy such as solar, hydro, and wind power).  We have passed generating stations that are clearly coal-fired, many with piles of coal waiting, but they have all been shut down, or are on standby.  There are two other critical uses for coal, steel making, and cement production.  Electricity does not get hot enough for these processes, so coal is still being used. Also, coal is now being shipped to China, Japan, and other Asian countries.  Coal production declined after 2013, but it had increased steadily between 1950 and 2013, and in 2020 it was still higher than it was in 1980.  In fact, this year, 2022, coal production is up, predicted to be 22% higher than last year.

Loading coal at Knight Hawk Lone Eagle Dock
loaded coal barges
coal barges waiting to offload at a cement plant

We passed the interesting Tower Rock, a huge rock formation in the river.  First mention of this rock was in 1673, when missionary Jacques Marquette wrote that this was a place dreaded by the savages because a manitou, or demon lives there.  Later a band of river pirates occupied the rock, and preyed on Mississippi shipping.  The outlaw base was destroyed in 1803 by US Army dragoons.  Sailors passing the rock would celebrate with a drink of spirits.  We did not follow that particular tradition, we are strict about saving all alcoholic beverages until we are docked or anchored for the night.

Tower Rock
Tower Rock

Hoppies is a Looper legend.  It is called a marina, but a better description would be to say it is a fuel dock that has extra space to tie up overnight.  They are the only fuel stop between St Louis and Paducah, and many Loop boats may not have a 225-mile range.  Nine Lives can make that trip southbound in 3 days, but coming up-river against the current it took 5.  We are fortunate to have a 1000-mile range, so seldom have to be concerned that we may run out of fuel.  Hoppies is 3 somewhat rusty steel barges lashed together beside the shore.  They had docks, but they were destroyed in flooding in 2019.  I had thought they had no power, but I was delightfully wrong, and we were so glad to be able to plug in and use the air conditioners again.  The temperature was 99F, and the weather channel reported that with the humidity it “feels like 112”.  Even the fuel was worth stopping for, as it was $.70 a gallon less than the other marinas we would be stopping at over the next few days, so we filled up.

Hoppies, a Looper legend

We had understood that the only nice restaurant was a 2.5-mile bike ride away, but an alternative in town was suggested.  LaChance, a local winery, has opened a restaurant in a historic tavern building, so we decided to brave the heat and try it.  Although supposedly a 15-minute walk, I was immediately regretting the decision, as the sun beat down, and the road was slightly uphill, but to our surprise, the owner of Hoppies drove up in his car and offered a ride into town.  It was a very kind gesture.  Tuesday is a limited menu, but Dick enjoyed his enormous catfish po-boy sandwich, and I had outstanding chicken quesadillas.  We each tried a flight of wine tastings (Dick red, me white), and Dick came home with a bottle of one of their red blends.  Kimmswick is a pretty and historic town, founded in 1859.  The log tavern, built in 1770, that LaChance has taken over was once a favourite haunt of Ulysses S. Grant.  There are a number of attractive old houses in the village, as well as the Anheuser Estate and Museum on the riverfront.  The town is a regular stop for river cruise boats.

La Chance Restaurant, Kimmswick
La Chance
Anheuser Museum, Kimmswick
Anheuser Museum
Sunrise at Hoppies

After an excellent night’s sleep in air-conditioned comfort, we left early to allow for delays at the two locks we would pass through on our way to our next stop at Alton.  As we approached the outskirts of St Louis we could see beautiful homes on top of the bluffs.  One has a huge sculpture in the garden overlooking the water, depicting a pair of legs diving into a pool.  I can’t imagine the cost of building this enormous structure, and what could possibly be the point.  We passed the Gateway Arch in St Louis in mid-morning, and were very pleased to be directed straight in at Chain of Rocks Lock.  A couple of hours later, there was again no wait at Mel Price Lock, so we arrived at the marina in Alton and were tied up by 2:15.

Wealth and taste…
Oh my!
A red-winged blackbird hitches a ride

We had booked a meal at Gentelin’s on Broadway, a fine dining restaurant we enjoyed last fall.  Alton, although historic, is not an attractive town.  Some efforts are being made at gentrification, and there is a pleasant waterfront park, but they have a long way to go.  I was glad we were walking both ways in daylight.  We enjoyed the meal, although the restaurant was surprisingly noisy.  There was a man singing and playing a keyboard, and unfortunately between the amplification and acoustics in the restaurant, diners had to raise their voices to chat, and the result was an incredible din that did not add to the experience.  We expect to return anyway, as the food is excellent.  My lobster tail cooked in tempura batter was delicious, and Dick enjoyed his crispy roast duck.

House salad at Gentelin’s. A salad is always included with your meal in the midwest.
Crispy Duck at Gentelins
Tempura Lobster Tail at Gentelins
Chocolate dessert at Gentelins

We had only a short run to Port Charles Harbor in St Charles, just past the confluence of the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers.  North of Alton we passed our first Mississippi cruise ship.  While very large, it was still dwarfed by the barge that we passed at the same time.

Mississippi Cruise Ship

In Port Charles, we are tied up for several days.  The generator repairs were completed almost immediately.  In some ways it is fortunate that the problem happened, because while investigating the generator problem, Dick became aware of water in the port-side bilge.  He knew from our experience with the starboard engine last summer that this could be the beginning of a problem with the raw water pump on the port engine.  Further examination determined that the pump is definitely failing, and a replacement has been ordered and will arrive Monday.  Of course, if the 2000-hours service had been done, this problem would have been identified at that time.

Dick borrowed a pipe cutter and fixed the boarding ladder at last.

We walked next door to the interestingly named Duck Club Yacht Club.  A very nice club, with a lively bar and a nice restaurant that is open to transients staying at the Port Charles Marina.  Dick had pizza, followed by cherry pie, while I liked my shrimp wrap.

Pretzels and beer cheese at Duck Club Yacht Club
Pizza at Duck Club Yacht Club
Shrimp Wrap at Duck Club Yacht Club

Saturday we took the courtesy car into St Charles.  As the only transients currently in the marina we have exclusive use of their somewhat beaten up Dodge Caravan.  We made a grocery and liquor run, and scouted the downtown in advance of tonight’s meal in a highly rated Italian restaurant.  Tomorrow we plan to spend some time wandering through the historic Main Street with its many boutiques and cafes.

September 15 to October 3, Peoria to Iuka

We and other Loopers were made wonderfully welcome at the bar and in the restaurant of IVY Club in Peoria.  This is just the way the yacht club reciprocal arrangement is supposed to work.  Members stopped by and asked about our travels, and shared some of their own boating experiences.  In the past we have found that this level of friendliness and welcome is sadly lacking at most other yacht clubs we have visited, so it was a nice change.

IVY Club marina, Peoria

The next morning, we were up early and moved to the fuel dock to be ready at opening for a pump out.  It was an easy run to the only lock of the day.  The lock was ready for us, but we were happy to wait for two other Loopers who we knew were a little behind us.  The rest of the day was surprisingly boring.  After all the interesting sights and wildlife further north, there was little to see.

We anchored behind Quiver Island, along with 6 other Looper boats.  It’s an obvious stopping place, especially as the water is very low this year, and many docks at marinas are inaccessible.  For dinner I tried a modified recipe for pizza dough, that was much more successful than the previous effort.  It also was helpful that I found the proper pizza pans!

Early morning at the anchorage behind Quiver Island
Home made pizza, ready for baking
A tasty slice

On Friday morning we left the anchorage a little later than we had planned, especially with a long 60-mile passage ahead.  Again, it was mostly uninteresting scenery, with a few highlights to relieve the tedium.  We met a 15-barge string on a bend.  The big tows like this take up the whole river when they negotiate a corner, so we were glad to be able to talk to the tow and arrange safe passing.  A little later, from around another bend and only a few feet above the water came a bright yellow airplane.  It rose a little to pass over us, and then dipped again and continued to follow the river northward.

Passing an abandoned tower on the Illinois River
Scenery on the Illinois River

Eventually we arrived at LaGrange lock, shortly after noon.  We were advised by the lockmaster that as soon as the tow ahead of us was finished he would refill the lock and put us through.  We floated quietly in the channel, as we had done at every other lock, nudging with the engines to keep position.  There was no other boat traffic above or below the lock.  Unexpectedly, the lockmaster came on the radio and told us we could not wait in the channel, and we should move over to near the bank and anchor.  The reviews on Active Captain and Waterway Guide indicated that this was a bad place to anchor, with poor holding, but we did as we were told.  It took a couple of tries before the anchor held.  Just 15 minutes later, we could see that the tow had cleared the lock, so we called and asked if it would be our turn.  The lockmaster told us to pull our anchor “now”.  Well, we tried.  It absolutely would not come up.  Dick made many attempts, and the bow of the boat dipped alarmingly as the chain tightened.  The Illinois River has a strong current, and due to our width, and proximity to the bank, as well as the current, we were unable to bring Nine Lives around to be above the anchor and try to pull it out that way.  We called for help from TowBoatUS.  They had to come more than 60 miles, and could not get to us in daylight, so we stayed where we were overnight.  No worries about the anchor dragging anyway!

A bald eagle at LaGrange lock
Chili and home made bread for supper

I made a new recipe for chili for our dinner, very tasty, definitely a keeper, although Dick commented that he might prefer it on a cold winter evening instead of in 80-degree heat!  The next morning there was plenty of time for one of Dick’s famous bacon and egg breakfasts.  TowBoatUS arrived shortly after 10am.  The first attempt to free us appeared successful, until we tried again to raise the anchor and it was clear that all that had happened was the rescue boat had dragged us and the tree along the bottom!  (We are presuming it was a really large sunken log that we were caught on).  The rescue boat then took all of our anchor chain onto their boat.  This involved cutting what is known as the bitter end, the line that connects the very end of the chain to the boat.  Nine Lives then moved out of the way, and the rescue boat was able to maneuver with their powerful engines and work the anchor free of whatever it was that had caught it.  We were very glad that the last option, cutting the chain and abandoning the anchor on the bottom of the river, was not required.  To remind us just how lucky we were, on the day I am writing this, there is a posting from another AGLCA member who had a similar experience, catching a large submerged log at an anchorage.  TowBoatUS was too far away to travel to help them, and they were forced to cut their anchor chain and leave a very good, expensive anchor on the bottom.

Dick cuts the bitter end to release the anchor chain
The anchor is freed by the towing service

Next, we had to wait for the lock.  Although TowBoatUS has priority as a commercial vessel, there was a split tow already negotiating the lock.  When a string of barges is too large to fit into the lock all at once, the string has to be split, and locked through in parts.  This takes a very long time, as the tow has to maneuver to and fro, the barges have to be uncoupled and recoupled, and the lock has to be emptied and filled several times.  After about a 2 hour wait, we could see that the tow was finished.  Dick overheard a conversation between the lockmaster and the tow operator, that suggested that there were no tows waiting for locking, “just a pleasure boat”.  That would be us.  We watched for another hour while nothing happened.  We are quite sure that the lockmaster and the tow were enjoying a leisurely lunch together while we waited.

Finally through the lock, after more than 24 hours, we ran fast to try to catch up some of the lost time, slowing occasionally to pass villages, and tows with their barges.  We were undaunted, and got right back on the horse and anchored behind an island off the river that night.  Is that the right metaphor?  Back on the horse?  Hmmm.  Anyway, we were fine, very tired after a stressful day, and we slept well.  In the morning the anchor came up without problems, although we noticed a certain amount of strain on the electric winch.  We decided that the lesson to be learned from our experience is to anchor well away from shore when in a river, as the debris on the bottom gets washed to the sides of the channel.

