September 22 to October 4, Quincy to Pickwick Lake

Our second day in Quincy was a good day for chores.  I took care of laundry, Dick defrosted the fridge, and then made a run for grocery shopping.  Sid on Tranquility arrived mid-afternoon, and joined us for dinner at Boodalu in the evening.  Good steaks and enjoyable company.

Nine Lives and Tranquility on the dock at Quincy
Quincy highway bridge at night
Quincy sunrise

The next morning, as we prepared to leave, the strap that I use to keep the power cords from sliding into the water jumped out of my hand as I undid it and landed in the water.  “Catch it!” I said to Dick, who instantly flopped full length onto the dock and retrieved it, just as it began to sink.  He learned the flopping technique in high school football.  You never know when lessons learned as a teenager will pay off in later life!  Sadly, Dick’s favourite white t-shirt is now relegated to painting and oil changes, as the Quincy dock had just that week been resealed and was still a bit tacky.  So a $30 shirt was sacrificed to save a $.99 strap…

Our trip to Two Rivers was very cold.  I needed to get out warm socks, insulated vest (gilet), winter gloves, and rain jackets.  It was certainly a big change from our trip up-river, when the temperatures were well over 90.  Fortunately, the rain let up at both locks, and we had no waits.  It also slacked off for our arrival and tying up.

Dredging the Mississippi south of Quincy

We had a bit of an adventure as we entered the channel to the marina.  I was standing on the deck waiting with the lines, and I felt the port-side pontoon climb a hill!  We had run aground at the channel entrance, with just one pontoon.  It was a very strange sensation.  We were fast aground, and the dockmaster was preparing to contact a helper to pull us off.  Dick powered backwards, hard, for several minutes, and we sort of slewed sideways without actually coming free.  At last, with a surge of very black smoke from the engine, we floated back out into the channel.  The engine stopped smoking almost immediately, but a muddy brown stream shot out from the exhaust for quite a while before it ran clear.

Dick changed the approach to come from downstream and we got through the channel without further ado.  Later, when Dick checked, the starboard strainer was empty, but the one on the port engine was ¾ full of mud.  The rest of the uncaptured mud would have gone through the engine heat exchanger and into the water-cooled exhaust before washing out of the side of the boat as a muddy stream.  Not recommended for the health of the engine.

Strainer full of mud

That evening we had homemade pizza on board.  This last couple of weeks there are fewer opportunities for eating out, and more for eating up what we have on board.

Misty morning at Two Rivers Marina

The next day was a very pretty trip to Alton, with no locks to contend with.  We passed many tows with a full load of 15 barges, all empty.  We wondered whether this was in preparation for harvest time further north.  Also, the Missouri River was very low, and tows were being advised by the Coast Guard to get off that river entirely.

Fishing on the Mississippi south of Rockport

We arrived in Alton with enough time to get fuel and a pump-out.  We discovered that we were at the end of the furthest pontoon in the marina, and as far from all the other Loopers as it would be possible to get.  We had hoped to resume friendly chats and possible docktails, but this was unlikely at such a distance. We did make an effort to visit one of the other docks, and Dick collected a few boat cards, but there really wasn’t the same easy interaction as happens when you share a dock.

Gentelin’s, on our third visit, started out wonderfully with delicious appetizers.  We shared potstickers, and toasted ravioli.  Dick ordered the duck for his main course, and it was good, although it was two legs instead of the half duck that was on the menu.  My tempura lobster was nothing like previous visits.  The wrong batter had been used, and the lobster was the mushy texture that you get when you overcook it from frozen.  Dessert did not salvage the evening, as it was too sweet.

Potstickers and toasted ravioli at Gentelin’s
Gentelin’s main courses
A pretty dessert, but far too sweet for our taste

A meeting was called for any Loopers who were planning to leave the next morning.  It is always more successful if only one boater contacts the lock, so coordinating the leaving times and appointing a spokesman is a good idea.  Unlike a similar meeting last year, nobody brought food or drink, and there was almost no socializing apart from polite introductions.  A very different group from our previous experiences.

We were up at 5am, and our group was in position in front of Mel Price lock at 6:45, 4th in line after 3 tows.  It took until 9:30 for our group of 9 boats to be locked through together.  The next lock south is Chain of Rocks, at St Louis.  Their second chamber was operating, and they were ready for the group to go straight in.  We had a lot of trouble holding Nine Lives in the lock, as we had misjudged the length of line needed to wrap around the floating bollard.  Dick didn’t want to use our normal long lines, but with the very short line and a strong wind, we were corkscrewing.  It took some jumping about to get a longer line in place plus a second stern line, and even then, I had both engines in gear to prevent corkscrewing for almost the whole lock down.  Two boats had to raft up, as there were not enough floating bollards for everyone.  Normally we would enjoy that, but as soon as we realized we were having trouble we had let the group know we could not be available.  We were all through that lock by 11:30am, a pretty good time for the morning.

Looper group waiting at dawn for Mel Price lock
Loopers leaving Mel Price lock 3 hours later
St Louis
Parked tows on the Mississippi at St Louis

Once past St Louis we speeded up, and with help from the current we got up to 20.4 knots, our fastest speed to date.  We had two long days in the plan, and needed to run hard to be able to make the distances.

Normally we would tie up to the lock wall at Kaskaskia, but we happened to be there in the week that they were dredging the area, so boats had to anchor.  The lock keepers were very cooperative, allowing anchoring, even though they could have just closed all access.  Given the distances involved, that would have been very difficult for many Loopers.  We were the first of our group to arrive, but 5 other Looper boats were there first, and had taken up most of the available anchoring space.  We tried to go well forward of the others, but the lockmaster sent us back as being too close to the dam.  It was clear from our interaction and that with later boats, that the lockmaster really didn’t understand anchoring and how far back a boat needs to go from where the anchor is dropped.  We made 3 tries, complicated by a large stump in the area, wind that pushed us too close to the shore, and unhelpful advice from another boater that we were too close to his anchor.  All this was done with an audience, and at the end I didn’t know whether we should take a bow or hide our heads.

Once we were finally set, a boat that had locked through with us earlier arrived, and when asked by the lockmaster if he was the last, he said yes.  This was not true, as he could not help but know, as he had passed the other boat on the River.  The final boat had a very difficult spot to try to fit into.  On the following night, the lockmaster arranged for all the boats to lock up and anchor above the lock.  This made more sense, and ensured less interference with the dredge as well.  The dredge had to move their boom out of the way for every boat that came through, so it would have been much more considerate if everyone had gone together.

Loopers anchored at Kaskaskia

Next morning the anchor came up much easier than it went down.  We avoided the stump and provided no entertainment for our watching neighbours.

On our second day of fast running and long distance to go we passed a loading terminal for coal and many full barges.  I was reminded of a country song on an album from Kathy Mattea, written in 2011, but still very much on point:

>>> 

You might think I’m outta date
But if I’m out of style and old
Why do men still dig me
All around the globe?

Hello, my name is coal
And around here I’m the queen
Some say I’m cheap and easy
Oh but they still bow to me
….
They curse me now for what I am
But not that long ago
They sang my praises everywhere
Hello, my name is coal

(excerpt from Coal, written by Jenee Fleenor and Larry Cordle, 2011)

Coal loading terminal on the Mississippi
Loaded coal barges

We passed through the Shawnee National Forest.  This whole area of the Mississippi is part of the Trail of Tears, when 60,000 members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” of Native Americans were displaced and sent west between 1830 and 1850.  American settlers, mainly from the South, had pressured the government to remove Indians from the southeast, in order to free up the land for settlement.  Population growth, the expansion of slavery, and the rapid development of cotton cultivation after the invention of the cotton gin created tensions and the subsequent land grabs. Although there was some opposition, the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830 and allowed the government to extinguish any Indian land claims in the southeast.  Over the next 20 years this law was used to remove entire tribes from their ancestral lands and send them to newly acquired territories west of the Mississippi.  Up to 12,000 deaths during the journeys were caused by disease, malnutrition, and exposure during harsh winters.

Something was burning near the river, but we never found out what it was

We had decided not to stop at the usual anchorage at Boston Bar.  We found the two previous experiences quite unpleasant, with a very strong current, and high risk from riprap and bridge abutments if the anchor let go.  As we passed, we could see that the whole area where we had previously anchored was completely above water.  The next option also did not appeal to us, although many Loopers do choose to anchor there.  As we passed that anchorage, Angelo Towhead, we could hear chatter from tow operators that they were bumping the bottom in the area of the bridge, and to stay close to the red markers.  This put the tows with their large barge trains very close to the area where boats would anchor, so we certainly were not going to risk it.  We turned the corner into the Ohio River and headed towards a highly recommended anchorage at mile marker 974.

Boston Bar. When we anchored here in June there was over 8 feet of water under the boat, now it is high and dry

We heard from the Coast Guard that there had been a grounding at mile 974, and, sure enough, when we got there, we saw a tow with two barges full of coal, stuck fast beside the red markers.  We turned toward the shore, and fortunately Dick proceeded very slowly, as we suddenly had only 3 feet under the boat.  At that point we decide to back off and attempt to get to safer locations above the next lock.  The next day, Looper friends tried to anchor at mile 974, and they ran aground suddenly and did some damage to their props, so our decision was the right one.  By this time, it was getting quite late, and we knew that going through the lock plus 5 miles further upriver would take at least an hour.

Approaching Olmstead lock. Last year the wickets, the part of the dam on the right side of the picture, were well underwater and we were told to just drive over them instead of locking through.

The anchorage was straightforward to get to, and has plenty of depth.  It was not easy to tell whether the anchor had grabbed, so I set both alarms with a small radius.  It was peaceful, with little current.  Dick decided we would put on our underwater lights as well as the required white anchor light, just to be more visible.  So the blue lights went on, and we looked like party animals!  Later, Dick had second thoughts and turned the blue lights off to save battery power overnight.

The sun set as we anchored on the Ohio above Olmstead lock

After running hard so much, and forgetting to turn the icemaker off, a major defrosting project was required.  Nine Lives tends to sit a little low at the stern anyway, but when running hard, she digs in even more, and the bow is even higher, although she does her very best to level out on plane!  If we forget to turn it off, as the icemaker adds water it slops over and runs down behind the ice bucket, creating a frozen block at the back of the machine.  Not the project Dick had hoped for at the end of a very long, stressful, and tiring day!

We had a short run to Paducah the next day, so a leisurely start with time for a bacon and egg breakfast.  We were there and tied up by mid-afternoon.

We had a good meal at Cynthia’s.  So far this seems to be the most consistent of the nice restaurants we have revisited.  We started with house smoked salmon for me, and oysters for Dick.  For main courses, I enjoyed bacon wrapped pork with cherry sauce, while Dick’s veal scallopine with mushroom sauce was delicious.  Dessert is never to be missed at Cynthias, and I could not resist returning to the chocolate slice as previous visits, while Dick loved his peach cobbler. 

