Leaving Red Wing, we headed north and through Lock 3 as far as the St Croix River, then left the Mississippi, going upstream towards Hudson. The St Croix Marina at Hudson, Wisconsin, is situated in a very wide, protected part of the river. There were quite a few anchored boats, and lots of sailboats on mooring balls. This is the first Caribbean style anchorage we have seen. The transient dock at the St Croix Marina is one long finger, fortunately as close to the facilities as one can get. This is a full service marina, with excellent showers/rest rooms, keycard security, a good ship’s store, and a boatyard to help out with problems.
Hudson was settled in the mid-1800’s. Like many mid-west towns, lumber was a major attraction, and sawmills were built throughout the valley. US Highway 12 runs from Detroit to Washington State, and a toll bridge carried the important cross-country highway over the St Croix River at Hudson, providing revenue for the town. When Interstate 94 was built, the toll bridge was no longer required, but the long causeway that terminated in the bridge was left in place and is now a public park. It also serves as a dyke, forming part of the excellent anchorage in front of downtown Hudson.
Anyone who has seen the Little Free Libraries dotted around the USA might be interested to know that Hudson is the headquarters of the nonprofit organization and the site of the first of these neighbourhood book exchanges.
We walked to Pier 500 Restaurant. Good pub food, and, for a change, comfortable seating. Next door we noticed Dick’s Bar and Grill. It has been in business since 1870, and quite frankly, looking at the outside, it does not seem to have changed much since it opened in a frontier town! Definitely not our kind of place, so we didn’t try it out.
The first night at Hudson was a wild night for weather, with incredibly heavy rain and strong winds. We hoped the anchored boats were okay, but most were there for a day stop and only a few were left to brave the storm. We are getting better at remembering to check the weather forecast before bed time, and closing up the cockpit if there is any rain in the forecast!
Next morning the light went on to tell us we needed a pump-out. It is such a relief to have that working again, after nearly 5 boating seasons of having to guess the state of the tank. Dick had planned to pump out on our departure the next day, but thanks to the light we knew we had to untie right away and head over to the fuel dock. There was a slight miscommunication with the marina manager over equipment, so we got to the dock and discovered that we did not have the required fitting for self-service. Since it was business hours there was no problem calling a dock hand to help, but if we had gone the next morning before opening, as originally planned, we would have been out of luck.
I enjoyed watching a sailing school in the bay. The fleet was made up of small, single sail dinghies, sailed by quite young children, while older students raced boats with a mainsail and a jib. There were the inevitable miscalculations resulting in a dunking, particularly for the younger children, but watchful instructors in RIBs quickly helped anyone who got into difficulty.
We walked into town in the afternoon. Hudson has some interesting galleries, and a very nice cookery shop. We were able to replace our aging frying pans. We were also looking for a highly rated fine dining restaurant called Black Rooster. Dick eventually saw the name painted on the window of an office block. He read that the restaurant was on the second floor, so we tramped up a very long staircase and explored all the office corridors, without success. Back down the stairs, and looking again at the window, we saw that it actually said, “lower level”. Dick immediately headed down the stairs into the unlit depths, but I stopped to read the rest of the sign, “Open Wednesday to Sunday”. Today was Tuesday, so no wonder everything was dark. We will be re-visiting Hudson and the St Croix River, so we hope to try the Black Rooster then.
Dinner was at San Pedro, a Caribbean restaurant. The food was very good, and a pleasant change from the standard mid-west pub fare. For dessert, I tried the chocolate habanero torte, an unusual recipe for a dense chocolate cake with habanero chilis, that sounded interesting, but unfortunately it was too spicy to be really enjoyable as a dessert.
