June 20 to July 7, 2021, Harbor Springs to Muskegon

Our final dinner in Harbor Springs was excellent, but it did rather fit the moniker “uppity”.  Regardless, we would certainly recommend Willow for its outstanding food and very good service.

It was a long but enjoyable voyage to Traverse City, with calm seas and good visibility.  As we made our way down Grand Traverse Bay we had to dodge sailboats and a beautiful tall ship schooner out for a Father’s Day sail.  There were 3 Looper boats in Traverse City, one based there, one arrived shortly after us, and the third the next day.  This allowed for a very convivial docktails evening on board Nine Lives.  The second day was very windy, nobody on the move and few pleasure boats in the bay.  Fortunately, our spot had very little motion.  We were at the end of the fairway, in a slip supposedly 18 feet wide, but the harbormaster knew it was considerably wider.  Dick turned and slid into the tight slip with great skill, impressing the dockhands with his ability to avoid touching any of the docks or posts, or the waiting concrete on the other side!

Traverse City Marina waterfront gardens

Traverse City is the largest city in Northern Michigan.  The area is also the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States.  Gourmet shops abound, many featuring cherry related foods.  In addition to the obligatory chocolate covered cherries, we bought some summer sausage with cherries and some cherry chili jam.  Other marvellous finds for Nine Lives pantry included sea salt with truffles, lemon infused olive oil, some duck pate, and various interesting crackers for cheese.

The city was initially a Native American settlement called Kitchiwikwedongsing.  Not surprisingly, even the denizens tended to shorten it to Wequetong, which means “at the head of the bay”.  The native settlement was pushed out by European colonization.  From small beginnings as a sawmill, and then an important Post Office location, the city grew, and by 1872 the railway arrived, heralding a period of growth and commercialization.  Lumber and cherries remained the major concerns until tourism and wineries added to the mix.  The population has declined somewhat, but it is still a thriving town and a popular tourism and shopping destination for Upper Michigan.

On our first day we decided to have lunch at Brasserie Amie, a French bistro style restaurant that is highly rated.  We had to wait over an hour to be seated, but the food was (almost) worth it.  This is an issue we are continually facing this summer, restaurants and shops cannot hire staff.  So although pandemic restrictions have ended, most restaurants still have limited numbers of tables, many are closed two and three days of the week, and even when we call a few days ahead we are being offered reservations at 4pm or 9pm because they are so busy.  I am assuming that Americans who would normally take vacations in Canada or overseas are still travelling but staying in the USA, adding considerable pressure to already busy areas of second homes.

The first night was very chilly, so we put on the heating for the first time (happily, it worked).  During the day Dick worked on various small electrical repairs and installed our Nebo tracker.  This is a device that has its own cell signal, it is installed on the boat and wired in, and each time we move, the tracker follows our voyage by satellite and even sends an emailed report when we stop.  We have used the Nebo mobile phone app for several years.  It is very useful for seeing where other Loopers are and for important interactions like arranging docktails, but the app is dependent on having a good phone signal, and, more important, remembering to turn it on and off!  The first attempt at setting up the tracker had issues, but the app creator, in Australia, was very responsive and replied within hours to Dick’s query with a suggestion that solved the problem.

Dick changes fuel filters

We enjoyed several good meals in Traverse City.  Following the Brasserie, we had a dinner at Amical, brunch at The Omelette Shop, and a really excellent Asian fusion dinner at Red Ginger.  As we were shown to our table in Red Ginger, we breathed in the wonderful scents of hot chili oil, garlic, and ginger, but I was suddenly caught by a most unusual and strong smell that was not as pleasant as the others.  I thought to myself, whatever that dish is, I don’t want to order it!  As the smell got stronger, we realized it was not coming from the kitchen, rather it was our menu, that had been inadvertently placed over the tealight by the host, and was on fire!  The initial excitement suggested something a bit stronger than a glass of wine to start, so we ordered manhattans and were delighted to receive a generous pour, worthy of our bartender in Wexford!  The following meal lived up to the restaurant’s excellent reputation.

Whitefish pate at Amical, a beautiful presentation, and delicious!

desserts at Amical

Dinner at Red Ginger

In an interesting art gallery we found some beautiful and whimsical sculptures made from gourds, one was chosen to go home with us.  I enjoyed chatting with the owner, almost everything in the shop is the sort of art and sculpture that I would choose if I was running a gallery.  A most enjoyable visit.  The other shops in Traverse City were also interesting, and quite different from the ones we had been seeing earlier on the trip.  It is always nice to see independent retail that is doing well and not being overwhelmed by big box and other chain stores.

Our last afternoon we saw a loon, unconcernedly making its way up and down the marina fairways feeding.  Our first loon of the year, and something we don’t usually see in populated locations.  Our swim step was a favoured weather protected spot for a mother duck and her one remaining duckling.  I love seeing ducks with their babies at this time of year, but it is always sad to see that the older the ducklings get, the fewer of them there are.  Probably just as well, or we would be overrun by ducks as we are with geese!

A loon feeding in the marina, an unusual sight.

Mama and baby liked our swim platform.

Our trip to Leland on June 25th was thick fog all the way.  It was both boring and worrying, not being able to see except on radar.  Dick’s ongoing boating courses stand him in good stead, and he is now better able to understand what the screen is showing.  He also found a way to overlay the radar on the regular chart, so the former hard-to-read split screen is no longer required.

Leland is an interesting village, once known as Fishtown, and still an important centre for fishermen.  There is an attractive restored timber village beside the harbour, and the main street has interesting small shops.  The location close to Manitou Islands and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore ensures a steady influx of tourists, although most are day trippers. A dam and a sawmill were built on the river in 1854.  The dam is still in place, preventing access for boats from Lake Michigan to a large and quite attractive chain of three lakes called Lake Leelanau.  Iron smelting and lumber were important industries in the small settlement during the 19th centuries, but fishing was always the main business. Today it is still a working fishery and fishing charter centre.

Fishtown

The dam and Fishtown

On our first evening we tried the only fine dining restaurant in town, located in a pretty inn overlooking the lake.  On arrival we were told the menu is offered as a QR code.  Use of QR codes require a cellphone, and I suspect (and after some research I believe I am correct), that not only do they give you access to the information the business is offering, it can also allow access to your details by the business.  Given how many supposedly reputable organizations generate revenue by selling your information, I avoid such “conveniences” as much as possible!  After being offered QR code menus and seeing our frowns, the staff immediately supplied paper menus.  The meal was good, but not particularly memorable.

Beautiful dogwood in bloom.

The next day was incredibly wet, but we took the umbrella and enjoyed visiting the little shops.  Dick found some really good deck shoes, and I was delighted with a new sunhat, as the one I normally keep on the boat had been left at home in Hilton Head.  My unusual “raining cats and dogs” umbrella generated interest and compliments from several other visitors to the village!

We extended our stay in Leland by a day, as the weather conditions were wind against waves, always an uncomfortable scenario.  This gave us time for a late lunch at the Cove Restaurant, a bustling venue overlooking Fishtown.  We enjoyed some of the best fries I have ever had, served piping hot, with an interesting spice combination of garlic and herbs on the fries, and offered with a delicious chipotle mayonnaise.  Various local fish options completed the meal.  We walked through Fishtown and through the village towards the lake.

The best french fries ever!

Fishtown from the bridge above the dam in Leland

We have noticed in almost every place we have stayed so far that many visitors love to walk the docks and look at the boats in the harbour.  Nine Lives gets her share of interest, as there are very few catamarans cruising these waters.  Small children are particularly attracted to Minnie, our dinghy hanging at the back, and I often hear, “And look!  A little boat!”  Minnie is slated to be replaced later this summer by a new RIB, and I wonder whether the new dinghy will generate the same interest from passers-by.

Our passage to Frankfort was easy and pleasant.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is an area that encompasses 35 miles of the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan plus the two Manitou Islands between Leland and Frankfort.  The area includes unique forests, incredible sand dunes that tower above the lake, and glacial features as well as historic Coast Guard stations and a lighthouse.  Creation of the National Park was controversial, as the owners of what was private property at the time did not want the area overrun with tourists.  The name comes from an Ojibwe legend, the mother bear sleeps under the dunes at the edge of the lake, while her two cubs are represented by North and South Manitou Islands.  The spectacular dunes were an amazing sight as we travelled along the shore.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Just north of Frankfort, we passed the pretty Point Betsie Lighthouse.  The lighthouse began service in 1858, and 25 years later one of the first Life Saving Stations was added to the site.  It was the last Michigan lighthouse to lose its keeper, and was only automated in 1983.  Today it is a museum and tourist attraction, some say the most photographed lighthouse in the United States.

Point Betsie Lighthouse

Frankfort owed its early beginnings to the protected harbour that opens into what was Aux Becs Scies Lake. The name translates from French “with saw jaws”, likely a reference to the early lumbering industry.  Today, it has been shortened to Betsie Lake.  Various investors built the town and dredged the approach to the harbour in the mid-19th century.  Prosperity arrived as the town was further developed as a port and safe harbour, with the usual timber industries in the area.  Frankfort was an important Post Office, and was the county seat for part of its history.  Today it is a sleepy town, mostly involved with tourism.  Main Street is the site of some beautiful old buildings, and there are some interesting junk, I mean antique shops and a few other touristy shops.

Historic buildings in Frankfort

We enjoyed dinner at a new restaurant called Birch and Maple.  Excellent, interesting food.  We could hear from the bartender’s conversation that he was the owner.  He and his partner are committed to “bringing the city to the country”, a slightly arrogant perspective, but if the result is such great food, we wish them well in their endeavours!

Delicious burger at Birch and Maple, I don’t know why they wrapped it in foil!
Dick’s bone-in pork chop at Birch and Maple

In Frankfort we had the same experience as elsewhere, shops and restaurants closed several days a week, and often no opening hours posted on the doors of the shops.  Walking around, especially Monday through Wednesday, it is quite reminiscent of a French village, everything shuttered and no sense that it is ever going to be open, but locals always seem to know when things open up and suddenly there are customers!

There were several Loopers at the next marina over, but their schedules precluded any interaction apart from a friendly chat on the dock and exchange of boat cards.

A lovely evening sky over the marina in Frankfort, an ultralight takes advantage of the nice weather.

Our next leg to Manistee was through heavy fog.  After we were past the point of no return, we began to hear coastguard warnings over the radio for heavy fog across the whole of the northern end of Lake Michigan.  Our weather apps suggested that there was 3km of visibility, but the reality was more like 100 yards.  By the time we arrived at the mouth of the river in Manistee, we could barely see 100 feet.  What was amusing, was how many people there were on the beach!  Why anyone would sit on a beach in thick fog is a complete mystery to me, but there were at least 100 people out there on the sand with chairs, umbrellas, and coolers.

Nine Lives docked in Manistee

Manistee, like many towns, began as a Jesuit Mission in the mid-18th century.  Nearly a hundred years later, a sawmill and settlement were built.  In 1871 the town was almost completely destroyed by fire, which explains the number of buildings of roughly the same age in the downtown.  Logging, shingle manufacturing, and a salt industry all contributed to a thriving, wealthy town, reflected in the beautiful historic buildings on Main Street.  The entire Downtown District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic downtown Manistee

One of the reasons for making the voyage in spite of foggy conditions was to meet fellow Loopers that we had enjoyed spending time with in past years.  We met them twice in Georgian Bay in 2019, and then spent time together when they visited Hilton Head in early 2020.  We enjoyed a great evening with Kathleen and Michael at Blue Fish, the nicest restaurant in the village, and hope for future encounters later in the season.  The next day we explored the town and Dick walked along the river to the end of the pier while I finished the laundry.

I model my new hat in one of the gardens in Manistee.

We made a long, fast run to Whitehall.  The conditions were only right because the waves were coming from behind us.  We could feel Nine Lives climb up one side and surf down each wave, and our speed varied from 12 to 19 knots depending on whether we were going up or down!  A strong current in the channel into White Lake made for some exciting moments, as Dick wrestled the wheel this way and that to avoid running into the breakwater.

White River Light Station, Whitehall

Once we were into the smaller lake, it was still quite windy and choppy.  We were arriving a day early, and had planned to anchor near the Yacht Club, but between the wind and chop, and uncertain depths, we decided instead to proceed to the marina at the top end of the lake, where we were booked for the July long weekend.  I phoned the marina, to ask whether they could accommodate us for the extra night, and had a very confusing conversation with the receptionist.  It is quite difficult to hear on the phone when underway, so I had to keep asking her to repeat, but the upshot was, not only could they apparently not accommodate us for that night, we had no booking for the weekend either!  We decided to carry on and have another conversation over the radio once we were closer.  On arrival, we were again told there was no reservation, but they could let us stay one night.  After we tied up, they asked the name again, and at last the lady came running out and apologising, because even though Dick gave her his first and last name plus the boat name, all she had written down was “Dick”.  So, we then had to untie again and move to our assigned slip.  The wind was unhelpful, as was a very green dockhand, who found my request to put the line around the post and hand it back to me impossibly confusing.  Eventually we did get secured, and the boat beside us was undamaged thanks to my putting out fenders, “just in case”.

This was not the nicest slip we have had.  It was full of duckweed and water lilies, as well as a scum of algae and other unidentifiable mess.  Duckweed is an interesting plant.  Sometimes you will see a stream or the end of a lake or pond covered in a bright green coating of tiny floating leaves.  Each little leaf is a separate plant, with no stem, just a short root.  They hitch rides on waterfowl and even on boats, and are light enough to be blown about by wind, so they spread easily in water that is not flowing quickly.  Duckweed is an important food source for a variety of aquatic creatures (not just ducks), and it also acts as a water purifier.  In many locations it is a very good thing for the health of the water and the waterfowl and insects that live there.  In other locations it can be a big problem, starving the water of oxygen and therefore killing the fish that live below.  It is an ecological Jekyll and Hyde.  From our point of view, the green scum of algae was a concern, and even the duckweed could potentially be sucked into the air conditioner strainers.  Dick will need to check them and the engine strainers to make sure they are not clogged.

Duckweed and water lilies in our slip in Whitehall.

Our neighbour on the next boat was something else again.  He was a friendly, youngish man, who was clearly living aboard his slightly dilapidated vessel.  Dick initially noticed the huge speakers on the enclosed flybridge, but he didn’t see the professional drum kit beside them.  Various of the man’s personal items migrated onto the dock.  At first it was just a chair and a full-size grill, but they were soon joined by another chair, 4 jerry cans of fuel, and various other bits and pieces including a baseball bat (what was he planning to do with that I ask?) plus water bowls for the two adorable 8-week-old shepherd/rottweiler puppies that entertained all and sundry with their antics.  Partway through the afternoon, the peace was shattered by heavy metal rock blaring from the speakers, soon accompanied by live drum practice.  In fact, he seemed to me to be a pretty good drummer, but to say the music was not to our taste would be an understatement!  The fellow only practiced for about a half hour, and he then turned the music down somewhat, and even further after he asked Dick if we minded it.  Dick gave a politely non-committal hand-signal, that worked quite well to discourage further sharing.

We made plans to go out to breakfast on July 4th, but had to change our ideas on the fly as the whole town turned out for the 4th of July parade.  There must have been thousands of people lining the main street of Whitehall, and for an hour we all watched fire engines, police vehicles, church floats, as well as both floats and vehicles from the various businesses in the area.  The Sherriff’s department arrived on horseback.  Both political parties were represented, fortunately placed in different places in the parade.  The Democrats received applause from some of the spectators, but when the Republicans came past, many leaped to their feet and shouted and clapped.  Most of the audience had brought chairs, just as well because the parade lasted an hour.  There were lots of dogs of all sizes, including a huge and rather gorgeous woolly poodle-sheepdog (?) wearing sunglasses.  The whole event was absolutely charming and an example of the very best of small-town America.

July 4th parade in Whitehall
July 4th parade in Whitehall

July 4th parade in Whitehall
July 4th parade in Whitehall
It was a sunny morning!

Dick was delighted to see an old friend in the parade, a McCormick Farmall Cub tractor.  He told me that when he was a child growing up in Brighton, where his father managed a chicken farm, this was the tractor that his father used on the 60 acres of additional land around the chicken barns.  Their tractor was red, rather than the cheery bright yellow of the one in the parade, but Dick recognized it immediately.  Of course, small boys are often interested in tractors and wheeled vehicles of all kinds, but Dick also remembers feeling rather embarrassed among his friends that their tractor was so small compared to what the other boys at school had!  Eventually, the family moved to their own, much larger farm in Norwood, with a suitably large Massey Ferguson tractor.

This tractor reminded Dick of his childhood.

The main reason for our extended stay in Whitehall was to spend time with some good friends who we first met in 1998 when we all lived in Prague.  Jane and Jon retired to Whitehall at the end of their Prague assignment, and they also visited Hilton Head regularly, so it has been easy to keep in touch.  In the afternoon they took us to the White Lake Yacht Club for their Independence Day celebration.  Traditional 4th of July fare, including hot dogs, hamburgers, brats, salads, and ice cream to finish was enjoyed on the sunny terrace.  We shared a table with some other members, and it was altogether a very enjoyable evening.

The next day we started with the deferred breakfast and then went for a long bike ride on the extensive path network in the area.  Whitehall and Montague form twin towns at the head of White Lake, linked by a causeway.  As with many towns in the area, Whitehall began in the mid-19th century as a lumber town.  The city is located about 5 miles from Lake Michigan, but White Lake is connected by a dredged canal.  As we discovered, the canal can experience a current of up to 3 mph.  Montague, on the other side of the White River, remains a separate town, with the usual rivalry between high school sports teams.  The two towns have a total population of around 5000, mainly full-time residents.  Howmet Corporation, manufacturing parts for the aerospace industry, is a large local employer, with about 3600 employees.  The Playhouse at White Lake opened in 1916, and offers live theatre as well as other cultural and arts events through the year.  The tidy houses, extensive cycle paths, and several parks, as well as the boating opportunities on White Lake and the White River ensure the area is a pleasant place to live.

Canoeing on White River
Sweet peas, their scent filled the air on our bike ride.
Sweet peas

Jane and Jon took us to nearby Muskegon for dinner, but declined our invitation to watch the firework display from our boat later in the evening.  Hundreds of people had already set up chairs in the parks beside the lake, and as the 9pm start approached some of them also lined the docks of the marina.  The lake was full of anchored small boats, ready to watch the show.  As it happened, the display did not start until about 10:15 pm, by which time some of the children were getting quite restless!  Our boat neighbour decided to put on his music, cranked up loud enough to rival the fireworks.  The display was a good one, with an excellent finale, and we enjoyed a perfect front row seat from the deck of Nine Lives, accompanied by a suitable adult beverage, just to keep warm in the chilly wind you understand.

Whitehall fireworks display
Whitehall fireworks display

On our last evening Jane and Jon joined us on board Nine Lives for drinks, cheese and charcuterie, followed by a shrimp and salad supper.  Dick helped with the preparation by slicing and pitting cherries.  By the end of the assignment he looked like a slightly demented serial killer, but fortunately he managed to keep the mess mostly on the table and his hands, so aggressive laundry techniques will not be required.  We so enjoyed spending time with Jane and Jon, and look forward to our next get-together.  We have been friends for 23 years.

Dick helps by pitting the cherries
Cheese and charcuterie for our guests.

Our next stop was just a short run to Muskegon.  About half way down White Lake, I went below for a few minutes to tidy up, and suddenly the engines slowed to a near stop.  I went up to see what was going on, and Dick was cursing a b…. sailboat that had suddenly tacked and was now inconsiderately crossing towards us.  Boats under sail have the right of way, so Dick had to be the one to take avoidance measures.  I pointed out that the sailboat had to tack to avoid running into the shore, but Dick’s grumbled response was, “He could have lowered his sail”.  Of course it was said with a twinkle!  The weather forecast was not one that we would normally find acceptable, but Dick thought that the high winds of the previous day would have laid down enough, and the waves would be on the bow.  As it happened, there were still two-foot swells, and they were on the quarter, so a somewhat uncomfortable ride.  Fortunately, we ran fast, so it was only about half an hour of being tossed about.

As we made our way through the channel into Muskegon Lake, we were surprised to see a submarine tied up on the wall, with the engines obviously running.  At first, we wondered who could possibly be the enemy, requiring a submarine presence in the Great Lakes.  Could it be there is a real and present danger from those dastardly Canadians?  Then we saw the tourists standing on the deck, and realized that this is the star exhibit of the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum.  USS Silversides is a Gato-class submarine, one of the most successful submarines in the Pacific during World War II.  She is credited with 23 confirmed sinkings.  After her retirement from active service, dedicated volunteers maintained and restored Silversides, including the engines.  These engines are run about 6 times each year to keep them in good condition.

USS Silversides, Muskegon

The marina we are staying at in Muskegon is the first in the Safe Harbor conglomerate, that has bought up many of the independent marinas all over the US.  The docks are in reasonable condition, and the facilities are acceptable, but for the first time this trip we are quite a long walk from the showers.  There is a pool, an attraction for boaters with children on board.  However, marina staff did not initially impress us, as they simply directed us to our slip with no offer of assistance. Often, I feel that we do better docking without help, but it is unusual for there to be no dockhands at all.  We have a front row seat for watching a large crane on a barge repairing the breakwater along the pier.  The rock and roll we are experiencing as the ferry arrives and departs, and from chop from the lake, makes it clear that the new breakwater is a much needed improvement.

Improving the marina breakwater.

Muskegon is the largest city on the western shore of Michigan.  The first Europeans in the area were French explorers and fur traders, but by the mid-19th century, lumber brought settlers from Germany, Ireland, and even Canada.  Today it is a large port city with heavy and light industry and food processing.

Muskegon’s historic waterfront area. A former hosiery mill is now apartments, and the old railroad depot.

A morning bike ride along the extensive waterfront path was a great pleasure.  A lot of money has been spent cleaning up what was a heavily industrial area and creating both parks and wildlife areas.  Often bike paths follow disused railroads, and while easy riding (flat, wide, smooth), they can get quite boring.  Not so this path.  There are enough curves and bridges over the water to make it interesting, and the scenery is lovely.  Birds don’t lend themselves to photography by phone, but I saw a kingfisher, swans, ducks and geese, kildeer, red-winged blackbirds, swallows, a heron, and in several areas we could hear the sounds of bullfrogs croaking.  The wildflowers were lovely.

A bridge along the bike path, Muskegon
Restored wetlands in Muskegon
Restored wetlands in Muskegon
Restored wetlands in Muskegon

Unfortunately, the city is large and very spread out, so wandering around shops is not really feasible, and the restaurant we might have tried is a 3.5-mile bike ride.  We did find The Cheese Lady, and happily stocked up on more charcuterie choices, as well as crackers, some Belgian butter, and of course, some cheese.  We will likely try a nearby pizza restaurant for tonight’s supper.  Tomorrow looks fair for our short passage to Grand Haven.

The Cheese Lady, Muskegon

June 4th to 19th, 2021, Hilton Head and Drummond Island to Harbor Springs, MI

Nine Lives is underway again!  After a 20-month sleep on Drummond Island, Michigan, she is at last on the Great Loop again.