Smoked salmon at Cynthia’s
Oysters at Cynthia’s
Pork with cherry sauce at Cynthia’s
Veal scallopini at Cynthia’s
Chocolate slice at Cynthia’s
Peach cobbler at Cynthia’s

In the middle of the night, we, and several other boats were boarded.  The masked intruder was almost certainly casing the joint, planning to steal.  He even peered down one open hatch at the Loopers sleeping below!  Oh, and did I mention that he had a stripey tail? Apparently, this raccoon likes to visit the boats, and was checking them out on several nights.

I went to the National Quilt Museum.  I had missed it on our previous two visits, and I found it quite surprising.  I particularly enjoyed the more traditional quilts, but it was interesting to see some of the other exhibits, including one room with fabric totems, and another Black Lives Matter project with quilted swing coats.  While I enjoyed the Quilt Museum, Dick visited the Railroad Museum.

National Quilt Museum, Paducah

Our Looper friends limped in with damaged props (after attempting to anchor at mile 974), but they were still ready to join us for docktails, followed by dinner at Grill 211.  They had booked a haul out and were hoping for a quick repair at Green Turtle Bay. (note, we think the repairs were completed quickly, as they are now on their way again)

Paducah has changed their procedures with their docks.  Previously, there was one Parks Department employee, plus a helper, who had dedicated cell phones so that boaters would get straight through to them.  They would come to the dock, and help tie up, and also arrange where each boat would be best, knowing what other boats were expected.  For some reason, the Parks Department has decided that they are now completely hands off, and boaters are expected to “sort it out”, with no assigned dockage.  This can result in small boats taking up the outside spaces, leaving the inside (with shallower water) for bigger boats.  It also means (as we saw) that nobody with authority is there to arrange for boaters to close up and leave enough space for the rest.  The day we arrived there were two rafted up on the inside, and the next day one boater refused to close up and left a very tight space for the next boat to try to get into between the dock and the rocks.  I will mention that while we have met some lovely people as always, overall we are not impressed with either the friendliness or consideration for others of many of the Loopers we encountered this year.  Dick has received a request for his opinion on his Paducah experience, so he is hoping to suggest a return to the previous system, at least for the 6 weeks when they are fully booked each night by the Looper pack.

The next day, as we headed up the Cumberland River, we heard the Coast Guard reporting historic low water on the Ohio River between Cairo and Olmstead Lock, and also shoaling around mile markers 972 to 974.  It is quite a pretty trip up the Cumberland, in spite of some large quarry operations.  There must be good fishing in the river, as we saw many herons, and also eagles and egrets.

Cattle drinking on the Cumberland River
Fishing on the Cumberland River
Nine Lives on the Cumberland River

Dick phoned Green Turtle Bay to ask for our dock assignment and check that they were not putting us into a narrow slip.  He was very disappointed to be told we were to be on a t-head on the far side of the marina, once again, as far from other Loopers as possible.  When he told the lady that we were planning to walk to town for dinner, she told him that from that t-head, instead of a mile, the walk would be two and a half miles.  He must have sounded very sad, because the nice lady had a rethink, and changed us to Slip Number 1, right beside the bathhouse and the marina office.  She said it would be a bit tricky to get into, and she was right!  There is a rescue boat permanently docked at the end of that slip, and Nine Lives had to wiggle quite a bit to get in there.  I was glad to see our neighbour take his bikes off the finger pier, as I had visions of sweeping them into the water as we made the corner.  With lots of help ready from fellow Loopers and dockhands (and thus a large audience), Dick made it look easy and sashayed into the spot without any difficulty.

Green Turtle Bay Slip 1, a tight fit and a tricky maneuver for Nine Lives

We met fellow Endeavourcat 44 owners, and enjoyed looking through each other’s boats and comparing the similarities and differences.  They did the Loop in 2018, and sold their boat and planned other retirement activities.  Instead, they found that they did not enjoy RVing, so they looked for a new boat, specifically an Endeavourcat, that they could live on full time and repeat the Loop, taking a lot more time.

Deer at Grand Rivers

In the evening we walked over to Patti’s 1880 Settlement Restaurant.  It was a bit more than a mile, and undulating, with no sidewalks, but quite a nice walk and we saw deer in the gardens.  We had a great evening.  The restaurant was extravagantly decorated with lighted greenery with an autumnal theme.  The waitresses are dressed in flower print long dresses, and the waiters wear bib overalls.  There is a large shop with loads of junk that they hope you will buy while you wait for your table to be ready.  We started with an appetizer sampler platter.  It had fried pickles, something we have been seeing on menus everywhere this year.  I don’t eat pickles, Dick tried a few, but won’t be ordering them in future.  The loaded home-made potato chips were very good, as were the mozzarella sticks and the chicken tenders with accompanying sauces.  Dick ordered one of the signature pork chops for his main course, while I decided to be adventurous and try a Kentucky Hot Brown.  This was slices of ham, smoked turkey, and tomato, on toast, topped with cheese sauce and bacon, and completely buried under homemade potato chips.  It was delicious!  For dessert Dick went for their famous mile-high coconut cream pie, and I decided on a chocolate martini that was both pretty and tasty.  Given the distance and lack of sidewalks (or street lights), we asked for a ride back to the marina, and they took us straight away.  The restaurant will pick you up and return you to the marina if you call them, so we had been reasonably confident that we would get the ride back.  We will certainly return to Patti’s on our next visit to Green Turtle Bay.  It is a complete departure from our usual fine dining options, but very good food, and lots of character.

Autumn decorations at Patti’s
Appetizer sampler platter at Patti’s
The signature pork chop at Patti’s
Patti’s version of the Kentucky Hot Brown
Mile high coconut meringue pie at Patti’s
Patti’s chocolate martini

We were planning several more long days, so we set out shortly after 8am the next morning.  We had lots of help and good wishes from fellow Loopers.  Our exit was not quite as perfect as the entry, but still impressive.  One of the Loopers commented to Dick that he had been watching our progress on Nebo and could not believe how fast we were going.  We did set another new record at 22 knots.

Green Turtle Bay Marina in early morning

We were now into Kentucky Lake, a huge, long reservoir created from the Tennessee River by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1944.  The TVA was created by Congress in 1933 as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Over time it evolved primarily into an electric utility.   We passed a derelict building that we have wondered about previously, and this time I was able to identify it as the Old Danville Grain Elevator/Terminal.  It is an enormous concrete structure.  It was built on the banks of the Tennessee River in 1914 for the purpose of transferring barge loads of grain and other products to railcars above on the L&N Railroad.  It was 6 stories high, and used two huge elevators to move goods from the barges to waiting trains above.  Cargos included peanuts, grain, limestone, iron, and cotton.  When the TVA began clearing land for the creation of Kentucky Lake the terminal ceased operations.  Nobody knows for sure, but the suggestion is that because the structure was so big, and made entirely of concrete, it would have been prohibitively expensive to remove it.

Old Danville Grain Elevator/Terminal on Kentucky Lake
Autumn colour on Kentucky Lake

That evening we anchored for the first time in Birdsong Creek.  Some of the reviews suggested a very complicated entrance and high risk of grounding, but Dick had good sonar detail on his chart, and seeing another Looper boat already in added to our confidence.  We stayed close to the green markers and always had plenty of water below us.  We anchored in 10 feet, beside the other Looper boat and well away from shore.  It was a very pretty, peaceful spot, in the middle of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge.  Further up the estuary is a freshwater pearl farm, that we might visit on a future occasion.

After a quiet night I enjoyed watching the sun come up and egrets fishing in the shallows.  As we pulled anchor, a hunter showed up with his dog to refurbish the duck blind across the creek.

Sunrise at Birdsong Creek
Egret in early morning at Birdsong Creek
A hunter refurbishes his duck blind on Birdsong Creek
Fishing at the mouth of Birdsong Creek

A check on our fuel situation suggested that we had used more than expected on the fast runs from Alton.  We decided it would be prudent to add some, rather than risk running dry before we got back to Pickwick Lake.  Dick made some phone calls, and found that the next marina south no longer sells diesel, and the further one was not answering their phone and has a reputation for being very expensive.  We decided to turn back north and get fuel at Pebble Isle.  It was an hour back, so the whole operation added nearly 3 hours to our day.  The dockmaster at Pebble Isle was very friendly and chatty, with a real Tennessee country accent.  We managed to figure out most of what he said, and guessed the rest!

Abandoned railway bridge/causeway near Johnsonville

The detour meant that we were very late into our planned anchorage at Swallow Bluff Island.  We set anchor just as the sun went down.  Fortunately, we had stopped there on the way north in June, so we were confident about the location.  It was a very quiet night, little wind, and no wakes, and the light current kept us perfectly in place.

Anchored as the sun sets at Swallow Bluff Island
Sunrise and mist on the river at Swallow Bluff Island

The shoreline was sandy, and it was easy to see the evidence of the recent lowering of the water to winter pool.  The pool refers to the depth the water is kept at on rivers and lakes when they are controlled by locks.  Kentucky Lake has a winter and a summer pool, with a difference of about 5 feet.  Winter pool allows room for winter and spring flooding from runoff and precipitation, while summer pool keeps the depth for greater numbers of tow traffic and allows for drought conditions.  The pool is measured as the number of feet above sea level.  On the Mississippi, the locks and dams are there to maintain navigable depth of the water for commercial traffic, they are not for flood control.  Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River are controlled by dams that generate electricity for the TVA.

It is easy to see the difference between summer and winter pool a few days after the water has been lowered for the winter. The dark brown sand on the shore was covered at summer pool.
Bluffs on the Tennessee River
Turkey vultures gather on the shore on the Tennessee River

Our last lock for this season was Pickwick lock, a 50-foot lift.  It was a very ugly experience.  Nine Lives twisted and I couldn’t get her straightened with the engine.  I had to take over handling the line on the floating bollard while Dick pushed off at the bow with all his strength to keep the bow from scraping on the wall.  We won’t forget that experience in a hurry, and will put out another fender as close to the bow as possible for future locking.  We will also request a spot further back in the lock, where there may possibly be less turbulence.

Pickwick lock and dam

Once in Pickwick Lake it was an easy run to our winter marina at Aqua Yacht.  We decided not to stay on board for the last 3 nights, which makes everything easier for packing up, cleaning, and preparing for winter maintenance.  We booked into a cabin at Pickwick Lake State Park, where we stayed at the beginning of the season.  They have a decent restaurant on site, so no trying to cook either. 

On our second evening we treated ourselves to a return to Corinth and Vicari Restaurant, that we enjoyed in June.  In this instance our return meal exceeded our previous great experience!  I ordered the trout pate again, while Dick tried the stuffed mushrooms.  We went onto the chef’s menu (last fine dining experience of this season!) and shared the chateaubriand.  It was absolutely delicious.  To finish we had crepes with fresh strawberries.  Although it is a half hour drive, we will plan to return when we are back to the boat next year.