Leaving Hudson, we retraced our way south on the St Croix River and returned to the Mississippi. We passed through Lock 2, the most northern of the Mississippi locks we will transit, and arrived in Saint Paul by 3pm. Soon after docking, we were joined for docktails on board by the local Harbor Hosts, Sharon and Mike. We had a great evening, enjoyed hearing about their Loop and trading stories about places we had visited. It is quite telling that we are half way through our trip this summer, and that was our first opportunity to host docktails. Clearly, the Mississippi side trip is not one taken by most Loopers.
Saint Paul is the farthest north stop of this year’s voyage. It is one of the Twin Cities, often referred to as Minneapolis Saint Paul. This urban conglomeration is the third largest in the Midwest, and the 16th largest in the United States. The marina in Saint Paul, and its location in the middle of extensive waterfront parks and attractive, safe neighbourhoods, made this part of the Twin Cities a better stopping place for Nine Lives than attempting to find a place in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis has become somewhat notorious in recent years, but life in a big city goes on for everyone, and one can always hope that bad situations will turn around eventually. Meanwhile, in spite of my usual concerns about big city stops, we enjoyed our stay, and we never felt worried or threatened.
Saint Paul was the site of one of the earliest of the Ford Motor Plants outside Detroit. The first plant was built in 1914. Hydropower was available from the Mississippi River, and a large hydroelectric plant was built in 1924 at Lock 1, also known as the Ford Dam. The bluffs above the River in Saint Paul were mined for the silica used in auto glass, and there was an extensive tunnel system beneath the plant to provide access to the river for transportation. The plant was closed in 2011, and the 125-acre main assembly plant site is now being converted to urban high-density housing in the Highland Park area.
The next morning, Mike kindly drove me to the airport, and I flew home to Hilton Head for a week. I enjoyed some time by myself, plus taking care of some furniture deliveries and other household chores while Dick buzzed all over Saint Paul on his bike.
Dick enjoyed exploring the many bike paths and dedicated bike lanes in about a 10-mile radius of the marina. There is a friendly mix of weekenders and liveaboards in the marina, so it was nice to be able to exchange greetings with fellow boaters. One evening Dick grilled a pork chop, and as the enticing aroma of barbecue drifted across the docks, he had several visitors who wondered whether he had any extras! Shortly before my return, Dick took a $10 cab ride to the airport and picked up a rental car. The roads in Saint Paul are in dreadful condition, and between that and the distances to the nice shops and restaurants, we knew that I would be most unhappy being asked to ride my bike.
I returned on Thursday, and after a chance to rest from the flight, we headed out on Friday to explore one of the local attractions, The Mall of America. Self-described as a top tourist attraction in Minneapolis, and also touted as one of the top attractions in America, the accolades are sadly not borne out by TripAdvisor. I could not even find it in the top 30 attractions for the area. However, as a huge shopping centre, it is certainly impressive. In addition to over 500 stores, there is also a theme park with a roller coaster, an aquarium, and the usual theatres, bars and restaurants, and several anchor department stores. Unfortunately, since we are no longer in our twenties, and thus out of the demographic for most of the chain stores, there are few shops of interest to us.
I had seen from the online directory that there was a store selling alpaca woollens, so we headed there first. We found a very nice throw that will look well in the condo on the new chairs, and I also bought another ruana. The one I found last year is so warm and cozy for sitting and reading on cool mornings, that I was looking for another to take to our home in Yorkshire. Dick found a new pair of winter slippers in his size. Alpaca mission complete, we made our way to a Sketchers shoe store. There we discovered that shopping in person has very little advantage these days over online outlets. Dick hoped to try on two styles, and I found 4 of interest, but the store had none in our sizes. I was able to try a half size smaller in one style that fit, but Dick was entirely out of luck. If retail stores are to survive, they are going to need to offer added value over online. Complete inventory, as well as higher staffing levels, are going to be key factors. We noticed a Lindt store as we made our way back to the parking lot, so added a couple of bags of chocolate goodies to the shoes and woollens!