Our summer voyage began with loading the car with all the things we took off the boat in 2019, including such essentials as carpets, clothing, and safety equipment, and heading out on June 4th.  We enjoyed a lovely evening in Asheville, North Carolina, with our good friends Jan and Kent, in their beautiful new home.  After a second overnight stop in Dayton, Ohio, we drove to Mackinaw City, parked the car, and boarded the ferry for Mackinac Island.

Historic Round Island Lighthouse

Mackinac Island is considered to be one of the highlights of the Great Loop.  The famous Grand Hotel requires jacket and tie for men in the dining room, and Loopers will carry said jacket around the entire 6000 miles of the Loop for that one dinner!  Dick decided to compromise.  Since boat docking was reportedly difficult and expensive, we chose to stop on our way to pick up the boat and stay on the island in a hotel for 3 nights.  This way Dick could leave the jacket in the vehicle for the rest of the summer, and not take up precious hanging space on board.

The main street on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island was an important centre of the fur trade, and a strategic fort was built by the British during the Revolutionary War.  Two battles were fought on the island during the War of 1812.  In the 19th century the island was discovered by tourists, and has never looked back.  The island is listed as a National Historic Landmark, and 80% of the island is preserved as Mackinac Island State Park.  There is only one highway, M-185, that circumnavigates the island, and is the only State highway in the United States that is banned for motorized vehicles.

Carriages, bicycles, and the old fort on Mackinac Island

Development is strictly limited, and the town is a wonderful mix of Victorian homes and businesses.  Cars are banned on the whole island, except for emergency vehicles and service vehicles, although residents are permitted to use snowmobiles in winter.  Since 1898, all transportation has been by horse, bicycle, or on foot.  Taxis are shared horse drawn wagons.  Visitors arrive by ferry from spring through fall, but in winter the island can be completely cut off unless an ice bridge forms.

A taxi passes some of the beautiful old homes on Mackinac Island

The Grand Hotel is one of the “grand old ladies” of the world, situated on a bluff overlooking the harbour.  There are many other accommodation options, most at a considerably lower cost, and of course an abundance of dining choices for visitors.  No camping is allowed on the island.

The porch at the Grand Hotel
The gardens of the Grand Hotel
Sainte Anne’s Church
Mission Church
more of the beautiful homes and gardens
Mini-putt golf and the lawn at our resort

Dick and I stayed at a resort hotel just on the edge of town.  Rather than taking our own bicycles on the ferry, we rented for a day so that we could follow the 8-mile road around the perimeter of the island.  It was a nice ride, theoretically completely flat, but one stretch of the highway was closed for repairs.  At first this looked like a problem, as the choice was to turn around and go back, or walk the bikes up a steep hill on a dirt path.  We chose the hill (much to my dismay), but it turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the ride.  After the short uphill path, we came to a t-junction, and from there a very pleasant track took us through the woodland and parallel to the shoreline below.  The woods were full of wildflowers, and there were very few other people so the path was not busy.  Eventually we dropped down again to the shore at the end of the construction, and carried on around the island.

Glimpse of the water from the bike route

the trail through the woods
a horse and carriage on the highway

Although we enjoyed our visit, it was also somewhat disappointing.  The island is being loved to death by tourists, with day trippers in the thousands even before the busiest season starts.  The main street has been taken over by t-shirt and souvenir shops, interspersed by fudge shops, one after another.  Pedestrians and tourists wobbling on unfamiliar bicycles make it difficult to walk through the town.  The horses and carriages, actually wagons converted to carry many passengers, are romantic, but not exactly enjoyable as too many people are crammed onto too-small benches.

One of the beautiful old inns on the island

We tried 3 of the 4 “fine dining” options, expected to be a highlight of our stay.  Only one lived up to the billing, and that was not the Grand Hotel option.  After carefully reading reviews and studying menus, Dick decided that the Woods Restaurant, operated by the Grand Hotel in a woodland setting well above the main hotel, was a better option than the main hotel dining room.  Duly dressed in our finery, we boarded a (shared) taxi at our hotel.  Half an hour later (we could have walked it faster), we arrived at the hotel, planning to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail before taking another taxi to the Woods Restaurant.  Fortunately, on arrival, we asked questions, and discovered that there were no taxis to be had.  We were able to catch a shuttle, so did not miss our dinner!  The meal was acceptable, but not the wonderful experience we had been expecting, and to Dick’s disgust, there was no dress code for the restaurant.  So, the jacket and tie were entirely superfluous.  On our last evening we did enjoy a meal at the Carriage House waterfront restaurant that measured up to expectations.

Shrimp cocktail our first evening
Woods Restaurant
Elk chops at Woods Restaurant
Baked trout at Woods Restaurant
Smoked Whitefish at Carriage House
Escargots at Carriage House
Filet steak at Carriage House
Dessert choices, lemon pie or Scotch whisky

Saying goodbye to Mackinac Island, we returned to the car and crossed the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and on to our destination at Drummond Island.  Nearly 5 miles long, the suspension bridge was opened in 1957.  Restoration work seems to be ongoing, and looking at the supports one feels no surprise. 

Mackinac Bridge looms out of the fog

Another ferry took us from DeTour village across the St Mary’s River to Drummond Island.  The river is the main channel connecting Lake Huron to Lake Michigan, and thus sees a lot of commercial traffic as well as pleasure boats.  A relatively narrow passage between large bodies of water means it is often a rough passage, as we experienced on our several ferry rides to and fro.

Drummond Island is a large island at the north end of Lake Huron.  It has a full-time population that swells to many more during the summer months.  We had enjoyed our stay there in 2019, and again we were not disappointed.  We arrived in early afternoon on June 8th, and Nine Lives was waiting for us in the water, with two ladies just finishing cleaning and polishing.  Dick schlepped bags and boxes from the vehicle to the boat, while I attempted to sort everything out as it was delivered and made up the beds.

Nine Lives was in the water waiting for us

The first order of business on arrival after any winter is to “shock” the water system and tanks.  This means adding a bleach solution to the nearly full water tank, run the various taps a bit to move the solution through the whole system, and then leave it to sit overnight.  The next day the tanks are emptied, and then refilled and emptied again before the final filling.  Dick also changed our Seagull filter, a special filter for the drinking water tap (and the ice maker) that filters bacteria as well as the more usual chemicals and sediments.  We were delighted to find that most of the winter projects we had requested had been completed.  The forward air conditioner had been replaced, and the new one works well.  The aft air conditioner, that was originally installed backwards in a very tight space, had been removed and replaced the right way around, allowing access to the coils, and, we hope, eliminating the icing problem we had been experiencing.  The failed side by side fridge freezer had been replaced.  The broken igniter for the gas cooktop had also been installed.  Dick had found the replacement button, but been unable to install it.  What a treat now to be able to push a button instead of using a gas lighter on the stove!

She’s glad to be back in the water!

Another job to be done was to refresh the paint on our anchor chain.  We have 200 feet of all-chain rode, and when we anchor, it is important to know how much rode has been paid out.  The calculation is 7 to 1, that is for every foot of depth, you need 7 times that amount of rode.  This means that as the anchor chain goes out, we need a way to know how much is going.  Two-foot sections painted in alternating red, white, blue, green, every 20 feet, is how we can work out how much is out.  Then if we see the yellow section, we know that is all we have!

Unfortunately, the requested replacement water pump had been forgotten.  Our three-day stay allowed time for one to be ordered and installed.  One of the shower heads needed replacing, but Dick found one that fit at the local hardware store.  The dinghy motor was tested, and now runs well after an initial issue with water in the gasoline sight glass was sorted.  Dick spent a few hours changing the oil on both engines.  One of them is relatively easy to access, albeit in a small space, but the other engine, rather than being reversed as one might expect, is in the same orientation in its space, meaning that all the places Dick needs to get to are tight and out of sight.  There was much groaning that evening and the next morning as muscles unaccustomed to the contortions required to fit a large man in a small space complained about their treatment!  As on our previous visit, we enjoyed excellent meals in both of the local restaurants, and found the supermarket was well stocked for our initial provisioning.

It rained hard on Wednesday night, and Thursday we woke up to find the entire outside deck coated with dead and dying stuck mayflies.  These creatures live only a few hours, but they are so light that any rain brings them down onto any surface and they stick fast.  Impossible to walk without grinding them into the deck.  Once it warmed up and dried a bit, I took a broom and swept as much as possible, but Dick still had to go after it with water and a brush to make Nine Lives look as nice as she did when we first arrived!  On subsequent days the mayflies finished, but clouds of small flies hitched rides when we were out on the water.  The things that you don’t even think about when you plan the Great Loop!

On Saturday, June 12, Nine Lives finally left Drummond Island after her 20 month stay, and we headed through the DeTour passage and across the top of Lake Huron to Cheboygan. I had been concerned about the passage, as every ferry crossing had been quite rough, but that morning the water was perfectly smooth and it was a very comfortable ride.  Less so as we came into open water in Lake Huron, there were swells that had Nine Lives moving with a slight corkscrew, making me feel quite unhappy.  Fortunately, it was a fairly short journey to Cheboygan, Michigan.

DeTour Reef Lighthouse

No to be confused with Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Cheboygan is a small, tidy town on the south shore of the Straits of Mackinac, across from Bois Blanc Island.  We arrived to discover 4 other Looper boats in the harbour.  All are travelling as we are, on a multi-year Loop.  Two of them are hoping that the Canadian border opens soon so they can enjoy Georgian Bay and the North Channel.  We had not expected to meet other Loopers until late summer, so we were pleasantly surprised.

Cheboygan was originally an Ojibwe settlement.  In 1846 a group of settlers from Fort Mackinac established the town of Duncan on the site of the native camp.  By 1889 the settlement was large enough to be incorporated as a city.  It was the port for ferries to Bois Blanc Island, and is still the home port of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw.  The town is very tidy, with small but well-kept homes, and several attractive parks on the Cheboygan River.  We launched the dinghy and took a ride up the river past the industrial areas near the river mouth and through the town with homes and parks on the banks.

The marina is about a mile from town, so we rode our bikes to dinner.  The Nauti Inn describes itself as a “barstro”, a wonderfully descriptive noun, perfectly suited to a gourmet experience in very convivial, if somewhat noisy surroundings.  The food was delicious and innovative, with interesting flavours but not strange!

Dick had rack of lamb at Nauti Inn

Sunday morning, we headed out for the very short trip along the Straits to Mackinaw City.  We stayed one night in a beautiful new marina, and rode our bikes through the town.  This is the jumping off point for the ferries to Mackinac Island, so the town caters mainly to tourists.  Yet more t-shirt and souvenir shops, as if there hadn’t been enough on Mackinac Island!  Just outside the town and below the Bridge, lies the restored Colonial Michilimackinac and the Old Mackinac Point Light Station.  The beautiful lighthouse was in operation from 1890 to 1957. The light was visible for 16 miles, critical for safety in the frequently fog-bound Strait and at night for the ferries and Great Lakes shipping.  In addition to carrying people, and later cars, the ferries also carried railway cars to the Upper Peninsula from the 1890’s until 1984.  Construction of the Mackinac Bridge ended the usefulness of the light station, as the well-lit bridge is more useful for navigation.

Old Mackinac Point Light Station
Mackinac Bridge from Mackinaw City

Next morning, we passed under the bridge (not without a certain amount of calculation as to the best location to avoid the possibility of construction debris falling on us), heading for Beaver Island.  With a permanent population of about 800, the island is the largest in Lake Michigan.  It was settled in the mid-1800’s by a strange religious group, related to the Mormons, headed by the self-styled King Strang.  Although the island was already inhabited by Irish immigrants, the Strangites founded the town of St James, and became an important political power in the area. Initially a progressive fleeing religious persecution, Strang became increasingly autocratic and erratic, and his sect clashed often with other settlers.  In June of 1856, Strang was assassinated by two former adherents, who Strang had sentenced to flogging because he did not approve of the way their wives were dressed. The men escaped on a conveniently docked US Naval gunboat, and were never detained or charged. The Strangites, by then numbering about 2600, were subsequently driven from the island by angry mobs, and fled.  A branch of the church founded by Strang still exists today, with about 300 adherents living in Wisconsin. One hopes that flogging is no longer one of their customs.

A lighthouse on the route from Mackinaw City to Beaver Island

Irish fishermen from the area and a group of former tenant farmers evicted from their homes in Ireland made up the next settlers on the island, and the Irish heritage proudly continues to this day.  In addition to a small airport, the island is served from spring through fall by ferries from Charlevoix.  Tourism is important, but the economy also depends on fishing, logging, farming, and government services.  We met several other boaters in the marina, and enjoyed chatting on the docks.  It may be my imagination, but it seems as if people are even more friendly than usual this year.  Perhaps a year of social distancing and fear of covid means everyone is just so happy to be able to get out and meet people again.

The waterfront at St James on Beaver Island

We ate dinner on board, and had ideas about staying up late to see the night sky.  However, Looper midnight is 9pm, and by 10 it was still not dark enough for stars, so we gave up and went to bed.  Looking out at the harbour, we were amazed at the number of ducks in the water all around the marina.  There must have been hundreds.  Surprisingly quiet, but other boaters had mentioned that they do like to peck at your hull, and sure enough, there was a certain amount of tap tap tapping as we drifted off to sleep!

A house with an interesting chimney on Beaver Island

After a bike ride to breakfast and a grocery shop, we left Beaver Island, destination Harbor Springs, on the Lake Michigan eastern shore.  This was our first really nice passage, with smooth water and no rolling as we crossed the lake.  On our arrival at the marina, suddenly Dick made a loud and incomprehensible exclamation.  You may remember that for docking and maneuvering we wear headsets (so we can give each other information and instructions I mean suggestions quietly without shouting).  I was concentrating on getting lines ready to throw to the waiting dockhands, and watching to see whether the slip really was 20 feet wide, so I had no idea what Dick was shouting about.  Once safely docked, I was able to look up and see the Wexford burgee flying proudly from the prow of a large yacht two slips over.  The last thing we expected this summer was to meet other Wexford boaters!  We chatted on the dock, and were invited later for docktails and to meet the rest of the group of friends from Charlevoix, where they spend summers.  A most enjoyable encounter!

the marina at Harbor Springs

Harbor Springs was described by one reviewer as having become “too uppity” for his taste.  We thought that sounded promising, and we were not disappointed!  The town and the shoreline are  occupied by beautiful turn of the century homes and businesses.  Along the lakeshore out of town are lovely mid-20th century large summer homes with well-kept gardens leading down to the water.  The town offers many nice shops, and we enjoyed a very expensive exploration our first day there.  In addition to several special foody items, Dick bought two very nice shirts, and after watching the glass artist in his studio it was necessary to buy an art glass vase to join our small glass collection in Hilton Head.  Dinners in two of the restaurants were less satisfactory, but breakfast at a small bistro was delicious and we have hopes for another restaurant on our last night.

A garden in Harbor Springs

Little Traverse Bay is one of the many inlets on the eastern side of Lake Michigan.  Harbor Springs is on the north side of the inlet, and Petoskey is on the south, while the area between is mainly occupied by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Initially the site of a Jesuit mission, the area was subsequently occupied first by French traders, and then by settlers from the Eastern seaboard of America.  By the mid-19th century, the area became famous for summer resorts for wealthy American businessmen and their families.  Certainly, Harbor Springs still has a very wealthy presence, given the high-end shopping opportunities and the beautiful waterfront homes.

One of the beautiful Harbor Springs waterfront homes

On Friday we rode our bikes the 9.5 miles around the bay to Petoskey.  Most of the ride was along the road and through forests, but once arriving in Petsokey there were special bike trails through the town and along the shoreline.  We enjoyed another shopping day.  In addition to more gourmet foody treasures, I found a sunhat, after quite a search so far on this trip.  While I paid for the hat, Dick’s eye was caught by an interesting necklace, featuring an anchor, some beads, and red enamel.  Very nautical, ideal for a Looper!  Unbeknownst to Dick, it came with matching earrings, and of course one must have those as well to complete the look.

The Bear River in Petoskey

In Chandlers, another “barstro” style restaurant we enjoyed a wonderful lunch, truly great food although noisy surroundings.  So far this trip it does seem as though the more romantic “fine dining” restaurants do not have the outstanding food that these modern bar-restaurants offer.  Somewhat similar in concept to some of the gastro-pubs we often enjoy in UK.

Smoked whitefish tartine at Chandlers
Dick enjoyed a spicy pork fried rice at Chandlers
I chose a caprese salad with grilled shrimp at Chandlers

Back on our bikes to return to Harbor Springs, I decided on a comfort stop on the way out of town.  For the second time, my bike decided to knock me over as I attempted to get my leg high enough to clear the bar between the wheels.  I am very grateful for 1st, my helmet (I felt it bang on the concrete), 2nd, my usual outdoor sun garb, that features long sleeves and limited the scrapes, 3rd, the extremely hard-wearing Duluth clothing that resisted tearing, and 4th the excellent Corning Gorilla Glass on my new smartphone (I felt the bike land on that as it collapsed on top of me).  Passers-by made exclamations and offers of assistance, but Dick is made of sterner stuff, and after helpfully lifting the bike off me, he allowed me time to catch my breath and decide I was not injured before offering a hand so I could get up.  A couple of paracetamol on our return to the boat and apart from a bruise here and there I am fine.

One hopes the sculpture is advertising the remodeling business, not the dentist!

Today is the first laundry day, so Nine Lives is festooned with hangers drying various t-shirts.  It is a very pleasant day to be on the water, and later we will give another fine dining restaurant a try.  Tomorrow we head for Traverse City.  It will be our longest passage so far, 8 hours.  We are being very conscious of the notoriously unreliable weather patterns of Lake Michigan.  Dick has built longer stays in most locations into our plan, so we can easily adjust for conditions without changing the overall length of the trip.  Already we have shortened our stay at Beaver Island, and decided to skip Charlevoix entirely, as there were no good days for wind and waves that would work for us.  We expect to stay in Traverse City for 4 nights.

August 16 to September 9: Gore Bay to Drummond Island

We left Gore Bay on a calm morning.  The water was as smooth as glass, and, unusually, continued so all the way to Meldrum Bay.  We had read about the restaurant at Meldrum Bay Inn, and decided that, with so many Loopers raving about it, we had to try it.  Fortunately, we made a reservation.  It is a difficult dilemma for Loopers.  On the one hand, making, and trying to follow, a schedule, is something of a no-no.  It will tend to lead to poor decisions with respect to weather conditions and sea state.  On the other hand, marinas fill up during high season, as do the nicer restaurants.  Dick and I try to take a middle road.  We have a plan, with rough dates, but the plan is adjusted as we travel, to allow for weather delays and to add some flexibility to destinations.  For holiday weekends, or if there is to be a festival in town, we make marina reservations several weeks in advance, since they can always be cancelled.  Most other marina bookings are made less than a week ahead, and we also make restaurant reservations as soon as we know there is a reasonable chance that we will get there on the day we expect.

This has stood us well this summer, both for the marinas and also for the restaurants.  We felt bad for several boaters who arrived in Meldrum Bay expecting a great dining experience, only to be told that the restaurant was fully booked.  There are no other eating out options, and not much reason to stop there without the restaurant.  Later we were surprised to discover that in fact those boaters could have been accommodated, had we known.  The owner takes bookings for tables, most of which seat 4 to 6 people, and once her tables are booked, she refuses reservations.  I overheard her saying “I let the boaters sort it out among themselves”, in other words, we could easily have asked the people on one of the other boats to join us, had we known, as almost all of the tables had only two people seated.  A strange way to do business.  As it happened, the meal was reasonable but not the exceptional experience we had been led to expect.  A night in one of the anchorages we had chosen to miss would have been more enjoyable.

Yes, because we had a schedule, we skipped some of the highly recommended experiences of Georgian Bay’s North Channel.  Dick’s mother’s 90th birthday party was coming up, so we needed to be in Sault Ste Marie by a specific date in order to pick up a rental car and return to Trenton for the festivities.

Gore Bay early morning 2
The marina at Gore Bay in early morning

Gore Bay early morning
Gore Bay anchorage, water like glass and perfect reflections

Meldrum Bay key lime pie
Key Lime Pie at Meldrum Bay Inn

Meldrum Bay shortcake
Berry shortcake at Meldrum Bay Inn

From Meldrum Bay we were expecting an easy crossing of the North Channel to Blind River.  Sadly, both the wind direction and the wave heights were quite different from what was forecast.  We had a very uncomfortable ride, with the waves broadside, causing a corkscrew motion that was most unpleasant.  We ran fast, and were in by 10:30am, after which I needed to just sit still for a couple of hours in order to feel more like myself!  Blind River has little to offer boaters, as the marina is about a mile from the town, but we were delighted to get a message to say that our friends Brenda and Bruce on B-Side were on their way.  Their upcoming plans required a weather window that was likely to close if they didn’t make some adjustments, giving us an unexpected reunion.

Like much of Georgian Bay’s North Channel, the area was first settled by fur traders, loggers, and miners.  A sawmill was built at the mouth of the river originally known as the Penewobecong.  Europeans named it the Blind River, because the mouth of the river was hard to see along the canoe route of the voyageurs.  The protected estuary with deep water offshore was a good location for a mill at a time when all trade was carried by water. The copper mine at nearby Bruce Mines was a good customer for the logging industry and sawmill, providing timber and planks for the mine.  For 40 years from 1929, the McFadden Lumber Company operated the largest white pine sawmill east of the Rockies.  The mill finally closed in 1969, but a few years earlier, uranium was discovered in the area.  While a local mine was short-lived, a refinery was built nearby in 1983 and still operates, producing uranium trioxide and providing employment for the area. The Trans-Canada Highway runs through the centre of the town.

Blind River early morning
The old burner unit from the sawmill at Blind River

That evening we all decided to ride bicycles into town to the best rated restaurant.  We got our bikes off the boat, and after walking them along the dock we were ready to ride them along the boardwalk towards the road.  As my companions headed out, I prepared to get on my bike when it decided to lean affectionally towards me, rather like a large and friendly dog.  There was a moment where I realized what was in my immediate future, and then I subsided gracefully to the boardwalk, with the bike landing on top.  At this point I was very glad I had decided to carry my bike helmet on my head!  I was also glad the landing surface was wood instead of gravel.  The only damage was to my dignity. And I did subside gracefully, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

We rode to the restaurant and enjoyed such a convivial last evening together that we rather lost track of the time and ended up riding back in the dark.  Fortunately, we were able to take back roads with little traffic, since the bike lights I had purchased had been deemed unnecessary by the man who would have had to take the time to clip them onto the bikes.

Blind River sunset
Sunset at Blind River

Our planned very early start the next morning was somewhat delayed by fog.  After about an hour it cleared, so we set off, only to have it close in again.  For only the second time this season we needed to run with the radar on a split screen with the chart, luckily no other boats were around.  It is a strange and eerie feeling to be out on the water with nothing to be seen around you except your wake!  The fog lifted fairly quickly and we were in Thessalon by 11:15. In the afternoon the wind and waves really kicked up and we were glad to be off the North Channel.  There was one other Looper boat in, Idyll Time, and we enjoyed docktails later that evening aboard Nine Lives.

travelling in fog 3
Travelling in fog means using the radar on a split screen with the chartplotter.

travelling in fog
Looking back, fog all around us

travelling in fog 2
A hole in the fog shows there is blue sky above!