Appetizers at Vicari
We shared the chateaubriand at Vicari
Strawberry crepes at Vicari
In case anyone thought we actually eat all that food at the restaurants, here is the stack of take home leftovers!

Dick has spoken with the service manager at Aqua Yacht, and handed over his list of maintenance projects for this winter.  He is feeling a lot more positive that the work will in fact be completed as requested, as the staff seemed to be more engaged with the projects this time.  The 2000-hour engine service is already on the schedule for next week, and the refurbishing of the gelcoat will be done shortly afterwards.  Poor Nine Lives is looking like a stray cat these days, especially after a season on the muddy Mississippi.  The gelcoat was already dull when we started out in June, with far too many black rubber marks and other dings and scratches.  The previous name was showing through as well, most unfortunate.  After refurbishment, the plan is to refinish Nine Lives with a new ceramic coating.  There will also be fresh lettering.  The owner of the boat cleaning company has also assured Dick that she will be properly cleaned once a month.

This is the final blog issue for 2022.  We will resume in late June next year, with plans to go north on the Ohio River to Pittsburgh and then beyond on the Allegany and Monongahela Rivers to the end of navigation.  We will return again to Pickwick Lake for the following winter.

Nine Lives 2022 Statistics

States: 8, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota

Locks:  58 (that’s 29 in each direction)

Miles:  2359

Bottles of Jack Daniels: 5 half gallon bottles

I will mention that unusually this summer, several of our guests shared our enjoyment of Manhattans as an adult beverage, so I am sure that contributed to the high number of bottles emptied.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Fastest speed at wide open throttle, 22 knots, fastest speed at normal throttle, 12.4 knots.

Rivers:  5, Tennessee, Cumberland, Ohio, Mississippi, St Croix

The map of our September travels. You can see the sections where we ran fast south of St Louis
I will leave you with a nice photo of Nine Lives passing the Arch at St Louis taken by a fellow Looper

September 7 to 21, Dubuque to Quincy

We arrived in Dubuque, and looked forward to our second visit to the restaurant, Brazen.  It was enjoyable, but not as good as the first visit, and certainly not worth the 45-minute walk.  The other problem was crossing the railway tracks.  Dubuque’s downtown is divided from the new waterfront area by the Interstate highway (elevated), and railway tracks with level crossings.  Trains get held up, often enough and long enough to require special signage suggesting alternate routes for drivers.  We had been lucky before, but this time, on our return from the restaurant, we were held up by a train.  After waiting for a while, we had to walk back into town, and then make our way to the elevated bridge that allows passage over the tracks.  This added quite a bit of time to the walk, on a hot and humid night, and it was dark by the time we got back to the boat.  Even then, we could see that the train was still across the tracks and blocking the road.

Sunset in Dubuque

The next morning, Dick picked up the rental car, and we made a grocery shopping trip.  We had dinner at the Copper Kettle.  It is a long-established neighbourhood restaurant, in what is quite an unsalubrious part of town.  However, the pub was packed, and it is rated as one of the top restaurants in Dubuque.  It was incredibly noisy, but the pub food was excellent.

Pub food at the Copper Kettle

Dubuque is an odd mix.  There are some areas with major urban renewal projects, but a lot of areas show neglected turn of the century buildings and homes.  The downtown particularly is very spread out, and the division caused by the Interstate and railway through the centre makes access difficult.  The roads are in poor condition, except for the new ones in the redeveloped waterfront.

One of the interesting sights in Dubuque is the restored Shot Tower, built in 1856.  A shot tower is a structure that uses gravity to create lead shot.  Molten lead is poured through a copper grate at the top of the 120-foot tower, that ensures that all the shot is roughly the same size.  It then falls to the bottom, landing in a trough of water.  As the lead falls, it assumes a spherical shape, and begins to cool, and the water finishes the cooling process and fixes the shape.  The story of the shot tower is an unpleasant indictment of common business practice.  The tower was built at a time when it should have been a viable business venture, particularly as there were lead mines in the local area, but there was significant competition from a competing shot tower in St Louis.  An economic downturn, plus cutthroat pricing on the part of the St Louis business, ensured that the Dubuque tower was never a success.  The St Louis company eventually purchased the tower with the sole purpose of shutting down the competing tower.  It was never used for its built purpose again.  It is the only remaining shot tower west of the Mississippi, and one of the last still standing in the United States.

Dubuque Shot Tower

Dick set off for the 780-mile drive to Brighton Ontario, where he, his sister, and several members of the local church gathered to help move his Mum to a very nice assisted-living complex in another town.  The move was successfully completed, and it was also an enjoyable family reunion with sister Betty, brother Ed, and other friends and family.

I remained in Dubuque on the boat.  Fellow Endeavourcat owners Erika and Holger stopped for a visit as they were passing through the area on a road trip.  Holger was able to solve a mystery for us.  We have a connector on one of the side steps that has developed a very slow leak of dirty water.  Holger immediately knew that it is caused by a stuck and rusted pressure reducing valve in the connector that allows you to hook up the boat’s water system to town water on the dock.  Since we never use this, preferring the safer method of filling our own (clean) tanks as required, we were entirely unaware of the purpose of the connector.  It is a relief to know that this is not a big enough problem to be concerned about, and it can wait until we are back in our winter marina to have the problem addressed.  Erika and Holger and I went over to the Stone Cliff Winery for lunch.

I visited the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which surrounds the marina.  Although I was told that there were several exhibit areas that were under renovation, it was still a most enjoyable visit.  There are displays both indoors and outside, with several raptor aviaries and a few indoor tanks with Mississippi fish and other aquatic species.  There is also a lot of information and equipment from the days when Dubuque was a major shipbuilding port.  I find it interesting that in both of the museums we have visited on the Mississippi the aviaries house raptors that have been injured and, although healed, cannot be returned to the wild.  Other places we have visited house captive bred raptors, and are able to offer flying demonstrations.

Barn Owl at the Mississippi River Museum
Wood Ducks
Bufflehead Ducks (female)

There is a calliope on display, and most days around noon it is set to serenade the surrounding area.  Calliopes are driven by steam, and were situated at the top of cruise boats near to the steam escape pipe.

The Calliope at the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque

Some of the boats built in Dubuque during its heyday included towboats, submarine chasers, steamboats, and even a pleasure cruiser for the King of Siam.  One of the biggest was the Herbert Hoover, the largest diesel towboat in the inland waters when it was launched in 1931.  One of the 100-ton engines arrived on the train backwards, and had to be sent to a turntable 100 miles away before it could be repositioned for loading onto the boat. 

Historic Tug at the Museum
The tug offered all modern conveniences!

Another visitor to Nine Lives was Sid and co-captain Nana (a beautiful Goldendoodle) from the sailing catamaran Tranquility.  Dick had met and chatted with Sid in Bayport.  Sid is doing the Loop single-handed, with a progression of friends and relatives to help out and enjoy various sections of the Loop.  I enjoyed his conversation, and we hoped for another meeting further down the River after Dick’s return.

I mostly ate on board, but one day I walked over to the Stone Cliff Winery for an excellent lunch, accompanied by a flight of 5 of their wines.  The winery is located in a lovely restored historic building, the former Star Brewery.  The chicken bacon ranch wrap was very tasty, and the chocolate lover’s cheesecake was delicious.  I bought two bottles of their fruit wines, which I really liked.  They were described as sweet, but I found them intensely fruity (raspberry), not sweet at all.

Star Brewery
Wine flight at Stone Cliff Winery
Chocolate Lover’s Cheesecake at Stone Cliff Winery

As I walked along the levee, I enjoyed reading the various plaques and looking at the interesting modern art installations.  One of the information tidbits was a comparison of cargo capacities for various modes of transportation.  One river barge carries 1500 tons of cargo.  A 15-barge tow carries 22,500 tons. A jumbo hopper car on a train carries 100 tons, while a 100-car train will hold 15,000 tons.  A large semi-trailer (articulated lorry for our UK friends) carries just 26 tons.  90 million tons of cargo moves each year on the Mississippi River between St Paul and St Louis.

Dubuque levee walk
Cargo capacities comparison

One evening, Twilight arrived at her regular berth.  Twilight is a pretty river cruise ship that brings passengers back and forth from Le Clare, just north of Quad Cities.  The passengers stay overnight at a Dubuque hotel and return the next day to their starting point.  Immediately behind Twilight, a much larger cruise ship, Celebration Belle, moved into the harbour.  The ship turned around, passing just about 15 feet from Nine Lives.  She then took up a position across the harbour, with her gangway extended to the T-head dock next to ours.  She was bringing her passengers on a one day, 100-mile cruise from Moline.  The passengers got off and were returned to Moline by bus.  I was not concerned, not at all… I wasn’t sure whether to brandish a boathook, or put on a life jacket!  Celebration Belle was still in place when I got up the next morning.

Twilight enters the harbor with Celebration Belle behind
Celebration Belle arrives in the harbor
Celebration Belle, very close!

The next morning began a day of juggling cruise ships and their respective passengers.  Twilight set off on her return journey, having embarked her passengers after their night in a hotel and breakfast, with time to visit the museum.  Two large cruise ships arrived during the morning at the main dock outside the harbour, one of them our old friend Viking Mississippi.  Both ships stayed for several hours, and offered sightseeing bus trips for their passengers.  Celebration Belle ran 3 sightseeing trips on the River, 2 from the dock next to us in the harbour. Their 3rd trip was a dinner dance, and I would have liked to watch the passengers arriving, (presumably) all dressed up, but by then the main cruise dock was available, so they were outside the harbour and I couldn’t see them.  A friend tells me that Dubuque is the largest city in Iowa that is on the Mississippi, and it is clearly doing well at attracting tourism from the River in the form of cruise ships.  Such a pity that they can’t quite get their act together for individual boaters with their outstanding marina.

Laundry uses quite a lot of water, so it was necessary for me to fill the tanks.  Normally this is one of Dick’s jobs.  He had conveniently left the hose hooked up to the water connection on the dock, and the hose was ready on the deck.  I got off the boat, and gave the connector the half turn required to start the water flowing.  Well, city water tends to be under quite a lot of pressure, so immediately I opened the valve, the hose on the deck started dancing around, ultimately directing a stream of cold water underneath my bike and showering me.  Dick shakes his head, but I braved the still dancing hose to seize it and wash down the decks before inserting it into the fill on the front deck.  The high pressure meant that the tank seemed to be full when it wasn’t, so water gushed up from the tank and more sprayed all over.  At this point my brain engaged, and I got off the boat again and reduced the flow by half.  The fill then completed properly.