After the Mall, we drove to Kowalski’s, a large supermarket. A local chain, Kowalski’s offers an in-store bakery, kitchen, and a wine/liquor store. The grocery offerings include high end brands as well as locally produced items. We filled our shopping cart and are now set for the next couple of weeks. I even bought a dragonfruit, one of the few tropical fruits I like, and haven’t had since we lived in Houston. While I was away, Dick had also ordered some of the excellent cheese and bacon that we get from Zingerman’s, so we are not going to starve!
Later in the evening, after a very good meal at a local Italian restaurant, we enjoyed a postprandial glass of whisky in the cockpit, while watching the sun go down across the marina. We then went below, and discovered that the water pump was not working. The first check was the breaker. No, no problem there. Second, unscrew the breaker panel, and look behind at the rat’s nest of wires and mysterious bundles and conduits, to see whether there might be a fuse that needed replacing. Nope. Having exhausted the high-tech options, we moved on to a low-tech effort. Dick draped himself over the steps to the swim platform, opened a cover, and, shining a flashlight into the depths, smacked the pump sharply with the water pump restart tool, more commonly known as an adjustable wrench (spanner for our UK friends). A welcome telltale burping sound told us that the pump had woken up and was operational again.
The next morning, in daylight, Dick climbed into the lazarette. The main access to the water pump is between the pontoons, and below the lazarette. (what’s a lazarette? It’s a large locker below the walkway between the pontoons at the stern of the boat. You lift a small metal ring and turn it to unlock the cover, that can then be lifted to reveal the generous storage space below.) Being a generous storage space, it is naturally full of a variety of necessary things. Hauling out pool noodles, deck brushes, fender boards, bike bags, buckets, and cleaning supplies first, Dick then shoehorned himself into what had been a generous space before he tried to get into it. He stuck his head right over the pump in order to see what could be seen. In much the same way as men open the hood of the car (bonnet), tut tut several times, and then close it again, there was nothing to be seen from the lazarette. Dick closed everything up and we crossed our fingers.
On Saturday, we had booked a Segway tour of Saint Paul. This was a 3-hour tour, quite long compared to most we have enjoyed. Much of it took place on Summit Avenue, admiring the stunning Victorian era homes and some of the later mansions of the super-rich. Summit Avenue has the longest street of Victorian era homes in the USA, and even new builds are beautifully in keeping in style and colour. Saint Paul is the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and two of his homes were seen on the tour. There were two guides, who did a great job of shepherding their flock across busy streets and onto sidewalks and bike paths. The main guide, a former teacher with a loud voice, had a somewhat irritating manner, but more than made up for that with a wealth of knowledge about the history and architecture of Saint Paul. At the end of the tour we were presented with Segway Driving Licenses. On the back it says (in part), “This very official-looking Segway driver’s license confirms that you had a pulse when you successfully completed the Segway Magical History Tour. As holder of this license, you are now entitled to very little!”
In addition to the lovely homes and mansions of Summit Avenue, we visited the Minnesota History Center, the State Capitol, and the Cathedral of Saint Paul. The dome of the Capitol building is the second largest self-supported dome in the world. Only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is larger. The cathedral sits on a hill with commanding views, and is the fourth church on the site, completed in 1915. It is a stunning building, both inside and out. We were able to go in and admire the beautiful ceilings and the stained-glass windows.
There are extensive landscaped grounds in front of the Capitol building, much of them dedicated as various war memorials. One particularly poignant park is full of large boulders. There is one from each of the 87 counties in Minnesota. Inscribed on each stone is an excerpt from a letter written by a serviceman from that county to his family during wartime.