So how do we anchor?  Once we are roughly in position, I take over from Dick at the helm, and after donning life vest, gloves, and headset, Dick goes up to the bow and lowers the anchor using the electric winch.  We have marked the chain at 20-foot intervals, so he knows just how much rode (chain) goes out.  Once the anchor is on the bottom, we allow the wind and current, with a little help on my part from the engines, to gently move us back, first until we feel the anchor take hold, and then further as more rode is paid out.  After a ratio of 7 to 1 is achieved (that is, if the bottom is 10 feet down from the bow, there must be 70 feet of chain), the bridle is attached.  This is two lines, one from each pontoon bow, clipped to the anchor chain.  More rode is then paid out.  This means that any strain caused by wind or wakes is taken by the bridle lines rather than the winch.  In the morning, the whole process is reversed, and I am always glad to hear Dick tell me, “the anchor is up” as it comes off the bottom!

Dick attaches the bridle while anchoring

A few low hills varied the scenery the next day.  We saw lots of bald eagles, showing that the river is a clean environment in spite of the amount of industry and commercial traffic.  We also started to see kudzu.

Kudzu is a highly invasive plant that has been dubbed “the vine that ate the South.”  It was imported to the USA in 1876 as an ornamental garden plant, and was used for erosion control in the 1930’s to 1950’s.  The vine grows up to a foot a day.  It is gradually spreading northwards, and has been found in Oregon, and in Southern Ontario.  Kudzu smothers everything in its path.  It spreads by runners that root where they touch the soil, by rhizomes underground, and by new vines that root at the nodes and form new plants.  It destroys native grasses and plants, and even mature trees, as it covers them and prevents the leaves from photosynthesis.  Despite its negative environmental impact, kudzu does have some uses.  It is used as animal feed, the fibres are used in basketry, it can be used to make clothing and paper, and it is an ingredient in food and folk medicine in Asia.

Trees and bushes covered with kudzu

We found the tows we met were universally helpful.  The procedure when one meets a tow is to call, and depending on whether you are meeting to pass, or wish to overtake, you explain your intentions and ask where they want you.  They will tell you, “on the one” or “on the two”.  This is quite confusing at first!  “On the one” means that you will meet or pass with the tow on your port side.  “On the two”, is starboard.  You need to remember that it is your port or starboard, not that of the tow! 

We arrived in Grafton shortly after noon.  Note to selves, not a good stopping place on the weekend!  The marina was chaotic, reminding us of Henry’s Fish Camp in Georgian Bay.  Mostly little boats arrive and depart, and a lot of smaller slips are kept available for them.  The very popular Grafton Oyster Bar is located in the marina, and many boaters arrive for lunch and dinner.  At one point I overheard the dockhand telling another to “help this pontoon boat, he says it is the first time he has ever driven a boat!”  Well, conditions were not good for a complete beginner, it was windy and choppy, and the space in the marina is tight.  In spite of my warning to Dick to see if he could fend them off, the neophyte boater managed to add another scrape to Nine Lives hull.

Grafton Marina. The empty slips are for day boats visiting the restaurant

Another interesting few moments occurred when a very large houseboat arrived in the marina.  They did not use their radio.  The dockhand called out to them that there wasn’t room for them, and I could clearly hear a man on the boat call out to the driver, “just keep going!”  They swung into the open space at the end of the dock we were on, a space that was clearly reserved for another boat.  There were at least 15 people on board, and the men were aggressive and (I later learned) quite drunk.  One can hardly blame the teenage dockhands for not wishing to challenge them.  Unfortunately, the Loopers whose spot they had taken arrived long before the entitled idiots departed, and had to spend the night on the fuel dock.  We were not surprised when they chose to leave the next day rather than taking up their second night’s reservation.

We will return to Grafton Marina I am sure, but not on a weekend!  The food at the Oyster Bar was excellent.

Chowder at Grafton Oyster Bar
Crawfish enchiladas at Grafton Oyster Bar
Sunset at Grafton Marina

We had a very short run to Alton, a suburb of St Louis on the Mississippi River.  No restaurants nearby were open that night so we ate on board.  We were now in delivery mode, travelling as quickly as possible to our final destination this summer.  We expect to travel these rivers several times in the next few years as we complete our various summer voyages, so there is less incentive to stop at this time.  Unfortunately, the weather was filthy, with rain and fog all day, so we stayed an extra day at Alton.  Docktails was arranged for Loopers in the evening.  It was the largest group we have participated in for some years!  We agreed on a spokesman for the boats leaving the next day who would negotiate with the lock for all of us.

The extra day did allow for an excellent meal at a nearby fine dining restaurant.

Lobster risotto and a half duck at Gentelin’s restaurant in Alton

The next morning 10 Looper boats plus one TowBoatUS rescue boat transited Mel Price lock together by 7:30am.  It was a very early start, with engines running at 6:15am!  It really does make a difference when we travel as a group through the commercial locks.  There were no delays at the second lock of the day, and we were all through by 9:30am, unprecedented!

Dick read that 30% of the world’s grain passes through Mel Price lock, which gives you an idea of just how busy the Mississippi River is.

Waiting for Mel Price lock at sunrise

It was a very long run that day.  While St Louis was interesting, this part of the Mississippi is very industrial.  We passed many tows, the last one pushing 24 barges.  We also had a chance to look at a popular Looper stop.  Hoppies is the only fuel stop for many miles on this stretch of the waterway.  It is not a real dock, instead it is several barges that boats tie up to, then later arrivals must raft up.  Although it is part of Looper legend, we are thinking that we may well give Hoppies a miss when we pass through in future.  We tied up at that night at another popular Looper stop, on the wall below Kaskaskia Lock, a short detour up the Kaskaskia River.  There were 5 boats that night, so there was room for all and nobody had to raft up.

A 12 barge string passes under the bridge in St Louis
St Louis, the Arch
Hoppies, a famous Looper stop on the Mississippi
A tow passes derelict moorings on the Mississippi
Dredging near the shore on the Mississippi

The next day was a 100-mile run with a 7am start, but we were still anchored by 4pm, thanks to a 4-knot current in our favour and a stretch of running fast.  Now that we were on the Mississippi (Huckleberry Finn country), the accents of the tow operators became increasingly impenetrable.  It was quite amusing to listen to them on the radio when they were talking to each other, clearly a lot of important information was passed along, and we couldn’t understand a word of it, between the strong accents and the jargon.  Fortunately, they were easy enough for us to understand when we hailed them to ask for passing instructions.

The lock wall at dawn at Kaskaskia
Morning mist at Kaskaskia

We stopped at a good anchorage just north of the town of Cairo, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi.  Unfortunately, while well off the river, it was under a highway bridge, so quite noisy.  Two other Looper boats joined us.  This was our last anchorage of the season, and while the anchor came up cleanly, the winch was really struggling, so we will need to get it looked at.  We suspect it was overstressed when we were stuck at La Grange lock.

Once again Nine Lives was covered in mayflies.  It was a surprise to see them, so I looked it up and discovered that mayflies are not just for May, they hatch right through September!  We were also troubled for the first time by small biting gnats, and even larger biting flies.

The anchorage at Boston Bar
Sunrise at Boston Bar
Nine Lives at anchor at Boston Bar

The next day we turned up the Ohio River.  We went from travelling with help from a 4-knot current on the Mississippi, to fighting against at least 3 knots resistance.  Some of the time on the Ohio we were making as little as 4.6 knots against the current (our normal speed is about 8 knots).  There were a large number of anchored barges, but fortunately not many underway, possibly due to construction operations at Olmstead Lock.

Anchored barges on the Ohio River

We arrived at Olmstead Lock at 11:30, and had to wait for the day’s blasting program to finish.  We had to anchor in 25 feet of water against a 3-knot current, not ideal.  We could have been held up as late as 2pm, but fortunately we were allowed to proceed at noon.  The water on the Ohio was so high that the lock was not operating.  Instead, we passed right over the dam, against a strong current that increased to 4.5 knots over the wickets.  It was a strange experience.

Passing over the dam at Olmstead Lock

We were at Paducah town dock by 3:30, but the free dock was already very busy, so we had to stay on the fuel dock the first night.  It is a rather stinky location, because that corner traps a lot of dead fish and algae, and the power pedestal is too far away for our cords to reach, so we cannot run the air conditioners without the generator.

Paducah was definitely the most interesting town on this part of our journey.  The town was laid out by William Clark (remember Lewis and Clark from your American history classes) in 1827.  It is believed he named the town Paducah after the Comanche people of the Western plains, who were known as the Padoucas by regional settlers.  The town became an important port on the river system, as well as being a railroad hub.  It is clear from the beautiful old houses and downtown buildings that there was once a great deal of wealth in the town.  The area has been prone to flooding, with a flood in 1937 that rose to more than 60 feet.  The earthen levee that should have protected the town was overwhelmed, so a substantial concrete flood wall was built.  Part of this wall has been painted with over 50 murals depicting the history of the town and the area. 

Paducah town dock. The incredibly tall pilings are in anticipation of flooding.
The murals on Paducah’s town wall.
House smoked salmon at Cynthia’s
An interesting fried mozzarella dish at Cynthia’s
Grilled scallops at Cynthia’s
Sea Bass at Cynthia’s
Cheesecake to finish a great meal at Cynthia’s

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner that first evening at Cynthia’s, excellent fine dining.  The town looked fascinating as we walked to the restaurant.  After several very long travel days I was glad to have a quiet day while Dick explored the town.  He returned in time to help 6 Looper boats tie up.  We made plans to head out to dinner an hour early, so I would have time for a few pictures.  As Dick set the ladder into the slots at the side of the boat for me to get off, a big Sabre came round the point and waked all the boats so badly that our ladder fell into the water (it was 10 feet deep under the boat, and in spite of fishing with our longest boathook, there was no chance of retrieval).  The owner of the Sabre happened to be coming into the dock for fuel and an overnight stop.  He was very sorry, and said he would replace the ladder, even offered to build something temporary.  When we returned from dinner there was a step ladder on our deck, kindly left for us by a fellow Looper, but unfortunately it was not useable.  Dick was able to pull the stern of the boat in closely enough to the dock for me to get on.

Our dinner that second evening was interesting.  Clearly a talented chef, but much better quality control was needed.  The steaks were tasty, but neither the asparagus nor the potatoes should ever have left the kitchen.

Paducah downtown
Another view of historic downtown Paducah
Lobster dip at the steakhouse
The steaks were delicious, the vegetables not so much.

In the morning Dick was able to find and order a replacement ladder.  He showed the receipt to the owner of the Sabre, who immediately handed over the full cost in cash.  Interestingly, while the owner was full of apologies, his adult son, travelling with him, had nothing to say and scowled the whole time.  If we were to make a guess, we think it was in fact the son driving, and he didn’t see anything wrong with his speed and was annoyed with his father who likely told him off for it.  Perhaps a good lesson for him anyway, the law says that you are responsible for your wake, regardless of whether it is a “no wake zone”, if you cause any damage.

We had an uneventful passage to Green Turtle Bay, except that the current was even stronger against us on the Cumberland River.    At one point we could see the current push a red marker right under the water.  Even when it bobbed up again only the top third was visible. We ran fast for part of the day to make up some time.  We passed several huge quarries on the journey, an enormous scar on the landscape.  The first, and largest, was purchased in 1903 by Barrett & Son.  The company was based in Cincinnati and ran barges on the rivers.  At the time, the quarry extended for a mile along the bank of the Cumberland River.  Today the quarry is operated by LaFarge Aggregates.  As we passed, we could see a barge being loaded with sand.  The loading is done from one end, and you can see in the photo that the stern of the barge is only a few feet above the water, while the bow is still very high.  The sheer weight of materials that these barges hold is incredible, and then to think that they are attached together in strings of 12, 18, even 24 barges, all pushed by a single tow.

Cumberland River. The current is so strong only the top third of this marker is visible.
LaFarge Aggregates quarry on the Cumberland River
Loading a barge at the quarry
Approaching a tow on the Cumberland River

Barkley Lock is a 57-foot lift into Lake Barkley.  As we made our way in, we could see that the port side was roiled by jumping 3- and 4-foot silver carp.  Unfortunately, we had already committed to tying that side!  It proved impossible to snap a picture that captures the sheer number of jumping fish, but you can see how big they are and how high they jump.  Some jumped under Nine Lives, hitting the tunnel between the hulls with a loud crack!  Fortunately, none ended up on board (or worse, in the dinghy).  We have heard from others that if they get on board, it is a heck of a mess to clean up, because they bleed all over as well as slime.