Army Corps of Engineers tow and barge in Dubuque Harbor

The day of Dick’s expected return, some more Loopers arrived in the harbour.  Asea and Bob were just one week into their Loop.  They joined me on board for a glass of wine in the evening, with the plan for proper docktails once Dick was back the next day.  I really enjoyed their company, lovely people, with a great sense of humour.  The next morning, Bob came by to tell me that their forward compartment was full of water.  They were able to get an immediate haul out at a marina just up the river, and once the extent of the damage was revealed, they realized just how fortunate they were, as they could very easily have been sunk at the dock.  Their story continues, but they have repairs already underway, and the insurance company, and the boatyard, could not have been more helpful.  We hope to see them again, if not on the rivers, perhaps in Hilton Head in the spring.

Dick returned a little later than he expected, mainly due to a lot of traffic from construction in the Chicago area.  On arrival at the marina, he discovered that our gate code no longer worked.  Our keycard was also disabled.  It is a very good thing that I didn’t go out before we found out!  It turned out that the wrong dates had been entered in our record, so our card and code were automatically disabled.  The helpful dockmaster reinstated our card as soon as he found out, having picked up my phone message even before his 11am arrival for work.

Dinner at the nearby Woodfire Grill, located in the casino, started well but rather tailed off.  The waitress was very rushed, running about like a chicken, and forgetting to deliver bread until we asked for it.  I started with very tasty, crisp avocado rolls, and Dick said his calamari was some of the best.  For main courses, Dick had prime rib, and I ordered their filet steak.  Dessert was an overly sweet cheesecake with fruit topping.  The food was good, but after the excellent appetizers, it was not very memorable.

Calamari at Woodfire Grill
Avocado Rolls at Woodfire Grill
Prime Rib at Woodfire Grill
Filet steak at Woodfire Grill
Cheesecake at Woodfire Grill

An 8am start the next morning, and we were at last embarked on our final push to return to Pickwick Lake.  At the first lock there was entirely unexpected rain, and when the lockmaster offered to allow us to float free, we accepted the opportunity to stay dry.  We figured the lockmaster probably didn’t want to get wet coming out to give us the lines either!  Fortunately, our rain jackets fit over our life jackets, so when the time came for me to retrieve the fenders, only legs and feet got wet, along with my gloves.  The gloves are definitely in need of replacement, or at least a good wash.  As I returned to the cockpit, Dick, who, like most husbands, usually has no sense of smell, commented on the strong eau de wet dog, that seemed to be emanating from his lovely wife. 

The rain continued on and off during the day.  As we passed a southbound tow just a few miles north of lock 13, Dick heard the chatter on the radio, and it was clear that a lock down was scheduled for 2:15 pm.  He made contact, and was told to come ahead.  A bass boat fishing tournament was scheduled to lock down at exactly 2:15.  There were more than 40 bass boats in the lock, with fishermen holding onto the lines along the sides, and a few needing to raft up.  The timing was set precisely, so we had about 20 minutes to wait after we took our own lines.  Strong winds meant that I was unable to hold Nine Lives in place using the engine, certainly not for that length of time, so I took the stern line, and had to cleat it until the gates finally closed.  Meanwhile, it continued to rain, and all those poor fishermen, two per boat, had to stand there getting wet while waiting for the rest of the contestants.  At 2:15 exactly the gates began to close, and then to everyone’s great disappointment, they opened again for two stragglers.  Finally, they closed for good, and the lock down started, to everyone’s relief, I am sure.  We were advised to let the tournament leave first, a decision we had already made!  It was a surprisingly orderly exit.  As the last boat left the lock, a buzzer sounded, presumably to resume the tournament timing.

We arrived at Clinton Marina.  It was raining hard and very windy.  This will be another marina with a poor review from us.  The marina was built with the piers perpendicular to the current, resulting in awful swirls and great difficulty getting into the slips.  Dick had to make 3 tries at getting Nine Lives into the 20-foot wide well.  The other disappointment was that nobody cleans the docks.  The finger piers were covered with droppings from the local ducks and geese.  Walking on them required a curious dancing step as one tried to avoid the worst messes.  As it was, we had to remove shoes outside the cockpit, not fun on a wet day.  The marina is bouncy, subject to wakes from passing tows and pleasure boats, plus wind and the strong currents.

Clinton Marina after the rain

The onsite Candlelight Restaurant is very good, and we enjoyed our meal.  Dick tried sticky pork belly pieces in a ginger sauce to start, while I took advantage of possibly the last chance to order cheese curds.  I ordered their specialty Chicken George, battered chicken tenders, served with an onion and brie sauce, and Dick had whitefish.  Chocolate mousse cake was an excellent finish.

Candlelight Restaurant cheese curds and pork belly
Candlelight Restaurant Chicken George and Whitefish

Getting out of the slip the next morning was almost as difficult as the entry.  More black rubber marks on Nine Lives.  In hindsight, it may be just as well that we didn’t get the new gelcoat that was planned for last winter!

Just before the lock at Quad Cities, we passed the kayaker we had seen earlier.  In 12 days, he had made about 150 miles.  Quite an adventure.  We were sorry we have never been anywhere to speak to him, we would love to know where he started and his ultimate destination.  A little further south we passed Twilight on her northbound journey to Dubuque.

Long distance kayaker
Twilight heading north on the Mississippi towards Dubuque

We are seeing a lot of Great Egrets in this stretch of the River.  I read that in the Upper Mississippi they are migratory, so they must be starting their journey south.  You don’t usually see so many except in a rookery at night, as they tend, like all members of the heron family, to be both solitary and territorial.  The pelicans are also migrating, and we see large rafts of them resting.

Pelicans
As we approach a railroad bridge we always wonder how accurate their reported height above the water is!

Our next stop was Muscatine.  I had not been looking forward to the difficult docking on their floating dock at the former boat launch.  This dock has only two cleats, one at each end, and we had previously had problems docking as we tried with a bow line.  On this occasion, Dick had a plan, and it executed perfectly.  He used the boathook to put a loop from the midship over the upstream cleat on the dock, and then I was able to back Nine Lives toward the downstream cleat and Dick could easily jump off and make everything secure.

Having found previously that the local restaurants were mostly indifferent, and also we were told that there would be an evening event at the facility right beside the dock, we had decided to eat on board that night.  We had a lovely evening.  First, we watched two men launch their boat with several remote control boats on board.  These are not the pond yachts we have seen in the past, instead they were racing speedboats.  It was great fun to see them buzzing around.  They go really fast, and throw quite a big spray for their diminutive size.

Remote control boat in Muscatine

Dick chatted with a young man on the dock, who came down and asked if we were the same boat he had seen earlier in the summer.  Nine Lives bobbed appreciatively at being recognized.  The young man chatted with Dick about his ambitions to be an inventor.  He showed Dick a book he carries around with all sorts of engineering and mathematical calculations and tables.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t plan to get an education before starting on his inventing career.  Dick did his best to encourage a rethink on that, without being too negative about his ambitions.

Later in the evening there was an incredible lightning storm.  It was to the north of us, so the show was above the colourful lighted bridge.  There was both sheet and fork lightning, but no thunder.  Apparently when the lightning bounces between clouds, there may be no sound. Either that or the distance was too great.  It was quite something to watch, and while I did get a couple of pictures, I found it impossible to catch the most spectacular moments.

Muscatine lightning storm

The next day we had an easy, but long, run to Ft Madison.  The Mississippi was like a millpond.  We were lucky with timing for the locks and barge traffic, as well as having no wait for the Ft Madison railroad bridge to open.  The marina has been under reconstruction since 2019, and although they celebrated a Grand Opening in July, it is not even close to being finished.  There is no power or water available.  Also, it is in a very unfortunate position, right where the railway tracks curve to enter the bridge.  There are almost continuous trains running in both directions, and the wheels squeal horribly on the tracks.  It would be an awful place to stay even if the marina was completed.  We had planned to stay two nights, and had hoped to visit the reconstructed Fort Madison, but after reading that the fort was only open on weekends, and expecting temperatures over 90 the next day, we decided to leave early and look forward to power and water at Quincy.

The Mississippi like a millpond
Nine Lives passes moored barges

Sid and Nana from Tranquility arrived in the harbour, and joined us on board for a steak dinner.  All was going well until Dick tried to start the stove to pan-fry the mushrooms, and discovered that our propane tank was empty. Why the propane has to run out during dinner preparations instead of tea making is down to Murphy’s Law, I am sure.  I read a comment today from someone who said that Murphy had left their boat, but kept getting back on!  Clearly, Murphy likes Nine Lives as well.  Anyway, with the grill out of commission just after searing the steaks, Dick handled the dinner emergency with great aplomb.  He got out our induction burner, and finished the steaks and the mushrooms in the new frying pan.  A good purchase earlier this trip, as our old frying pan did not work on the induction burner.  Dinner was excellent, in spite of the challenges, and we enjoyed the company very much.  Sid has some great stories.  When he was 16, he and a friend bought a pontoon boat and a 25hp motor and travelled down the Mississippi from La Crosse to St Louis.  He is now enjoying revisiting the various towns and cities he saw on that trip when he was a teenager.

Early morning bridge opening for a cruise ship at Ft Madison
Lock 20, we floated instead of taking lines, so photography was possible
A model waterwheel at Lock 20

We arrived in Quincy mid-afternoon, after what is a quite boring run south from Ft Madison.  It was very hot, temperatures up to 96 and the weather app telling me “feels like 100”.  It did.  We docked without problems, and one of the members made a point of coming down to ask if everything was fine.  We enjoyed our stay in Quincy last time, and are looking forward to visiting two of the local restaurants.  Later another member dropped by with an information pack for the town, and also offered to help out if we needed a ride to a grocery store or any other assistance.  Very friendly people in this boat club, who really enjoy meeting other boaters, and especially Loopers.

Dick set off the next morning on his bike with the trailer attached to get the empty propane tank refilled.  He arrived at the hardware store, whose website said they refill propane tanks, to discover that the website is wrong, and they only replace, no refilling.  Since ours is a non-standard tank, it must be filled.  The next suggestion was to go to the local propane supplier for the area.  Back on the bike, but Dick was not quite sure of the location, so he returned to the boat after a brief exploration, and looked it up online.  Armed with the address, he set off again, and duly arrived, only to be told that they would not fill his tank since he was on a bicycle.  They suggested another company, and this time Dick called me to get the address and phone number before heading out.  After confirmation that they would in fact fill the tank, Dick rode there and was greatly relieved to get it filled.  Now with a 30-pound load on the trailer, he returned to the boat, more than a little disappointed that while the trip was mostly downhill, he didn’t get much benefit as it was also into the wind.  So, after a total of 20.2 miles riding up and down the Quincy hills (instead of the planned 3-mile journey), we are again able to grill and to use the stove.

Dick gets ready to take the empty propane bottle for refilling at Quincy

For Dick, the fun was not quite finished for the day.  Upon realizing that the wind was blowing, and he needed to secure his bike to a post in case it blew over, he got off the boat, detached the trailer, and began to secure the bike.  At that moment, the trailer decided to go for a swim and casually rolled off the dock into the water.  Dick dropped to the deck and made a successful snatch, just as the trailer proved that useful as it is, it does not float.