That evening, we enjoyed an excellent meal at one of Saint Paul’s top steakhouses, the Saint Paul Grill. It is in the Saint Paul Hotel, a beautiful old building, built in 1910 and kept sympathetically updated, with stunning flower gardens across the front. The menu was the perfect combination of innovation and traditional fare. I started with a warm cheese plate. Three different cheeses, lightly toasted, and served with black garlic and a delicious peach chutney and toast. Dick’s escargot dish was also very unusual, snails stuffed with boursin cheese and encased in wontons, lightly fried and served with a light cream sauce. Our main dishes were more traditional, we both had filet steaks, and accompanied them with some of the best asparagus I have been served this year, house made fries, and several excellent sauces. Dessert was tempting, but we were both too full to consider it, so Dick finished his wine, and I had a cappuccino.
Sunday morning, sadly, the water pump was definitely on strike, and the “hit it with a wrench” activity was required every time water was needed. This unfortunately also included using the toilets. It was a fair walk along the dock, up the hill, and around the road to the marina facilities, a disappointing requirement every time there was a call of nature. We had a spare pump, but the tight access meant this was not something Dick could easily install himself, so we hoped that there would be a tech available Monday morning.
Chatting with the friendly boaters on our dock, we were directed to Grand Avenue for boutique shops and ice cream. That morning, following one of Dick’s excellent full English breakfasts, we investigated the possibilities. There was a shop selling Irish goods, and another cookery shop, so armed with the addresses, we set out for Grand Avenue. The cookery shop was one of the best we have been in, although there was nothing we needed, or had space for on board. The ice cream shop was a great disappointment. The ice cream was crystally and quite tasteless regardless of flavour. The amount served was ridiculous. Dick had a so-called single scoop, and I had two half-scoops so I could try two flavours. The photo of my two half scoops tells the story.
In the evening we went out to a Spanish restaurant. I can tell you that while I am very fond of Spanish wines, in general, the food does not appeal to me. Dick was looking for something a little different, and the restaurant was highly rated, so I suspended my doubts and agreed to try it. The restaurant was certainly busy, and the wines were as excellent as expected, but the menu was very limited. There were only 7 tapas choices, and 6 main dish selections. We ordered 3 tapas to share, and Dick chose a pasta dish with fennel sausage as his main course. The shrimp dish was delicious, and Dick enjoyed the other selections, but the evening was not a success for me.
Upon our return to the boat, we saw that the light calling for a pump-out had come on, thus piling additional inconvenience on top of the issues caused by the inoperative water pump. A long walk in the dark to the marina facilities was now essential, especially as the “hit it with a wrench” technique was no longer effective.
In the morning Dick hovered around the marina office, hoping to speak to the service manager as soon as possible. He also took the time to return the rental car to the airport. After he was back from that task, we untied Nine Lives and maneuvered to the fuel dock to get the pump-out. At least after that exercise we were able to use the toilets on board, with the aid of a bucket of water to add to the system. Dick had another word with marina management, and was assured that a tech would be able to install the new pump some time in the afternoon. As Dick prepared by taking all the stuff out of the lazarette, I noticed two children, well, teenagers, coming down the dock. In fact, they were the tech and his assistant (and only looked like teenagers I am sure). They were very quick and professional, and it was the assistant, a girl, who actually did the work of swapping out the old pump for the replacement. She was small enough to fit right down into the space under the deck and could see what she was doing. Less than half an hour later, we were back in business!
Dick enjoyed taking the old pump apart to see whether it could be repaired and perhaps diagnose what had failed. On the outside, except for the various dings from hitting it with the wrench, it still looks brand new, but it is completely seized, and Dick believes improper assembly allowed water to get into the motor. Our first water pump lasted 7 years, this second one is just over a year old, with perhaps 6 months of actual use. A replacement will certainly be ordered and kept on board in case the newly installed one has a similar short life.
On our last evening in Saint Paul we were delighted to be invited by Sharon and Mike to join them for dinner at their home. They live in a high-rise condo building on the south side of the Mississippi River, across from downtown Saint Paul. The views are spectacular. It was a lovely evening, with great food and company, and a wonderful finish to our stay. The next morning we left Saint Paul and began our trip back towards our starting point at Pickwick Lake.