Our passage to Richard’s Landing on August 20th was very pleasant, although the wind picked up later and again, we were glad of our early start.  Richard’s Landing is a tiny but well-kept town with a very popular Italian restaurant on the dock.  It was completely filled outside on the deck and a fair few tables occupied inside even though it was a Monday night.  We enjoyed a wander around the town and spent some time in a very nice shop that featured all kinds of local arts and crafts.  After buying a beautiful new wooden chopping board and a pair of moccasins for Dick, both destined for our home in UK, we felt the need to refresh ourselves with ice cream!  The next morning, we departed for Sault Ste Marie and a two-week break.

North Channel lighthouse 2
A historic lighthouse on Georgian Bay’s North Channel

North Channel 2
The North Channel on our way to Richard’s Landing

North Channel lighthouse
Another historic lighthouse on the North Channel

North Channel
Pretty scenery in the North Channel

Richards Landing
The village of Richard’s Landing built this picturesque lighthouse on their harbour

Richards Landing 2
A gardener in Richard’s Landing with a sense of humour

Mum’s birthday gathering went very well, with all members of the family present including Dick’s sister Judy’s family.  They made the long trek from northern Alberta, camping on the way.  It was wonderful for Mum to be surrounded by all of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren for this momentous birthday!

Dick and I enjoyed the trip very much, returning by road to some of the special locations we had visited earlier by boat.  We stocked up on chocolates in Lakefield, and finally managed to try Cassis Bistro there.  We also returned to Picton to collect our beautiful sculpture and enjoyed a very nice afternoon chatting with Paul Verrall and his wife Donna in their garden.  We picked up our vehicle from Dick’s brother, and returned in convoy by a different route, that took us through the heart of Ontario’s cottage country.  I may say that I enjoyed the Kawarthas, Muskoka, and Haliburton much more from the water than I did driving.  We stopped for a night at the Log Cabin Inn at Parry Sound, having had such a nice meal a few weeks earlier.  Sadly, I think we had the b-team in the kitchen on our second visit.  The meal was acceptable but nothing to write home about.

Nine Lives was waiting for us in Sault Ste Marie, having snoozed for a week.  Other boaters had kept an eye on her, and even adjusted her lines on a rough day without asking, just another example of how helpful and considerate the boating community can be.

Sault Ste Marie marina
The marina at Sault Ste Marie is brand new, but there were very few boaters by the last week of August.

The twin cities of Sault Ste Marie sit across from each other on the St Mary’s River.  The Ojibwe used the location at the bottom of the rapids as a meeting place during whitefish season. The treaty that ended the War of 1812 set the border between United States and what was to become Canada along the river, dividing what had been one city into two. The rapids drop the level of the water from Lake Superior to the lower lakes of Michigan and Huron by 20 feet, so a canal and lock was built in 1798 to solve the problem of having to portage around the rapids.  This first canal was destroyed during the War of 1812, and after the treaty, trade passed through Soo Locks, on the American side of the river.  In 1895 a Canadian canal was built after an unfortunate diplomatic incident between the two countries.  At the time it opened, the Canadian Sault Ste Marie Canal contained the largest lock in the world, and the first to be electrically operated.  This lock was shut down in 1987, and a new, much smaller lock was built within the old lock, completed in 1998.  Today the Canadian lock carries recreational and tour boat traffic, while the much larger commercial ships use the Soo Locks.  The Soo Locks are the world’s busiest canal in terms of tonnage, in spite of being closed each year from January through March.  We watched a number of freighters and tankers pass into the locks from our vantage point in the marina.

Dick spent a summer working at what was then Algoma Steel in Sault Ste Marie when he was a student.  At the time it was a huge and important steel mill, today it is owned by an Indian company, and is a much smaller operation.

Sault Ste Marie bridge
The international bridge connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste Marie

Sault Ste Marie Gliss
Steak and shrimp at Gliss Restaurant in Sault Ste Marie

Sault Ste Marie marina at sunset
Nine Lives in Sault Ste Marie marina at sunset.

The commentary on the Agawa Canyon train told some of the story of the visionary businessman Francis Clergue, who arrived in Sault Ste Marie, backed by a consortium of Philadelphia businessmen, in the early 20th century.  A hydro-electric dam, a paper mill, the steel plant, part of the Algoma Central Railway, and two mines were all part of the interconnected empire he created.  Sadly, like many fast-growing businesses before and since, cash flow was insufficient to fund the growth, and while most of his enterprises continued, some to this day, Clergue was unable to maintain the empire and in 1903 he was forced out.  He left Sault Ste Marie and never lived there again.  The paper mill closed in 2011, and has now been repurposed into a mixed-use cultural and tourism hub.  The Algoma Conservatory of Music occupies one of the restored buildings, while another contains several restaurants and an events venue.  A farmer’s market is also on the site, and a new station for the Agawa Canyon Railway Tour is planned.  We ate in the steak house and also the pizza restaurant, and enjoyed both the food and the ambiance.  It is so nice to see beautiful historic industrial buildings being preserved instead of knocked down.

Sault Ste Marie converted mill
The beautiful converted paper mill in Sault Ste Marie now houses several restaurants and an events venue

pizza at Breakfast Pig
We enjoyed breakfast one morning at The Breakfast Pig, I tried a breakfast pizza, it was delicious!

On August 30th we set off very early for the famous train journey to Agawa Canyon.  The Canyon was not formed by glaciation as one would usually expect in this part of the world.  Instead it is part of an ancient rift valley, created through faulting 1.2 billion years ago. This trip is 8 hours of travel for a 90-minute stop.  It was nice enough, but not worth it.  I believe that 15 or 20 years ago it was a very different experience.  We could see that the brush and small trees have been allowed to grow up all alongside the tracks, so that the scenery is almost entirely a green tunnel punctuated with very quick glimpses of the views that would be marvellous if you could actually see them.  The trip is likely nicer once the fall colours develop, but even that will not change the complete lack of the views of the rivers, lakes, and Lake Superior that we had looked forward to.

Agawa Canyon train depot
At the depot on board the Agawa Canyon train

Agawa Canyon train 2
A glimpse of one of the lakes as we ride the train towards Agawa Canyon

Agawa Canyon train
The best moment on the train, as we passed over a trestle and could see the power plant far below

Agawa Canyon park 3
Agawa Canyon park

Agawa Canyon park 4
The train and Agawa Canyon park

Agawa Canyon river 2
Agawa Canyon River

Agawa Canyon river
Agawa Canyon River

Agawa Canyon from viewpoint
Dick climbed the 372 steps to the Canyon Overlook

Agawa Canyon park root cellar
A root cellar in Agawa Canyon. We have no idea who or what it was for.

Agawa Canyon waterfall 2
One of the two waterfalls you can visit in Agawa Canyon

Agawa Canyon park
The train waits to begin the 4 hour return journey to Sault Ste Marie

A few days later we went for a drive along the route taken by the train.  We had hoped to see the railway trestles from the land, as well as the dam and possibly some of the fall colours, but we were frustrated in those goals.  However, it was an enjoyable drive and we did get to see some of Lake Superior and the very pretty Chippewa Falls.  The Falls demonstrate some of the fascinating layers of geology that we were told about on the train.  We could see ancient rocks smoothed by glaciers, and darker areas that were laid down by lava flows.

Chippewa Falls 4
Chippewa Falls. Notice all the different kinds of rock.

Chippewa Falls 3
Clear water and a hint of autumn at Chippewa Falls

Chippewa Falls
Another view of Chippewa Falls, popular with fishermen.

wildflowers by the roadside
Wildflowers by the roadside

SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an America Great Lakes freighter that sank in a storm in November 1975 with the loss of all aboard.  When launched in 1958, she was the largest ship on the Great Lakes, and is still the largest ever sunk there.  Although the story was later immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” the following year, I can definitely remember listening to the radio as the tragedy and the search for the missing freighter unfolded.  The sinking led to improvements in Great Lakes shipping regulations and various safety practices.  As we looked out into Alona Bay at the deep blue waters and endless horizon of Lake Superior it was not hard to imagine very different conditions in November.  We have experienced changing forecasts, and conditions that are not as expected, often enough on our own voyages to be able to understand how it is possible to run into problems.  Whether it is the ocean, lakes, or even rivers, it is important to respect the dangers and remember that boating is nothing like driving on roads.

Alona Bay viewpoint
This was the view from the scenic outlook at Alona Bay. Why they build a pullout on the highway and don’t cut down the brush so one can actually see something, I do not know.

Lake Superior
A better view of Lake Superior from further down the highway

The Trans-Canada Highway began construction in 1950, intended to provide an unbroken transcontinental route across Canada.  In several places along the route there is more than one designated route, and the numbering is not consistent from province to province.  However, the entire length and all the variations carry a white on green maple leaf route marker.  The highway officially opened in 1962, and was completed in 1971.  At Chippewa Falls we read about “The Gap”, a 56-mile portion of the highway that was considered one of the most difficult parts to construct due to topography and the hardness of the granite.  Construction was stopped until 4 men from Wawa walked the route through the bush to Sault Ste Marie and met with officials to demonstrate the desperate need for the highway for the residents of Wawa.  This area is considered the half way point of the transcontinental highway.  Dick and I found the story interesting, having driven nearly all of the highway, including most of the variations, over the years.  One day we will have to complete the piece in Newfoundland and the last part of Quebec that we have not visited.

We enjoyed great docktails aboard Nine Lives one evening with other boaters, not Loopers this time.  One couple are Sault Ste Marie locals.  He is a commercial diver and instructor, and owns a restored tug as well as a large trawler.  They seem to divide their time between his work and a farm, and live partly aboard the boat as well.  The other couple are from Ohio, he is a firefighter.

September 3rd was very rainy and windy.  Dick visited both the Bush Plane Museum and the historic lock while I made a set of prints of the birthday gathering for Mum.  We were also watching the progress of Hurricane Dorian as it threatened the east coast and Hilton Head. After a few days of increasing concern, I am glad to be able to say that our area was essentially unaffected, apart from the inconvenience of the mandatory evacuation.

Arturos red snapper
Dick enjoyed red snapper with pumpkin ravioli at Arturo’s in Sault Ste Marie

Arturos shrimp pasta
Excellent shrimp pasta at Arturo’s

Eventually it was time to leave Sault Ste Marie and continue the last week of our summer voyaging.  Our first stop was the very picturesque town of Bruce Mines.  The mines here were known to the First Nations, and early explorers arrived in search of the copper.  The first copper mine was opened in 1846, and was worked by miners who emigrated from Cornwall. The mine managers would not allow any stores to open in the town, instead settlers were forced to buy everything from the company store.  The enterprising Marks brothers from Hilton Beach would load fresh produce and various goods onto a barge that they would anchor off the town because they were not allowed to dock.  The townsfolk would row and paddle out to the barge to shop.  The copper was worked for about 100 years before it played out. Today the mine is a quarry for an exceptionally hard rock that is used for road building.  The town is a few miles west of the quarry, and I was surprised at how pretty it is.  It is also right on the Trans Canada Highway, and boasts several restaurants of previously excellent reputation.  Dick was particularly looking forward to the Bavarian Restaurant.  Sadly, the restaurant has been sold.  The current reviews of both that and the other local eatery were so bad that we decided to eat on board.

Bruce Mines
The pretty village of Bruce Mines

 

leaving Bruce Mines
Calm seas as we leave Bruce Mines

Our last night out was at an anchorage in Milford Haven, a long narrow inlet, still in Canadian waters.  We anchored near a picturesque abandoned boathouse.  We were surprised to be completely alone in such a pretty spot, usually we would have expected a few sailboats and possibly some Loopers to join us.  It just shows how much the weather has changed since the middle of August.  We are seeing far fewer days of fine weather, and the nights are now considerably colder.  I imagine most boaters that are still out prefer to stop in marinas with power, rather than anchoring out.

Milford Haven anchorage
We anchored near a deserted boathouse in Milford Haven

We arrived in Drummond Island Yacht Haven just before noon, followed by several other Loopers.  We were invited for docktails on board Vitamin Sea, together with the crew of Misty.  It turns out that we had met both couples before, last year at Rendezvous in Norfolk and then Misty again on the Hudson.  They are all great storytellers with an excellent sense of humour.  Afterwards we went to a local Tex-Mex restaurant for an outstanding meal.  It is fortunate we have our vehicle here, because the town is several miles from the marina.

Drummond Island Yacht Haven
Drummond Island Yacht Haven

Drummond Island sits between the Georgian Bay’s North Channel and the open waters of Lake Huron.  It is the seventh largest lake island in the world.  The Canada United States border runs north and east of the island, so it was our port of entry for our return to USA.  It used to be necessary to meet in person with a US Customs and Immigration officer, but these days technology has improved things, at least for boaters.  Dick has an app on his phone that he uses to notify Border Protection of our entry.  An officer may ask to have a short video conversation, and will then approve our entry.  A few minutes later a number is emailed, that we enter into our online profile details and that’s that!  We did learn last year from other Loopers that answering all questions accurately is important.  For instance, when asked if you have any fruit and vegetables on board, the correct answer is yes.  If you lie and say no, they will know you are lying, because boaters of course have food on board!  When asked, you simply tell them you have “ship’s stores”.  As commented by a fellow boater the other day, Loopers, who tend to be retirement age, and travel at 7 knots on trawlers do not exactly fit the profile of drug dealers and smugglers.

Drummond Island stormy weather
Stormy weather approaches Drummond Island

Drummond Island is connected to the mainland by a ferry that runs all year round.  There are around 1000 permanent residents.  There is a small air strip, and a primary school, but most children are bused to school on the mainland via the ferry.  The island is a year-round tourist destination for those who enjoy outdoor pursuits, boasting miles of trails for off-roading, more than 13 unique ecosystems, water trail systems for paddling, access to both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan for boaters, and excellent birdwatching.  Dick and I caught sight of sand hill cranes as we drove to dinner one evening.  The underlying rock is dolomite, used in several industries including glass, paper making, agriculture, and even medicine, but the main use is for steel manufacture.  The Drummond Island Quarry, now owned by Carmeuse, ships out nearly a million and a half tons of dolomite each year.  The quarry is located inland, and we could just see a road specifically created to support 75-ton capacity haul trucks that bring the quarried rock to the processing plant on the shore.

Drummond Island Potatoes
Crispy potatoes with bacon, cheddar, and green onions was a specialty at the Drummond Island restaurant

The Yacht Haven where Nine Lives will stay for the winter, has a number of huge buildings, one of which is heated.  This means that we can leave much of the food (pantry items), clothing, bedding, etc on board.  We also do not have to put chemicals into the fresh water and blackwater tanks as we would if we had to winterize the boat.  There is quite a bit of work done even so.  We take home flour, since it does not last well, also anything that needs refrigeration of course.  I like to take large laundry items like bath mats and some of the bedding home, so it can be washed (and ironed) in my big machines at home.  Dick took samples of the oil from the engines, which are sent away for analysis.  The report will tell him whether there are any problems with the engines, and also whether he needs to change the oil when we return in June for next year’s voyaging.  We like to take the carpets home for steam cleaning.  A final cleaning of bathrooms, the salon, and galley gets the boat ready for a winter rest, although of course another cleaning will be needed when we return.  Dick gets together the various spares and parts that he will ask the boatyard to install, and also spends a lot of time making lists of needed maintenance and replacements.  Boating is not an inexpensive lifestyle!  This winter we will need a new air conditioning unit to replace the useless forward unit, a replacement side by side fridge freezer, and a new water pump.

On Monday morning the head tech from the boatyard came on board to go over the to-do list with Dick and see where everything was located.  At last Nine Lives was ready for haul out.  We have not seen her hauled out since the survey when we bought her in 2016, so we made a point of staying to see it.  The boat is driven into a narrow channel, and is positioned above two large slings under the travel lift.  Slowly, the boat is lifted in the slings, and then the travel lift drives away from the slip and conveys the boat to its destination on land.  The heated shed was not quite ready for Nine Lives, because boats are located in the shed in reverse order to when they are expected to leave.  Instead she was positioned on blocks of wood so the travel lift could be unhooked and driven away.

haulout positioning
Positioning Nine Lives on the slings of the travel lift

haulout lifting
Nine Lives is lifted out of the water

haulout leaving the slip
The travel lift leaves the slip

haulout driving away
Nine Lives is taken down the road to the boat sheds

The first thing we wanted to check was the status of the sponsons, the extra flotation that is unique to Nine Lives, and that had the hole in it last year.  To our surprise and dismay, we could see that in spite of having taken considerable extra care this year, the starboard side sponson was cracked, and so was the one on the port side.  Dick had arranged for plugs to be installed last spring, and as soon as they were opened gallons of water gushed out from both sides!  So not only was the extra flotation not doing its job, we were hauling around all that extra weight of water!  This impairs fuel efficiency, and also creates an imbalance on the boat.  Water puddles in the showers and the kitchen sink, and the ice maker gets iced up as the automatic refill spills out of the back of the tray and onto the bottom of the unit. Dick will be getting in touch with the boat builder to find out exactly where the extra flotation part begins and ends, and of course the Drummond Island boat yard will need to make repairs.  We will have to look into some different fenders to try to protect this vulnerable part of the boat in future.  Apart from that, Nine Lives is in good condition, props and rudders looking good.

Nine Lives tunnel
Placing blocks of wood for Nine Lives to rest on above the concrete.

Nine Lives oops
Oops! Water pours out of the sponsons once the plug is removed.

We were able to stay overnight in cabins associated with the Yacht Haven.  They were rustic, but well equipped and absolutely spotless.  There was a lovely view over the bay and beautiful sunsets.  The only inconvenience was a dearth of power points, including in the bedrooms.  In fact, one of the bedrooms had a very nice bedside lamp, but the cord was left lying on the bed because there was absolutely no place to plug it in!

Drummond Island meat pie dinner
A last dinner cooked on board, shepherd’s pie with vegetables and garlic cheese bread to accompany.

The next morning, we finished packing up the car and said goodbye to Drummond Island until next summer.  It has been a wonderful voyage this year.  The weather could not have been better, not too hot, and very little rain.  The rain we did get was mostly at night.  We seldom needed the air conditioning, and when we did, the aft unit was sufficient.  This was fortunate, since the forward unit is not working and is scheduled for replacement this winter!  We had few weather delays, only one major (more than a day), and there were also few days when the forecast for wind and waves was not as expected.  We met many Loopers this year, because we were travelling at the same time as most of the “pack”.  Lots of enjoyable docktails and dockside chats.

This will be the final blog update for 2019.  Look for Nine Lives again some time in June, 2020.

August 1 to 15, 2019 – Henry’s Fish Camp to Gore Bay

Henry’s Fish Restaurant, on Frying Pan Island, is considered a must stop on the Great Loop.  We knew it would get crowded, so we set off in good time and arrived around 11am.  It was quite something watching all the arrivals, including seaplanes, a large charter group, and pleasure boats as large as 50 feet and as small as wave runners.  Arrivals were wrangled by the new owner’s father acting as dockmaster, and wrangled is the right word.  Only the larger pleasure boats call on the radio and ask for dock assignments, the smaller boats just zoom in and park wherever they please, regardless of whether they are blocking other boats.  The docks are long fingers, designed to hold several boats one behind the other, so it matters who ties up where! Henry’s is on an island, and typically serves about 350 meals on a weekday, and over 700 every day on weekends.  Lunch is busier than dinner.

Henrys 3
The busy dock at Henry’s, before the lunch rush begins

We met a few Loopers who stopped for a meal and then anchored elsewhere.  Carefully timing our dinner for a less busy period, we enjoyed our fish, although portions were huge and we certainly didn’t need the appetizers!  Something strange is going on with the reviews.  The owners took over the restaurant last year, and locals have been trashing the place on both Trip Advisor and Active Captain, and even spreading unfounded rumours at nearby marinas.  We enjoyed our visit very much, and felt bad for the owners, who are certainly putting great efforts into making it a great experience.

Henrys fish chowder
Dick enjoyed fish chowder to start

Henrys smoked fish
A large portion of smoked salmon with cream cheese was too much with what was to come!

Henrys fish and chips
Fish and Chips at Henry’s, battered pickerel, chips, coleslaw, and baked beans!

Henrys dock
After dinner at Henry’s you can sit on the dock and watch the world go by

 

Leaving Henry’s, we had a pretty trip to Parry Sound.  Georgian Bay was unusually calm, so we chose to avoid the white-knuckle channels and go around outside.  In Parry Sound there were 8 Looper boats in the first evening, and a get-together for docktails on the shore.  Among the stories exchanged was an experience with Canada Customs.  The wife happened to have some CBD oil on board, which she declared when asked.  They were immediately told to stay on the boat and wait for an inspection.  Said CBD oil was confiscated.  What made everyone laugh, was the helpful Customs inspector told the lady she could buy a replacement at a shop less than half a block from where they were tied up!  The chuckles were not over, we next heard that upon arriving in the store, the husband noticed pre-rolled joints for sale.  Suddenly feeling nostalgic for his student days, he decided to buy one.  Returning to the boat, he smoked a little of it, concluded that the experience was not quite the same as his memories, and tried to put it out.  He had us all laughing as he described trying to get this thing to go out, without success.  A great storyteller!  He concluded “they don’t make ‘em like they used to!”

Parry Sound marina
Stormy skies over Parry Sound Marina

Parry Sound sunset
The sun sets behind one of Georgian Bay’s distinctive tall pines on Parry Sound.

While in Parry Sound we booked a meal at Log Cabin Fine Dining.  Dick discovered that Trip Advisor had the location wrong, instead of a .8-mile bike ride it was 4 miles away.  For only the second time in our Looping travels we had to call a taxi.  We were joined by our friends Brenda and Bruce from B-Side, and the meal was worth the taxi and then some.  In fact, we are booked to stay there when we travel south later in the month to attend Mum’s birthday party.  The next day was occupied with general maintenance, Dick changed the oil on the generator and replaced a burned-out fan, while I did the laundry.

Log Cabin elk carpaccio
Elk carpaccio at Log Cabin Inn

Parry Sound waterfront 2
The trestle bridge that crosses the river in Parry Sound is the longest east of the Rockies. Built in 1907, it is 1695 feet long and 105 feet high. It is still in regular use. A tall ship can be seen leaving the docks.

Parry Sound tall ship
Another look at the tall ship leaving Parry Sound. It left the docks entirely under sail, no engine.

Monday was a holiday, so we continued our stay in Parry Sound. Boat cleaning day, inside and out, and then Dick did a provision run on his bike while I scrubbed the white ball fenders of all the grunge that had accumulated in the locks.  The barrel fenders got their covers back on (we take them off for locks, because we find the knit fabric hangs up on the rough lock walls), and Nine Lives again looks shipshape!  In the afternoon we took a seaplane tour of the 30,000 islands.  It was an interesting experience seeing where we had been from the air, including flying over Henry’s, but we both agreed that the very limited sight lines of a Cessna compared to a helicopter make it not really worth the trip.  I have never been in a seaplane before though, so it was a new experience.