Jumping carp in Barkley lock

Green Turtle Bay is a large resort and marina on Lake Barkley.  Many Loopers stop there, often for a few days or even weeks.  It is a very pleasant resting stop after a fairly gruelling trip down the rivers.  We only stayed one night, expecting to be back several times in future.  We walked up to the tavern, and enjoyed the evening.

Loaded fries at the tavern in Green Turtle Bay
Sunrise at Green Turtle Bay

The passage to Paris Landing State Park was straightforward.  The docks were nearly empty, but we were delighted to catch up with fellow Loopers on Island Girl, who we first met in 2018.  We could see from our Nebo app that there was a very large pack of Looper boats making their way south.  With limited transient slips available this year, and the concerns about our anchor winch, it was better to stay ahead of the group.

As we headed south on Kentucky Lake, it was a little confusing.  We were actually up-bound, as the lake/river system is flowing north at that point.  Dick had to remember which direction we were travelling when calling the tows.

Kentucky Lake is a reservoir created by the construction of Kentucky Dam in 1938 to 1944.  The reservoir drains the entire Tennessee Valley watershed, which covers an area of 40,200 square miles.  It is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, helping reduce flooding on ten million acres of the lower Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  The top of the gates on Kentucky Dam are at 375 feet above sea level.  The TVA requires that all permanent structures be built at 381 feet above sea level.  This results in what we thought were very strange looking houses and cabins on enormous stilts along the waterway.  The lake is long and narrow, and for much of its length it appears to be more like a river, and has a fairly strong current.  Where it widens, it tends to be very shallow, as we discovered when we tried to follow a more scenic route closer to the western shoreline!

Houses on Kentucky Lake must be built with the main floor above 381 feet above sea level.

Although the lake may help with flood control, erosion can still cause problems where the banks are sand instead of shale or other rock.  We passed one area where there was evidence of land slips, and at one point we could see a house perched precariously on the edge of the hillside, with debris at the bottom where another structure had been completely destroyed.  In spite of the obvious danger, it appears that the house is still occupied.  We could also see places along the water where the limestone banks had been undermined by the flowing water.  Some quite substantial houses were built above, and we thought that the owners would likely not have chosen to built there if they had seen the site from the water!

Erosion on Kentucky Lake
Shoreline of Kentucky Lake
An old lighthouse and homes on the shore of Kentucky Lake

We stopped next at Cuba Landing, and enjoyed dinner on Nine Lives with Ken and Karen from Island Girl.  I tried a new recipe for the pressure cooker, a sausage and bean cassoulet.  Another keeper!  We traded stories of people we had met and places we had been on the loop since our last meeting.

Nine Lives underway
Nine Lives running fast to make up some time

The run to Clifton was pretty, with the leaves just beginning to turn, and bald cypresses looking picturesque in the afternoon light.  There was a lot to look at, mostly cottages and homes along the river, rather than the industry we had been seeing since Chicago.  Clifton was not the most salubrious marina, with many small biting insects, especially after dusk, and the restaurant is outdoors.  The food was rather strange, but we had a lovely evening in company with Loopers from California who were only 5 days from their start.  Unfortunately, those small biting insects thought that Dick was dinner, and by the end of the evening his legs were covered in bites. 

Bald cypresses and early autumn colours on Kentucky Lake
An abandoned dock on Kentucky Lake

It was another easy trip from Clifton to Aqua Yacht at Iuka.  Dick phoned Pickwick lock when we were an hour away to get a sense of how long we might have to wait.  The lockmaster said that if we could get there within half an hour, we would go straight through with the boat that had been waiting two and a half hours, otherwise we would have to wait several hours for a big tow to lock through.  Dick radioed Island Girl and asked, “do you have another gear?”.  They did, and our two boats took off and made it with time to spare.  We were tied up in our covered slip at Aqua Yacht on Pickwick Lake in Iuka, Mississippi by 2:30pm.

First though, we had to find the slip!  Then once we were in, we discovered that we had no mobile signal whatsoever, and no way to contact the marina to ask for the wi-fi code.  Fortunately, the owner of the slip, who we are renting from for the next 3 winters, showed up very soon after we arrived and was able to give us the information we needed.

The covered slip where Nine Lives will stay for the next 3 winters

The next morning, we had Nine Lives hauled out to check the situation with the sponsons.  We suspected that they were filled with water again, as happened the last two seasons.  I have never been on the boat when it was being lifted by a travel lift before, not really an experience I wish to repeat.  Once we were at grade level, we had to climb off over the bow pulpit.  I declined the privilege of returning the same way, and chose instead to walk over to the fuel dock to meet Dick and the dockhands.

On the travel lift
Nine Lives is lifted out of the water
There was no water in the sponsons!

We were very surprised to find that the sponsons did not have any water in them.  Also, the props are in excellent shape.  The tech was very impressed that they were not dinged.  Good driving on Dick’s part!

We had dinner at Aqua Grille, the onsite restaurant.  The food was very good pub food, but they do not serve wine, only beer and mixed drinks!

Shrimp and fries at Aqua Grille

After a day and a half of sorting, organizing, packing, and cleaning, we were ready to head out on Sunday morning.  Nine Lives will snooze until next June in her covered slip, in the water for the first winter in some years.  Dick will be back to check on her and take a couple of small space heaters to keep the engine room warm in the case of freezing temperatures.  He will also drain the water system.  We took off all cans and jars this year, again, in case of freezing weather.

We stopped overnight outside Atlanta, and were happy to arrive home in Hilton Head by noon.  This concludes the Nine Lives 2021 voyages.  We travelled 2112.5 miles, underway for a total of 244.1 hours.  We passed through 13 locks.  We spent time in 7 states, and our journey took 119 days.

The story will resume some time in June of 2022.

Nine Lives route and speeds for September 2021

August 24 to September 14, Milwaukee to Peoria

The swallows visited our rail on our last morning in Milwaukee, twittering to each other, and generally enjoying the perch out of the wind.  Yes, the wind.  Our voyage to Kenosha was the worst yet this summer.  Even though we went at fast speed, we pounded through waves that were twice what was forecast.  I needed to lie down for hours after arrival.  The bedside lamp fell over for the first time since our miserable experience on the Neuse River in North Carolina in 2017.  To add insult to injury, my bathroom was filthy, as the pounding made water come up through the sink and threw the dirty, semi-diluted contents of the S-trap as high as the top of the mirror and even onto the ceiling.  If you can imagine taking the contents of the trap under your sink and flinging it all over your bathroom you have an idea of what it was like.  Dick thought I should take a picture and share it, but the photos in this blog are meant to be enjoyable, not an emetic!

Milwaukee, swallows on the rail

Kenosha was very hot and humid, and except for walking to dinner one evening at the best of the limited restaurant choices I stayed on board.  Dick is made of sterner stuff, and set out on his bicycle to explore the extensive waterfront parks.  Kenosha is mainly a bedroom community, for both Milwaukee and Chicago, with a lot of attractive townhouses and a very nice waterfront centered on the marina.  There is even a water park fountain for kids.

Kenosha marina and the remains of an industrial chimney
Kenosha waterfront garden and sculpture
Another sculpture in Kenosha’s waterfront park

Kenosha was once an industrial city, but today, nearly 50% of the city’s residents commute to other locations.  There are several educational institutions, and it is the headquarters of Snap-on Inc, and Jockey International.  Initially called Southport, Kenosha was an important Great Lakes shipping port.  For much of the 20th century cars and trucks were built here, including such well-known brands as Rambler, Nash, AMC, and later Renault.

Waterfront homes in Kenosha

Dick learned an interesting lesson during this stop.  If you walk into a barber shop, and all of the barbers have very short, military style haircuts, as do the other customers, run, do not walk, to another location!  Although he explained carefully what he wanted, he should also have been suspicious when his barber set the chair so that Dick could not see what he was doing.  He realized his mistake when he heard and felt the electric razor take a swath of hair from his neck to above the ear.  At that point there was nothing for it but to let him finish the job.  It will of course grow out, but for now I can’t decide whether the cut looks more like a good-old-boy or a 9-year-old.

Some days just don’t improve.  Wasps descended on Nine Lives, entering the screens through small gaps.  This was also the first we have seen of biting flies.

The historic lighthouse at Kenosha
Kenosha municipal bathhouse from the early 20th century
Wine Knot Restaurant in a historic building
A burger and meatloaf at Wine Knot Restaurant
Kenosha Marina sunset

From Kenosha we had a quick run to Waukegan and the much-anticipated Great Dinghy Swap.  Once again, on arrival we learned that in spite of having booked weeks before, the marina had no slip assignment for us.  They first tried to put us into a 17-foot-wide slip, but I am now an old hand at judging widths and calling out to dockhands to confirm.  Eventually we were given a t-head on the, shall we say, less salubrious side of the marina.  Part of the docks on that side are completely derelict, and even the part we were in had seagulls (and seagull droppings) in abundance.  At least it was an easy distance to the shower facility and also to the path leading to the boat launching ramps.

We tied up and connected the power, and turned on the air conditioners.  Within seconds, everything turned off, and Dick discovered that the power cord had fused.  After it was finally pried off and the remaining 30-amp cord connected again, the AC pump was not working (it’s a new pump), and there were also some other electrical anomalies.  Dick left to check in, and planned to head to the nearby boatyard to see if he could get power cord and fitting replacements.  He returned very shortly, having realized that the configuration of the marina meant it was such a long distance to the marina office that he needed to ride his bike!  Off he went, and meanwhile, back at the boat, more wasps started appearing.  Fortunately, the electrical anomalies sorted themselves out, and by very careful power management we were able to manage with the single 30-amp input.

Waukegan Marina sunset

The next morning was New Dinghy Day!  I was somewhat concerned about the waves.  From the boat ramp where he took delivery, Dick had to go right out into the Lake and then cross a short stretch of open water before entering the marina.  He was absolutely delighted with how the new Highfield dinghy handled.  On arrival he lifted the dinghy in the davits, and was pleased that his carefully considered engineering plans, including scale drawings, all executed without having either Nine Lives or the new dinghy present, worked perfectly. The new dinghy hangs perfectly in the davits and looks splendid.  We tied Minnie up beside us to await the handover to her buyer the next morning.  I chuckled when I heard a small boy in a passing boat shout to his Dad, “Look Dad, they have two dinghies!”

Here he comes!
The new dinghy is so stable compared to Minnie
Dick’s wonderful new dinghy
Perfect fit!

Another project involved glue.  The new, quite expensive pair of boat shoes that Dick bought earlier in the summer had the insoles continuously slipping out.  Gorilla glue was suggested and duly purchased.  The instructions were read, insoles affixed inside the shoes, and then there may have been a slight miscalculation.  In spite of the distaff side of the family’s concerns, the instruction to clamp together the newly glued pieces, was taken to mean that putting the shoes on and wearing them for a while would be an ideal way to ensure adhesion.  It worked.  An hour later, adhesion presumably achieved, Dick decided to go for a bike ride, necessitating a change of shoes.  I bet you have already guessed what is coming.  Yes indeed, the shoes were firmly glued to Dick’s feet, and required both of us to pry them off.  The operation was made more difficult by my inability to concentrate, I was laughing so hard!

Sunday morning there was a small craft warning.  The plan was to take Minnie around to the boat ramp at 9am, but as the waves kicked up, Dick moved the time up to 7am.  I couldn’t decide which would be worse, watching as he negotiated the wind and waves in the very tippy boat, or not watching.  I decided to watch, in case I needed to call the Coast Guard for a rescue.  (Dick did all the sensible things, wearing his life jacket, carrying the hand-held radio, and putting all the paperwork, phone, etc into a drybag).  The trip actually required him to tack back and forth to avoid being swamped, but he made it safely to the channel.  Fishermen on the shore shouted at him that he should slow down as it was a no-wake zone starting at the entrance.  He shouted back that not getting swamped by following waves trumped the no-wake rule!  In due course he arrived safely at the boat ramp.