Later in the afternoon as I sat in the cockpit reading, I saw a fishing boat with several good old boys pass by.  To my surprise, one of them was sitting in the back with a strung bow and an arrow nocked.  Not sure whether he was planning to fish with that, or hunt from the boat.  Most likely he planned to shoot Asian Carp or another invasive species, since the season for bow hunting does not begin until October, and bow fishing requires only a sport fishing licence.

We tried a different restaurant in the evening.  This was an Italian restaurant called Tiramisu.  It certainly appeared to be a well established and popular family run restaurant.  White tablecloths and plenty of wait staff, all smartly dressed in black.  Our server was different, an older lady, somewhat casually dressed, and it was very much like being served by your mother-in-law!  Dick started with a portobello mushroom topped with spinach, in a delicious sauce.  I liked my shrimp with mushrooms and artichokes in a scampi sauce.  For main courses Dick had Guazzetto di Pesce, a Roman style seafood stew, and I tried Rolli, pasta sheets stuffed with spinach, ham, and ricotta, rolled up, baked, and served with a four-cheese sauce.  Desserts were the signature tiramisu for Dick, and I had a heated flourless chocolate cake.  The meal was excellent, as were the wine options, and surprisingly inexpensive.

Tiramisu Restaurant Portobello Griglia
Shrimp scampi at Tiramisu
Guazzetto di Pesce at Tiramisu
Pasta Rolli at Tiramisu
Signature tiramisu at Tiramisu
Chocolate dessert at Tiramisu

Rain had unexpectedly appeared in the forecast, so we closed up the cockpit before we went out and made sure to take our umbrellas to dinner.  That definitely did the trick, as the rain held off until after we returned to the boat.

Quincy is an interesting town.  I wrote about the history earlier in the summer.  We were given a bag full of interesting leaflets and brochures by a Boat Club member.  There are still some buildings in the town of historical interest.  They are very proud of their record as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and also that they welcomed persecuted Mormons.  There are some famous actors and actresses from Quincy, including Mary Astor (Maltese Falcon), John Mahoney (Frasier), and John Anderson (Gunsmoke and Twilight Zone).  Other more notorious former residents include Albert Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, who enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War, fought in many battles, and continued to live as a man, without discovery, until shortly before death.  James Earl Ray was well known to Quincy law enforcement before he escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary and shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther King.  Michael Swango is thought to be the most prolific serial killer in American history, and is serving a life sentence in Florence, Colorado.  Jonathan Browning invented a sliding breech repeating rifle while living in Quincy, and one of his sons was John Moses Browning, one of the most important figures in the development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms.

Downtown Quincy

This is a good place for my annual review of interesting boat names.  We always enjoy the clever ones.  As we passed a tow on the River, he hailed us and asked if we were called Nine Lives because we are a catamaran.  When told, indeed yes, he told us that he always enjoys working out the reasons for clever boat names, and he was glad to have his conclusions confirmed.  Some of the interesting names we have seen this year include DahlHouse for a houseboat, as well as Hadtohaveit.  Next Chapter is nice. One boat was expediently called Social Distancing.  Another was Boat Ox (hmmm), and another was Blood Money (not sure about that one either).  Soggy Dollars evoked the memory of one of Dick’s more spectacular exits from a dinghy some years ago in the Caribbean.  Second Wind is rather a nice name for a retirement lifestyle.  Noah Genda is very clever, and we enjoyed chatting with them (fellow Loopers on their way home) on the radio as they passed us.  One of the names that, in my opinion, is not going to work well is Miss Is Tipsi.  It’s clever, but one needs to remember that when you hail a tow, a lock, a marina, or a fellow boater, the correct procedure is to call the name you are hailing three times, followed by your name three times.  While common usage reduces this to twice for each name, it is still going to be an incredible tongue twister, not to mention coming out as “Mississippi” to the listener, and causing confusion.  We continue to watch for interesting names, and enjoy the clever ones.

We will stay one more night in Quincy before resuming our southbound voyage, hoping to be back in Pickwick Lake by the first week in October.  We are looking forward to catching up with the rest of this year’s Looper pack, and perhaps enjoying some docktails and shared adventure stories.

August 23 to September 7, return to the St Croix River and south to Dubuque

We said goodbye to Saint Paul and began our return journey with another visit to the St Croix River.  This was one of our favourite places on this trip, pretty scenery, and nice towns.  It is unfortunate that one of the most interesting towns is Stillwater, now sadly lacking in accommodation for transient boaters.  There are several marinas, but most have rented all their available slips on a seasonal basis, and the remaining one was in the middle of a major dredging program.  Our only option was to stay at Bayport, a few miles south. 

Nine Lives leaving Saint Paul
Kinnikinnick Narrows on the St Croix River

First though, we returned to Hudson, anchoring in the wide harbour for the first night.  It is a very popular day spot, at least 10 boats enjoyed the afternoon, but by evening we were the only ones remaining.  It was a lovely evening, with distant sailing races on the lake below the bridge, and a surprise hot air balloon passing over.

Hot air balloon passing over Hudson

I had found a new recipe for pizza dough that I was looking forward to trying.  Our early arrival in the anchorage allowed enough time for dough rising and pizza preparation.  The recipe is definitely a keeper.  We enjoyed a peaceful night, and were ready to move to the marina transient dock in the morning.

Hudson sunset in the anchorage

Three large Sea Ray fast yachts had passed us the previous day, and all had tied up at the Hudson transient dock.  Dick had made our booking by phone, but apparently it had not been written down.  Fortunately, the marina staff were able to shuffle the large boats a little, and move a small one to make room for us close to the shore.  This required a somewhat tricky maneuver, passing between the Sea Rays and the shore, to shoehorn Nine Lives into our allotted space.  Marina staff were on hand to help.  As we slid carefully past the other boats, a loud siren went off.  I couldn’t hear it, as I was on deck getting ready to throw lines, but Dick was quite concerned that this was law enforcement chasing after us for some strange reason, either that or a major issue with boat systems, or possibly proximity alarms.  Apart from being a distraction Dick could have done without, it wasn’t anything to worry about.  When we anchor, I set two alarms, one on the iPad and one on my phone.  I had carefully disabled the iPad alarm before we raised the anchor, but I completely forgot the one on the phone.  Since I had set a very wide radius, we were nearly at the shore before the alarm went off.  I am glad to know that it works anyway.  And it is Loud!  As we slid past the Sea Rays, I saw heads pop up and men come up on deck.  We know the feeling.  Any time a boat arrives at a dock and passes Nine Lives very closely, we wonder about the experience and skills of the captain, and rush out to fend off if required!  As we maneuvered carefully into our spot, the waiting dockhand commented that we were looking like a million dollars.  My reply was that it would probably cost a million dollars if we messed up!

That evening we enjoyed a good meal at Black Rooster.  Dick ordered pork belly, and was delighted to find that it was prepared in the European style (far more fat than I care for, but he loves it).  I had a delicious and creative presentation of ricotta dumplings.  Main courses were walleye for Dick, and chicken with mushrooms for me.  Desserts were equally tasty.

Pork Belly at the Black Rooster
Ricotta dumplings at the Black Rooster
Walleye at Black Rooster
Black Rooster roast chicken with mushrooms
Desserts at Black Rooster

The forecast called for rain later, and usually, carrying an umbrella will ensure that it stays dry.  Not this time.  We were barely out of the restaurant before the heavens opened.  Here is a piece of advice, never share an umbrella with someone who walks so much faster than you that he is normally 20 feet ahead of you.

The marina at Hudson between rain showers

The next morning the Sea Rays left, so we were able to reposition to our preferred spot at the end of the dock.  Not only does this afford a nice view of activities in the bay, it also allows for an easy undocking when we are ready to leave.  Repositioning was an interesting exercise.  No dock hands were available, so Dick and I each took a line and walked the 12 tons of Nine Lives down the dock.  No engines required.  Dick did the strongman part, pulling from the stern, while my easier job was using the midship line, as well as pushing, to keep her in position, not too far off, but not so close that she was rubbing along the dock.  The moment of truth was stopping, accomplished by a quick half turn of the line around a dock cleat.  It is really amazing how little strength is required to stop motion when you use the cleat effectively.  A lesson that most of the (male) teenage dockhands we encounter would do well to learn.  The girls figure it out very quickly.

Early morning at Hudson

Later we walked into town and enjoyed a little shopping at the excellent cookery shop and the bakery, followed by an interesting meal at Lolo’s.  The offerings were well prepared, and quite creative.

Interesting starters at Lolo’s
Desserts at Lolo’s
We followed a tour boat through the railway bridge on the St Croix

It was a very short trip up-river the next morning to the marina at Bayport.  In hindsight, the anchorage across the river from Stillwater would have been a better choice for that first night, allowing a much shorter dinghy ride to the town.  Instead, we had a four-and-a-half-mile trip in choppy conditions with many criss-cross wakes to the town dinghy docks. As we see so often, the docks have been almost entirely given over to sightseeing passenger boats, leaving very few spaces for visiting boaters to access the town.  Dick thought the dinghy ride had been fun.  My thoughts are not to be repeated in polite company.

Downtown Stillwater

Stillwater looked like a nice town, with some interesting boutiques and lots of cafes and restaurants, definitely a tourist destination.  However, given the distance, and a choice between a long bike ride on busy roads, or another dinghy excursion, we were not able to visit when the shops were open.  We went to a Serbian restaurant and wine bar.  Dick’s filet steak was delicious, and I enjoyed my risotto with mushrooms and beef tips.  The wine list included very nice choices, including quite a few sold by the glass.

Beef filet at Domacin
The beef risotto looks unappetizing, but it was delicious
Cheesecake at Domacin
Pannacotta at Domacin

The bouncy return dinghy ride required the application of an extra-large glass of whisky once we were safely back on Nine Lives.  Dick managed to restrain his impulses to shout “Yeehaw” at intervals during the passage.

In 1837, treaties were signed between the U.S. Government and the local Ojibwa and Dakota tribes, to allow settlement of the St Croix River Valley.  By 1843 a settlement was founded when four partners formed the Stillwater Lumber Company.  In what seems to me to be a rather odd division of responsibilities, Stillwater, Saint Paul, and Minneapolis were each given important public institutions.  Saint Paul was made the capital of the new State of Minnesota, Minneapolis got a university, and the short end of the stick went to Stillwater, in the form of the territory’s first prison.  The city didn’t even get to keep that dubious honour, as in 1914, the Minnesota State Correctional Institution was moved a few miles south to Bayport.  Putting the town on the map for another reason, in 1921 Charles Strite invented the automatic pop-up toaster in Stillwater.