Parry Sound refuelling seaplane
Refuelling our seaplane before we got on board.

Georgian Bay from the air 1
Georgian Bay from the air. Note the boats rafted up in one of the many anchorages.

Georgian Bay from the air 2
You can see all the small islands of Georgian Bay

Georgian Bay from the air 3
Some of the protected bays and inlets of the 30,000 Islands

Georgian Bay from the air 4
From the air you can see how clear the water is, and how many rocks lie just below to catch the unwary boater!

Georgian Bay from the air 5
Many of the islands have large homes on them, often built and maintained at great cost and only visited for two or three weeks a year.

Georgian Bay from the air 6
A last look at 30,000 Islands!

I have been musing over boat names lately.  It is interesting to speculate on why someone names their boat as they do.  Some are clever, such as our friends Brenda and Bruce on their catamaran B-Side (you gotta be old enough to remember 45rpm records).  Last year we met Loopers whose boat was Fun.  When calling marinas or bridges, they of course follow protocol, repeating the boat name 3 times.  They told us half the people who hear something like “Lock 23, Lock 23, Lock 23, this is Fun Fun Fun” have trouble responding they are laughing so hard.  (Not to mention hearing The Beach Boys in their heads for the rest of the day). Apres Sail ensures that everyone knows there are former sailors on board, and of course Nine Lives is named because she is a CATamaran.  Red Boat is a beautifully kept sailboat with a bright red hull and matching dinghy.  Some names clearly have meaning to their owners, but are not so obvious to the observer.  A boat called French Toast?  Sailboats are often evocative, North Star, Windrunner, Orion.  But I could not believe the one I saw at Henry’s.  This was a large, sleek, fast motor yacht, about 45 feet, (the kind that throws us around as they speed past us, throwing wakes that rock our boat madly from side to side), with a middle-aged couple on board.  The name?  Grand Wazoo.  Now I realize there is a recording by Frank Zappa by that name (quite nasty lyrics), but I cannot imagine the owner has actually looked up the meaning of Wazoo.  And what’s more, he is boasting that he is a really big one!  (my gentle readers are going to have to look this up for themselves).

Hole in the Wall
We ventured through the narrow channel known as Hole in the Wall as we left Parry Sound.

On August 6 we were again underway, this time hoping to tie up at what was called a “Government Dock” in Point au Baril Station.  After traveling a long way up the channel, we arrived in what looked like an interesting village to find no evidence of the so-called government dock, and a clear sign on the public dock saying that boats longer than 30 feet are strictly forbidden from docking.  Retracing our steps part way, we found a very pleasant anchorage in Kitsilano Bay for the night.

Kitsilano Bay anchorage
Our anchorage in pretty Kitsilano Bay in early morning.

Heading out the next morning we passed one of the iconic lighthouses of Georgian Bay.  In fact, almost all of the Canadian lighthouses I have seen follow a similar design.  Instead of the tall round tower that is more familiar in the USA or Britain, Canadian lighthouses are often a fairly short clapboard structure that tapers to the light.  They are painted white, with distinctive red trim.  Many are still in use, although most are unmanned.

Pointe au Baril Lighthouse 3
Pointe au Baril Lighthouse

Pointe au Baril Lighthouse
A closer look at Pointe au Baril Lighthouse

The next day our destination was Britt, up Byng Inlet.  We planned to stay just one night, but high winds in the Bay kept us there for 5 nights.  Not really complaining, it was only our second weather delay of this year’s voyage, compared to how much time we were stormbound in previous years.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much to Britt.  We rode our bikes into “town” to visit the post office, and ate a meal at the only restaurant on the way back.  We got together with other Loopers the first evening for docktails.  A few boats left the next morning, but we didn’t like the forecast.  Instead we spent a most enjoyable afternoon playing bridge with Brenda and Bruce and listened to the wind howling around us.  Saturday morning one of the remaining Loopers left at 7am, but were back an hour later reporting 4-foot waves (instead of the 1.5 foot that were predicted) and double-digit winds.  We had been just about to start our engines, but we shut everything down and made another afternoon bridge date.  Finally, Sunday with a 6:30am start we were able to say goodbye to Byng Inlet.  We are too large for the so-called small craft channel, especially on windy days, so we ran outside at our top speed of 18 knots.  It was unpleasant at first, but gradually the waves settled down.  We were glad we had taken the picture off the salon wall and generally prepared for rough seas.  We had forgotten that when it is very rough the water actually splashes up into the bathroom sinks.  Dick thinks this is an excellent way of clearing the U-trap of any accumulated crud.

We turned off Georgian Bay into Beaverstone Inlet and then made our way along Collins Inlet.  This was one of the most scenic routes we have seen.  It was a geology lesson in miniature, more rugged than further south, but stunning.

Collins Inlet 2
High water has killed many small trees at the water’s edge in Ontario this year

Collins Inlet 3
Spectacular scenery of Collins Inlet

Collins Inlet 4
Collins Inlet

Collins Inlet 6
A sailboat leaves the narrowest part of Collins Inlet.

Collins Inlet 7
Collins Inlet

Collins Inlet 8
A geology lesson from the waters of Collins Inlet

Collins Inlet 9
Approaching one of the narrow channels of Collins Inlet

Collins Inlet 10
When the channel is this narrow, it is important to “colour between the lines!”

In Killarney we tied up at Killarney Mountain Lodge.  The marina has good docks but inconvenient showers and unusable wi-fi.  Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable stop and I always like watching the boat traffic.  Docks there are long, requiring boats to be moored two-deep.  We arrived and were trying to tie up behind another boat, with a very strong current pushing us off the dock and dockhands who were very young, confused, and incapable of taking instructions.  The owner of the large boat in front of us was also trying to explain to us that he would be leaving in the morning and we should tie up elsewhere.  Apparently the Dockmaster had left for the day, and the young lady in charge was clearly inexperienced.  Announcing ourselves before arrival as a 44-foot catamaran with a 19-foot beam was apparently unclear to her.  Eventually we were moved to a more suitable slip.  Meanwhile, the other captain proved to be a very friendly and chatty individual.  He entertained us with his story of the morning before.  He had bought a muffin at the small kiosk on the shore, and was eating it when he noticed a small dinghy coming into the dock.  Helpful chap that he is, he stepped up and took the line and was just starting to tie it up when the Labrador on board lunged forward, snatched the rest of the muffin out of his hand and wolfed it down!  Apparently, the dog’s owner was desperately embarrassed and insisted on replacing the muffin.

Killarney Mountain Lodge
View of the Lodge from the docks

Killarney Mountain Lodge 2
Killarney Mountain Lodge

We ate at the nearby Sportsman Inn that evening.  Nice aspect overlooking another marina in the channel, food very tasty but rather overcooked.  The next morning Dick prepared one of his special breakfasts on board.  Later, I began working on the blog and became aware that someone else obviously likes Scottish music.  The music got louder, and I looked up to see the tall ship Madeline moving majestically down the channel with a piper on the foredeck!

Killarney Sportsman Inn 2
Fish supper at Sportsman Inn, tasty, but sadly overcooked.

Killarney is a small village about 25 miles from the mining city of Sudbury.  It relies mainly on tourism, including fishing camps, boating, and general wilderness pursuits.  It was first settled in 1820 by a French Canadian fur trader and his Anishinaabe wife, who established a trading post.  Road access to the small community did not arrive until 1962.  The town population is less than 500, but between the 4 marinas and two large hotels, it is bustling in the short summer season.

Killarney breakfast 1
Dick begins to prepare breakfast on board

Killarney breakfast 2
It’s ready, dishing it out!

Killarney breakfast 3
English bacon, two eggs (lots of pepper), mushrooms, hash browns and toast, yummy!

Killarney tall ship 2
Tall ship Madeline cruising through Killarney Channel. A piper plays bagpipes on the foredeck.

Killarney tall ship
Another look at Madeline

Killarney channel tugboat
A beautifully restored tugboat passing through Killarney Channel.

Killarney workboat
One of the large fishing vessels we have been seeing on Georgian Bay

We were delighted to see Brenda and Bruce arrive on B-Side the next day.  We keep saying goodbye and then find ourselves once again in the same place.  One of the great joys of Looping!  We relaxed in the shade on the very comfortable chairs and then repaired to Nine Lives foredeck for docktails.

Killarney Mountain Lodge docks
That’s B-Side on the left. Nine lives is behind on the right hand dock.

Dinner that evening at the Lodge was excellent, such a contrast to the experience at Sportsman Inn, even though they are under the same ownership.  Afterwards we went to the lounge to listen to the live entertainment.  This was a young man, who brought with him at least 10 instruments.  His music was a mix of Celtic and Canadian folk, with a few light rock thrown in for variety.  He was a very talented player.  What made his performance absolutely fascinating was a machine he called a “looper”.  He would begin playing an instrument, and the looper recorded it.  He would then play back the recording and accompany/harmonize, laying a new recording over the first.  It was quite an amazing presentation, especially when he would switch instruments to add to the mix.  He sang one song a capella, using two mikes, and gradually building up the chorus while singing the verses with the single voice.  A most enjoyable evening!

Killarney Lodge crab cakes
Crab Cakes at Killarney Mountain Lodge

Killarney Lodge venison
The special was venison en croute, Dick said it was delicious!

Killarney entertainment
Evening entertainment at Killarney Mountain Lodge

Killarney channel 2
The well stocked general store in Killarney, you can drive up by car, or by boat!

Killarney channel
Passing the Sportsman Inn as we leave Killarney

The next morning, we set off for Little Current on Manitoulin Island.  One must pass under a bridge, formerly a railroad bridge, now converted to a single lane highway bridge.  It opens only on the hour, but normally we would easily pass under its 20-foot height when closed.  We still approached very carefully, knowing that this year’s high water is at least 5 feet above chart datum, and were preparing to ease under when the bridge tender kindly stepped out of his hut and called down that the bridge height is 13 feet.  That would be 1.5 feet lower than we can duck under, so Dick had to reverse and wait for the opening, fortunately only 10 minutes later.  Not an easy job, the current under the bridge in Little Current is not so little!

lighthouse near Little Current
Lighthouse on the point as we approach Little Current

Little Current bridge
Once a railway bridge, now a single lane highway bridge at Little Current. It opens only on the hour to allow boaters to pass.

Little Current was first settled in the late 1860’s, and is the main town on Manitoulin Island.  An important port for Great Lakes shipping taking on wood for fuel in the 19th century, today lumber is still an important part of the economy, along with agriculture and tourism.  It is a well-kept village, with an outstanding municipal waterfront facility.  The town wall is available for short term docking, and several floating docks make up the marina.  Dick reports that the washroom/shower facilities are excellent, and well-spaced for access from all part of the marina.  This should be obvious, but believe me, in so many places it isn’t.  We were docked right beside the boardwalk.  It is always enjoyable to watch people and boats coming and going and chat with passers-by.

Little Current
Little Current

Our next stop was Gore Bay, a deep V-shaped bay on the north side of Manitoulin.  Docks at the marina are so long that the dockhands ride bicycles to get to the slip and help tie up.  It is interesting how different people have different perspectives and reactions to the places we visit on the Loop.  One Gold Looper we met waxed lyrical about Georgian Bay’s North Channel, telling us it is the most beautiful place he has ever cruised.  In addition to completing the Great Loop, his usual cruising ground is the San Juan Islands off the west coast, and he spent last summer in Alaskan waters.  To be honest, once we left Killarney and entered the North Channel, Dick and I are still waiting to see this amazing scenery he was talking about!  So far it is attractive, but by no means the most beautiful we have seen since beginning the Great Loop!  Another couple who cruise these waters most summers, when asked for recommendations by Dick, suggested spending two nights in Gore Bay.  Once again, we are wondering why!

The next afternoon we rode our bikes the 3 kilometers to Janet Head Lighthouse, at the top of Gore Bay.  The lighthouse is in private ownership, but it is open to visitors during summer months.  Janet Head Lighthouse was built in 1879.  The light, still operational, although now unmanned, can be seen for 11 miles into the North Channel.  The building was built as a combination light station and home for the keeper and his family.  The first keeper had 11 children.  We wandered around inside, and found it surprisingly spacious, with 4 reasonable bedrooms, parlour, kitchen, and another front room.  We could see that there is also a cellar, which would have been used as a cool room.  During summer months the lighthouse was a warning beacon for Great Lakes shipping.  In winter months it also directed sleighs carrying the mail along an ice highway from Gore Bay to Spanish between 1910 and 1924.  This 35 kilometer route is still followed by snowmobiles in winter.

Janet Head Lighthouse 1
Afternoon bike ride to Janet Head Lighthouse on Gore Bay

Janet Head Lighthouse
Janet Head Lighthouse

After visiting the lighthouse, we retraced our route and followed the bay around to its southern end.  There is an important wetland and salmon run, and a boardwalk with interpretive signs offers visitors a chance to enjoy nature.  We finished the day with excellent pizza at the restaurant near the marina.

Gore Bay
Gore Bay from the southern tip

Gore Bay wetlands
Wetlands at the southern end of Gore Bay

This update will likely be the last for a few weeks.  Upon arrival next week in Sault Ste Marie, we will be taking 10 days to return to Brighton for Dick’s mother’s 90th birthday party.  Returning to the boat, we will visit Sault Ste Marie and then make our way to Drummond Island, where Nine Lives will enjoy a well-earned rest for the winter.

July 1 to 15, 2019 – Bath to Peterborough

A relatively short hop on a calm day took us from Kingston to Bath, Ontario, a historic community settled in 1784 by United Empire Loyalists. A sheltered harbour and road access to the important town of Kingston helped the town to become prosperous.  United Empire Loyalists moved north to British North America during and after the American Revolution.  Many settled in what are now the Maritime provinces and Quebec, but some started new towns in Upper Canada, that eventually became the province of Ontario.  The Crown gave the Loyalists land grants of 200 acres, to encourage settlement, and this began the first major influx of English-speaking immigrants to Canada. Not all stayed, many returned to the new United States, and others retained close ties, including commercial interests, with those they left behind.  Initially a bustling lakefront manufacturing centre, Bath began to lose importance as it was bypassed by important rail and road connections, until in 1998 it was disincorporated and added to Loyalist Township.  Today it is a sleepy village with some surprising subdivisions of prosperous looking middle class homes, presumably occupied by commuters to Kingston and retirees seeking a relatively quiet waterfront community.  We arrived on Canada Day, the July 1st celebration of Canada’s birthday.  The town puts on an outstanding fireworks display, which we enjoyed from the cockpit of the boat, only slightly obscured by an inconvenient tree.  We later learned that Bath’s display is well known, and considered far better than the one put on by the much larger town of Kingston.

The marina we stayed in had a boatyard, so Dick asked them to see if they could solve the problem with the dinghy motor failing to start.  I unfortunately missed the photo opportunity as Dick launched it and paddled it away to be hauled out.  The technician spent quite some time, but ultimately failed to diagnose the problem.  He did, however, suggest a work-around until Dick can find a Yamaha specialist.  This low-tech solution involves taking the cowling off the motor and stuffing a rag into the air intake.  A certain finesse is required to get the right moment to pull the rag out and replace the cowling while still keeping the motor running.  All this to be accomplished without falling out of the admittedly somewhat tippy craft, and preferably before untying the painter (that’s the rope that secures the boat to a dock or mooring) and risking an unplanned voyage!  Dick was surprised when it came time to settle the bill, as the technician felt badly that he could not solve the problem and charged for only one hour, even though he worked on it for several.  Excellent customer service.

The next evening was the main event for our stay in Bath, a reservation at a farm-to-table restaurant in nearby Portsmouth.  Dick had wanted to try it last year, but had decided it was too far from Kingston to ride bikes.  So of course, this year we stayed even further away and had to take a taxi.  It was an outstanding meal, the chef very involved with taking orders and serving.  He seemed to particularly enjoy chatting with Dick about boating and the Great Loop, and even offered to drive us back to the marina!  Dick may have ever so slightly regretted his gracious refusal when he paid for the taxi.  To add insult to the injury to his wallet, his phone slipped off his belt and was left in the cab.  A phone call the next morning was successful, the phone was found and they agreed to hold it for us at the depot for collection on the weekend.

Portsmouth appetizer
Beautiful presentation of a cheddar tart with tomatoes, shallots and arugula at Bayview Farm Restaurant in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth fish
Dick enjoyed a main course of Arctic Char

Portsmouth dessert
The dessert special was a maple cheesecake. Irresistible! And note the reasonable portion size.

Onward to Picton, a charming and artsy town in Prince Edward County.  The art and sculpture offered in the galleries is to a high standard, and the town is very tidy and prosperous looking.  Many of the historic buildings have been sympathetically repurposed, and there are interesting boutiques and restaurants.  On our first evening we found an outstanding fine dining restaurant in a gorgeous old house.  We had a wonderful meal, and hope to return at some point.

Picton restaurant
Merrill House in Picton

Picton vegetarian
I chose vegetarian, a delicious concoction of asparagus and chevre with quails eggs.

Picton dessert
Dessert was as glorious as the rest of the meal.

Prince Edward County is a beautiful peninsula, essentially an island, jutting out into Lake Ontario.  In early years Picton was a schooner port, manufacturing and distribution centre, first settled in the late 1700’s by Loyalists. Today the County is known as region producing good wines, as well as being a mecca for tourism and the arts.

Picton 4
Picton’s town centre

The next day we walked to the studio of a fantastic sculptor.  Paul Verrall retired from a successful career in Graphic Art and Design in Montreal, and returned to his first love, sculpture.  He carves wonderfully tactile pieces inspired mainly by Canadian wildlife, using the softer stones such as Soapstone, Serpentine, Alabaster, Cola and African Wonderstone (pyrophyllite).  We were truly blown away by his work, and spend quite a long time chatting with him and his wife.  For some reason Dick failed to correctly interpret my increasingly broad hints and eye movements, and we briefly left the studio empty handed.  However, it took zero negotiation before I rushed back to discuss and arrange to buy the piece we had both agreed was the one we could not resist.  A polar bear stands on the ice, with seals swimming below.  Like many of Paul’s works, it can be lit from behind or below to give an entirely different impression of the piece as the light creates a soft glow through the stone.

sculpture
Paul Verrall’s beautiful sculpture of a polar bear and seals under the ice floe.

Later that afternoon we were delighted to entertain Paul and his charming wife Donna on board Nine Lives for docktails and nibbles.  We are looking forward to renewing acquaintance when we return in August to collect our piece.

Picton 5
This year’s high water has had an impact on the marina, with some docks and even the new landscaping under water. But the ducks like it!

As we left Picton we passed a huge cement plant and quarry.  It is quite an eyesore, visible from miles around from the water, and of course from the opposite shore. Cement has been used since the times of the Greeks and the Romans, and the world uses a lot of it. The total world production of cement in 2010 was 3,300 million tonnes (according to Wikipedia), and use continues to rise.  It just seems rather sad that quarries and manufacturing plants seem to be located in some of the country’s great beauty spots.

Picton cement plant
The cement plant outside Picton

Picton quarry
Next to the cement plant is an enormous quarry

We arrived in familiar Trent Port Marina, happy to be located slightly closer to the showers this year.  This is the town where Dick was born, and his Mom lives nearby in Brighton.  We had hoped to dock in Brighton this year, but the high water has put so many docks under water that the only marina that would have been suitable is not available.  Trenton is a convenient place, with an Enterprise car rental within walking distance and plenty of shops and restaurants.  The first evening we took Mom to dinner at one of the Brighton restaurants that overlooks the waterfront.  We returned to Trent Port to hear the sounds of celtic music floating over the marina.  It was coming from a fellow Looper and Endeavourcat, Aisling Gheal (Bright Vision).  Jeff and Barbie play banjo and flute in their cockpit in the evenings, a delightful sound for the rest of us to enjoy!

Trent Port 2
I watched with interest as a large crane lowered a sailboat into the water in Trenton.

The next day we took the rented car to Brewerton (stopping on the way to collect Dick’s errant phone), and collected our vehicle that had been left in storage at the boat yard.  We drove back in convoy, and then left the Range Rover in Mom’s unused parking space at her apartment for collection when we return next month for her birthday party.  While in Trenton we also shopped at the Dutch delicatessen, picking up yet more goodies for docktail offerings.  Dick borrowed some of his brother’s saw horses but unfortunately, they were just not quite the right size and height.  The project was to take the fridge out of its slot and install a new part that the manufacturer had sent, in the hopes that it would solve our mysterious issue with cooling the fridge part of the side by side fridge freezer unit.  Last year some fans were added to the rear of the unit to try to provide more air circulation around the coils, but that didn’t work.  The new resistor should have worked, but sadly did not, even after Dick removed a couple of the wooden slats that were restricting air flow to the rear of the unit.  For now, we are referring to it as our “warm fridge”, and keep only items that are happy being stored between 40 and 50 degrees F in there.  We are very fortunate the Nine Lives has a lot of extra refrigeration space, so we can wait and try different solutions for this particular issue.

fixing the fridge
A shoulder is almost as good as saw horses at holding the fridge balanced on the counter while repairs are attempted!

Trent Port
Weeds are an ongoing problem in marinas. Trent Port has this very interesting floating machine that scoops the weed out of the water for later disposal.

Eventually it was time to start up the Trent Severn Waterway, repeating a part of last year’s voyage.  We planned to stop again in the places that we liked, and also choose some alternatives along the way.  The first glitch in the plan occurred the first night.  To our vast surprise, the somewhat lonely, and particularly salubrious stop above Frankford Lock proved to be a great magnet for Loopers.  Not only were there three boats that left Trent Port ahead of us who decided to stop, a further three boats that had arrived the previous day were enjoying themselves so much that they decided to stay a second night!  Six boats filled up all the spaces and we were forced to find an alternative stopping point further up.  Glen Ross was a safe if boring spot for the night, and the next day we continued on to Campbellford.

Trent River
A quiet section of the Trent River

Here we enjoyed an excellent meal at Antonia’s, a lovely restaurant tucked away on a back street that we had visited twice last year.  The chef retired from the Toronto restaurant scene, and was somewhat shocked at the lack of dining options in rural Ontario, so he and his wife opened their own restaurant.  Summers are good, but he told us that the winter was very difficult.  On our return to the dock we enjoyed some well played and very familiar sixties and seventies music by a great local family band in the gazebo in the park.

Campbellford 2
Boats tied up on the wall by the park in Campbellford

Campbellford
Concert in the park at Campbellford

Leaving Campbellford early to be first on the “Blue Line” for the lock, we managed to nip ahead of Visions, a beautiful boat that had been on the dock near us in Trenton and across the canal in Glen Ross.  The captain came up, hoping to negotiate a fit into the lock with us and another large trawler, to no avail.  However, we got talking, the usual stuff, “So are you really from Hilton Head?  Where do you live?  Wexford?  Really?  We lived in Wexford for 10 years!”  It’s a small world.  Jan and Bob Kossman were part timers in the plantation before we moved there.  Later we got together with them in Hastings for docktails, and then again in Peterborough.  One of the wonderful things about boating is that you meet such nice people, and then later you might well meet them again!  After docktails on Visions, Dick and I headed for the dockside restaurant.  It did not really seem like our kind of place, somewhat loud and a considerably younger crowd.  We had arrived on Karaoke Night.  Dick asked the friendly host to seat us “Somewhere away from this racket”, thus irredeemably relegating himself to Old Fogie status.  He got that indulgent look that the young give to the old and very eccentric, and the nice young man (who honestly looked like an Amish biker if there is such a thing), seated us outside.  We ate an indifferent meal and were in turn eaten by mosquitoes, but at least we weren’t deafened.