Waukegan sunrise
Minnie at the boat ramp

The new buyer arrived with two helpers and his wife, and a panel truck to load Minnie into.  The motor proved harder to remove than expected, requiring two trips back to Nine Lives for tools.  The whole operation went as hoped, although there was a great deal of grunting (and possibly muttered curses), as the extremely heavy Minnie was lifted into the waiting truck.

Minnie’s motor was quite heavy
The men get ready to get Minnie out of the water. Note that they have given the heavy motor to the girl to hold!
Ready for loading
Goodness she is heavy!

Dinner that evening was very enjoyable, with 4 Looper guests joining us for a ham and potato casserole.  We remembered that there are leaves for the table in the salon, making it much more comfortable for seating 6.

We had an uneventful return to Chicago, with a slip assignment in the same marina and even on the same t-head.  The difference was that whereas on our last visit we were given the whole t-head, this time they gave us only half of it, and swore that another boat was scheduled for the other half (nobody arrived).  This meant we had to tie closer to the end of the dock, and thus closer to the bad driving habits of the many weekenders stopping for fuel and pump-outs at the next dock.  We had one near miss as we sat and watched, Dick had to shout to get the driver to stop backing up before he hit us.

Our stay in Chicago was the time for the Great Car Shuffle.  We rented a car, and drove north to St Ignace.  This is the alternative jumping off point for Mackinac Island, and we found it quite charming.  We made a note that if we ever return by boat, we will be sure to stop there.  We had a good dinner at a busy family restaurant.  Looking around, I noticed that more than half of the men in the restaurant were wearing hats (usually baseball caps).  When I was a child, women were still considered to be somewhat undressed unless they were wearing a hat, especially in church or going to the theatre, and they kept them on indoors.  Men also wore hats, but absolutely took them off indoors.  So I can’t help but find it disrespectful when I see these caps at the dinner table.  On the other hand, looking at these men, I am probably just as happy for them to keep those hats on, if the alternative is setting them down on the table!

After dinner we crossed the road to a charming converted red London double decker bus for the best salted caramel ice cream I have ever had.

The ice cream shop in St Ignace
You can see how they converted the London bus

The next morning, we had about an hour and a half drive to Drummond Island, where we had left our car.  Dick fended off a request to buy it, and we set off in convoy to return to Chicago.  The next day Dick drove our car to Mississippi, to the boatyard where we will complete this year’s voyaging.  He flew back the following morning from Memphis, arriving in Chicago shortly after 3pm.  Unfortunately, it was a rainy afternoon, and there were few taxis to be had, so it took until 6:30pm to get back to the boat.

The next evening we walked to a local steakhouse and enjoyed a really excellent lobster bisque and salad, okay steaks, and an outstanding dessert.  We chose a different route to walk back, that proved to be an error of judgement on my part!  We got caught up in the audience heading for a rock concert at Soldier Field.  The police diverted pedestrians from several streets, making the walk considerably longer than it should have been.

Chicago bike path
Dick heads out for a grocery run with his bike trolley
The wedge salad was delicious
Filet steak and assorted sides at Rare Steakhouse
Key lime dessert at Rare Steakhouse
Pedicabs and people, heading to the rock concert

The following morning, we rode our bikes along the extensive waterfront paths to join one of the Architecture Boat Tours of the Chicago River.  The tour was very interesting and enjoyable, and gave us a very good idea of what we would be seeing when we made the same trip on Nine Lives.  The bike ride to and from the tour was rather more exciting that I was happy about.  On a holiday weekend the paths were full of bikes, walkers, and even roller skaters, and it was complete chaos.

Chicago River Tour
Chicago River Tour
Chicago River Tour
Chicago River Tour

We had a really enjoyable evening at the Chicago Yacht Club with our friends Thor and Jim.  We had hoped to dock there on a reciprocal basis, but as with almost every other yacht club we have tried over the years, we were told there was no room for us.  Their nearly empty docks and the presence of many Loopers on the mooring balls told a different story.  Our return to Burnham Harbor took forever, getting caught up in a huge traffic jam for the second night of the rock concert at Soldier Field.  We could not believe how much traffic there was at 8:30pm, especially as the concert started at 8:00!

High winds kept us an extra day in Chicago.  We dropped the new dinghy and went for a harbour tour.  It is so much easier and simpler to raise and lower, and so much more stable on the water.  That evening we enjoyed docktails and chat at the bar with other Loopers.

Chicago Burnham Harbor sunset

We made an early start the next day and passed through the easy first lock into the Chicago River without issue.  It was nice to get through the city before all the tour boats and pleasure craft were out, but we then had to wait an hour for the Amtrak Railway bridge, that remains down for rush hour.  We passed our first barges, 6 and 8 being towed.  The operators were all very friendly and helpful.

Nine Lives heads down the Chicago River

This is a good time to explain about barges, tugs, and tows.  Barges are huge, low, flat containers, used for shipping such things as sand and gravel, chemicals, coal, grain, even mulch.  They will be lashed together.  We have seen as many as four deep and three across.  The sort of vessel we all think of as a tugboat, drives these enormous sets of barges.  The vessel is correctly referred to as a “tow”, even though much of the time it is in fact pushing.  Often the whole assembly is too big for a lock, so it has to be separated and then reassembled after passing through in parts.  This is the reason for the incredibly long delays at locks for pleasure boats.  Commercial shipping gets priority, but fortunately there is a rule that after 3 commercial lock-throughs, pleasure boats must be able to pass.  So far (touch wood), we have found the lock operators very cooperative and helpful. 

Waiting for the Amtrak bridge
Passing barges in the canal
Barges along the canal, Chicago to Joliet
Spillway at the confluence of the Chicago River and the Calumet River
Confluence of the Chicago River and the Calumet River

Our wait for the first lock gave the other Looper boats who had started out that day time to catch up.  We had arrived at 1:30, and went through just before 4pm.  Once through, all the boats (now 7 of us) arrived safely at the town wall in Joliet.

Joliet is the third-largest city in Illinois.  In 1673, Louis Jolliet paddled up the Des Plaines River and camped on a huge earthwork mound, a few miles south of present-day Joliet.  This mound shows on historic maps as Mont Joliet, but it has since been flattened due to mining.  Once an industrial city, Joliet is today transitioning from a steel and manufacturing area to a commuter suburb.  Like many cities, the downtown has suffered from relocation of residents and businesses to the suburbs, although more recently there is a movement to return to the centre.  New downtown businesses include casinos, a minor-league baseball field, and theatres.  Amazon is the city’s largest employer.  The free town wall is the most convenient stopping point for Loopers making their way down the river.  There have been no incidents reported recently, but the presence of a large police station directly across the river is comforting.  Patrol cars visit the park on the side of the river where we dock on a regular basis, and I heard them several times during the night.  We did not consider leaving the boat for dinner or exploration.

After consultation with the rest of the group, nobody else volunteered, so Dick offered to be the spokesman and phone the next lock at 6am.  The lock-keeper said, “I can get you through if you all come now.”  That turned out to be quite a fraught morning, as our drip coffee maker failed.  Disaster!! Fortunately, we also have a french press on board for contingencies, as well as an excellent thermal jug, so Dick is able to make coffee using the kettle.  We walked along the dock and woke up a few of the other Loopers to let them know that they should leave as soon as possible.  The rest heard the sounds of engines, and all arrived in time for the lock-through.  This was the first of 3 locks that day.

Barges on the river between Joliet and Ottawa

It was great to meet Islena, a 40 ft Endeavourcat, and also meet Royal Coachman again, a beautifully restored Endeavour sailboat.  Three Endeavours together is quite unusual, we are a rare breed!  The owners of Islena had toured Nine Lives in Norfolk in 2018.  Mimi loved our boat, and was quite determined to have a catamaran.  It took Mike a while to come around, but they are delighted with their choice.

At the second lock, Dick and I had a bit of a last-minute scramble.  We were rigged for a starboard tie, but on arrival in the lock we discovered that the only floating bollards were port-side, so I had to make a fast change of lines and fenders.  By the time it was done, we were at the bollard, and I had to secure the boat while Dick manoeuvred, the opposite to our usual locking procedure.  3 other boats rafted to us, not a time to get it wrong!

I should describe these big river locks, as they are quite different from what we have been used to on the canals.  To begin with they are huge, hundreds of feet long, and with a lift of 20 to 40 feet.  Spaced along the lock sides are special posts (bollards) that are set into the lock wall and actually float up and down as the lock fills and empties.  So you manoeuvre the boat alongside, and put a line from your mid-ship cleat around the bollard and then tie it back to your boat.  It is important to stay close and watch carefully as the lock fills or empties, in case the bollard hangs up or your line is jammed.  You have a very sharp knife ready to cut the line if something happens.  Because there are only 3 or 4 bollards on each side of the lock, it is often necessary for small boats like us to “raft up”.  Yes, in these locks the typical 36 ft to 48 ft Looper boat is “small.” The first boat in is secured to the bollard, and then the next boat ties up to them, and then the next, and so on.  So the responsibility to get it right rests first with the boat tied to the lock wall!  Nine Lives is bigger than many Looper boats, and in fact we prefer to be the ones first on the wall.

Our group of 10 were through that second lock before 11am, very good luck compared to some stories we read about on the forum.  Getting everyone in, and rafted up was like herding cats, as each boater has a slightly different interpretation of the instructions being given, not to mention a different level of patience while waiting!

Loopers in a line, Islena in front, Royal Coachman next to last
Loopers in the lock, Islena rafted up first beside us
Loopers rafted up behind us in the lock

We are enjoying the Illinois River very much.  There is a tremendous amount of wildlife, completely unexpected for me.  It is very pretty, and even in the industrial areas it is interesting.  We have seen several different kinds of egrets and herons, both golden and bald eagles, pelicans in great rafts, cormorants, and of course the usual ducks and geese.  Travel on the river is so much more interesting than on the Great Lakes.  As another Looper put it, on the Great Lakes you go for ten hours and then stop and see something interesting, because you are so far away from shore during the travel.  In comparison, on the river you see something interesting for the entire journey!

We have now learned that PC does not always stand for “politically correct.”  Of course, I am sure all of us Loopers are PC anyway, but on the river, PC stands for Pleasure Craft, and we communicate with tows and locks by announcing ourselves as Pleasure Craft Nine Lives.

Scenery on the Illinois River
Nine Lives on the Illinois River

Our third lock that day was Marseilles (pronounced Marcellis, to our amusement).  This one took a lot longer to transit.  First, we all had to hang back at a wide area of the river to allow a huge tow to exit the narrow two-mile channel.  On arrival at the lock, we had to wait while the next tow exited the lock.  In spite of the long waits, we were all docked in Heritage Marina at Ottawa before 4:30pm.  Many Loopers transit this day’s 3 locks and arrive after dark, so we were well pleased.

The marina looks after Loopers very well, and is a model of organization that other marinas would do well to emulate.  The harbor staff monitor Nebo, the tracking system that many of us use, so they know when we are all approaching and when we get through the Marseilles lock.  After everybody exits the lock, we are all called to listen to channel 68, and we are told our slip assignments, and who should proceed to their dock and who should hold back inside the entrance.  This way there are enough dock hands to help each boat tie up, and the whole operation goes like clockwork.  During the Looper season they may have as many as 20 boats, all arriving at the same time, but their procedure makes it easy for everyone.  After all are tied up, there is an excellent 2-hour briefing offered, that covers the river system as far south as Paducah, KY.  We had dinner after at the onsite restaurant.  The food was fine, although nothing special.