We spent a quiet day.  Dick rode his bike the five miles to the grocery in Stillwater.  Rain was on and off, and unfortunately it was very much on just a few minutes before he got back to the boat.  That evening we chose to walk the 1.5 miles to the restaurant rather than risk riding bikes in the rain.  We stopped to chat with a couple who were refitting a very nice-looking classic centre-cockpit sailboat.  They were getting ready to move her to Pickwick Lake, and we were able to offer suggestions for marinas and routes.  They are also thinking about doing the Great Loop one day.

We enjoyed our meal at Manger, a very authentic French restaurant.  Dick tried the duck, and I enjoyed my ravioli. Fortunately, the rain held off, and the forecast heavy thunderstorms with 60mph winds waited until 9pm to pass over.  It had been forecast for 2 hours earlier, and would have been most unpleasant if we had been out in it. (although I had brought my own umbrella in anticipation of the worst case)

Duck at Manger in Bayport
Ravioli at Manger
delicious desserts at Manger

In addition to being the site of the relocated Minnesota State Correctional Facility, Bayport is also host to the maximum-security prison of the same name.  Beginning as three small settlements on the St Croix River, in 1873, the St Croix Railway Improvement Company incorporated them as the village of South Stillwater.  The name proved to be confusing, and was later changed to Bayport.  The early economy was centered around lumber, and the Andersen Lumber Company moved to Bayport to take advantage of the railway lines.  Eventually becoming the largest window and door manufacturing company in the world, the Andersen Corporation is still headquartered in Bayport.

early morning at Bayport

The next morning we filled up with fuel.  Prices are definitely improving.  It was $1.75 a gallon less than our last fill at La Crosse.  Dick took time to ride to the headquarters of Andersen Corporation in the hopes that he could speak to someone about our missing order for replacement windows for our Hilton Head home.  They were initially ordered in November, arrived damaged in March, and we have been unable to get any information since.  Sadly typical of large companies, the front desk was manned by a security guard who had no access to the internal phone directory or knowledge of who Dick should ask for.  A phone number was eventually offered, but it was the wrong person.  She helpfully suggested a different number, but that resulted in a circular routine that ended with a hang-up.  So, a wasted effort on Dick’s part.  Fortunately, the fuel fill and pump-out took long enough that Dick had already returned from his fruitless quest before they were complete, so we did not lose any time.

As we left the St Croix River and moved into the Mississippi, there was a distinct colour change in the waters.  Blue water from the St Croix stayed separate from the brown waters of the Mississippi for a surprising distance.  I guess we know why one of the nicknames for the Mississippi is Big Muddy. 

Colour change in the water where the St Croix meets the Mississippi

We had planned to stop on the Wisconsin side of the River, across from Red Wing.  Once again, that marina is operated by a restaurant, and although their website indicates that they welcome transients, they neither answered the phone, nor returned calls or emails.  As we went past the next morning, we could see no empty spaces on the docks, so one presumes they had rented all their slips for the whole season.  Our plan B was the free town dock, but the town website made it clear that there is no overnight docking allowed.  We returned to the marina we stayed at on our outbound journey.  It was just as well, as it was blowing a gale and we would have been pounded against the docks, and very uncomfortable if we had been docked on the waterfront.

White Pelicans roosting

Eating on board allowed another experiment.  We had bought some cheese curds, with the idea of trying them on board.  I don’t deep fry, and I really don’t care for oven chips, so I made crispy roasted potato wedges.  They were topped with the cheese curds, and brown gravy, to make a dish I am going to call Nine Lives Poutine.  I liked it.  Dick didn’t think it was worth bothering with, although he did eat the leftovers the next day.

Nine Lives Poutine

It was a short run again the next day across Lake Pepin to Wabasha.  This is the town where Grumpy Old Men was filmed.  The waterfront pub, Slippery’s, makes much of the connection, but reviews suggest that the food has gone badly downhill in recent years.  We made a point of having a drink on their verandah, but ate dinner at the local Irish Pub instead.  Dick was in Celtic heaven with 2 pints of Guinness, and pot roast with mashed potatoes and carrots.  My food was not enjoyable, and the seating was backless bar stools, very uncomfortable.

Slippery’s in Wabasha

Dick admired some real Midwest ingenuity.  A clearly home-made travel lift was positioned at the end of the marina dock.  Readers may remember seeing my pictures of Nine Lives being taken out of the water in the more usual travel lifts at the beginning and end of each season. This lift was steel beams welded together, with the required slings and wheels at the base.  What Dick found intriguing was the use of an old Ford truck, set on a large wheelbase that had clearly been taken from a tractor trailer with the frame shortened.  The cab was set backwards so that the driver can sit in the seat and be facing the lift.  The whole thing is powered by the Ford truck engine, with a generator driven from the front of the engine to power the hoist electric motors.

Midwest ingenuity in a home made travel lift

As we walked into town, we were surprised to see a white squirrel.  They are apparently very rare colour variants of the Eastern Grey Squirrel.  If you see a white one, it might be albino, which is caused by a congenital disorder.  Our squirrel was leucistic. This is a partial loss of pigmentation caused by a recessive gene.  Eye colour is not affected, so they do not have the distinctive red eyes of albinos.  More famous examples of leucistic mammals are white tigers and lions. The white squirrel we saw seemed very healthy, foraging in a garden.

A white squirrel

Wabasha downtown is attractive and clean, but too many of the stores are occupied by professional businesses, doctors, and lawyers, leaving little scope for shops or restaurants.  The town was preparing for its annual month long SeptOberfest.  The main attraction, and the reason we stopped in Wabasha, was the National Eagle Center.  This year it is completing a major renovation and upgrade.  It was well worth the visit, in spite of a mile walk on the hottest day of the week.

SeptOberfest decorations in Wabasha
downtown Wabasha
A pretty waterfront garden in Wabasha

The National Eagle Center began as Eagle Watch, in 1989, a volunteer organization dedicated to assisting visitors to Wabasha with eagle watching on the Mississippi River.  They opened a storefront in town, in the year 2000, and took on the care of their first two injured eagles.  Eagle Watch conduct annual surveys of migrating Golden Eagles.  By 2007, they were able to open a 15,000-square-foot interpretive center on the river bank, and in 2022 a $27 million expansion and renovation project is nearly completed.

There were a lot of information displays, not just about the eagles, but also a section on the symbols of eagles, particularly in the military, and another section on Native American associations.  The Center currently houses 5 birds, 4 bald eagles, and a red-tailed hawk.  All the birds were injured in such a way as to prevent their return to the wild.  I enjoyed the aviary, watching the two birds that were present, and asking questions of one of the keepers, while Dick read all the interpretive boards and exhibit explanations.

Some of the information on the displays and at the lecture we attended was fascinating.  Newly hatched bald eagles are fully grown in just 12 weeks.  At that point they leave the nest, but their parents do not teach them how to survive.  50% of juveniles do not make it to adulthood.  Dick wondered whether this is due to teenagers making bad decisions.   It is, but only in part.  It takes 5 to 6 years for them to reach adulthood and develop the distinctive white head and tail.  Juveniles are a mottled brown, and are easily mistaken for Golden Eagles.  The further north eagles are bred, the larger they are, so eagles from Florida are considerably smaller than those found in Alaska.  This was explained as the extra size needed to survive in cold temperatures.  Bald Eagles are a type of Sea Eagle, and eat fish and carrion.  They do not hunt live prey apart from fish.  They certainly do not hunt small dogs and cats, although they are quite happy to eat what other predators such as coyotes have left.  The biggest causes of death (including for the juveniles) are vehicle encounters, and lead poisoning.  Their stomach acids are so strong that they dissolve lead in a matter of days.  Lead in fishing tackle and/or lead shot in carrion may be eaten and when it has dissolved, lead poisoning will kill the eagle in just a few days.

As we browsed the shop, Dick ignored my increasingly strong hints and declined to buy an ever-so-slightly tacky, but interesting, eagle mug.  However, a t-shirt with a bald eagle’s head and “Tough Old Bird” proved irresistible, and I will wear it with pride.

Nine Lives at the dock in Wabasha

We made an early start the next day in anticipation of transiting 3 locks.  The first, Lock 4, was our first time floating free instead of taking a line.  It was a very still morning, so we were not blown about, and I was able to hold the boat in place with the engines.  Even so, we drifted close to the lock wall, not a problem, as we had put out fenders.  Although we are offered the choice of floating free or taking lines at most locks, I would not want to float free in even light wind, and we expect to continue to request a line.

Mississippi Bluffs

We tied up overnight at Winona town dock, which allows 24 hours free dockage.  Our lines were caught for us by a lady who had been sitting on the wall enjoying the sunshine and reading a book.  She turned out to be a Gold Looper.  She and her husband did the Loop in 2015, although at the time they were not yet retired.  We enjoyed a very nice chat, and we regretted that our visit was too short to issue invitations for docktails.

As we sat at the dock in the evening, a large Viking cruise ship passed, certainly the largest passenger vessel we have seen on the River.  Dick later found a news report about the voyage.  Unimaginatively named, Viking ‘Mississippi’ was running empty as she passed Winona, on her way north to Red Wing, where she would pick up crew.  She would then travel to Saint Paul, where she would embark on her maiden voyage down the Mississippi to New Orleans.  Viking Mississippi holds 386 passengers in 193 staterooms and carries 148 crew.  The voyage from Saint Paul to New Orleans will stop at 12 cities, and take 15 days.  At some point we knew she would overtake us, but we thought we would be unlikely to see her again, as it she would probably pass us at night.

Viking Mississippi passes Winona

We had an outstanding dinner at a restaurant called Nosh.  Dick asked, in the words of Billy Joel, “man, what are you doing here?”  This was one of the most sophisticated fine dining restaurants we have been to on this trip, certainly it would hold its own in any big city.  My caprese salad was probably the best I have ever tasted, and Dick’s warmed beet salad was delicious.  Dick enjoyed an authentic paella, while my lobster and shrimp roll was excellent.  The desserts were also outstanding.  I tried their salted cheesecake with caramel sauce, and Dick loved his peach crumble.

Caprese salad at Nosh
Beet salad at Nosh
Lobster shrimp roll at Nosh
Paella at Nosh
Desserts at Nosh

Winona has beautiful architecture, but there is a sad mix of tattoo parlours, professional offices, and very few small shops spread over too many downtown streets.  These small towns and cities really need a visionary, as well as a consistent, long-term strategy to pull it all together.  They also need a focal point to bring in outside visitors.

Early businesses in Winona were based on lumber, wheat, steamboating, and railroads.  The architecture of the downtown shows the level of craftsmanship of the immigrants who were attracted to the area during its heyday in the late 1800’s.  As early as 1969, the town governments began to try to counter the effects of large retail stores opening outside the city by pedestrianizing part of downtown and encouraging shopping.  Unfortunately, the results were mixed, and the pedestrian mall closed in 1993. In the 1970’s, enthusiasm for urban renewal resulted in many blocks of 19th century buildings and local landmarks being razed.  Just ten years later, federal funding encouraged redevelopment of the remaining old buildings.  Second and third floors were remodelled into residences, in hopes that people would move back to downtown.  More efforts are clearly needed.