The next morning our friends on Visions were up and away at a seriously uncivilized hour to ensure that this time they would be first on the Blue Line.  We chuckled and finished our coffee and then enjoyed a very nice breakfast across the canal at the excellent local eatery.

Hastings
The dam at Hastings

We had tried to make a reservation at the marina in Peterborough some time ahead.  (Notwithstanding the requirement to avoid having a strict schedule, it does pay to make reservations in popular marinas for the weekends as soon as you can be reasonably sure that you will get there when you say you will).  We were told that they were fully booked with several large boating groups coming in for the music festival, but if we didn’t mind being without power, they would “fit us in somewhere”.  Upon arrival, we discovered that the “somewhere” is the free dock, at the far south end of Little Lake, that we were familiar with from last year when we met Dick’s uncle Hans and his wife there.  This T-shaped concrete dock is in good deep water, but it is popular with fishermen and geese.  The fishermen are not a problem, the geese, and their copious leavings, a bit more so.  As the dockhands (who had transported themselves by golf cart) tied us up, I was, possibly, somewhat undiplomatic in my comments.  Once we were settled, Dick rode his bicycle over to the marina, prepared with many arguments (including no security, power, water, or wifi) as to why he should be given a substantial discount, only to have the wind taken entirely out of his sails when he was told they don’t charge for that dock!  We did get to move to the marina for our last night, allowing us to do laundry and take on water.  Our spot on the free dock was immediately taken up by two other Looper trawlers.  It is a pretty location, as long as you don’t mind the geese.

After an excellent meal at an Indian Restaurant, we returned to the boat in time for the outdoor concert that had the marina filled and people parked on the side streets for miles around.  I gather the Crash Test Dummies were a very big Canadian band in the 90’s, and there was great excitement that they were reunited and performing at this concert.  Their music is described as Alt Folk Rock, but, sadly, from our perspective, there is an awful lot of Alt and not so much folk or rock… Being a famous band with commercial success, they of course played entirely their own music.  I could go to great lengths to describe and critique, at risk of sounding exactly like my parents, but suffice to say, not our scene.  Not that we had any choice, in spite of the bandshell facing away from us and being behind a large building, the sound was such that even with the doors closed we could not watch TV below in the boat.  Fortunately, nobody plays very late these days, so by about 9:30 everyone was leaving.  Our dock was then infested by a different kind of pest, teenagers, girls huddling and flirting, boys loud and showing off.  Eventually, the large gang left, but one of the boys stood swaying on the dock and asked, “Do you have a bathroom on board?”  I passed that one to Dick for fielding, and he very diplomatically (I thought), said, “No one is allowed on the boat.”  The fellow complemented Nine Lives and staggered away.

The next day we rode our bikes to several foodie shops.  The first is a British food shop that we visited last year, where we stocked up on English style bacon and Warburton’s crumpets.  Then on to a wonderful cheese shop.  In addition to all sorts of interesting condiments, they offer hundreds of different cheeses, both local and imported.  The shop owner is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and delights in offering tastings of all the cheeses.  I spied the Ossau Iraty, a sheep’s milk from French Basque country that was a favourite of mine when we were in Paris.  I said I just wanted to buy a big piece, didn’t need a tasting, and the owner was actually disappointed.  We made up for it though, by sampling about 10 different cheeses and then of course buying quite a few!  From the cheese shop it was a short step to a gourmet butcher and fishmonger.  We do have quite a bit of meat already in the freezer, but Dick failed to resist some steaks for the grill.  So far this year we have eaten very few meals on board, instead seeking out the nicest restaurants on our travels. Dick says that so far, our food budget is exceeding our marina budget!  This will likely change and we will be working our way through our freezer hoard when we get into Georgian Bay and the North Channel, with many fewer towns and opportunities for eating out.

In the afternoon Dick’s uncle George came and spent a few hours with us on the boat.  He retired from dairy farming some years ago, and now lives in Peterborough.  It was great to see him, and Dick enjoyed reminiscing and conversation about dairy farming and how it has changed since his parents and grandparents first emigrated from Netherlands in the 50’s.  Later on, Dick launched the dinghy and tested the low tech solution to starting the motor.  It worked well.  After a short tour around the harbour, Dick returned to the mother ship in a freshening wind.  It took several tries to position the dink so that I could catch the line and secure it.  I wanted to assure the audience (there is always an audience, especially when execution of a tricky maneuver is not quite flawless), that we are much slicker when we dock Nine Lives!

Peterborough Marina 2
Dick taking Minnie, the dinghy, out for a spin in Peterborough

Peterborough Marina
Oh my! The wind came up!

The next morning we headed out towards the Peterborough Lift Lock and further adventures.

June 1 to 15, 2019. Brewerton to Oswego with a visit to the Finger Lakes

Welcome back to the account of Nine Lives and her Great Loop Voyage!

We left off the story in September, 2018, after leaving Nine Lives in Brewerton, New York.  She spent the winter snoozing in heated, climate controlled, indoor storage while her crew did some travelling and even spent a few weeks at home in Hilton Head.

During the winter, the excellent team at Winter Harbor performed various expected maintenance and upgrade operations, as well as one or two additional, somewhat unexpected repairs.  We had a major engine overhaul and added several new gauges and alarms.  We now are able to tell that the solar panels are doing their job and charging the batteries, and we have alarms to show exhaust temperature heat, a faster indicator of trouble than engine temperature.  New house and generator batteries were installed.  Now the lighting in the cabin is brighter, the icemaker does not turn off the chart-plotter when we are underway, and we can stop overnight without shore-power and still have enough battery charge to make coffee in the morning!  New strainers were added to the air conditioning system that allow us to put in chlorine tablets.  These will stop marine growth inside the coils of the water-cooled system, and presumably improve the operation of the AC. The anchor up/down switches that had stopped working were replaced, as were the underwater LED lights.

There were also some cosmetic and not-so cosmetic repairs required.  Last summer, thanks to a nasty cross current and a badly sited protrusion on a fuel dock we put a small hole in the side of one pontoon, fortunately above the waterline.  Some good strong white tape kept water from splashing in, and the repair was scheduled for the winter.  When the Winter Harbor team looked for the damage, we had done such a great job with the tape, that they couldn’t find it at first!  Instead they discovered a much bigger hole, below the waterline.  When Nine Lives was built, the original owner added so much extra electronics and other features, that it was decided to add extra flotation to the pontoons.  This consists of a large tube down the side of each pontoon.  In the starboard flotation tube was a large hole, and the flotation tube was carrying 15 gallons of water inside.  Dick remembers noticing that there were some performance changes last year, slightly higher fuel consumption and minor handling differences.  No wonder, carrying around all that extra water!

boat repairs
A small oops, fortunately above the waterline!

boat repairs
The much bigger oops, that we knew nothing about!

boat repairs
That hole was carrying 15 gallons of water, fortunately not in the main part of the pontoon.

Last but not least, a new ice maker was installed, as the old one was no longer working properly.

Repairs complete, Nine Lives was put back into the water at the end of May, and was pronounced ready to go after a successful sea trial.  Her crew left Hilton Head on May 31st, and arrived in Brewerton on the 1st of June.

Various preparations were needed before we could set off.  Dick changes the oil and fuel filters himself.  This is a good way to observe exactly what goes on with the engines, and if a boater is able to do the job himself it is much better, as well as saving a whole lot of boat bucks!  We also clean the fresh water tanks ourselves.  This means adding bleach to the tanks, running it through the system and then leaving it to sit overnight.  Next day needs two complete fills and empties to get all the bleach out of the system, and finally the Seagull filter (that filters bacteria as well as impurities out of the drinking water tap and the ice maker feed) is replaced.  Cleaning the fresh water tank annually and always filling with our own hose ensures that we can safely use the water on the boat just as we would the water from the taps at home.  My job was to put everything away, make beds and organize the pantry, and prepare the provisioning (grocery) list.  I also spend a few hours making up little bags of cloves, using sacks designed for making your own teabags.  These little bags are distributed in all the pantry cupboards, and are intended to discourage ants.  I read about this on a sailing blog, and have done this each year, replacing the bags roughly every 6 weeks.  So far so good, and knock on wood.

preparation for voyage
Taking a look at all the wiring behind the TV. Who knew all that was back there!

preparation for voyage
Checking out the dinghy, making sure it starts.

preparation for voyage
In theory, these little bags of cloves discourage ants. They do make the cupboards smell nice.

At last we were ready to set off on Tuesday June 4th.  We had an easy few hours on the Erie Canal, passing through two locks, and retracing our trip from last autumn to Baldwinsville.  We were pleased to find that our locking and docking skills had not deteriorated from disuse over the winter!  We like Baldwinsville, and particularly enjoyed a second visit to the restaurant called “The Chef and The Cook”.  It is an interesting place, with two sides to its regularly changing menu.  The cook’s side offers somewhat more familiar, although still quite innovative dishes, while the chef tends to be quite experimental.  Dick particularly enjoyed his unusual appetizer, carrots prepared in 5 different ways with a small piece of roasted pork belly.

first night underway
Opening our traditional bottle of bubbly after our first day out.

June 5th took us into new territory, as we followed the Erie Canal west to the Cayuga Seneca Canal and then headed south.  There are beautiful homes lining the Erie Canal for some miles west of Baldwinsville, many with extensive landscaping and interesting dock facilities.  The Cayuga Seneca Canal connects the Erie Canal with Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, allowing industries on the shores of both lakes plus Seneca Falls and Waterloo to have access to the Erie Canal and ultimately to Lake Ontario, or even the Atlantic ocean via the Hudson River.  Begun in 1813, added to and improved through the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the canal carried goods as wide ranging as flour, potash, pork, whiskey, lumber, and wool.

As we passed through the extensive lands of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, that encompasses part of the Erie Canal and the first few miles of the Cayuga Seneca Canal, we were surprised to see a huge brown bird fly overhead.  It looked just like a juvenile bald eagle!  A little google research proved us right.  There are at least 6 occupied bald eagle nests in the Refuge, and a number of juveniles remain in the area.  Altogether we saw 3 juveniles and 4 adults on the two days we travelled through the Reserve.

We spent the night tied to the wall below Lock 1.  The next morning, we set off south, hugging the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake.  The shore is lined with cottages of all vintages and sizes, ranging from tiny cabins to large mansions (and the occasional glimpse of one of the area’s wineries).  Many of these cottages are built on the cliffs above the shoreline.  Often all we could see was an impossibly long staircase disappearing into the trees.  Having been part of the “cottage country” lifestyle as a teenager, and knowing just how much of a pain it is to carry all your provisions up and down a steep hill to and from the water, I looked at these stairs without envy!

Cayuga Lake east side
Cliffs and a waterfall on the eastern side of Cayuga Lake

Summer has only just arrived here in northern New York State.  Lockkeepers and fellow boaters commented that this was the first nice weather of the year, and we could see many boats still shrink wrapped and out of the water in the various marinas we passed.  Even some of the trees have clearly only just leafed out.  However, this means that temperatures are pleasant, and we are enjoying cool nights and no need to run the AC.

Near the southern end of the lake we passed a huge mine.  Cargill owns the controversial salt mine, situated at the edge of the lake and tunnelling deep under the centre of the lake.  The first mine was built in 1915, but was unsuccessful and shut down.  In 1921 a deeper shaft was sunk (2000 feet) and produced commercial grade salt.  The mine was purchased by Cargill in 1970.  Salt is produced mainly for the road de-icing business, with some also for residential de-icing. The 7 mile long shaft produces 2 million tons of raw salt a year.  When Cargill decided to drill a new 2500 foot shaft, a lawsuit was filed to halt the initiative, suggesting that the mine has an adverse effect on the salinity of the lake.  The lawsuit was filed in 2017, and is still awaiting a court decision.  Meanwhile, Cargill continues its preparations for the new shaft, that has already received approval from the Department of Environmental Conservation. The mine employs 200 workers, and contributes millions to the local and state economy.

On our travels around the country, we have commented many times on how it is clear that towns that once thrived are now barely holding on.  Industries that once anchored the towns and villages have shut down or moved away, family farms are closed, and there is not enough population to sustain local businesses.  A lawsuit that holds up a commercial initiative, even though it has already been approved, is a common theme for so many industries, and has to contribute to the many corporate decisions to simply abandon long established factories in favour of more commercially friendly locations.  I shall now step down off my soapbox.

Cayuga Lake east side salt mine
The huge and controversial Cargill salt mine complex on Cayuga Lake

We arrived in Ithaca, at the south end of the lake, in early afternoon.  Multiple attempts had been made to make a reservation at the large, State-run marina, without success.  Given that it was a weekday and very early in the season, we thought we would just take a chance and show up, and if necessary, anchor somewhere if there was no room for us.  Fortunately, an empty T-head presented itself, because we soon realized that all the slips designated for transient (visiting) boaters had an inconvenient post in the middle of each slip, limiting the accommodation to boats of less than 15 feet beam.  We met the dockmaster, who told us she knew the dock we were on was available that night and we were fine to stay.  She also explained that she has to be out on the docks all day, rather than in the office, and does not answer the phone, allow or return messages, and does not have a radio to communicate with boaters.  While we were there, I watched her replace 3 old boards in the dock.  Clearly, New York State has decided that the extensive and well-built marina needs only a single employee as a jack-of-all-trades.  I can only imagine the chaos in busy summer months.

Fender Boards
Ithaca saw our first use of our new fender boards. These keep the boat from scraping on the dock when the construction has pilings on the outside of the dock.

Ithaca is a nice town, we know from our visit by car last autumn, but it is all but impossible for boaters.  The area is too hilly for bicycles, and the town centre is a long way from any docking facilities.  The one riverside restaurant is far enough away that we needed to ride bicycles rather than walk, and while they do have their own dock there doesn’t seem to be any way of using it.  So we were fine with just spending the one night there.

There is a tourist boat docked in the marina, and I watched as a large tourist bus decanted about 30 Amish tourists.  All the women wore the typical white bonnets and long dresses, while many of the men sported beards of varying lengths.  I don’t know enough about the Amish people to understand why they use horse and buggy for personal travel, rowboats without motors for fishing, and yet travel in large coaches and cruise on sightseeing boats.  Something to research some rainy day perhaps.

Ithaca tour boat
Tour boat with Amish visitors

On June 7th we travelled north, hugging the western shore of Cauyga Lake.  We passed Sheldrake Point, a very pretty part of the lake with some lovely old homes, working farms and a winery.  I was particularly interested because my father’s Yorkshire mother was a Sheldrake, and it is a relatively unusual family name.

Cayuga Lake west Sheldrake Point
Pretty Sheldrake Point on the west side of Cayuga Lake

After turning back into the Cayuga Seneca Canal, we arrived at Seneca Falls and docked on its very boater friendly town wall.  There is a long wall with power pedestals and good cleats on both sides of the canal, with sections of lower floating dock to allow for smaller boats, while larger craft are made welcome on the higher walls.  The boater facilities include excellent showers and toilets, and even laundry facilities.  Such a contrast to other towns, that could equally make boaters welcome and yet allow their docks to become derelict, or fill them up with commercial tour boats.

Seneca Falls Nine Lives docked
Nine Lives on the boater friendly dock in Seneca Falls

We liked Seneca Falls.  This is clearly a town that is making efforts to improve the downtown and attract tourism, in spite of losing local industry.  Goulds Pumps, founded in 1848, still maintains their headquarters in the town, but the Seneca Falls Knitting Mill has shut down.  Situated in a beautiful old limestone building on the canal shore, the knitting mill opened in 1844, making socks until 1999.  The company held the last two patents for socks in the US, but the owner decided to sell the patents to a German company, and the business has gone to Europe.  Fortunately, the historic building is gaining a new lease on life as the new home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  It is a good fit for the town, which is known as “The Birthplace of Women’s Rights”.

Seneca Falls knitting mills
The beautiful limestone future home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame

On July 19 and 20, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention was held.  Its purpose was “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.”  It is considered by many to be the event that triggered and solidified the Women’s Rights movement in America.  One should note that the Suffragette Movement in Britain was founded in 1903, more than 50 years later.  Seneca Falls is now the home of the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.  The Wesleyan Chapel, where the Convention was held, has been restored, a visitor centre is situated next door, and two of the homes of the organizers of the Convention are all part of the Park.

Seneca Falls Womens Rights Park
The restored Wesleyan Chapel where the Convention was held

Seneca Falls
Downtown Seneca Falls

The next day, Saturday, we followed the Canal to the head of Seneca Lake.  The last four bridges crossing over the canal before it joins the Lake, were, shall we say, interesting.  The final one is nominally 17.3 feet above the water, and we had already lowered our antennas in anticipation, but given the high water the whole area is experiencing, we decided I should stand outside and we would approach very slowly, ready to back off if necessary.  The first 3 were quite close, but as we passed under the rusty girders of the last one, I could see just inches above our radar array.  Our air draft is 14.5 feet, and we should be a little lower with a nearly full load of fuel, but I certainly would not have wanted to pass under that bridge in choppy water.  A lockkeeper later told us that the canal has been raised 6”, and the lake a full foot.

Travelling close to the eastern shore of Seneca Lake we could see lots of cottages and homes of all sizes and ages.  Eventually we arrived in Watkins Glen, after carefully dodging a sailboat race.  The T-head had been reserved for us, but it was already partly occupied by one of the many speedboats that were out and about on the first nice day of summer.  Apparently, the owner felt that the “Reserved” sign did not apply.  Fortunately, our docking skills (and no wind to speak of) stood us in good stead and we successfully docked without crunching him.

The friendly boating facility in Watkins Glen is an example of how to get it right.  There are lots of transient slips of all sizes, and a lively restaurant right at the marina.  Boaters are free to come in and tie up while visiting the town or the restaurant, and are only asked to pay if they want to stay overnight.

Watkins Glen marina
The busy and well run marina at Watkins Glen

Saturday evening, we entertained our first visitors of 2019.  Bill and Louise Wirz joined us for drinks and chat on the boat, and later we went for dinner at one of Watkins Glen’s nicer restaurants.  Bill was a colleague of Dick’s from Dresser Rand, so there was much reminiscing, and of course shaking of heads about the direction the company has taken since Dick retired.  Bill is newly retired, and is easing into the new lifestyle, keeping busy with Habitat for Humanity and other pursuits while his wife continues working for another year.  It was a most enjoyable evening.

Watkins Glen
A historic building in downtown Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen
Downtown Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen
The World’s Smallest Diner!

Watkins Glen gorge
Dick hiked up the Gorge in Watkins Glen

We had intended to leave Watkins Glen on Monday, but the weather forecast was not good, so we stayed an extra day.  As we did last year, we try to stay in a marina on weekends, in order to avoid all the mad boaters who get out on the water and tear around, waking everybody and just generally being a nuisance!  Tuesday morning, we headed north, following the western shore, hoping to stop overnight in Geneva.

Watkins Glen is home to two salt producing operations.  In the town, Cargill operates a refinery that is a brine operation (as opposed to a mine). Steam is introduced into two wells, creating a brine that is then pumped up and processed into products including granulated salt for food, water conditioning pellets, and agricultural salt.  Just north of the town is another brine operation operated by US Salt. This taps into a brine well 1500 feet below the surface, discovered in 1882.

Seneca Lake salt plant
US Salt on Seneca Lake

On arrival in Geneva it was clear that the negative reviews we had read about their dockage were quite accurate.  Although there are quite a few spaces on floating docks behind a breakwater, the docks are very short, with space for only one large boat such as ours.  That space was already occupied, so we turned around and headed back to Seneca Falls.  And town fathers wonder why they cannot attract enough tourists even though they ignore the opportunities from boaters!

In Seneca Falls we were reminded again of how unusual Nine Lives is.  People comment and ask questions as they go by.  It is very interesting to notice how different are the reactions of men versus women.  Men get quite excited by the boat, and will call out across the water, “What a great boat!”  Women, on the other hand, are interested in the name, and I hear them pointing out the name to each other “Nine Lives, Nine Lives”. This month, all the women seem to be getting quite excited by the dinghy.  I hear comments, “Oh and look, a little boat!”  Two women who stopped to chat about our boat and our voyage were more interested in Minnie (the dinghy), wanting to know what we would do with the little boat.  Of course, we love answering any and all questions and I am sure Nine Lives bobs up and down with pleasure when she hears all the compliments.

Seneca Falls sculpture trail
In addition to its many other attractions, Seneca Falls has an interesting sculpture trail.

Seneca Falls church
The beautiful Trinity Episcopal Church on the canal in Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls church
The Anglo Gothic architecture of Trinity Episcopal Church

As we made our way back to Baldwinsville the next day, I was able to sit out front with my camera and big lens and watch for eagles and other interesting wildlife as we passed through Montezuma NWR.  In addition to the eagles, we saw other raptors including osprey, a small hawk, and a group of vultures.

We passed the ruins of the Seneca River Aqueduct.  Opened in 1857, the second longest aqueduct on the system carried the original canal over the Seneca and Clyde Rivers.  It was dynamited in 1910 to make room for large barges to pass on the Erie Barge Canal. It was 840 feet long, with 30 piers and 31 stone arches.  The ruin is an impressive sight.

Seneca River Aqueduct ruins
Impressive ruins of the Seneca River Aqueduct

In Baldwinsville we were delighted to entertain our second visitor of the season.  Barbara Kubiak is a wonderful photographer who I met many years ago when we lived in Olean.  Her family is from Baldwinsville, so she was willing to make the 3 hour drive to get together with us.  I showed her my pictures of eagles and songbirds from Alaska, and she shared her images of Cuba with me.  A most enjoyable afternoon, followed by dinner in one of Baldwinsville’s many restaurants.

We left Baldwinsville on Thursday morning very early, hoping to dodge the raindrops, but with a total of 8 locks to transit we did get quite wet.  We are tied up to the free wall in Oswego, fortunately above the last of 3 locks, because as I write this (Friday) there is a big windstorm.  Wind coming up the river, against a strong current from all the rain going down the river, has made for some really heavy chop at the dock below the last lock.  Dick was just there, and reported that the big boat we saw pass us earlier is bouncing up and down.  We don’t envy those aboard.  The only downside of our free dock is that there is no water or power.  Fortunately, we can run the generator to get the hot water tank up for showers, and the solar panels are at last doing their job and charging the batteries for much of what we need.  Cool weather means no need for air conditioning, which is the biggest power draw.

(Saturday) We are watching the weather closely, and expect to be able to leave tomorrow morning with light winds and calm seas on Lake Ontario.  Yesterday afternoon we were joined on the wall by two other Looper boats.  An invitation to join us on Nine Lives for drinks and chat was well received and we enjoyed a convivial couple of hours swapping stories.  We have an app that lets us see where other Loopers are, and could see that at least 10 boats were staging themselves on the canal well south of Oswego.  This morning the news came that there are two major problems at Phoenix, and the canal is closed indefinitely.  As I said to Dick, when you can see the good weather coming, doesn’t it make good sense to get as close as possible, rather than hanging back and counting on there being no issues with the canal! We had thought to see a big group arrive today, but at this point it looks as though there will be just two other boats at most joining us here in Oswego.