Dick had ribs at Heritage Harbor

It was nice to have a quiet day.  Although we had no difficulties, it is surprising how tiring the three-lock day had been.  We cleaned the boat, and I cooked on board.  It was a recipe for fish and shrimp in tomato sauce.  Dick liked it, but I didn’t, and to quote his Dad, “what the cook don’t like, we don’t eat,” so I have expunged that recipe from my repertoire.  Part-way through dinner preparation, the propane tank ran out.  This was a further disruption to the coffee making in the morning, as we were now reduced to boiling water in a pan on our single induction burner!

Consulting with other Loopers, we determined that we would be 8 boats the next morning, so again it was agreed that Dick would make contact with the lock.  He got up at 5:30 (coffee making takes longer when done with the French press).  After discussing things with the lock-keeper, messages were sent to the 8 boats suggesting a 7:30 departure.  Ultimately, we were 12 in the lock!  We were definitely getting better at the whole operation, including rafting up.  That lock is beside a State Park called Starved Rock.  It is a haven for wildlife, and there were huge rafts of pelicans in the shallows.  As we all made our way into the lock, many of them took off and flew overhead, swooping and wheeling around, an incredible sight.

Waiting for the lock
Pelicans at Starved Rock
Pelicans swooping overhead
Pelicans overhead
Starved Rock
Loopers in Starved Rock lock
passing a barge at a wider point in the river
High water has undercut the trees on the river bank

That evening we anchored behind an island off the river near Henry with 5 other Looper boats.  There was a bit of drama when one of the group decided they had dropped their hook too close to the shore, and they decide to move.  When they tried to lift their anchor, they discovered they had snagged a huge waterlogged stump.  It took helpers from 3 of the other boats to get it free, but it was a marvellous demonstration of how wonderful Loopers are at helping each other.

Loopers helping each other
It’s a big stump!
Almost got it!
They got it!

This was also our first experience with Asian Carp.  They are a group of invasive species that is causing havoc on the inland waterways.  They include bighead carp, black carp, grass carp, and silver carp. Asian carp are fast-growing and prolific feeders that out-compete native fish and leave a trail of environmental destruction in their wake.  They were initially imported for use in aquaculture ponds, but they were accidentally released into the Mississippi River system.  Silver carp are easily frightened by passing boats, and leap 8 to 10 feet into the air, sometimes causing injury to boaters they collide with. They can grow to more than 80 pounds and 4 feet long, and they live for 15 to 20 years. As we made our way into the anchorage, we kept hearing big splashes.  Suddenly I could see these huge fish leaping high out of the water and landing with a loud slap.  Some Loopers have had the unfortunate experience of them landing on (and even in) their boat.  We are keeping fingers crossed that I do not have to write about that particular experience in our next blog!

That evening I made one of our favourite meals, the very English “toad in the hole”, using the countertop oven and the induction burner.  This is a large Yorkshire pudding, with brat sausages cooked in the pudding, served with lashings of gravy and of course peas.  We were delighted with the results, and happy to know that we can make what is one of our favourite family supper dishes more often.

Duck blind ready for autumn
Pelicans on the River
Pelican taking off
Ultimate recycle, a tow and barges are now a pub

The next day turned out to be 8 hours of travelling, just to end up exactly where we started.  We knew that the marina at Peoria did not have space for us until Tuesday, but the information Dick had said that we would be able to tie up at the City dock for one night.  If the City dock was full, there is an anchorage directly across the river, so we would be able to dinghy across to get to the restaurant for dinner.  After 4 hours of travel, we arrived in the city to see that there were two sailboats taking up the two outer wells at the City dock, sticking out so far into the fairway that access to the wall was prevented, even for boats much smaller than we are.  As it happened, we had been warned by the nearby IVY Club harbormaster that tying up at the City dock is not safe, especially if you want to leave the boat, so we were not that sorry.  It is a pity, because there are quite extensive docks there, all at various state of dilapidation, and so much more could be made of them.  Clearly Peoria, unlike other waterfront cities we have visited, has no interest in improving or updating their waterfront for visitors.

We proceeded across the river to the designated anchorage, but it was completely unsuitable.  The depth under the boat was as little as 2.5 feet and as much as 6 feet.  The calculation for safe anchoring is 7 to 1, so if you calculate 14 feet (from where the anchor is on the boat to the river bottom), multiply by 7, you need to put out about 100 feet of chain.  This allows the boat to “swing” around where the anchor is embedded in the bottom.  So, there must be enough room for that swing, and if the bottom is too shallow in that swing circle you risk running aground.  This would tend to ruin your sleep!  Anyway, we felt that this so-called anchorage was too close to the busy river, with barge traffic running 24 hours a day and limited depths and swinging room.  We made the disappointing decision to head back up river towards the last night’s anchorage.  We did make a couple of attempts to find a closer alternative, but at each place we left the channel the depths shelved alarmingly.  Four hours later we were back where we started.  Henry Island is a very nice anchorage, but we wished we had better information and had just remained there for the day.

On our journey we saw pelicans, great and snowy egrets, little blue herons, tricolor herons, golden eagles, turkey vultures and wild turkeys.  In the evening we watched three deer swim across the channel between the islands.

sunrise at the anchorage

We returned to Peoria the next day, again enjoying the wildlife along the river.  Our slip at IVY Club was waiting, and a fellow Looper walked over to catch our lines.

Peoria is thought to be the oldest European settlement in Illinois.  It is a shipping centre for a large agriculture area that includes production of corn, soybeans, and livestock.  Peoria used to be the headquarters of Caterpillar, Inc, until its relocation in 2018.  There is still wealth in the city, as shown by the beautiful homes on the famous Grandview Drive, that runs along the top of the bluff overlooking the river.  Healthcare and associated businesses account for roughly 25% of Peoria’s economy today, and there are still manufacturing and related industries.

That evening, after it became clear that there was no safe bike route to our chosen restaurant, we took a taxi.  This was a highly rated local steakhouse.  The 80’s style salad bar and the plastic tablecloths told the story.  It was busy, with lots of families, and the food was not bad, but the whole experience was not what we had hoped.

Steakhouse potato skins
salad bar at the steakhouse

The next morning, Dick got out his bike and special trolley, and dragged it up the incredibly steep hill with the 15lb (empty) propane tank and then rode 6 miles to get it filled.  He returned with 35lbs at the back.  We have some concern about the condition of his brakes after the ride down that hill, but he is off again today for a grocery run.

Peoria Grandview Drive character house
Peoria Grandview Drive viewpoint

Yesterday evening we took another taxi to a very nice restaurant.  This one was at the top of the big hill, and the food was very good.  We really enjoyed the cheese and charcuterie board to start, and my shrimp and Dick’s cioppino were excellent.  I had been looking forward to Dick’s description of the restaurant’s famous whisky bar.  We had talked about sipping from their extensive offerings while waiting for the return taxi.  However, it was not to be.  Dick’s inner Dutchman/adopted Yorkshireman kicked in, and he proposed that we should walk back to the boat.  It was “just over a mile and all downhill, and a lovely evening.”  Beautiful houses to see were also promised.  They were beautiful, what you could see from the silhouettes in the soft garden lighting at twilight.  It was soon dark, the hill was steep, it was hot and humid, and I had not dressed for a long walk in sandals.  Dick thoroughly enjoyed the post-prandial exercise.  I did not.  Tonight we will eat here at the marina, and we hope that upcoming locations offer better bike or walking options for restaurants!

Cheese and charcuterie
cioppino
cajun barbecue shrimp
pecan pie and ice cream
let’s walk home honey!

August 10 to 24, Green Bay to Milwaukee

In the best literary and television tradition, I left the last entry with a cliff-hanger.  Yes, the engine pump was fixed, sort of…

The marine tech eventually arrived to replace the raw water pump with the rebuilt replacement from our Looper friends.  He got the replacement in, only to discover that it had not been rebuilt as our friends had been told, and in fact it leaked worse than ours.  The tech made several trips to the shop, and the leaking was reduced to a small drip with the admonition to keep a sharp eye on it.  The tech was great, not only did he stay after quitting time to make sure the job was done, he also drove us to the restaurant, and absolutely refused to accept a gratuity.

Dinner at Republic Chophouse, a steakhouse, was very good, although it was second only to the Grand Hotel in cost!  It is strange that Green Bay seems to be very much a foodie place, with outstanding and innovative restaurants, but no shops to buy gourmet treats.

This would be good place to address a family comment.  Family, unlike friends who are usually more diplomatic, say exactly what they think, complimentary or not!  Anyway, apparently the general consensus from the Dutch heritage side of the family is that “they seem to be always eating”.  Well, this is somewhat true, if eating is defined as trying out interesting restaurants.  We have always said that we are “eating our way around the Loop”, and trying all sorts of new eateries as well as local shops is a huge part of the enjoyment of the journey for us.  Add in the fun of meeting new friends and sharing docktails, this is what Looping is all about. In fact, the expectation of closed shops and restaurants, or having to eat outside with plastic cutlery and paper plates, was the reason we stayed at home in incredibly hot Hilton Head last summer.  Many of our readers have asked me for more food pictures, so I try to oblige.

Having had two pumps replaced this year, one for the fresh water system and one for the starboard engine, got me thinking about pumps in general, how important they are in our lives, and we don’t even think about them.  There are pumps in your car, in your dishwasher and your washing machine.  Your heating/cooling system may be a big pump.  On a boat like ours, they play a vital role, bilge pumps, fresh water pump, shower drain pumps, washing machine, toilets, and 2 of our 3 AC units.  We have a bicycle pump to keep air in our tires and top up the fenders when they get too squashy.  Each engine has a raw water pump that cools the engine coolant and exhaust, and another inside the engine that circulates the coolant internally.  Without these pumps, the engine would get hot enough to burn up the boat.

A noticeable feature of the entrance to Green Bay is the large colony of white pelicans roosting on the islands and outer breakwaters.  American White Pelicans are one of the largest North American birds, with a wingspan of 9 feet and weighing up to 30 pounds.  They nest in the interior, as far north as northern Canada, and as far south as northern California.  They are migratory, spending winters in southern USA and Central America.  During much of the 20th century they were absent from Wisconsin, due to habitat destruction by the draining of wetlands, and the use of DDT.  They have now returned and their numbers are increasing every year. We have been seeing them all along the western coast of Lake Michigan and in Green Bay.

Pelicans and cormorants roost in Green Bay

We departed Green Bay on the 10th as planned, and had a smooth journey to Menominee.  The wind kicked up at the end, but we had a very wide slip in the marina and good docking help. 

Passing a Lake Freighter heading for the port of Green Bay

The city of Menominee is at the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The area was originally occupied by the Menominee Indian Tribe, but they were displaced and their descendants now live on a reservation in north central Wisconsin.  In the 19th century it was a lumber town, producing more lumber than any other city in the United States.  In the early 20th century, as the lumber business waned, other industries arrived.  One of these businesses was Lloyd Manufacturing, which made wicker baby buggies. In 1917, Marshall Burns Lloyd invented an automated process for weaving wicker and manufactured it as the Lloyd Loom. This machine process is still being used today in the production of good quality wicker furniture.  The downtown and waterfront have some beautiful old buildings, many of them restored, but the town has little to offer visitors.  We enjoyed a decent meal at the best rated restaurant in an interesting historic building.

Downtown Menominee
One of the historic buildings in Menominee
An interesting and unusual door on a building in Menominee
Bergs Landing restaurant in Menominee

We left early and ran fast for a very choppy passage across Green Bay to the town of Sister Bay in Door County.  This is a busy tourist town, with a large boating presence.  We were early and had to wait out in the bay for our slip to become available while jet skis and pontoon boats whizzed around us and sailboats took full advantage of their right of way over all power boats.

We had an excellent meal in what I call a basket pub, that is, all the food is served in baskets regardless of whether you eat inside or out.  I had the best lobster roll ever, and Dick really liked his fish special (it was walleye).  The town is very spread out, with the grocery store and some of the shops at the top of a big hill, but it was worth the climb.  On our return we stopped for cappuccinos in a place that advertised, “Come try the worst ice cream some lady on TripAdvisor ever had in her life.”  The sense of humour was also apparent in one of the offered ice cream flavours, called “Exhausted Parent”, made with blueberries and a shot of bourbon.