Oddfellows Block, Winona
Merchants National Bank, Winona
Architectural details, Merchants National Bank
Sunrise at Winona

A two-lock day got us into La Crosse by 2pm.  We were a little concerned about the weather forecast, as we were again docked at the marina across the river from the city.  We had planned to have dinner at Lovechild, the top-rated restaurant in the La Crosse.  The food was delicious, and so well presented.  Dick started with arancini, and I had piping hot and delicious triple cooked fries with horseradish sauce.  Lamb shank was on the menu for the first time in a while, to Dick’s great satisfaction, and I enjoyed my shrimp and arugula spaghetti very much.  We shared peach shortcake for dessert.  We also commented on the large number of staff in the obviously successful restaurant.  We hear so many complaints that staff can’t be hired, and restaurants have to be closed several days of the week, and yet Lovechild has obviously found the formula for hiring and keeping staff.  

Lovechild arancini
Triple cooked fries with horseradish at Lovechild
Lamb shank at Lovechild
Shrimp and arugula spaghetti at Lovechild
Peach shortcake at Lovechild

Fortunately, the expected thunderstorms kept moving to later in the forecast, and did not arrive until after midnight.  Although it didn’t rain, the River was a little more lumpy than I like, and on the return trip a large wake from a tour boat ensured that in my spot at the front of the dinghy I was completely soaked, including my shoes. Dick found this highly amusing, but managed to restrain his laughter, or at least keep it quiet.

An extended stay in a marina is always a good time for laundry, so I put through several loads of washing while Dick worked on the print version of the Nine Lives blog.  We have a couple of relatives who do not use computers, so Dick takes the time to transfer my text and all the pictures into a format that can be printed and mailed.  Our dinner reservation was a little later than usual, so we headed across the River at 6pm.  On arrival I looked in vain for the cute muskrat that we had seen the previous evening, bustling along the riverbank before disappearing into a hole underneath a huge tree.  Sadly, I didn’t have the camera ready at the time, so no photos.

We returned to The Chateau, where we had enjoyed an excellent dinner on our previous visit.  Unfortunately, the earlier experience was not repeated.  The food was merely okay, and the building was overly warm.  The waitress let slip that the owners were out of town.  The whole experience seemed to lack the special something that had made the previous meal so good.  It was also quite slow, so we arrived back at the dinghy in twilight.  In some ways this was the highlight of the evening.  Dick was able to set up the all-round white light that is required for night boating, and we were glad that the red and green lights also worked as expected.  The River was quite calm, and there was enough light from the shore to easily see, so it was quite an enjoyable experience.  As the days get shorter, we are more likely to be out after dark, but the stop in La Crosse will probably be our last that requires the dinghy for getting to restaurants.

Eagle sculpture on the waterfront in La Crosse

Sunday was the day to finish the laundry, and then we dinghied over to the city for dinner at The Water Front Restaurant.  We were early, so first a drink in the bar, followed by our meal at a window table overlooking the River.  The waiters and bartenders were all smartly dressed in black, with collared t-shirts with a logo.  Slightly unfortunate, the logo read tWf.  I doubt that I am the only person who reads the large letter first.  Dick enjoyed his oysters Rockefeller, and I had very good giant shrimp with two sauces, the herby tarragon remoulade was delicious.  Our steaks were good, but “au poivre” in this restaurant turned out to mean a black pepper crust, rather than a peppercorn sauce.  It made the steaks rather dry, and the crust was unpleasantly crunchy.  Peach cheesecake with home made peach ice cream finished the evening.  We returned to the marina in the dark, but now that we were experienced, it was quite enjoyable.

Shrimp starter at The Water Front
Oysters Rockefeller at The Water Front
Ribeye steak at The Waterfront
Peach cheesecake at The Water Front

Monday morning we booked a Segway tour.  As we headed over to the dinghy dock, we were surprised to see Viking Mississippi docked on the levee.  Up close, we could see just how huge she is.  We were the only guests on the Segway tour, which made it very enjoyable and a little more informal than usual.  The tour included the waterfront park, and a nice ride around the marsh.  The marsh was very pretty, with purple loosestrife and reeds at the edge of still water with duckweed.  Plenty of birdlife.  I didn’t get an opportunity to take pictures.  From the marsh we went through the very clean and modern University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus, then the best part of the tour was seeing some of the lovely turn of the century homes in the older part of town.

Segway tour in La Crosse
Holway Mansion, now a B&B called The Castle
Another lovely historic home in La Crosse
A beautiful garden in La Crosse
Viking Mississippi at La Crosse
Viking Mississippi from the water

La Crosse is named for a game with sticks that was observed being played by Native Americans when the area was first visited by the white man.  As did many of the settlements in the area, the city began as a fur trading post.  By the middle of the 19th century, it became a centre for lumber, brewing, and railroads, and was one of the largest cities in Wisconsin.  By the 20th century it also became a centre for education, with 3 colleges and universities.  In the fall, La Crosse hosts the one of the largest Octoberfest celebrations.  It has the dubious distinction of having broken the Guinness Record for having the most bars on a single street.  They are also proud of having more bars per capita than any other city in America.

Statue depicting the game of La Crosse

As we returned to the marina, we saw Viking Mississippi making her majestic way down the river.  Later, we returned to the dinghy dock for our last evening in La Crosse.  As we crossed the river, I was wondering what the large black something was, that I could see on the levee where the cruise ship had been docked.  Then we heard a lot of sirens.  After docking we had to walk that way through the park, and we could see that an SUV had come to rest with its front wheels overhanging the river.  The driver was still inside, and there were at least 5 fire engines, plus ambulances and a lot of police cars, and even a police boat on the water.  I don’t take pictures of accidents, but later, as we left for the evening, I did take a picture of the vehicle recovery in progress.  The SUV had been winched back, but you can imagine how terrifying it must have been to be in that car when the wheels were over the river.  For the driver, it was a bad day, or a good day, depending on how you look at it.

A good day or a bad day?

Dinner at the Charmant started with great traditional American style onion soup.  Dick ordered steak frites.  The fries were outstanding, and there were plenty for me to enjoy half of them!  I liked the chicken pate that I had on the previous visit.

Onion soup at Charmant
Frites at Charmant

We left fairly early the next morning for a long but uneventful trip, with no delays at two locks, to Marquette.  Autumn colours are starting to show, and the bluffs of the Driftless Area are looking very attractive.  There is mist on the River in the early mornings, and beautiful reflections in the still waters.  We shared one lock with a man on a long distance kayak voyage.  He had foot paddles instead of using a conventional paddle.

Mississippi morning
New markers ready to deploy
Fall colours begin

We docked at Marquette on a tour boat dock that allows transients on a first come first served basis.  There was no power or water available, but it was a vastly better option than returning to the awful facility at McGregor.  Dockage was not supposed to be free, but there is nobody there to take your money from Monday through Wednesday, so we couldn’t pay.  Dick explored the village, and enjoyed a brief stop at the local winery, tasting, and buying a couple of bottles of red.  However, this village has noting to recommend it, unless you enjoy a casino.  Prairie du Chien, across the River, is a larger and more interesting town, but there is no easy access for larger boats like Nine Lives.

Marquette docks
Still morning on the Mississippi
Mist on the River

Another early start for a long run to Dubuque, with two locks to transit.  On this occasion we were not quite as lucky, and had a long wait for lock 10.  Fortunately, the weather was fine and almost no wind, so stooging at the lock was less tiring than usual.  We are still seeing lots of bald eagles, as well as white pelicans and the usual cormorants.  We passed the docks for Pattison Sand, a large mine/quarry that produces silica and limestone.  As we move south, the landscape will be getting flatter, and the scenery will become more industrial.  We arrived in Dubuque just after the staff were finished for the day, but Dick had been able to speak on the phone to the attendant, so we had the gate codes, and they left the key card for the washrooms tied to the cleat on our dock.  We will be in Dubuque for an extended stay.  Dick will be renting a car and driving to Ontario to help to move his Mum to assisted living.  I will remain on the boat, and have plans to visit the extensive Maritime Museum and Aquarium.

Pattison Sand at Clayton
The map of our August voyages

August 7 to 22 The St Croix River and Saint Paul

Leaving Red Wing, we headed north and through Lock 3 as far as the St Croix River, then left the Mississippi, going upstream towards Hudson.  The St Croix Marina at Hudson, Wisconsin, is situated in a very wide, protected part of the river.  There were quite a few anchored boats, and lots of sailboats on mooring balls.  This is the first Caribbean style anchorage we have seen.  The transient dock at the St Croix Marina is one long finger, fortunately as close to the facilities as one can get.  This is a full service marina, with excellent showers/rest rooms, keycard security, a good ship’s store, and a boatyard to help out with problems.

Boaters enjoy the beaches on the islands that protect Hudson’s anchorage

Hudson was settled in the mid-1800’s.  Like many mid-west towns, lumber was a major attraction, and sawmills were built throughout the valley. US Highway 12 runs from Detroit to Washington State, and a toll bridge carried the important cross-country highway over the St Croix River at Hudson, providing revenue for the town.  When Interstate 94 was built, the toll bridge was no longer required, but the long causeway that terminated in the bridge was left in place and is now a public park.  It also serves as a dyke, forming part of the excellent anchorage in front of downtown Hudson.

Anyone who has seen the Little Free Libraries dotted around the USA might be interested to know that Hudson is the headquarters of the nonprofit organization and the site of the first of these neighbourhood book exchanges.

We walked to Pier 500 Restaurant.  Good pub food, and, for a change, comfortable seating.  Next door we noticed Dick’s Bar and Grill.  It has been in business since 1870, and quite frankly, looking at the outside, it does not seem to have changed much since it opened in a frontier town!  Definitely not our kind of place, so we didn’t try it out.

Dick’s Bar and Grill, opened in 1870
At Pier 500 we started with cheese curds, and Szechuan green beans
I tried the traditional Mac and Cheese
Dick’s healthier choice was parmesan crusted walleye with wild rice

The first night at Hudson was a wild night for weather, with incredibly heavy rain and strong winds.  We hoped the anchored boats were okay, but most were there for a day stop and only a few were left to brave the storm.  We are getting better at remembering to check the weather forecast before bed time, and closing up the cockpit if there is any rain in the forecast! 

Next morning the light went on to tell us we needed a pump-out.  It is such a relief to have that working again, after nearly 5 boating seasons of having to guess the state of the tank.  Dick had planned to pump out on our departure the next day, but thanks to the light we knew we had to untie right away and head over to the fuel dock.  There was a slight miscommunication with the marina manager over equipment, so we got to the dock and discovered that we did not have the required fitting for self-service.  Since it was business hours there was no problem calling a dock hand to help, but if we had gone the next morning before opening, as originally planned, we would have been out of luck.