I wrote fairly comprehensively about the interesting and historic town of Oswego when we were last here in 2017, so I won’t repeat it all again.  Enough to mention that it is an important and historic port town, situated as it is on the shores of Lake Ontario.  There is a marine museum with a WWII tug, restored Fort Ontario, and some interesting shops and restaurants.  The commercial port is still active, although small by modern standards.  It is the first large American port city west of the St Lawrence River.  Over one million tons of goods are still shipped from the port.

Tomorrow Nine Lives will be on the move again, heading for eastern Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands, and then on to Canada and eventually the Trent Severn Canal.

April 12 to May 4 2018, Hilton Head to Norfolk

2018_Spring_Rendezvous_Group_Photo
Over 300 Loopers and 50 boats attended the Rendezvous

Before I begin telling you about our spring voyage, I should start with a brief summary of the winter projects.
Dick was quite busy on Nine Lives this winter, working through a list of general maintenance and specific issues. Initially this involved various electrical systems. Hurricane Irma last fall fried the power cords and affected some of the systems, so a boat electrical specialist was called in and worked with Dick to sort out the issues. While working on that, they discovered that the solar panels were not charging the batteries, because the connections had been damaged by a lightning strike way back before we collected the boat in St Petersburg! The panel connections were repaired, the stereo was replaced, and a few other issues were also resolved. We had some concerns over one of the fridges not keeping cold enough for safe storage of food. Dick realized that the enclosure is too tight to allow proper air circulation, so he installed two small computer fans at the back. Those, together with a small battery operated fan inside the fridge, seem to help.
Some of the other projects included installing a CO2 detector and a battery monitor, changing the oil in both engines and the generator, changing zincs and filters, purchasing new dock lines and all sorts of esoteric boating tools, replacing the grill with a new infrared grill, and removing the diving compressor from the front storage locker, thus freeing up lots of space. Oh yes, replacing the “joker” valves on both toilets, an unpleasant job that Dick said was not quite as awful as expected.
Fresh water tank newly sanitized and filled, and a final thorough cleaning of the interior by our ever helpful Kathy, together with cleaning and waxing the exterior by a local specialist and bottom cleaning by the diver, we were ready to embark!
We left just after 10am on April 11th, and headed to one of our favourite anchorages at Tom Point Creek, north of Beaufort SC for the first night. Upon arrival we celebrated the start of the 2018 voyaging with a special bottle of Moet champagne that is intended to be served over ice, perfect for boating! We chased the spring north, and the different greens and almost autumnal colours of the new leaves on the trees was very pretty. Some nights were quite chilly, but for the most part the weather was perfect and there were few insects about.
Our first bit of excitement occurred just as we were approaching Charleston. The area is busy and quite complicated to travel through, with close attention needed to both the charts and the numbers and shape of the markers. Shortly before we arrived in the harbor, the chart plotter (the electronic version of the charts that we see on the screen in front of the helm, and that we use to see where we are and where we need to go) suddenly switched from the correct detailed chart to something like a broad diagram, completely unusable. The usual measures such as turning off and on had no effect, so Dick had to quickly switch to using the tiny chart he had downloaded on his iPhone. Fortunately I also had a book
of paper charts to follow along, so we were not entirely travelling by the seat of our pants! It was somewhat disturbing though, to watch Dick, the driver, who is far sighted, at exactly the moment when the most attention needed to be paid to the waters ahead, suddenly whip off his sunglasses and peer down at the tiny screen on his phone! Fortunately we managed, and continued to manage for the 3 days it took to resolve the issue! We did not repeat last year’s two hour detour up the wrong channel in Charleston’s vast and complex harbor, and arrived without incident at our second night’s anchorage in Graham Creek, south of McClellanville SC. We have stopped there twice before, but this time was considerably less enjoyable due to the continuous and dramatic swinging from side to side as the wind and the tide worked in conflicting directions. I enjoyed watching oystercatchers on a temporarily uncovered shoal.
Day 3 took us to Bucksport on the Waccamaw River, one of the prettiest sections of the South Carolina ICW. It is something of a red-neck destination, with bikers, a large RV camp and the docks, and a bar that can get very lively on the weekends. We stayed there two nights, to avoid thunderstorms and high winds in the weather forecast. We were not the only boats taking precautions, as we saw few northbound travelers the second day, and very few of the smaller pleasure boats that are usually out and about on a Sunday afternoon.
Monday morning we headed towards Myrtle Beach, arriving early afternoon at the marina at Myrtle Beach Yacht Club, which is confusingly located in Little River, well north of the city it is named for! There we met and chatted with our first Loopers of the trip. To remind you, “Loopers” are boaters who are either in progress or have completed America’s Great Loop, the 6,000+ mile navigation of the east coast, the great lakes, the central rivers, and Florida that is our 5-year planned voyage. These Loopers we met are rather special, in that they have come all the way from Adelaide Australia to make this voyage. They bought a boat in Florida and began the trip this spring. They plan to complete the loop in about 1 year, a not uncommon practice, and then sell the boat at the end of their journey. We enjoyed meeting them again at the Rendezvous in Norfolk, after leapfrogging their boat “Someday” several times on the voyage north.
From Little River to Southport, and then on to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, we enjoyed an uneventful voyage. For a change, this part of the Intracoastal Waterway has been recently dredged, so we mostly had at least 12 feet of water under the boat and few nerve racking moments when the water shoals unexpectedly. Last year we touched bottom several times in this stretch.
Wrightsville Beach looks very pretty from the water, and is quite a lively stop for boaters, but there is very little there apart from the marinas. I enjoyed watching several floating condos (large, 70 ft+ cruising yachts) dock on the other side of the river while trying to avoid being run into by yahoos in speedboats and the occasional kayaker. It is one of the challenges of being on the water. Kayaks and paddleboards technically have the right of way over motor driven boats, as do boats under sail, but the jokingly called “law of gross tonnage” means that the bigger the motor vessel, the longer the stopping distance and the less maneuverable it is. Unfortunately kayakers and paddleboarders often fail to comprehend this simple fact of physics, and one has to keep a sharp eye out and be ready when they suddenly decide to cross directly in front of your boat! Speedboats are a different challenge, seldom
having a radio on board, so you cannot contact them (not that any transmission would actually change their behavior), and thinking that because they get a great thrill out of bouncing over a big wake, so will you. So the sensible rule of “one hand for the boat at all times” needs to be followed when these idiots I mean fellow boaters are out and about.
Leaving Wrightsville Beach we were stopped for a couple of hours by the closure of the Surf City Swing Bridge, which only opens once an hour, and does not open at all when the winds gust to more than 30 knots. Our destination that night was the anchorage in Mile Hammock Bay, which is located in the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejune. The protected anchorage can get quite interesting. For some hours after we anchored a large military helicopter crossed back and forth just north of our location, and the next morning we could see a lot of trucks and men in uniform on the shore. A number of them embarked on dinghies and set off south, followed closely by a Coast Guard RIB. We could hear over the radio that both the Surf City Bridge, and the Onslow Beach Swing Bridge were closed due to high winds, so we were lucky to have passed through Surf City during one of their few openings earlier. Fortunately the winds subsided enough that we were able to pass Onslow Beach Bridge the next morning. It is possible that we could have slipped under those bridges at absolute low tide, but I was glad we didn’t have to try!
Onward, continuing north to our next multi-day stop at the very pretty and boater friendly Beaufort, North Carolina. Just south of Morehead City we passed through a shallow area, and suddenly the water was literally boiling with triangular fins of hundreds of manta rays. I can’t find anything on google to explain the behavior, other than the statement that they occasionally breach like whales for unknown reasons. They eat zooplankton, so they were not feeding on a school of fish. We could hear them thumping and bumping on the hulls. The thrashing lasted for about 20 yards, and then all was calm again.
At Beaufort we enjoyed a great meal in a restaurant we went to last summer, and met quite a few Loopers docked in the marina. The City Docks are perfectly positioned to enjoy the waterfront restaurants and shops, with the added bonus of tokens for free drinks at one of the establishments. On Saturday we walked over to the local farmer’s market. As often happens these days, there are few stalls selling actual produce, and more selling crafts, but we enjoyed it anyway. I found a great hand woven basket set on a lazy susan. It is perfect for holding all the various bottles such as olive oil, vinegars, sauces, vanilla, etc etc, that must be secured even inside a cupboard so that they don’t fall over and leak when the speedboaters I was telling you about get too close and create wakes big enough to knock over anything unsecured. I also found a very cute stuffed toy lion made of alpaca, to add to the collection on the bed, much to Dick’s disgust.
North of Beaufort begins the first of the sections of the trip that I worry about, being very unhappy when the waters get even a little bit “lumpy”. As a former sailor you would think I would be used to big waves, but I never was and am unlikely to ever enjoy such conditions. The first challenge was the Neuse River. Last year, due to a lack of experience and understanding of wind and wave forecasts, plus a mistake on the part of the helmsman in following the chartplotter, we were really beaten up on this very wide and shallow river that empties into Pamlico Sound. This year we were well prepared, had followed
the forecasts, and knew exactly where we needed to go. We have also learned that when crossing “big” water, Nine Lives rides a lot smoother if we go on wide open throttle (pretty much as fast as the engines will take us at about 18 knots) than if we go at our usual 7 knots trawler speed. Of course this uses a lot more fuel, but the comfort and the ability to skip across potentially rough water is priceless. So we skimmed across most of the Neuse, and ducked into the very protected harbor at River Dunes, a boaters resort and housing estate north of Oriental, NC. In addition to the sheltered harbor, the resort offers a nice lounge and restaurant to boaters, plus a small general store and the loan of a courtesy car if you need to pick up groceries. At River Dunes we found 7 other Looper boats, with another arriving the next morning, so there was much enjoyment of docktails and convivial meals in the restaurant. A difficult decision was made (on our part) to wait out a predicted storm for 3 nights at River Dunes, instead of trying to make it further north to Belhaven the next morning. As I said to Dick, “Eight other Loopers are unlikely to be wrong!” We had a great time, especially the second night which happened to be my birthday. We invited all the Loopers to join us on board Nine Lives for Prosecco and nibbles. The weather being somewhat rainy and cold, everyone was inside, either in the salon or the cockpit, and we discovered that 16 on board is friendly but quite doable! All gathered during a break in the rain for a picture on the dock. I thought it was one of the best birthdays, and certainly the biggest party I have had since I was a teenager!
Tucker spent the time staying at his other home with Shel and Sherry. They are delighted to have him for much of this year, and he is delighted not to have to join us on the hated boat. However, perhaps he missed us a little, Sherry sent a picture of him trying out boxes to see if he could mail himself to join us…
During the downtime at River Dunes Dick took the opportunity to launch the dinghy and start the outboard motor. Unfortunately, after much coaxing, all that was achieved was a vague Eh Eh ah ah, followed by nothing, so rather than completely drain the battery, Dick gave up and added that to the ever-growing list of things to sort out at the boatyard this month.
From River Dunes we chose to run as fast as possible and make a 90 mile trip up the rest of the Neuse River, the Pungo River, and the Alligator River to the marina at the mouth of Albemarle Sound. This allowed us to catch up some of the time we had lost, and by giving Elizabeth City a miss the next day we were back on schedule. We set off across the Albemarle Sound (the second of the potentially very wind tossed big bodies of water) early in the morning at absolute mirror flat calm. By the time we had crossed the sound the wind and waves were already coming up, and I was very glad we had decided to start early and run fast. We took an alternate route north this year, opting to go through the Great Dismal Swamp (yes, it really is called that), a large protected wetland south of Norfolk, Virginia. The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest continually operating canal in the United States, opening in 1805, and never closed until 2016, when Hurricane Matthew did so much damage that the canal was impassable for a year. The original canal was dug completely by hand. George Washington was one of the early investors in the Canal Company, and helped to manage some of the building of the canal before he became disillusioned with the project and sold his shares.
North of Elizabeth City we joined the Pasquotank River, a beautiful waterway between treed banks with occasional well kept homes and cottages. At one point Dick’s attention was caught by a stick floating on
the water that seemed to move oddly. Rushing to the door we could see that it was in fact a large water snake swimming across the river. Gradually the river narrowed until we reached the South Mills lock. It was fortunate there was no southbound traffic coming out of the lock, because there was no room for another boat to pass us! This lock is the first that many Loopers encounter, and the lockkeeper takes great care to ensure that everyone is properly secured and fully understands the operation of the lock before he begins the 8 foot lift. Instead of 8 feet, this should definitely be referred to as 96 inches, it took 45 minutes to pass through this lock and the immediately following swing bridge!
Partway through the Dismal Swamp Canal is a stopping point with a 150 ft dock, a visitor centre, and a picnic area and rest rooms. On our arrival we could see that the dock was already full, with 2 sailboats and a large trawler, but fortunately it is common practice to “raft up” when the dock is filled. This meant we tied up our boat to the already docked boat “Exhale” a beautiful new North Pacific Trawler, and met the very nice Loopers who own it. Rick and Mary made us welcome and invited us for drinks aboard their boat. Trying hard not to be too envious of their large salon with two extremely comfortable recliner chairs, we enjoyed a convivial evening! The next morning we all set off in convoy through the rest of the canal towards our destination of Norfolk Virginia and the Looper’s Rendezvous. As the boats waited for the lock at the top of the canal and exited into the Deep River, we took pictures of each other and exchanged them by text messages. What a difference mobile phones make to all our lives!
Initially we found the much touted Great Dismal Swamp, well, dismal. For much of its length there is only a narrow strip of trees between the canal and a busy four lane highway. On the other side, again screened by a narrow line of trees, are farms and large fields, so I was doubtful (correctly) that we would see any sort of wildlife. As the clouds cleared the next morning and the sun came out the scenery also improved, the four lane highway gave way to a bike path, and the absolutely still water created gorgeous mirror image reflections of the vegetation on the banks.
A short trip up the Elizabeth River and we were at last in Norfolk. Mary from Exhale reports that the Blue Angels flew overhead to celebrate our arrival at Waterside, although I was busy helping with the docking and did not see them. However the next day Nine Lives was welcomed to Norfolk by a wonderful parade with representatives and floats from almost all the NATO countries plus marching bands from high schools and colleges around the country. I am certain our arrival was the reason for the celebration, surely it could not have just been the annual NATO Day Parade?
Not long after we docked our attention was drawn to a visitor on the finger pier right beside our slip. An otter came out onto the pier and proceeded to roll and wriggle on its back to dry its fur. Wonderful to watch, I have never seen an otter “in the wild” this close. I did not dare take time to drag out my big camera, so only phone pictures are available. After all the wriggling and rubbing, the otter went over and rearranged our neatly coiled dock line. “Awww,” I thought, “he is going to go to sleep on it!” Wrong. After disarranging it to his satisfaction, the little blighter first thoroughly peed on the line and then shat on it! Dick was, to put it mildly, not best pleased. After cleaning it off later, we discovered the next morning that the otter had returned in the night and decorated the line again. At that point we
changed the lines and secured them back to the boat. Apparently we were not the only boat in the harbor that was so blessed.
While we cleaned and polished the boat and prepared for the Rendezvous we were joined for dinner by friends Marilynn and Winkie. This was their second visit to Nine Lives, as we entertained them last year when we were at Hampton Yacht Club. It is always a great pleasure to meet and spend time with friends from the past. Marilynn and I worked at Brookhaven National Lab together many years ago.
The Rendezvous is a gathering of Loopers, future Loopers, and past Loopers and sponsors that takes place twice a year. There were 300 attendees, and 50 boats filled the Waterside Marina for the conference. Each day there were seminars on topics of interest, including slide show presentations on the route ahead, tips and tricks for choosing and buying the right boat, insuring it, maintenance, and even clearing US and Canadian customs. For 3 of the afternoons there is a “Boat Crawl”. Anyone who wishes to participate will open their boat for conference attendees to come aboard, see how we live on board, and ask questions. This is particularly valuable for people who are planning to do the Loop, but have not yet chosen their boat. Because we are somewhat unique, not many catamarans on the Loop, and we were the only Endeavour catamaran in the marina, we opened all three of the days. This meant that we didn’t get a chance to see the other boats, but we certainly enjoyed meeting all the people who came aboard. The conference finished with a Pub Crawl through four different nearby pubs. It was a very interesting and rewarding experience, and as we make our way around the Great Loop we will certainly attend future events.
On our last day we backtracked a little to Great Bridge, where Nine Lives is resting at Atlantic Yacht Basin. She will get a haul out and refurbishment of bottom paint, plus the list of projects that Dick either didn’t get to or could not reasonably do himself. Dick expects the work to be mostly complete by about the 24th of May, so he will return and stay onboard for a week or so then. He will re-provision, and also visit some of the Norfolk attractions we didn’t have time for. I am looking forward to a week on my own here in Hilton Head. Some time around June 1st, weather permitting, we will return to the boat and begin our summer voyage up the Chesapeake and onward to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Montreal, the Rideau and Trent Severn Canals, and then we will leave the Looper pack and head south to Lake Erie and the western end of the Erie Canal. Around September 1st we are booked at a marina in Brewerton, NY, for heated indoor storage for Nine Lives while we return home for the winter.

April 12 champagne 3
Champagne to celebrate our first day out

April 12 Tom Point Creek
Tom Point Creek, our first night’s anchorage

April 13 Charleston sailing race
Charleston Harbor sailing race

April 16 swallow
a swallow perched on the rail one morning

April 18 Wrightsville Beach bridge
Wrightsville Beach bridge opening

April 21 Beaufort beer
Enjoying free beer at the docks in Beaufort

April 21 Beaufort bicycles
whimsical plates on rental bicycles

April 21 Beaufort docks
historic and modern sailing boats in Beaufort Docks

April 22 River Dunes lobster roll
a delicious lobster roll in River Dunes

April 23 River Dunes docktails
docktails, all these folks joined us on Nine Lives!

April 23 River Dunes launch dinghy
launch the dinghy, but the motor did not start

April 23 Tucker in a box
Tucker considers having himself mailed to us

April 25 RE Mayo Hobucken shrimp boats
shrimp boats at Hobucken

April 26 Pasquotank River cottages
Pasquotank River homes

April 26 Pasquotank River
The serene Pasquotank River

April 27 Great Dismal Swamp 1
Great Dismal Swamp, looking dismal

April 27 Great Dismal Swamp bridge
Great Dismal Swamp, that is Nine Lives waiting for the bridge opening

April 27 Nine Lives leaving Dismal Swamp
Nine Lives in Deep Creek after exiting Great Dismal Swamp

April 27 otter 2
our visiting otter

April 27 otter
our visiting otter

April 28 Norfolk NATO parade 2
Norfolk NATO Parade

April 28 Norfolk NATO parade
Norfolk NATO Parade

April 28 otter poop
Dick cleaning otter poop, for the second time

May 1 warship
a warship repositions for drydock in the Norfolk yards

May 4 Great Bridge lock
heading south, we had the huge Great Bridge lock to ourselves

May 4 Nine Lives in Great Bridge
Nine Lives taking a well earned break in Great Bridge

September 5 to 16, 2018: Cleveland to Brewerton

September 5 to 16

Our second day in Cleveland was spend exploring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  We both enjoyed the experience, although we were most interested in the songs and artists of our own generation.  I expect some people could spend days there, looking at memorabilia.  I found the clothes fascinating, it was hard to believe the performers were so small.  There were dresses belonging to Diana Ross and the Supremes, and they were tiny! The clothes worn by the giants of rock and roll, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and many more recent rockers, show that these men had to be well under 6 feet tall, and extremely thin by today’s standards. There was an excellent film with clips of Elvis Presley, and we also loved a 30 minute film of Dick Clark and American Bandstand.  In the evening we walked a little further into town for an outstanding meal at Blue Point Grille.

From Cleveland it was a long day, 100 miles, to Erie, Pennsylvania.  This year we made a conscious effort to reduce the distances we travelled each day, so a normal day has been 30 to 40 miles.  The weather was glorious, although hot, with a bright blue sky and a good forecast for wind and waves. With no rain in the forecast we replaced the side doors with the screens, which involves two large stiff zippers each side and one on top.  Just after lunch the clouds started to build up and the sky got dark.  We were caught in an afternoon thunderstorm with accompanying squall out on the water.  The rain lashed the boat from the side (of course it was the side I sit on) and the cushions, carpet, and my chair with me in it, got absolutely soaked.  Eventually I managed to undo the top zipper and secure my door at the top, but with the strong wind the only way it could even partly reduce the amount of rain coming in was for me to stand with my back to it and hold on.  Drenched doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.  Dick, from his dry seat at the helm, was highly amused.  The rain, low visibility, and choppy water were not the only matters for concern.  We had heard a securite announcement from a tow that he was headed into port with 3 loaded barges.  We could see his position on the chartplotter, but he didn’t seem to be moving, and we were headed directly for him.  Dick went well out into the lake to make sure we gave him plenty of room.  We were able to see through gaps in the rain as we passed that he was indeed stopped, repositioning the tow from the front of the barge train (pulling) to the rear (pushing it into port).  In due course the rain stopped, the waves settled down, and the sky was blue again.  The carpet took a while to dry though, and it was surprising how very dirty that rain was.

Erie is the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, and its only major port on the Great Lakes.  As heavy industry and shipping have declined, health care, plastics, tourism, and service industries have taken their place.  The harbour was interesting, divided into several parts, with the one we were visiting requiring passage under an elevated walkway that connects the Sheraton Hotel with the Bayfront Convention Center.  Unfortunately, the harbour itself is still something of a work in progress, but in a few years it could be very pleasant.  There is a large maritime museum and library, and a 187 foot Bicentennial Tower along the waterfront.

Our next stop was Buffalo and a grateful goodbye to “big water” for this year.  We stayed at the marina that is closest to downtown, and once again were pleasantly surprised by the waterfront parks and development of what was once a very unattractive industrial port.  The marina is situated on a spit of land that also includes a waterfront park with attractive gardens, a lookout tower, and two restaurants.  From the marina it was easy access to an extensive network of cycle paths.  We rode our bikes through what looked to be a very interesting naval museum, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.  There are a number of decommissioned ships, including a submarine, a cruiser, and a destroyer.  Further along the Buffalo River is the oldest active fireboat in the world.  The Edward M Cotter was built in 1900 and rebuilt in 1953.  In addition to being a fireboat, she is used as an icebreaker on the Buffalo River in winter. She has a colourful history, including being burnt out in 1928 while fighting a fire on a barge carrying 5,000 barrels of crude oil.  Rebuilt, she continued in service, and crossed Lake Erie in 1960 to help put out a fire in grain elevators in Port Colborne, Canada.  We only saw her at dock, but I gather she is a regular sight in Buffalo Harbor.