Sister Bay main street
Beautiful hydrangeas in a garden in Sister Bay
One of the pretty shops in Sister Bay
Another attractive boutique in Sister Bay

I can’t find much information about Sister Bay, other than to note that it was once a farming community, now reinvented as a tourist destination.  There is a common Swedish theme, and possibly the most famous attraction in the village is the Swedish restaurant complex that has a grass roof, typically grazed by goats.

The Swedish restaurant in Sister Bay
Goats on the roof. Yes, those are live goats.
Sunset cruising in Sister Bay

In the marina we marvelled at the display of incompetence as a very new and expensive boat pulled out of their slip using thrusters.  A bad miscalculation resulted in the dock being knocked right off its supports, damaging the boat in the next slip and a small runabout on the other side.  When shouted at, the owner called out not to worry, he would take care of it, and he proceeded to leave the marina for his sunset cruise with friends and family on board.  Well, he never returned.  When we got back from dinner that evening there were 3 local sheriff’s cars in the parking lot, and a lot of discussion going on.  Highly unlikely the man got away with it, his details will have been on file with the marina, and there were a lot of witnesses.

Dock damage in the marina

We made a quick run a few miles south to Fish Creek ahead of the weather kicking up.  The harbour was tight and higgledy-piggledy, with a lot of very large boats.  Through the evening the wind and waves really came up, and we felt sorry for all the moored sailboats as they bounced up and down.  Some small boats had obviously come in to the harbour for dinner, and were tied to the wall, heaving up and down and scraping on the concrete, and with quite a dangerous crossing when they left.

The marina in Fish Creek

Fish Creek is another tourist town with lots of interesting shops and restaurants, but in this car culture it is very spread out.  We had a long walk to a highly rated pizza place.  We chose different pizzas so there would be leftovers to take back to the boat.  Dick liked his, mine was merely okay. On the walk, we passed a shop advertising, along with handcrafted gold and silver jewellery, long range rifles and suppressors.  Only in America.  We decided to give that particular shop a miss. 

Pizzas in Fish Creek
Only in America

Temperatures were very pleasant, with slippers and a shawl needed for early mornings, but sunny with light breezes during the day.  A wonderful change from the earlier heat and humidity.

Fish Creek is another tourist destination in Door County, with a more upmarket feel compared to Sister Bay a few miles up the road.  Behind the village looms Gibraltar Bluff, a huge limestone outcropping that forms part of the western side of the Niagara Escarpment.  The founder of the town, Asa Thorp, was an entrepreneur who bought much of the land in the area and constructed the first dock in 1855.  Summer tourists began visiting by 1900, and the area became an upscale resort community.

The White Gull Inn, Fish Creek
Cherrmosa at White Gull Inn
Cherry french toast at White Gull Inn

We went for breakfast in the historic White Gull Inn.  They offered a “cherrmosa”, champagne with sour cherry juice, an excellent beginning.  I followed that with cherry French toast, also delicious.  Dick was less adventurous and had an omelette.  After breakfast, we wandered around the varied and interesting boutiques in the village.  A music shop was a highlight.  Not only did they sell instruments and sheet music, they had every imaginable toy, souvenir, Christmas decoration, model, or game you could think of, all with the theme of music.  I was tempted by cook books that came in a box with CDs of suitable music to accompany the dinners.  Dick was happy to find two pairs of comfortable shoes in a moccasin store, and I found a gorgeous ruana in the alpaca boutique.  Outside the alpaca shop were, you guessed it, alpacas.  The baby was just six weeks old, and as adorable as they come.  It was a beautiful store with many choices, but we limited ourselves to the ruana and several pairs of socks.  I also resisted temptation later in a wonderful ladies shop on the main street.

Historic Church of the Atonement in Fish Creek
A log cabin in Fish Creek
Gibraltar Bluff towers over Fish Creek
A street corner in Fish Creek
Alpacas, the baby is 6 weeks old
Gorgeous!
Lobster bisque at Barringers on our last evening in Fish Creek
Sole Meuniere at Barringers

It was an easy run to Sturgeon Bay.  There was a certain amount of confusion in the marina, as they discovered as we were about to dock that there was not room for us in the assigned slip.  We were waved off and sent to another one (which happened to be the same one as our previous visit).  We were surprised to find that our cleats already had lines tied on them, that we had to remove and set aside in order to tie our own.  Shortly after our arrival, a large and beautiful sailboat was assigned to dock beside us, but it was too wide, and sadly made a large scrape along their beautifully painted hull before managing to reverse out.  An hour later, the owners of the slip we were in returned from their cruise and were very surprised to find us occupying their space.  They were nice about it, and were willing to dock in the space next to us after they had retrieved their lines, but this has been the story of the summer, marinas not having a clue how to manage their slips and transient reservations.

The St Lawrence Seaway and Great Lake shipping routes close for winter each year, as ice grips the waters and locks close for annual maintenance.  Bulk carrier vessels, usually called Lake Freighters, carry heavy cargo such as limestone, iron ore, grain, coal, and salt to the 63 commercial ports around the lakes.  Typically, although the St Lawrence River offers an outlet to the Atlantic, different ships carry freight on the Great Lakes from those that ply the world’s oceans.  There are thousands of smaller vessels, but only 13 that exceed 1000 feet in length.  The question is, where do they all go when shipping stops for the season?  Some of them spend their winter layup period in Sturgeon Bay, which is called the shipbuilding capital of the Great Lakes.  As we made our way through the inlet to the marina, we passed the huge yards, with several freighters in for maintenance, and I could see one under construction with the keel laid down and the superstructure being fabricated.  There are huge drydock facilities, including two massive buildings where ships could be brought indoors.

Lake Freighters in Sturgeon Bay shipyards
Sturgeon Bay shipyard and covered drydock

We met another Looper boat and enjoyed docktails with them.  The next morning the new engine pump we had ordered was installed, and Dick has carefully put away the leaky one to send out for rebuilding after the summer cruising is finished.  I was able to join my friends for a game of online bridge in the afternoon.

failed engine raw water pump for rebuilding

We had booked a Segway tour for 5pm, and walked the mile in hot sun to the meeting point, only to receive a text that the guide would be late, which would have meant sitting around for an hour.  We cancelled and re-booked for Sheboygan.  I had prepared a meal in the slow cooker to be ready for our return.  It was a white chicken chili, very tasty and definitely a keeper!

The next day was an easy trip to Kewaunee, and we had great help tying up on the town wall from our fellow Loopers who had arrived ahead of us.  There were 3 other Looper boats in town that night, but they were all in a marina over the far side of the inlet, a long way for anyone to walk to shops or restaurants, and clearly intended to be merely an overnight stop.  We returned to the cheese shop for more gouda and some Dutch cheese biscuits, and then went on to the fish shop to stock up on smoked salmon.

Kewaunee waterfront
Kewaunee Lafond Fish Market

Dick and I toured the Ludington, a historic tug moored along the wall from us.  This tug served in WWII, including participation in the D-Day Invasion in Normandy, towing ammunition barges across the English Channel.  It is a sister ship to one that we saw (but did not go on board) in Oswego, New York.  It was interesting to see that all the senior crew had cabins with single beds, a desk, and a sink, but all cabins, even the captain and first mate, had to share toilets.  We didn’t see where the “ordinary” crew slept, likely in bunk beds, in an area accessed by ladder and below the waterline.  As on today’s cruise ships, the higher the status the higher up in the boat the cabins were!  Dick was fascinated by the engine room (of course), and was amazed to see that there was a turbo-charger on the 8-cylinder engine, something he had never imagined was available in the 1940’s.

Historic tug Ludington, Kewaunee

Lives lost in the sinking of two schooner-barges off the shores of Kewaunee in 1886 resulted in the building of the Life Saving Station, active from 1893 to 1947.  It is now a private home.  Another beautiful historic building is the former Railroad Depot, built in the 1890’s.  The depot closed when passenger service ended in 1957, and after being occupied by several businesses it became home to a very keen gardener. I could have spent ages just looking at the wonderful variety of stunning perennials and flowering shrubs.

Kewaunee former Life Saving Station
The former Railroad Depot garden

Dick and Jim decided to check out a new local restaurant, to see whether we should eat there instead of on board.  Naturally this check required tasting the beer and enjoying the ambiance.  A menu was brought back for the girls to decide, and we all enjoyed a very good pub-style meal.

The run to Sheboygan was our smoothest trip this year, with water like glass and no waves at all. On our first evening we were invited to join Loopers for docktails with 3 other boats.  We enjoyed great stories, everyone has amazingly different life experiences, and yet we are all sharing this journey.  Now that September approaches, more of the Looper “pack” is beginning to make their way south on both sides of Lake Michigan, in anticipation of passing through Chicago and into the rivers after Labor Day.

Water like glass on the run to Sheboygan

We walked up the hill to the Black Pig, a gastropub with an interesting and innovative menu.  The food was excellent, but unfortunately the appetizer and the soup all arrived at the same time as the main course dishes.  Our young waitress was mystified when we refused the starters.  The manager came and apologised, and the waitress also said all the right things, but it was abundantly clear that as far as she was concerned, putting all the food on the table at the same time was correct and we were just weird tourists asking for it to arrive in a different order!  More and more we are experiencing this, to the point where we are having to order appetizers and drinks only, and then order our main course once we see the first dishes.

Morning mist in Sheboygan

The next morning, we went for a Segway tour.  The guide was on time and better prepared with interesting information about the town.  All participants are asked to arrive 15 minutes early, to allow time for training on the Segways.  On this occasion there was a family of 4 on our tour.  Although they parked at the meeting place well in advance, they then left and did not return until nearly 10 minutes after the starting time of the tour.  By the time they all had their training (it was their first experience on Segways), we lost at least 20 minutes out of the 2-hour tour.  Vastly inconsiderate, but sadly common these days.

Segway tour in Sheboygan
Segway tour pause on the lake shore
the lake shore

The city of Sheboygan was settled mainly by white settlers from New York and the New England States in the 1830’s followed by waves of German, Dutch and Irish immigrants.  In the late 20th century, Hmong refugees from Laos and Southeast Asia settled in the city.  Dick noticed that the majority of booths at the farmer’s market were manned by people of clearly Asian descent.  The economy is diversified, with a number of industries.  Johnsonville, maker of bratwurst sausages, and Kohler, manufacturer of generators and plumbing fixtures, are two of the best-known companies in the area.  My first job, when I was 14, was working with my mother, who was the accountant at a Kohler generator distributorship in Toronto.  I remember that in those first couple of summers I was paid cash, under a book-keeping line item “bathroom supplies”.  I did get a very good grounding in double entry book-keeping, that served me well later when I was looking for work after graduation.  Kohler built a model town around its factories in 1900, and to this day the village design and aesthetic are under the control of the company.  It is a few miles inland from Sheboygan, so we will not be visiting on this occasion, although one day we would like to see it.  Kohler also owns and operates the American Club in the town of Kohler.  It includes a top-rated historic hotel, and two famous golf courses.

A former shoe factory, now apartments. Note the sculpture of a chimney sweep on the tall chimney

In the park near the marina are the remains of the Lottie Cooper, a 130 foot long Great Lakes Schooner that capsized off Sheboygan in 1894.  She was carrying a cargo of elm wood.  The construction is fascinating.  The schooner was built in 1896 of white oak, held together with thousands of long iron nails.

Lottie Cooper, a Great Lakes Schooner
Lottie Cooper

The weather returned to being humid, and it was very hot in the sun, but we visited the few interesting shops in the downtown on our way back to the boat.  In the evening we rode our bikes to the best rated restaurant.  We had planned to get there in the dinghy, but Sheboygan, unlike so many towns and cities on Lake Michigan, has taken very little interest in developing its riverfront for visiting boaters.  The former town docks along the riverfront have been destroyed by the high water of recent years, and it is clear there are no plans to restore them.  There is a very wide path and boardwalk along both sides of the river, but strangely, bicycles are not allowed on the north side.

Our meal at Lino’s was outstanding.  We were able to order and enjoy the meal in true Italian tradition, with shared antipasto, then a shared pasta dish, followed by individual main courses.  Dessert and a cappuccino rounded out the meal beautifully.  Everything about the restaurant was impressive, with Lino himself showing guests to their tables, and a finely orchestrated staff who worked together and gave prompt service without being intrusive.

Rack of lamb at Lino’s
Salmon at Lino’s

High winds extended our stay in Sheboygan by two days, cutting into our planned four-day stop in Milwaukee.  On our third morning, Dick decided it would be a good day for one of his signature breakfasts.  Unfortunately, we were out of eggs, but Saturday is the farmer’s market in Sheboygan, so shortly after 8am Dick set off on his bike to shop.  He returned with blueberries, carrots, fingerling potatoes, and corn on the cob, and as he unloaded it all onto the boat, he realized that the main reason for the excursion had been forgotten.  No eggs.  So away he went again, to find a convenience store, and then he had to wait for it to open.  The eventual breakfast was delicious as always, but no mid-day meal was required!

Waves crash on the breakwater at Sheboygan

In the evening we invited Loopers on board Nine Lives for docktails.  It was rainy, so we all sat downstairs in the salon.  10 of us plus an 8-month-old baby and a little dog all fit quite comfortably and shared food and stories!

moonlight

Following the final repair of the engine pump, Dick decided to give the bilges a good wipe out and clean.  A highly respected AGLCA forum member had written that the ideal tool for getting the last of the water from the bilge could be found in the galley.  (So far, I have restrained myself from contacting this fellow and taking him to task over his recommendation.)  My turkey baster was duly used, and then kindly left back in the sink for washing up.  Having washed it, I then presented it to Dick to keep for his very own for future bilge and other boat related usage.  They do say we girls tend to marry a man who is just like “dear old dad”.  I well remember my father using mum’s pristine pancake flipper to repair the fiberglass on his vintage Studebaker.  The main difference was, dad replaced the flipper in the kitchen drawer, still with traces of goo on it!

Our run from Sheboygan was lumpy to start, and then smoothed out, but we ran at 17 knots the whole way, as the wind was due to kick up and there was potential for thunderstorms in the afternoon.  We stayed at Lakeshore State Park, a lovely area surrounding a lagoon beside the Discovery Museum in downtown Milwaukee.  The docks are very nice, and it is extremely quiet at night.  The park is part of miles of new waterfront development, and is full of walkers, joggers, and cyclists from dawn to dark.  Most Loopers chose to stay in a marina further along the waterfront, because this one has power only, no water on the docks, and no security, but we feel quite safe here and it is very convenient for downtown.

Milwaukee skyline

Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin.  It is ethnically and culturally diverse.  There was a lot of immigration from Germany in the 19th century, and the city became known for its brewing industry.  The city had an unusual beginning, as it began as 3 separate towns, Juneautown, Kilbourntown, and Walker’s Point.  There was intense rivalry between the three, particularly the first two, culminating in the Milwaukee Bridge War of 1845.  It began when the Wisconsin legislature ordered a bridge to be built across the Milwaukee River, as the existing ferry service was considered inadequate.  Five bridges were built by the rival towns, and in 1845, a schooner rammed into one of them, the Spring Street Bridge.  Rumours spread that the ship’s captain had been paid to damage the bridge, and the “war” was on.  The Chestnut Street Bridge was partly dismantled by angry townsfolk (the west warders), and collapsed.  East warders then brought up an old cannon, although they didn’t fire it, but they did complete the destruction of the Spring Street Bridge and also dismantled a bridge over the Menominee River.  Attacks continued for some weeks, and all bridge work had to be done under guard, but by December the enthusiasm had petered out (one wonders how much the winter climate contributed!)  Three new bridges were ordered, and the three towns were amalgamated to form the City of Milwaukee.  Even today, bridges across the rivers run at an angle that reflects the misalignment of the streets of the original towns on each side of the rivers.

The German immigration of the 19th century was followed by large numbers from Poland, and many Europeans from other areas, with each ethnic group congregating in the same area.  Through the 20th century a large African American community developed, and also a Hispanic community.  Sadly, the racial distribution and lack of opportunity has resulted in a high crime rate and exacerbation of tensions in the city.  Fortunately, the downtown redevelopment areas are well lit and very safe for walking during the day and well into the evenings.  Downtown is also very bike friendly, with many dedicated bike lanes along the major arteries.

We walked about a mile to an Italian restaurant in the historic Third Ward.  This is an interesting revitalized area of mainly condos, both new-builds and sympathetically restored historic warehouses.  It comprises the area between the Lake Michigan waterfront and the Milwaukee River, and in addition to many restaurants it is also home to trendy boutiques, art galleries, and theatres.  Our meal at Onesto was very good.

Milwaukee historic Third Ward
Milwaukee sunset

The next morning Dick set off on his bicycle to explore, finding several interesting markets, especially one of the best Italian markets we have encountered.  He brought home not only the balsamic pearls I had been searching for, but also the tiny pickled sweet peppers that have proved so popular at docktails.  I spent the day preparing this installment of the blog, and enjoyed the chance to play bridge online with my friends in the afternoon.

In the middle of the game, I became aware that the boat was rocking far more than would be accounted for by a passing wake.  I stepped up top to see that a dramatic thunderstorm was passing through Milwaukee, with high winds and the most amazing sky I have ever seen.  The gusts were so strong that I was nearly knocked over as I stood on the foredeck to take the pictures.  The winds were followed by lashing rain, worrying, because Dick was still out on his bike.  In due course he sent me a text to say he was sheltering in a store while waiting for the rain to pass.

Storm in Milwaukee

In the evening we walked over to the Rare Steakhouse.  It is a very traditional steakhouse, with exceptional steaks and exceptional prices to match.  We shared the accompaniments, and still had far too much food, so there will be some interesting leftovers for Dick’s lunch tomorrow.  As we walked back to the boat I was intrigued by the “limit 2.5 tons” sign on the pedestrian bridge.  I reached into my pocket to get out my phone to take a picture (with the Milwaukee skyline in the background), and discovered that I had failed to pick it up from the seat beside me when I gathered up leftovers, raincoat, and glasses as we left the restaurant.  A phone called confirmed that my phone was waiting at the hostess stand, so Dick set off to retrieve it.  He thought he might apply for husbandly sainthood for this sacrifice of part of his evening, but at this point I am only prepared to go as far as to forgive the regrettable re-purposing of my turkey baster…

Rare Steakhouse, oysters Rockefeller
Rare Steakhouse, bone-in ribeye
Rare Steakhouse, filet mignon and accompaniments to share
Cherry cheesecake to finish

July 23 to August 9, Winthrop Harbor to Green Bay

We had a pleasant passage from Winthrop Harbor to Racine.  The wind was higher than we would normally prefer, but it was on the stern, and the waves had a very short period that Nine Lives handles beautifully.

This was the day that things went wrong for me.  Arthritis in my hip flared up, making line and fender handling difficult.  The next day it was worse, and I spent three days pretty much lying down.  In the evenings, with help from a handy walking stick that Dick just happened to have on board, I hobbled very slowly to the local restaurants, but for everything else, Dick was the explorer and photographer.

The harbor breakwater at Racine

We had planned to refuel on arrival in Racine (Dick having researched the best fuel prices at the mid-point of this year’s journey).  After refuelling, we proceeded to our assigned slip.  Having asked for docking help, we were also ably assisted by several of our dock neighbours on both sides, as we shoehorned into our extremely narrow space beside another boat.  The watching boaters were suitably impressed with Dick’s deft handling. This is a very large and friendly marina.  Most boats tie up stern to the dock, so they can sit at the back and socialize with dockmates.  Many spill out onto the docks with chairs and even tables.  We haven’t seen this level of socializing since we were in Quebec a couple of years ago.  Nice to see.  A few boats go out, but mostly people use them as floating cottages for the weekends.

The large marina at Racine

We had been looking forward to a highly rated Spanish tapas restaurant, so that evening, with the help of the cane, I followed Dick slowly up the hill to the restaurant.  There we were greeted by a hostess who told us it would be an hour wait to be seated.  Asking about the empty tables, and complete lack of a queue outside, we were told that people can phone ahead to be put on the waiting list.  In other words, in spite of what the lady had told me on the phone, they do take reservations for a short timeframe.  It would have been impossible for me to stand and wait for an hour, so we went elsewhere.  Very disappointing, not to mention annoying that someone “in the know” can skip the line.

Racine is the 5th largest city in Wisconsin, and considered one of the most affordable cities to buy a home.  Local industries include heavy equipment manufacturing, Dremel Corporation, Reliance Controls, InSinkErators, and Horlicks, as well as SC Johnson and Son, who make cleaning and chemical products.  I have also discovered that SC Johnson make ziplok bags.  We are hugely dependent on these clever products, and for many years when we lived overseas our suitcases were filled with boxes of the precious food savers.  Other people may think about smuggling diamonds and furs, but we find the reliable, sealable, and high quality plastic bags are far more useful!

Downtown Racine

Before the Civil War, Racine was known for its strong opposition to slavery, with many slaves escaping to freedom via the Underground Railroad passing through the city. In 1854 Joshua Glover, an escaped slave who had made a home in Racine, was arrested by federal marshals and jailed in Milwaukee. One hundred men from Racine, and ultimately 5,000 Wisconsinites, rallied and broke into the jail to free him. He was helped to escape to Canada.

Racine is also famous for a Danish pastry known as a kringle.  It is a large, circular pastry with a white icing top.  Unfortunately, the nearest place to enjoy one was too far to visit, so we have missed that particular gastronomic experience.

There was a heat wave during our stay.  Dick set off on his bike to visit the zoo.  I asked him to bring back a giraffe, and a lion, so he did.  He found the zoo rather disappointing, mainly because the animals were smarter than the people and were asleep in the shady corners of their enclosures, so were hard to see.  Dick also dropped the dinghy and explored the river, but there was not a lot of interest.

Lion at Racine Zoo
and a giraffe
Bridge across the river at Racine

Our next evening, we went to a Wisconsin “Supper Club”.  The specialty was prime rib, which was very good.  Unfortunately, we did not realize that these traditional supper clubs are something of a throwback to the 60’s.  Each entrée comes with soup, salad, and two sides, a very great deal of food.  Because we didn’t know this, we ordered appetizers to start.  Far too much to eat, so several takeaway boxes went back to the boat with us.

Our third evening in Racine we were delighted to get together again with our friends from Apres Sail.  Drinks on their boat, followed by a nice evening at a restaurant.  Their planned route coincides with ours several times, so we look forward to our meetings.

Racine marina sunset

As we walked back from the restaurant, we were fascinated by two dragon sculptures at the end of the town market square.  They were lit up, and closer inspection showed that they were made of thousands of tiny bottles filled with different coloured liquids.  The wings and larger details were some sort of plastic based fabric.  There was no plaque or explanation for why they were there or who was the creator.

Dragon sculptures in the square
A closeup showing the construction of the dragons

Our run from Racine to Port Washington was interrupted by a severe weather warning broadcast by the Coast Guard, as a line of strong thunderstorms was about to cross the lake.  Fortunately, we had speeded up our trip by running fast, and we were close enough to duck into Milwaukee to wait out the weather.  We will be making a proper visit to the city on our trip south, but it was handy to be able to suss out the docks where we already have a reservation for later this month.  They are part of a City waterfront park, and were completely empty that day.

The afternoon run to Port Washington was easy, in hot and sunny conditions.  We eased into our space on the town wall with excellent help from neighbouring boaters.  The wall and town waterfront form part of the marina.  It is always enjoyable to sit in the cockpit and watch the world go by.  People love to walk along the waterfront and look at the boats, some with dogs of all sizes and shapes. Attractive modern condos line the docks, and then give way to a mixture of new and restored old buildings in the nearby downtown.  The whole area is beautifully landscaped and well kept.