After a two night stop in Buffalo it was time to make our way into the Western Erie Canal. We had planned our usual 9am start, but we were delayed somewhat at the pump out dock by a very slow pump.  As it happened, that delay didn’t matter, because of limited service at the lock on the Black Rock Channel.  This three and a half mile channel parallels the Niagara River, and allows boats to avoid the strong current and rough waters of the river.  It was built as part of the Erie Canal, but somehow it is no longer part of the Canal and the lock is a Federally operated lock.  It is in need of refurbishing, so the operators have decided to limit openings, and while two different phone numbers are provided to call to get the schedule, neither of the lines are manned.  On arrival at the lock we found a sign that told us the first opening would be 11am, so we had to tie up and wait for over an hour.  As is his wont when there is any expected delay, Dick set off along the lock wall to investigate.  On his return, he met the lock keeper arriving for work, a surly individual who was not at all impressed with Dick’s friendly smile and told him in no uncertain terms that he was forbidden to be on the dock and to get back on that boat and stay there!

After exiting the Black Rock Channel, we were into the Niagara River, which was unpleasantly choppy until we turned into Tonawanda River.  Not the most attractive waterway we have been on, and even after making the turn into the Erie Canal proper, it was somewhat unprepossessing until we had passed through the double lock at Lockport.  The stretch between Lockport and Rochester is very pleasant, with small towns that are making the most of their waterfront and the opportunities for tourism.  There are many lift bridges, all freshly painted in soft green with contrasting bright yellow trim.  Most of the towns have free docking at the town walls, and many have installed power pedestals and shower facilities.  One of the lock keepers told Dick that she is employed full time, all year round.  During the winter when the canal is closed, they take apart and refurbish all the lock and bridge mechanisms.  She said her winters are spent “up to the elbows in grease!”  At each lock we were asked how far we planned to go that day, and the keepers called the next lock to tell them to expect us.

In Middleport we were joined for the evening by Wade Aiken, a talented photographer I met when we lived in Olean some years ago.  It was nice to catch up and hear about his extensive world travels and his photography.  The next day we travelled to Spencerport where we were met by another friend from the Olean Camera Club.  Barbara was not able to stop for a meal, but we had time for a chat and a cup of tea and hope for a longer visit, perhaps next year when we are in the Finger Lakes.

A frequent sight on the Erie Canal is English-inspired canal boats that appear to be a popular vacation.  The boats are a little wider than UK narrowboats, and generally shorter at a maximum of 43 feet, but they are driven by a traditional tiller at the stern, and they all look very clean and in good condition.  You can rent them from Midlakes Navigation, and they offer 3, 4, and 7 day rentals. We do not wish to be disloyal to Nine Lives, but we were intrigued by the possibilities!

Rochester is another city with an attractive downtown.  We turned off the Canal into the Genesee River, navigable almost to the city center.  We tied up at a good dock in Corn Hill Landing, a revitalized historic neighbourhood. The waterfront complex of rental apartments includes several restaurants, one of them is a very pleasant wine bar.  We walked over and each ordered a flight, sparkling for Dick, and rose for me.  To accompany we had a meat and cheese board, with fresh French bread, local honey, and grainy mustard.  It was a delightful way to spend an hour in the afternoon, particularly as we were planning an “eating up” evening of leftovers on the boat!

The next day Dick rode his bike through downtown to Lake Ontario.  He reports that Rochester is a very clean city with lots of parks and waterfront paths.  It is strange that a canal has never been cut to bypass the waterfalls in the river and allow access between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario.  Apparently, it has been proposed many times, but so far nobody has found the money.

In the afternoon we took a rental car to Ithaca, and after a very nice meal in a French restaurant we went to a concert by Joan Baez.  What a remarkable woman she is.  She played straight through without an intermission (or a chair), and returned to sing three more songs for an encore.  It was a mix of old favourites and new material from her latest album.  Although she can no long sustain the high notes, at 77 years old, she is still an amazing performer, and we were very glad we were able to take the time to see her on what is expected to be her last tour. The theatre is also of historic and architectural interest.  The building, originally constructed in 1915, began as a garage and Studebaker showroom.  In 1926 it was transformed into a cinema and vaudeville palace.  The extravagant combination of Moorish and Gothic architecture is striking. After struggling for many years as a movie theatre that closed in the 1980’s, the building was condemned in 1997 and slated for demolition.  It was saved by strong community support and fundraising from both municipal and private donors, and has been operating as a concert theatre since 2001.

Returning to the boat at midnight, we planned a slightly later than usual departure, but my Rochester experience was not yet complete.  At just past 4am I became aware of footsteps and a slight rocking of the boat, as well as conversation from outside.  I got up and shouted at Dick to wake up.  No response.  Shouted again as I opened the hatch and went up to the cockpit to find the absolute cliché of a black man in a hoodie sitting on the boat.  I shouted at him “GET OFF”, and somewhat to my surprise, he did, with profuse apologies and compliments on the boat.  He told me it was such a beautiful boat he just wanted to try to get a picture of himself sitting on it.  His girlfriend on the dock also apologised and paid compliments.  As this was happening, Dick finally woke up, just long enough to understand what had happened, to hear the apologies, and know that his intervention was not required.  Then back to sleep he went, while I lay awake for hours getting over the shock!  Thinking about the incident, I come away with a few thoughts.  Given how well spoken and truly apologetic the man and his companion were, we are assuming they were simply walking to or from work, saw the boat and thought it was unoccupied and that they would not disturb anyone if they took a picture.  It would have been very easy to over-react.  By coincidence I have been reading in the AGLCA forum about several boats being boarded while tied up on the Illinois River.  The boaters reported that they used wasp spray and other unspecified deterrents to get rid of the intruders.  I know that many boaters (legally) carry firearms.  In our case, while it was, for me, a disturbing experience, the trespassers were quite innocent, and over-reacting could have been disastrous.  One thing we did agree on, in future we will make a point of connecting the lifelines and rail as well as bringing in the boarding ladder if we are using it.  Just to make it a little less easy to get on board.

After Rochester we stopped at Newark, with a well maintained town wall, excellent shower facilities, and a nice little canal museum.  From there the Canal became less scenic, and the towns not quite as pretty.  There followed long stretches with no towns or signs of habitation.  The next night we tied up below a lock, truly in the middle of nowhere (Tripadvisor reported the nearest restaurant was 4.5 miles away).  It was an incredibly peaceful stop, almost like anchoring.  We also noticed a somewhat different attitude on the part of the lock keepers (with the exception of the one we tied up at.)  They seemed to be less likely to be paying attention to their radio when we called for a lock-through, requiring several calls before we could see any activity at the lock, and often no response on the radio at all.  No longer interested in how far we would be travelling, and certainly not willing to call the next lock to let them know we were coming.  The attitude seemed to fit with the general condition of the houses we saw along the canal in this stretch.  Tumbledown shacks, yards full of junk, and lots of derelict docks.

Shortly before Baldwinsville we began to see an improvement.  New homes and tidy cottages with well kept grounds and well maintained docks lined the Seneca River (the Canal becomes the river for much of this stretch).  Baldwinsville is a very pleasant town of about 8,000.  It is built on both sides of the canal, and includes an island between the canal lock and the dam.  On the island is a large park with an amphitheatre, and we understand that concerts are held regularly through the summer months.  The town wall has power and water, at $5 a night on the honour system.  Here we met a couple of Loopers who have been spending summers on their boat for the past 8 years.  They completed the loop in 2010-2011, and since then, they have been twice to Maine, spent two summers on Lake Michigan, and this summer they went to the north side of Lake Superior.  Now me, I think of the Canadian side of Lake Superior as rocks, pine trees, and mosquitoes big enough to carry off your boat!  However, Jill told me they loved it, anchoring most nights for nearly a month.  The Lake was far more peaceful and the weather predictions more reliable than Lake Michigan, and as for mosquitoes, when they were there it was far too cold!  It was certainly interesting chatting with them.

From Baldwinsville it was a short morning’s run to Brewerton, at the north end of Oneida Lake.  At Winter Harbor, an aptly named marina where we will leave Nine Lives until next June, we found several other Looper boats in various stages of getting ready for winter storage.  Nine Lives will be hauled out and stored in a huge heated and humidity controlled storage shed.  While considerably more expensive than non-heated storage, there are a great many advantages, including being able to leave the water tanks full, most of the pantry food on board, and the security of knowing that damp will not be an issue. Since this is also a working boat yard, a quite long list of maintenance and repair items will be dealt with before launch next spring.  Today is being spent packing up the clothes we will be taking home, doing a lot of cleaning, and generally getting Nine Lives ready for a long winter’s nap.  We expect to leave tomorrow late morning, driving to Hagerstown, PA, and then get home early evening on Tuesday.

Look for the next instalment of the Nine Lives blog some time in June 2019.

Rock n Roll
Rock n Roll – the main entrance plaza of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Surf and turf Cleveland
Surf and turf in Cleveland – one of the best I have ever eaten, delicious tender lobster tail with drawn butter, and a perfectly grilled steak in a simple presentation with mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus at the Blue Point Grille.

keeping out the rain
Keeping out the rain – we will blame the photographer (Dick) for the blurry photo of me, valiantly holding back the rain as it lashes the boat when we pass through a squall. It’s probably blurred because he was laughing!

Erie PA
Erie PA – the harbour with a view of the Sheraton Hotel and the walkway to the Convention Center.

Erie PA 2
Erie PA 2 – a shipyard with a vessel under construction. At the left you can see the large rust red bow (or stern), while on the right are blue plastic covered sections of the midship. We don’t know whether this is a Lake freighter being constructed, or a large barge tug.

Buffalo
Buffalo – extravagant flowerbeds in the gardens at the marina on the edge of Buffalo’s Inner Harbor.

Buffalo 2
Buffalo 2 – another picture of the marina garden, with the attractive architecture of downtown in the distance.

Buffalo 3
Buffalo 3 – the Edward M Cotter, a historic fireboat, still in service, and also used in winter as an ice breaker in the Buffalo River.

Buffalo 4
a detail of the stern area of the Edward M Cotter.

Buffalo 5
Buffalo 5 – General Mills is still a grain milling presence on the Buffalo waterfront. The high rise manufacturing facility is of unusual architectural interest. It is also the place where familiar brands such as Cheerios, Gold Medal Flour, Bisquick, and Wheaties are made.

Into the Canal 2
Into the Canal – a somewhat unprepossessing entrance to the Erie Canal between Buffalo and Niagara. The Canal turns to the right of the image.

Erie Canal bridge
Erie Canal bridge – one of the many lift bridges on the Canal. The car parked beside the tower belongs to the bridge keeper. Typically, one keeper will be responsible for 2 or more bridges, and must shuttle between them when boats need to pass.

Erie Canal boat
Erie Canal boat – one of the English narrowboat style boats that are available to rent and cruise the canal.

Albion 2
Albion – the main street of the pretty village is glimpsed through the lift bridge. You can also get a sense of the bridge mechanism. The whole span slides up to raise the bridge over the canal. Pedestrians can climb the stairs and cross when the bridge is lifted, but cars must wait.

Albion 4
Albion – the sign for the village as we leave. We were particularly interested in this because we have a friend, Stuart Albion, and had no idea there was a whole town named after him!

Short ribs Spencerport
Short ribs in Spencerport – Dick’s favourite dish, served with mushroom ravioli. Sadly, it was not as tasty as he had hoped. As he put it, “it tastes the way it does when I make it at home, and I know I don’t do it very well!”

Spencerport
Spencerport – sunrise at Spencerport, where we were docked with two of the English style canal boats.

Rochester
Rochester – we docked beside an apartment and restaurant complex on the Genesee River in historic Corn Hill, with a view of downtown.

Wine bar Rochester
Wine Bar in Rochester – they specialize in flights, currently very fashionable. Dick tried champagne and sparking wine, while I enjoyed tasting three different roses. A delicious meat and cheese board accompanied the wines.

Ithaca concert hall
Ithaca concert hall – the historic State Theater was saved from demolition after it was condemned.

Pittsford
Pittsford – we passed through this pretty village. Creative use has been made of the former grain elevators, they have been turned into luxury flats.

Pittsford 2
Pittsford 2 – another view as we leave the village.

Newark
Newark – sunrise over the pedestrian bridge at Newark, NY. The building at the left of the bridge houses a visitor center and excellent shower facilities for boaters.

Erie Canal lock 25
Erie Canal lock 25 – the quiet wall above the lock where we docked for the night.

Erie Canal lock 25 2
Erie Canal lock 25 – still water and reflections of the trees lining the Canal.

painting a bridge
Painting a bridge – this was interesting to see, they set up a tent to completely wrap the bridge so that the paint does not contaminate the water. As we passed under the bridge we could hear the high pressure paint sprayers at work in the covered section.

Baldwinsville
Baldwinsville – a pleasant seating area in the waterfront park.

Baldwinsville 2
Baldwinsville – the canal and town wall leading to the guard gate and lock. To the left of the image is the park and amphitheatre where weekly concerts are held in summer.

Erie Canal 15
Erie Canal – our last morning on the Canal and on this year’s voyage. The leaves are beginning to turn, and it is time for us to return home.

Winter Harbor
Winter Harbor – the aptly named boatyard where Nine Lives will sleep for the winter. You can just see one of the huge red and blue sheds in the background of the picture.

August 21 to September 3, 2018: Port Elgin to Cleveland

August 21 to September 3

It was difficult to leave Port Elgin… not because of its charms, rather because of the weather.  We knew that there was a major weather system coming, and if we did not get out on the 21st, we would add as much as a week to this year’s voyaging.  In fact, we regretted that we didn’t have a chance to explore Port Elgin and the neighbouring town of Southhampton.  It was a pretty miserable morning, with driving rain and accompanying poor visibility.  The wind and wave forecast was acceptable, but the day was expected to bring a succession of squalls that could be expected to cause localized rough water as well as visibility limited to a few hundred feet.  We consulted a large weather map in the marina office several times, and finally at about 1:30 decided to make a run, hoping to slip between the squalls.  We do have radar on board, but as we seldom use it, I am not confident that we would be able to interpret it well enough to see something like a small boat in time to avoid it.  As it worked out, we went through one squall, and could not see much, but we were out there alone (surprise surprise) and we arrived in Goderich without incident.

We were unexpectedly quite captivated when we began to explore this town of 8000, self-billed as “Canada’s Prettiest Town”.  We assumed hyberbole, but as soon as we hiked up the hill and saw the beautiful houses, charming English style gardens, and exceptional civic pride, we were convinced.  Many of the lovely old houses and shops of the 19th and early 20th century are still occupied, and newer buildings are in keeping with the original style of the town.  The layout of the town centre is an unusual octagon, with roads radiating out like spokes to an enclosing square. Outside the square the roads follow the cliffs of the lake shoreline, filled in with the familiar grid pattern of most Canadian towns.  Flowers are everywhere, with most houses and businesses sporting hanging baskets as well as colourful plantings.

Goderich is the site of the largest underground salt mine in the world.  The mine is 1750 feet deep, and extends nearly 3 miles under Lake Huron.  It is operated by a subsidiary of Compass Minerals, the very familiar Sifto Salt. The mine buildings at the edge of Lake Huron can be seen for miles.  In addition to the salt mine and tourism, Goderich is an important port for lake freighters with several large grain elevators.

We stayed 3 nights in Goderich.  On our first day we explored the downtown on foot, including a wonderful kitchen shop with a great many interesting gadgets that we never knew we needed.  We returned to the boat along a path behind the grain elevators, and were fascinated by the sight of trucks being loaded with grain that we assume had been brought in the previous day by a lake freighter that had been in the harbour.

Our second day was a bike ride of the sort only Dick can arrange.  We set off first in a direction exactly opposite to the town, requiring a crossing of a converted railway bridge over the Maitland River.  The Menesetung Bridge was once the longest railway bridge in Ontario, with 7 spans totalling 750 feet long, 200 feet above the river. Today it is a walking/cycling bridge.  With my fear of heights, I was only able to push my bike and plod carefully along the centre of the bridge, keeping my eyes firmly down and watching the rows of nail heads in the planks.  Dick enjoyed it tremendously, stopping at the various lookout points and riding the rest of the way across.  We then followed a straight, slightly uphill and quite boring, trail through woods along the old railway right of way, eventually arriving on top of the highway bridge that Dick’s careful planning had intended to pass under.  Retracing our steps, we found a way to get onto the highway, and were then faced with a very long ride up out of the river valley on the side of the four-lane highway (no bike path).  Fortunately, my bike is electric assist, or there would have been even more tense words on choice of route for what was supposed to be a pleasant exploration of the architecture of the town!  Our ride finished along the lake shore at the popular beach, where we had a meal in a restaurant that was once a small railway station.  Unfortunately, the quality of the food failed to match the beautiful and sympathetic conversion of the historic building.

Wildlife, or should I say, insect life, has become an annoying and continuous presence in our lives.  We began to see spiders on the boat when we were on the Trent Severn, and for the past few weeks they have been found everywhere outside, and are even beginning to encroach inside the boat.  They like to hide in our dock lines and fender lines, and from there they build webs everywhere.  When you step on one it makes a nasty mess on the boat that only comes off with soap and a brush, so Nine Lives is looking less than pristine. They also poop everywhere, something I have never seen before and could certainly do without seeing now!  A much more attractive presence is monarch butterflies.  I noticed them flying around the boat right in the middle of Georgian Bay, and since then we have seen them several times offshore as well as sipping nectar on wildflowers when we are out for a walk.

From Goderich we made a fast run to Sarnia.  I had hoped that getting out of Lake Huron and into the St Clair River would smooth the water somewhat, but between strong winds, a very strong current, and numerous wakes from boats large and small, it was an unpleasant arrival until we were inside the protected harbour.

Sarnia is a medium sized city and important Seaway port.  There is a large refinery and petrochemical presence that overwhelms the waterfront.  That said, the Sarnia Bay Marina is a very attractive and well-built facility surrounded by parkland and bike paths, and protected from the river swells.  There is a restaurant on site that we didn’t try, and an Irish Pub across the road.  After discovering that the Pub was offering live music on our second evening, we decided, against our better judgement, to eat late so we could enjoy the music.  The duo were scheduled to start at 9:30pm (well after our “looper midnight” bedtime), and although they were very good musicians, the evening was ruined by the presence of a number of their so-called friends and fans, who chose to talk loudly among themselves and did not pay even the slightest bit of attention to the music.  Between them and wildly uncomfortable bar stools, we soon gave up and headed back to the boat.  We wished we had chosen instead to go to the evening of Elvis and Patsy Cline music that was being offered at the marina!

On Sunday morning Dick took a deep breath and followed the prompts on the ROAM app that is the new offering by US Customs and Immigration for small boat border crossing.  He was ever so slightly surprised to receive an immediate confirmation with number, and no requirement to report in person.  It may not always go quite as smoothly, but for a first attempt it was perfect!  We made a short hop down the river to the small town of St Clair, on the US side. The town is popular with boaters because of its protected harbour behind a lift bridge and several easily accessible waterfront restaurants.  Here we were assailed by the sounds of what appeared to be the favourite local vessel, the cigarette boat.  These large, sleek, and usually beautifully painted boats look stunning, but are an assault on the ear drums and create enormous wakes for other boaters. They are racing boats, and as such will have two or more engines with over 1000hp and no muffler.  With used models running between $300 and $700 thousand, plus fuel costs, these boats are not generally owned by middle class family types.  In other words, the self-absorbed owners are some of the most inconsiderate boaters we have encountered.  So far, we have only seen them occasionally, and it appears we have left most of them behind on the St Clair and Detroit Rivers.

After an early start to catch the first bridge opening, we had a relatively smooth run downriver to Lake St Clair and on to Detroit.  Although the lake is only about 20 miles wide, it is quite shallow and can become very rough, so we hoped to get across it before the afternoon winds kicked up.  We arrived by noon in the city of Detroit, staying at the downtown municipal marina, just a mile from the Renaissance Center and located in the middle of a ribbon of parks along the waterfront.  I can tell you, Detroit was probably right at the top of the list of North American cities I did NOT want to visit, but after our stop there I have certainly changed my mind.  The city is well on the way to a complete revitalization of the downtown area, with parks and walking/cycling paths and beautifully restored and repurposed old industrial and commercial buildings. We felt completely safe everywhere we walked, and there was no sign of gangs of young men hanging about, or homeless people.  Just families out enjoying the hot weather and joggers and cyclists making their way through the parks and very clean streets.

The first evening we walked to the Renaissance Center through the waterfront park, and enjoyed a seafood meal at Joe Muer Seafood.  The second evening we began by meeting the local AGLCA Harbour Host at his office for some beer tasting and chat.  We were surprised to learn that he is a lawyer who specializes in cannabis.  He told us that initially he dealt mainly with legalization of cannabis for medical uses, now he is involved with the Michigan campaign for recreational use.  He is now becoming a consultant for the legal aspects of cannabis business, as well as legalization and defending people who have been arrested.  It was an interesting chat, and while his passion is not ours, it is always interesting to meet someone who has dedicated their whole career to a single cause.  Mainly we chatted about The Great Loop, and his hopes to buy a suitable boat in future so he can participate as more than harbour host.  Afterwards we walked down to the waterfront and the Rattlesnake Club for dinner.  This fine dining restaurant has been a Detroit institution for 30 years, with the goal of taking an active part in the revitalization of the city.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal (no snake on the menu, never was), and certainly hope that the small number of diners was not indicative of a trend.

Leaving Detroit, we passed a huge steel works on the shore of the Detroit River. Zug Island is the site where Detroit Ironworks built a blast furnace in 1902. By 1931 the operation became part of a fully integrated steel mill, and is still operated today by United States Steel. Lake freighters bring coal and ore to the docks along the Detroit River.  In 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald was bringing a load of taconite for the mill when she went down in Lake Superior.

Our next destination was an anchorage in the Raisin River at Monroe, Michigan.  The far western end of Lake Erie is heavily industrial, and there weren’t really any nice choices for destinations.  Sandusky was too far for a single day’s travel.  We haven’t anchored since Lake Champlain, so it was a nice change.  As it turned out, in spite of being anchored in the Port of Monroe turning basin, it was an interesting afternoon.  The skyline is dominated by the chimney stacks and conveyors of the DTE Energy Power Plant, but beside the turning basin where we anchored there appears to be a loading operation for what Dick is sure is fracking sand.  This is sand that is part of the water mixture  injected into shale wells.  The sand serves to hold the cracks open and allow the oil or gas to be extracted. Not all sand is suitable, so there are commercial operations that mine the sand in places like Texas and Wisconsin, and ship it to fracking destinations.  We watched trucks dump large loads of sand at the edge of the basin all afternoon.  The condition and height of the docks suggested that barges, rather than freighters, would be used to collect the accumulated sand.  Neither of us could understand why a commercial vessel turning basin would be designated as an anchorage for pleasure boats, and I was somewhat concerned that we would be woken in the night by an irate tow operator expecting us to up anchor and get out of the way!