Waterfront condos in Port Washington

The first settlers came to Port Washington in 1835, and by 1848, after many petitions, Congress agreed to build a lighthouse to assist the increasing shipping calling at the port.  The first lighthouse deteriorated, so was rebuilt in 1860.  Ten years later the Federal Government built the first artificial harbour on the Great Lakes in Port Washington. Pierhead lights followed 15 years later, although the original lighthouse continued to be operated by a resident keeper until 1903.

The 1860 lighthouse at Port Washington
Another view of the historic lighthouse

St Mary’s Catholic Church, a beautiful limestone church dating from 1882, is set on a bluff above the downtown.  Dick was very taken by the number of steps required to reach the church.  He suggests that attendance would be for the most committed worshippers only!  The church tower houses 3 bells, that apparently can be heard for miles.

St Marys Catholic Church
Steps to St Marys Church

The restaurant highlight was an establishment called Twisted Willow.  Very nice food, with a starter of baked cheese curds.  Wisconsin is known for its cheese, and cheese curds are a specialty.  They are traditionally eaten uncooked, straight from the dairy, or they are battered and deep fried and served with a sauce.  I can tell you that at Twisted Willow they are also delicious baked and served with crisp toasts.

Twisted Willow is a very nice restaurant in a historic building

Once again, I was down for the count, this time by reaction to the arthritis meds I had been taking.  Dick had to be the town explorer and photographer.  We ended up adding an extra day, partly because of poor conditions on the lake, but also to give me time to visit a doctor.  I was relieved to be correct in my diagnosis of what was wrong, and was given helpful advice, no prescriptions required.

The extra day, and my feeling better, allowed for the much-anticipated visit to Duluth Trading, my favourite clothing shop.  I stocked up on a couple of things I already knew work very well for me, and also found one or two new offerings.  Even Dick bought a few items.  Until now we have never been near one of Duluth’s bricks and mortar shops, only bought online.

Port Washington downtown
Port Washington Courthouse
Swallows gathered on our railings each morning, twittering and grooming

As we left Port Washington there was a huge fishing tournament underway.  The evening before there had been live music in the park, and when we looked out at 6am most of the boats in the marina were gone.  Dick could not believe the number of empty trailers in the parking lot.  All the boats must have headed out before first light.  On our way out we saw a sheriff’s boat towing an upside-down aluminum fishing boat.  One presumes the occupants were rescued, but I am always amazed at the very small boats that go out in rough conditions to fish.

We had a long run to Manitowoc, as we are leap-frogging the various towns to allow for interesting stops in both directions on the west side of Lake Michigan. We had strong winds and higher than anticipated waves, but fortunately on the stern.  The air was very hazy from the fires in western USA and Canada, so much so that one could not see cloud formations building. On many afternoons the sun hangs in the sky as a red ball, long before sunset, because of the smoke in the air.  Part way on the trip, our weather apps started predicting thunderstorms, so we speeded up to arrive before the rain.

Smoke haze reduces the afternoon sun to a red ball most days

We met other Loopers, one on the same T-Head as we were, and another an Endeavour sailboat a few slips down.

Manitowoc marina

Manitowoc has similar history to most of this area, with the first Europeans being French fur traders, and subsequent settlement by immigrant groups from Europe and Canada.  A local ship-building industry began in 1847, building schooners and clippers used for fishing and Great Lakes trade.  During WW II the local industry turned to building landing craft, tankers, and particularly submarines for the war effort.

Dinner on our first evening was at a restaurant called Holla.  It was an unassuming building, and very spartan inside, but the food was very good and with reasonable portions.  I enjoyed the pizza from the wood fired oven, and we agreed that it was just about the best we have ever had (of course Dick needed to test it by trying a piece).

Just about the best pizza ever

The next day we took an interesting Segway tour.  The marina is sheltered from the lake by an island, most of which is now a bird sanctuary, but you can walk to the end and visit the harbour breakwater and lighthouse.  This made for a very enjoyable start to our tour on the Segways.   After the island we rode on Mariner’s Trail, a substantial 7-mile pathway along the shore of Lake Michigan north to the town of Two Rivers.  Along the trail, various individuals and businesses have sponsored and keep up interesting gardens.  One is a “human sundial”.  Stones are set in the ground, and one stands on the appropriate month, casting a shadow on the outer ring of stones to tell the time.  Dick dutifully posed as the gnomon.  As well as some pretty flowerbeds, there is a large area of “prairie regeneration”, plantings of native wildflowers and plants.  There are also interesting sculptures, the largest being a tribute to Native Americans near Two Rivers.  At the end of our ride we were in time to see the famous SS Badger come into port.

Segway tour, Nine Lives in the background
Birdlife on the island
Mariners Trail
Mariners Trail prairie restoration
Mariners Trail prairie restoration
Mariners Trail sundial, Dick is the gnomon and it’s 11am
Two Rivers sculpture

SS Badger is a historic ferry, operating between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  It is the last coal-fired passenger vessel operating on the Great Lakes, and is now a National Historic Landmark.  It was constructed as a rail car ferry in 1952, with a reinforced hull for ice-breaking, so it could operate year-round.  In 1990 Badger was retired and subsequently sold.  In time it was purchased by a local entrepreneur and philanthropist, and was refitted to carry passengers and vehicles.  Today it operates daily from May through October.  Some say that a trip on SS Badger should be on everybody’s bucket list.  Dick and I have been there and done that, and probably would not go quite that far!  Perhaps if our trip in 2016 had been on a warmer day in less rough conditions we might feel differently.  It also occurs to me that a ship that was built in 1952 is only a little older than I am, so perhaps I should be designated a National Historic something-or-other as well!

SS Badger coming into Manitowoc

SS Badger, historic as it may be, cannot be considered to be environmentally friendly.  The engines burn 50 tons of coal a day, and produce 4 tons of coal ash.  Responding to concerns from the EPA, and after some negotiations, the engines have been made more efficient, and the coal ash is now stored and offloaded rather than being dumped into Lake Michigan each trip.  The coal ash is used in the production of cement.

SS Badger in port

There was time before lunch to visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.  It is an interesting museum, with displays of local history, many ship models, and a few beautiful old wooden boats.

Wisconsin Maritime Museum wooden boat display
more wooden boats

The Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company was a major shipbuilder of the Great Lakes, building mainly steel ferries and ore carriers.  In 1939, the company president contacted the US Government and offered to build destroyers.  After consideration, the Navy suggested that they build submarines instead, and a contract for the first 10 was awarded in 1940.  Although they had never built a submarine before, the final total of 29 submarines were delivered before the contracted completion date of the first 10. Although she was not one of the Manitowoc submarines, USS Cobia, after distinguished service in the Pacific and subsequent use as a training vessel and reservist, now forms the basis for the Maritime Museum.

USS Cobia
USS Cobia and the Manitowoc waterfront
touring USS Cobia
touring USS Cobia
the toilet on USS Cobia

A highlight for Dick was touring USS Cobia. (We decided that given my recent issues with walking, it would be unwise for me to tackle all the stairs plus twist through the small hatches in the sub).  One of the pictures he took is of the toilet.  I am sure you are wondering why I am giving that photograph such prominence, but Dick tells me that flushing this toilet required 14 separate action steps!  By comparison, our guests on Nine Lives are intimidated by the simple requirement to press one button and hold it for a count of 5 seconds!

We walked to the Courthouse Pub for a late lunch, trying traditionally battered and fried cheese curds for the first time (it won’t be the last).  The town has some lovely old buildings, but like many American cities it is very spread out.  The courthouse itself is a beautiful old building, with a completely hideous white painted metal fire escape on the front, destroying the symmetry and showing a complete absence of respect for the historic building.

cheese curds the Wisconsin way
Seafood nachos for lunch
Manitowoc Courthouse

I have to tell you that I have been rather non-plussed to have been called “old” twice in one week.  The first occasion was as we were slowly making our way to a restaurant, when a fellow sitting on the waterfront greeted Dick and asked how he was doing.  Dick replied, “I’m great, but she is not doing quite so good”, gesturing at me behind him.  The fellow then asked my greybeard husband, “Is that your mother?”  Of course, I was a few paces behind Dick, and I am sure all the man could see was my cane and possibly some grey hair blowing.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  The next occasion was on arrival in a restaurant a little early, and being directed to the bar to wait for our table.  As I eyed the rather tall bar stools, and planned how I would climb up, the very nice hostess asked Dick, “Would she be better on one of those chairs over there?”  Asking the companion as though the individual is incapable of understanding or deciding for themselves is is what people do with extremely old ladies!  It was, of course, well meant, but I surely did feel old and decrepit.

Docktails platter

Our next stop was Kewaunee, mainly chosen because it would have been a very long journey to our next destination.  This is very much a working town, but as with most of what we have seen in Wisconsin, clean and well cared for. The town is a centre for fishing, with the local catch including Chinook and Coho salmon, rainbow trout, walleye, and smelt.  The county is a centre for the dairy and cheese making industries, with more cows than people. 

Kewaunee Marina

Our marina was tightly packed with fishing boats, but Dick’s brilliant manoeuvring got us into our shared slip without making marks on our neighbour.  We ate on board, but took a walk into town to visit a cheese shop.  Waaker Cheese is a small batch cheese-making operation that specializes in gouda, made from recipes brought from Holland by Johannes Waaker, who emigrated to Wisconsin in 1988.  The operation is still family run, with Johannes and his wife Olga having been joined in the business by their daughter and her husband. Apparently, some of the ingredients even today are sourced from the Netherlands.  We tried some onion and paprika flavoured gouda, which is delicious, and we are looking forward to trying the chipotle flavour next.  The town also has a smoked and fresh fish shop.  Dick bought some haddock, now frozen for a future dinner on board, and also some lemon and pepper smoked salmon.  I generally do not care for smoked fish that is not thinly sliced, but when we set this out later for docktails we discovered that it is beyond delicious.  We are happy that we will be stopping in Kewaunee again on our return, and will certainly get some more smoked fish, perhaps even some to freeze.

Sturgeon Bay is a town in the middle of the Door County peninsula.  The town joins a deep bay from the western end with the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, that allows shipping to get into Lake Michigan without having to pass through the notoriously weather prone and often dangerous straits at the northern end of the County.  This includes the disturbingly named Death’s Door Strait.  We are not planning to travel over the top of the peninsula! The canal entrance from the Lake Michigan side is marked by a very bright red lighthouse.  After 1.3 miles the canal opens out into a long narrow lake, with the town of Sturgeon Bay in the centre.  There are marinas on both sides of the lake, and the town is clearly a mecca for recreational boaters.  Not too long after we were tied up, we saw another Looper arrive, in a PDQ trawlercat.  We left a card and were able to meet the next day.

Entrance to Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal with historic lighthouses

While Sturgeon Bay is very much a tourist town with quite a few restaurants, the staffing shortages we are seeing everywhere has had the effect of reducing the number of days that fine dining restaurants are open, so our choices are somewhat limited.  The first evening we walked across the river to an Irish Pub, Kitty O’Reillys.  On arrival we were told we had a wait of 50 minutes, but there was an outside bar area we could wait.  Wine and beer in plastic cups.  I asked about inside seating, but was told that due to staff shortages they were only seating outside.  The enclosure for the restaurant was both cleverly constructed and very pretty with hanging plants.  Dick loves traditional Irish food, whereas I prefer to make those specialties that I also like at home.  Fortunately and unusually, this restaurant had quite a few non-Irish choices.  We shared an interesting starter of lobster rolls, a chopped lobster filling inside a deep-fried egg roll.  I tried one of the hamburgers.  It was delicious, but so huge that there was no possibility of eating it normally, so it had to be deconstructed and eaten with a knife and fork.  Dick liked his corned beef and cabbage.

Sturgeon Bay Irish Pub garden

Passing the Coastguard Station on the waterfront, it was interesting to see the stacks of ATONs.  These are floating buoys, set in place as aids to navigation of US waters.  Most common are the green ones that