We passed a very peaceful night, and in the morning, it was time to lift the anchor.  Headsets on and me at the wheel, Dick went to the bow and flipped open the cover to operate the electric anchor windlass.  A certain amount of language ensued, when he discovered that the rubber cover of the button had perished, allowing the mechanism to become corroded.  After several starts, it stopped working altogether and Dick began to look around for the handle to operate the windlass manually (more colourful language). I reminded him that we have a remote control for the anchor windlass, and perhaps he would prefer to try that first.  Amazingly the remote was right where I thought it was, and the battery was fine.  Without resorting to the instruction manual (those are for AFTER you have tried several things without success), Dick was able to raise the anchor without difficulty.  Since we were in 19 feet of water, and therefore had all 200 feet of our all-chain rode out, manually winding it in even with the windlass would have been a lot of effort.  So, add fixing the windlass buttons to the ever-growing list of repairs to be done this winter!

Contrary to the expected forecast of single digit wind and one foot waves, the ride to Sandusky was very choppy and unpleasant.  Eventually the fetch was broken up by the chain of islands that cross the Lake just before Sandusky, making a slightly more pleasant ride.  As we approached the Bass Island chain, we were amazed to see literally hundreds of small boats anchored in the chop and fishing.  I can’t imagine a less enjoyable pastime than heaving up and down on the waves, in the broiling sun, while hoping to catch fish.  Obviously, there are thousands who love it, each to his own!

Arrival in Sandusky Bay made a relief from the unpleasant chop.  We passed close to Cedar Point, a 347 acre amusement park first opened in 1870.  Today it has 71 rides, including 18 roller coasters.  The sheer size of some of the rides was brought home when we noticed the 500 room Hotel Breakers, dwarfed by the rides surrounding it.  Sandusky Bay is a wonderful area for boaters.  The Bay is large enough for sailing when Lake Erie is feeling frisky, and the whole area is surrounded by marinas.

Sandusky was another very pleasant surprise on this trip.  The downtown is well ahead on redevelopment of the beautiful old commercial buildings, and in addition to pleasant waterfront parks, there are some lovely municipal gardens.  We enjoyed a bike ride through the town and some of the historic neighbourhoods.  The marina was very pleasant, and one of the friendliest we have been to.  We enjoyed docktails with the owner of the marina and her husband.  Her parents used to travel to Hilton Head each year for the winter, so they were interested to chat once they saw our hailing port.

We had originally planned to spend labor day weekend in Cleveland, but were unable to get in to any of the marinas for the days we wanted because they were fully booked for the annual air show.  Instead, we spend an extra two nights in Sandusky, and were able to get reservations at “Rock and Dock”, the municipal marina in downtown Cleveland, for Monday and Tuesday nights.  Arriving at about 1pm, we discovered that the air show runs all three days, and we were in the middle of it.  Lots of boats were anchored in the harbour to watch it, and as we carefully made our way through them towards the marina we were shouted at.  “You can’t go there!  Can’t you see that?  You CAN’T go there!  Oh look, now you’re in trouble, here’s the Coast Guard!”  I stood on the bow, and the very polite Coastie asked where we were headed.  After I explained that we had a reservation at the marina, he told me we could go ahead as long as we proceeded with no wake and got there within the next 10 minutes.  I desperately wanted to thumb my nose at the rude boaters, but I figured just being allowed to proceed was revenge enough!  We docked to the sight and sound of fighter jets making passes over the boat, and were in plenty of time to see the Blue Angels.  The 3rd time this trip they have welcomed us into port!

We will stay 2 nights in Cleveland, looking forward to visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then onward towards Buffalo and the western Erie Canal.

Goderich
Goderich – beautifully restored municipal buildings

Goderich 2
Goderich – the charming downtown with restored commercial buildings, new builds in keeping, and hanging baskets for beautification. These are also the widest streets I have seen since Salt Lake City, allowing for ample parking in the downtown area, always an issue for town centre revitalization.

Goderich 3
Goderich – one of the beautiful homes with a pretty garden in this charming city

Goderich 4
Goderich – the historic lighthouse, and the salt mine in the distance

loading grain
Loading grain – grain is loaded on a truck from the grain elevators in Goderich harbour.

spider
Spider – uggh! One of the many squatters we have been plagued with for the last few weeks.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly – a pretty butterfly on a thistle. We have seen these right out in the middle of Georgian Bay.

Livingstone Channel
Livingstone Channel – a freighter approaches the narrow channel of the Seaway. Fortunately, we were able to pass it after we had arrived in an area with more water.

passing a freighter
Passing a freighter – that ship was big!

Livingstone Channel 2
Livingstone Channel – you can see just how little space there was to pass the huge freighter.

Detroit
Detroit – approaching Detroit

lobster bisque
Lobster bisque – an attractive presentation of my favourite soup at Joe Muer Seafood

oysters
Oysters – Dick enjoyed Oysters Rockefeller

perch
Perch – lightly breaded and sautéed fresh perch on a bed of mashed potato and green beans. Dick reports it was delicious!

beet salad
Beet salad – a very attractive presentation, thin slices of beets in a pyramid enclosing the greens, with a delicious drizzle of dressing and avocado slices, blueberries, and goat cheese for garnish at the Rattlesnake Club

chocolate ravioli
Chocolate ravioli – white chocolate cases filled with a dark chocolate filling and covered with a white chocolate drizzle. It was delicious!

Detroit 2
Detroit – downtown and the waterfront as we leave this revitalized city

Zug Island
Zug Island – piles of iron ore, with a freighter unloading more.

Zug Island 2
Zug Island – another part of this enormous historic steel mill on the banks of Detroit River.

Monroe
Monroe – it turned out to be a peaceful anchorage, in spite of the industrial setting

Bass Islands
Bass Islands – a few of the hundreds of small boats fishing off the Bass Islands in Lake Erie

Cedar Point 2
Cedar Point – you can get a sense of just how big some of these rides are when you realize that the buildings in the middle are a 500 room hotel!

Sandusky
Sanduksy – the pretty downtown from the waterfront

Sandusky 2
Sandusky – a floral clock in the municipal gardens. Note the date, how do they DO that?

Sandusky 3
Sandusky – the courthouse is surrounded by beautiful gardens

Sandusky 4
Sandusky – a beautiful sunrise at the friendliest marina we have visited

air show
Air show – high in the clouds, a USAF F-16 Viper with a heritage P-51 Mustang

Cleveland 2
Cleveland – downtown Cleveland from the marina. You can just see two of the Blue Angels flying past the buildings.

air show 4
Air show – Blue Angels

air show 5
Air show – Blue Angels

air show 7
Air show – Blue Angels

air show 8
Air show – Blue Angel 3 with wheels down prepares to land

August 7 to 20, 2018: Peterborough to Port Elgin

August 7 to 20

Our second day in Peterborough was wet, so we didn’t get the promised Indian meal at a restaurant.  The next morning we set off for the first big adventure in this segment of the Loop, the Peterborough Lift Lock.

The Lift Lock was opened in 1904, and until recently was the highest hydraulic boat lift in the world, raising and lowering boats 65 feet in just about 60 seconds.  The lift consists of two large chambers that are filled with water.  Boats drive over a dropped gate into the chamber, the gate closes, an extra foot of water is let into the top chamber, and the weight of the water in the upper chamber counterbalances the lower, so one drops while the other ascends. It was quite exciting, although a very smooth and easy operation. It was a dull day, but I did take quite a few photos, plus Dick took pictures the day before when he walked up to the lock to see the operation.

We stopped for the night at Lakefield on the wall just above the lock.  Lakefield is a pretty town with a tidy main street with restored buildings, interesting shops, and an excellent restaurant. A highlight was a wonderful chocolate shop in a lovely old house at the edge of downtown.  We made several selections and enjoyed them with tea for the next few afternoons.  They were so good we wished we had bought a larger box!  The next day was forecast to be rainy, so we wimped out and stayed another night on the lock wall. I had fun that evening cooking an Indian meal, papadums with dal, chick pea curry, chicken curry, naan bread, and basmati rice.

Kawartha Lakes is an area of lakes and small communities north and west of Peterborough.  Since it is only 90 minutes from Toronto, the lakes and connecting rivers are dotted with cottages and there are lots of boaters out for the day travelling through the various locks of the Trent Severn Waterway.  The village of Buckhorn was our next stop.  The lock keepers manage the tie-ups above the lock, and we were shoehorned in between several houseboats.  Houseboat rentals are apparently a thriving business in the Kawarthas, and we passed a lot of them as we travelled through the area.  Four of the houseboats at Buckhorn were occupied by a large group of young teenage girls with older girls as leaders.  They were not girl scouts, although most of them wore burgundy kerchiefs around their necks, and I heard the leaders speaking in what I recognized as a Slavic language.  I found out the next day that these were Ukrainian girls, on a special outing.  I think the leaders were in Canada for work experience, while the younger girls were from Canadian families of Ukrainian heritage. They were all well behaved, and very quiet.  We were glad it was group of girls, suspecting that a similar gathering of boys would not have been such good neighbours!  There are several restaurants in Buckhorn, including a Chinese restaurant that we were told too late was excellent.  Instead we decided to go for pizza.  A poor choice, as it turned out.

The next day we went on to Fenelon Falls.  We arrived just in time to snag the last spot on the town wall above the lock.  This meant I had a front row seat while a great many boats of various sizes locked up and down throughout the afternoon.  Nine Lives gathered a great deal of interest.  There are very few catamarans of any size in this part of the country, and now that we are behind the main group of Loopers, people are surprised to see a boat that has come all the way from South Carolina. Tourists and dog walkers stop to chat and ask questions, and I can hear people talking about the boat even when they don’t pause for conversation.

Kirkfield is the second lift lock on the Trent Severn.  The lift was completed in 1907, and extensively modernized in the late 1960’s.  The concrete piers were removed, so the lock construction is more easily seen.  We stopped for the night just below the lock, so it was interesting to watch boats going up and down for the rest of the afternoon.  A friendly boater stopped by to chat, and eventually told us that his two sons would love to be able to see inside the boat.  We are always happy to show off Nine Lives, so the fellow and his sons came aboard.  It was quite clear that the boys had zero interest, while the father asked many questions and enjoyed the visit!  Beyond Kirkfield the Waterway became much quieter, with fewer boats out and about.

After a quick succession of 5 locks we were out into the open water of Lake Simcoe.  Although not considered one of the Great Lakes, it is 19 miles long and 16 miles wide.  It can become quite rough and is known for pop-up thunderstorms on hot summer afternoons.  We gave Nine Lives a nice run and skipped across most of it after we noticed some building thunderheads.  Lake Simcoe is connected to Lake Couchiching by a narrow channel with a fierce current.  We needed to stop at a marina at the end of the channel to get a pump-out, and the current slammed the boat into a corner of the fuel dock, creating a nasty gouge in the side of the boat, fortunately above the waterline.  The dockhands offered some waterproof tape to prevent any splashed water getting in, and later we were able to get more tape and complete the temporary repair.  The tech at a local boatyard told us that as long as we keep the tape intact we will be fine with the temporary repair until the boat is hauled out of the water for winter storage. The tape is the same colour as the hull so it doesn’t show.  Nobody wants other boaters to see the results of an “oops!”

The site of the town of Orillia has been occupied for at least 4 thousand years.  Evidence has been found of fishing weirs constructed in the narrows between Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, and there were also trading, fishing, and hunting camps in the area.  Samuel de Champlain visited in 1615, but the settlement of Orillia was not laid out until 1840.  There is some manufacturing in the area as well as farming and of course tourism, but the largest local employer is a casino run on the nearby Ojibway Reserve.  A beautiful marina has been built in the harbour, and there are bicycle paths running for several miles in each direction along the waterfront.  Dick disappeared on a beer run that somehow incorporated all 5 miles of the bike path!  There were several Looper boats in the marina, and we enjoyed docktails followed by Chinese food at a local restaurant with the couple on the boat next to us.  They are also doing the Loop in small pieces like us, instead of the more common all at once over a single year, so it was nice to compare notes.

North of Orillia we travelled through some “interestingly” shallow and narrow stretches of the waterway.  I say interesting, there were at least 2 cuts that were too narrow to allow large boats to pass each other, and one long stretch where we had to stop in place to allow big boats to inch past us.  The channels are rock sides and bottom, and the sides slope, rather than being cut straight down.  Unlike in some of the notoriously shallow areas of Georgia and New Jersey on the ICW, when you touch bottom here it is not soft sand but unyielding rock!  We managed to traverse the whole section without incident, just those few nail-biting moments as we passed other boats.  Our stop for the night was at the top of Big Chute Railway.

Big Chute was the second grand adventure on the Trent Severn.  There were supposed to be 3 locks built to carry boats between Georgian Bay and the Severn River at Swift Rapids.  One small temporary lock (still in use) was built at Port Severn, and two marine railways were built between that and Swift Rapids.  The Swift Rapids railway was eventually replaced by a lock, but Big Chute Marine Railway is still in use.  The current carriage was opened in 1978, and can carry boats up to 100 feet long and 24 feet wide.  The carriage rolls down into the water, and the boat drives in and is held at the side of the carriage while large slings are raised underneath to keep propellers and rudders off the bottom of the carriage and to steady the boat through the transit.  The carriage then rolls out of the water and down (or up) the rails to the other end.  It is cleverly designed to keep horizontal during the transit, even though the railway is very steep.  This marvellous piece of engineering is getting rather long in the tooth, and breakdowns are not uncommon.  In fact, a local boater had described it as “a white elephant that keeps breaking down”, not what we wanted to hear before our transit!  Our keels completely enclose our props and rudders, so we were simply resting on the bottom of the carriage, not lifted in the slings.  The carriage shakes and rattles alarmingly, and it was not exactly confidence building to listen to the operators chatting about all the reasons why the government is “going to have to work on this all winter!” Nine Lives survived the adventure without incident.

After the small lock at Port Severn we were into Georgian Bay.  Our first stop was Midland, founded as a railway town in 1871.  Of particular interest are a number of murals found around the town, painted by a local artist at the close of the 20th century.  The largest covers what would otherwise be very unsightly grain elevators overlooking the harbour.  The day after we were there was the start of a tugboat meet.  They were expecting at least 20 tugboats to gather for tours and races over the weekend.  The day we arrived there were already 5 at the docks.  Just as there are people who enthusiastically restore old steam trains, there are those who buy and restore old tugboats.  The ones we saw ranged from a very large 70 footer, to a small one painted bright red and named Maggie.  We were sorry we couldn’t take the time to stay and watch the meet.

Skipping quickly across the southern end of Georgian Bay in advance of threatened thunderstorms, we arrived the next day at Meaford.  We have now truly lost the last of our fellow Loopers, nearly all of whom are heading north to the North Channel and Lake Michigan.  Meaford is known for its apple orchards and an annual scarecrow festival.  It also has an arts and cultural centre and some lovely old houses and civic buildings.  As with most small towns, many of the downtown shop spaces are taken up by banks and various social services organizations and government offices.  The nearest supermarket is 5 miles away, and while there are a few restaurants, there seems to be little to attract tourists to the town.  The harbour is nice, and protected by a huge breakwater.  We noticed that most of the slips are taken up by sailboats, and there is an active sailing school for children operating out of the harbour.  We stayed three nights due to a poor weather forecast, and were very glad of the decision when we moved the boat the first morning to take on fuel.  The waves in the short hop around the breakwater blew up while we refuelled, and the return trip to the harbour was very lumpy, knocking things over in the cabin.  Now that we are back into “big water” we are experiencing the weather delays that have been mostly absent this summer.

Our next stop was Tobermory, a bustling town at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula.  As we made our way north along the shoreline of the Peninsula I spent some time refreshing my memory of the geological feature known as the Niagara Escarpment.  Dick and I both learned in school that the Niagara Escarpment is a high bluff that runs from the tip of the Bruce Peninsula south through Hamilton and Niagara Falls.  Looking it up, I was surprised to learn that in fact, the formation rises from Waterton New York, through Ontario, Illinois, and Wisconsin, ending northwest of Chicago near the Wisconsin border. What a pompous and parochial attitude of a school system that suggests that the importance and magnitude of a geographical formation is limited to the piece that falls within political borders.

Tobermory is a popular tourist destination. Nearby is Fathom Five National Marine Park, which we saw from the water as we made our way around the point.  Part of the National Park is Flowerpot Island, with a distinctive rock formation just offshore that attracts thousands of visitors on the many boat trips that ply the waters between Tobermory and the island. The area is also a magnet for diving, with many dive boats going out to explore the shipwrecks in the treacherous waters of north Georgian Bay.  We arrived in town in early afternoon, and I enjoyed watching the harbour activity.  In addition to at least 10 tourist cruise and diving boats every hour, there is a car ferry that goes to Manitoulin Island, and lots of large and small pleasure boats.  All this activity is complicated by kayakers weaving around the harbour, seemingly unaware of the “law of gross tonnage” that suggests that even though kayakers have the right of way, the bigger the vessel the less easy it is to stop or turn and give way!  I would have liked to spend another day or two in the busy little town with its interesting shops and lots of people watching, but the weather is getting chancy and we had to leave the next morning.

Turning south into Lake Huron we were surprised to find ourselves in much rougher water than the forecasts had suggested.  Nine Lives doesn’t really cut through the water the way a sailboat or ocean-going trawler does, instead she dances on top of the waves.  Our extra speed is helpful in smoothing things out so we are not wallowing or corkscrewing, but the ride is uncomfortable to say the least.  The hulls and the centre section pound on the waves, and gradually the furniture in the salon begins to make its way aft, as each hitting wave smacks the floor and makes everything bounce.  At one point, Dick had to go below and rescue the small seat that happens to be our liquor cabinet, before it reached the stairs with potential disastrous results!  Fortunately, the pounding only lasted about an hour before the promised smoother water showed up and we made our way into Port Elgin.

We were delighted to be able to entertain a friend from our university days on board for dinner that evening.  Jan Singbeil was in the same residence with us at Queen’s ..ahem.. some few years ago.  We all agreed that none of us has changed a bit, even though we have not seen each other for a very long time.  We spend an enjoyable evening catching up and exchanging stories.  We would have liked to stay a little longer in Port Elgin, but once again with an eye on the weather we had to take advantage of a short window to make our way south.  If we did not leave in the short hour between squalls that afternoon we would have been stuck there for at least 4 or 5 days.

I took lots of pictures this time, especially on the two lift locks and the marine railway.

Peterborough fountain
Peterborough fountain – a somewhat fuzzy image of the lights on the huge fountain at night

Peterborough lift lock 1a
Peterborough lift lock -a boat in the chamber – you can see how the boat is secured to the side of the chamber, and the gate that lowers to allow the boats in and out (and of course to keep the water in the chamber!)

Peterborough lift lock 1b
a tourist boat exits the lift lock

Peterborough lift lock 1c
the chambers pass each other, one going up, the other down

Peterborough lift lock 1e
a view of the inside of the chamber and the canal beyond

Peterborough lift lock
we approach the lift lock

Peterborough lift lock 2
we are in the chamber and the gate rises to close it

Peterborough lift lock 3
looking up after we have driven into the chamber

Peterborough lift lock 6
the chamber rises

Peterborough lift lock 7
leaving the chamber

Peterborough lift lock 8
after we leave the lift lock, the gate to the chamber is already coming up behind us

Lakefield
Lakefield, a tidy and interesting small Ontario town

Lakefield chocolate shop
The Chocolate Rabbit, some of the best chocolates we have ever eaten!

Lakefield profiteroles
Dick’s favourite dessert at the very nice restaurant in Lakefield

Trent Severn church
St Peters on the Rock, an Anglican Church that is still in use after over 100 years on an island in Stony Lake. The only way to get to it is by boat. There are services twice a week through the summer.

Trent Severn Waterway
one of the many pretty cottages in the Kawartha Lakes

Trent Severn Waterway 10
the channel is narrow, even when the lake seems wide.

Fenelon Falls
Fenelon Falls is a busy stopping point for boaters and a destination for visitors to the Kawarthas. There are four boats in the lock preparing to descend.

Kirkfield lift lock
Kirkfield lift lock – we have driven into the chamber and are waiting for the gate to come up

Kirkfield lift lock 2
looking towards the front of the chamber and the canal below. Notice the seagull on the front, that bird rode up and down all afternoon. Sometimes he would fly around, but he always returned when the chamber was ready to move!

Kirkfield lift lock 4
Dick hangs on to a line holding us to the side of the chamber as we begin to descend

Kirkfield lift lock 5
We have finished our transit and are tied up for the night. Looking back at the lift lock, the chamber has nearly reached the bottom with 3 boats inside

Kirkfield lift lock 6
Inside the lift lock, showing the pillar that the chamber moves up and down on. Dick took this picture, and did not notice the young woman doing handstands!

Kirkfield lift lock 7
another view of the mechanism from underneath the chambers

Tucker
Tucker posed for this picture on the day he spent helping his Auntie wrap gifts. I sure miss him.

Trent Severn Waterway 15
Trent Severn Waterway, one of the locks before Lake Simcoe. The fellow in the tiki bar at the left has a sign offering free beer, we did not test whether or not he meant it for all passing boaters.

Orillia
Orillia – the modern and attractive marina

Orillia 2
another picture of Orillia Marina. Notice the weed in the water at the docks, bad for our strainers!

no washing dogs
No washing dogs – the entrance to the showers at Orillia Marina. Sometimes a sign alerts you to a problem you did not know existed!

Narrow canal
Narrow Canal – the sign asks boaters to call on the radio to let others know your length and beam before you transit this stretch of the Trent Canal. The canal is very narrow, less than 7 feet deep, and has sloping sides. Not somewhere you want to meet another large boat and have to pass!

Narrow Canal 2
As we travel along the narrow stretch of canal, you can see the rock sides below the water at the edge of the cut.

Trent Severn Waterway 21
Trent Severn Waterway – an island and rocky shoals on the waterway

Trent Severn Waterway 23
some of the rocky areas are very close to the channel!

Big Chute
Our first sight of Big Chute – the railway car arrives at the top of the incline

Big Chute 3
the railway car is fully submerged and the boats float and drive away

Big Chute 1a
As Dick watches, small boats drive into the submerged railway and passengers prepare to take hold of the sides.

Big Chute 1b
take hold, we are ready to go!

Big Chute 1c
here it comes!

Big Chute 1d
a closer look at the railway car with a boat sitting inside

Big Chute 1e
conversation between the driver of a small boat and the Big Chute staff

Big Chute 1f
a small boat sits on the bottom of the railway car

Big Chute 4
the empty railway car awaits the first passengers (us) in early morning

Big Chute 6
the railway car, with Nine Lives aboard, comes up out of the water onto dry land

Big Chute 8
we have reached the top of the incline and prepare to drop to the Severn River below

Big Chute 9
we have arrived at the bottom of the incline and are once again floating. Nine Lives was much relieved to find water under her keels again!

Midland
Midland – the large mural on the grain elevator in the harbour

Midland 2
one of the murals in the town

Midland 3
another mural in the town. Notice the clever way the smokestack from the train incorporates the window.

Tugs at Midland 2
2 of the tugboats docked before the upcoming Tugboat Meet

Meaford Harbour
Meaford Harbour – a small boat heads out past the lighthouse, with the fish and wildlife spotter standing on the bow!

running fast
Running fast – a look back at our wake as we run fast. The yellow buoy marks the edge of a Canadian Armed Forces training area north of Meaford. Live fire exercises are conducted, so boats need to stay well off shore!

Bruce Peninsula
Bruce Peninsula – caves in the limestone cliffs of the Escarpment