I enjoyed watching a sailing school in the bay.  The fleet was made up of small, single sail dinghies, sailed by quite young children, while older students raced boats with a mainsail and a jib.  There were the inevitable miscalculations resulting in a dunking, particularly for the younger children, but watchful instructors in RIBs quickly helped anyone who got into difficulty.

The sailing school at Hudson
Oops!

We walked into town in the afternoon.  Hudson has some interesting galleries, and a very nice cookery shop.  We were able to replace our aging frying pans.  We were also looking for a highly rated fine dining restaurant called Black Rooster.  Dick eventually saw the name painted on the window of an office block.  He read that the restaurant was on the second floor, so we tramped up a very long staircase and explored all the office corridors, without success.  Back down the stairs, and looking again at the window, we saw that it actually said, “lower level”.  Dick immediately headed down the stairs into the unlit depths, but I stopped to read the rest of the sign, “Open Wednesday to Sunday”.  Today was Tuesday, so no wonder everything was dark.  We will be re-visiting Hudson and the St Croix River, so we hope to try the Black Rooster then.

Dinner was at San Pedro, a Caribbean restaurant.  The food was very good, and a pleasant change from the standard mid-west pub fare.  For dessert, I tried the chocolate habanero torte, an unusual recipe for a dense chocolate cake with habanero chilis, that sounded interesting, but unfortunately it was too spicy to be really enjoyable as a dessert.

San Pedro lobster shrimp rasta dip
San Pedro seafood pasta
San Pedro ginger shrimp stir fry
San Pedro chocolate habanero torte

Leaving Hudson, we retraced our way south on the St Croix River and returned to the Mississippi.  We passed through Lock 2, the most northern of the Mississippi locks we will transit, and arrived in Saint Paul by 3pm.  Soon after docking, we were joined for docktails on board by the local Harbor Hosts, Sharon and Mike.  We had a great evening, enjoyed hearing about their Loop and trading stories about places we had visited. It is quite telling that we are half way through our trip this summer, and that was our first opportunity to host docktails.  Clearly, the Mississippi side trip is not one taken by most Loopers.

Pelicans hang around Lock 2, Mississippi River

Saint Paul is the farthest north stop of this year’s voyage.  It is one of the Twin Cities, often referred to as Minneapolis Saint Paul.  This urban conglomeration is the third largest in the Midwest, and the 16th largest in the United States.  The marina in Saint Paul, and its location in the middle of extensive waterfront parks and attractive, safe neighbourhoods, made this part of the Twin Cities a better stopping place for Nine Lives than attempting to find a place in Minneapolis.

Approaching Saint Paul

Minneapolis has become somewhat notorious in recent years, but life in a big city goes on for everyone, and one can always hope that bad situations will turn around eventually.  Meanwhile, in spite of my usual concerns about big city stops, we enjoyed our stay, and we never felt worried or threatened.

Saint Paul was the site of one of the earliest of the Ford Motor Plants outside Detroit.  The first plant was built in 1914.  Hydropower was available from the Mississippi River, and a large hydroelectric plant was built in 1924 at Lock 1, also known as the Ford Dam.  The bluffs above the River in Saint Paul were mined for the silica used in auto glass, and there was an extensive tunnel system beneath the plant to provide access to the river for transportation. The plant was closed in 2011, and the 125-acre main assembly plant site is now being converted to urban high-density housing in the Highland Park area.

Mississippi Lock 1, aka Ford Dam

The next morning, Mike kindly drove me to the airport, and I flew home to Hilton Head for a week.  I enjoyed some time by myself, plus taking care of some furniture deliveries and other household chores while Dick buzzed all over Saint Paul on his bike.

Dick enjoyed exploring the many bike paths and dedicated bike lanes in about a 10-mile radius of the marina.  There is a friendly mix of weekenders and liveaboards in the marina, so it was nice to be able to exchange greetings with fellow boaters.  One evening Dick grilled a pork chop, and as the enticing aroma of barbecue drifted across the docks, he had several visitors who wondered whether he had any extras!  Shortly before my return, Dick took a $10 cab ride to the airport and picked up a rental car.  The roads in Saint Paul are in dreadful condition, and between that and the distances to the nice shops and restaurants, we knew that I would be most unhappy being asked to ride my bike.

Watergate Marina, Saint Paul

I returned on Thursday, and after a chance to rest from the flight, we headed out on Friday to explore one of the local attractions, The Mall of America.  Self-described as a top tourist attraction in Minneapolis, and also touted as one of the top attractions in America, the accolades are sadly not borne out by TripAdvisor.  I could not even find it in the top 30 attractions for the area.  However, as a huge shopping centre, it is certainly impressive.  In addition to over 500 stores, there is also a theme park with a roller coaster, an aquarium, and the usual theatres, bars and restaurants, and several anchor department stores.  Unfortunately, since we are no longer in our twenties, and thus out of the demographic for most of the chain stores, there are few shops of interest to us.

Mall of America

I had seen from the online directory that there was a store selling alpaca woollens, so we headed there first.  We found a very nice throw that will look well in the condo on the new chairs, and I also bought another ruana.  The one I found last year is so warm and cozy for sitting and reading on cool mornings, that I was looking for another to take to our home in Yorkshire.  Dick found a new pair of winter slippers in his size.  Alpaca mission complete, we made our way to a Sketchers shoe store.  There we discovered that shopping in person has very little advantage these days over online outlets.  Dick hoped to try on two styles, and I found 4 of interest, but the store had none in our sizes.  I was able to try a half size smaller in one style that fit, but Dick was entirely out of luck.  If retail stores are to survive, they are going to need to offer added value over online.  Complete inventory, as well as higher staffing levels, are going to be key factors.  We noticed a Lindt store as we made our way back to the parking lot, so added a couple of bags of chocolate goodies to the shoes and woollens!

After the Mall, we drove to Kowalski’s, a large supermarket.  A local chain, Kowalski’s offers an in-store bakery, kitchen, and a wine/liquor store.  The grocery offerings include high end brands as well as locally produced items.  We filled our shopping cart and are now set for the next couple of weeks.  I even bought a dragonfruit, one of the few tropical fruits I like, and haven’t had since we lived in Houston. While I was away, Dick had also ordered some of the excellent cheese and bacon that we get from Zingerman’s, so we are not going to starve!

Dragonfruit

Later in the evening, after a very good meal at a local Italian restaurant, we enjoyed a postprandial glass of whisky in the cockpit, while watching the sun go down across the marina.  We then went below, and discovered that the water pump was not working.  The first check was the breaker.  No, no problem there.  Second, unscrew the breaker panel, and look behind at the rat’s nest of wires and mysterious bundles and conduits, to see whether there might be a fuse that needed replacing.  Nope.  Having exhausted the high-tech options, we moved on to a low-tech effort.  Dick draped himself over the steps to the swim platform, opened a cover, and, shining a flashlight into the depths, smacked the pump sharply with the water pump restart tool, more commonly known as an adjustable wrench (spanner for our UK friends).  A welcome telltale burping sound told us that the pump had woken up and was operational again. 

The next morning, in daylight, Dick climbed into the lazarette.  The main access to the water pump is between the pontoons, and below the lazarette.  (what’s a lazarette? It’s a large locker below the walkway between the pontoons at the stern of the boat.  You lift a small metal ring and turn it to unlock the cover, that can then be lifted to reveal the generous storage space below.)  Being a generous storage space, it is naturally full of a variety of necessary things.  Hauling out pool noodles, deck brushes, fender boards, bike bags, buckets, and cleaning supplies first, Dick then shoehorned himself into what had been a generous space before he tried to get into it.  He stuck his head right over the pump in order to see what could be seen.  In much the same way as men open the hood of the car (bonnet), tut tut several times, and then close it again, there was nothing to be seen from the lazarette.  Dick closed everything up and we crossed our fingers.

Dick attempts to diagnose the water pump problem from inside the lazarette

On Saturday, we had booked a Segway tour of Saint Paul.  This was a 3-hour tour, quite long compared to most we have enjoyed.  Much of it took place on Summit Avenue, admiring the stunning Victorian era homes and some of the later mansions of the super-rich.  Summit Avenue has the longest street of Victorian era homes in the USA, and even new builds are beautifully in keeping in style and colour.  Saint Paul is the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and two of his homes were seen on the tour. There were two guides, who did a great job of shepherding their flock across busy streets and onto sidewalks and bike paths.  The main guide, a former teacher with a loud voice, had a somewhat irritating manner, but more than made up for that with a wealth of knowledge about the history and architecture of Saint Paul.  At the end of the tour we were presented with Segway Driving Licenses.  On the back it says (in part), “This very official-looking Segway driver’s license confirms that you had a pulse when you successfully completed the Segway Magical History Tour.  As holder of this license, you are now entitled to very little!”

Summit Avenue, Saint Paul. One of the apartments in this building was the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald
James Hill House, James Hill was a railway baron
A beautiful Summit Avenue home with an unusual slate roof
Another home on Summit Avenue that was lived in by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The skyline of Saint Paul from the Cathedral steps

In addition to the lovely homes and mansions of Summit Avenue, we visited the Minnesota History Center, the State Capitol, and the Cathedral of Saint Paul.  The dome of the Capitol building is the second largest self-supported dome in the world.  Only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is larger.  The cathedral sits on a hill with commanding views, and is the fourth church on the site, completed in 1915.  It is a stunning building, both inside and out.  We were able to go in and admire the beautiful ceilings and the stained-glass windows.

Saint Paul Cathedral
Saint Paul Cathedral
Saint Paul Cathedral

There are extensive landscaped grounds in front of the Capitol building, much of them dedicated as various war memorials.  One particularly poignant park is full of large boulders.  There is one from each of the 87 counties in Minnesota.  Inscribed on each stone is an excerpt from a letter written by a serviceman from that county to his family during wartime.

Memorial Stones
Minnesota Capitol Building
Segway Tour, the group listens to the guide
Dick poses for a photograph
Leaving the Minnesota History Museum

That evening, we enjoyed an excellent meal at one of Saint Paul’s top steakhouses, the Saint Paul Grill.  It is in the Saint Paul Hotel, a beautiful old building, built in 1910 and kept sympathetically updated, with stunning flower gardens across the front.  The menu was the perfect combination of innovation and traditional fare.  I started with a warm cheese plate.  Three different cheeses, lightly toasted, and served with black garlic and a delicious peach chutney and toast.  Dick’s escargot dish was also very unusual, snails stuffed with boursin cheese and encased in wontons, lightly fried and served with a light cream sauce.  Our main dishes were more traditional, we both had filet steaks, and accompanied them with some of the best asparagus I have been served this year, house made fries, and several excellent sauces.  Dessert was tempting, but we were both too full to consider it, so Dick finished his wine, and I had a cappuccino.

Landmark Center, across from the Saint Paul Hotel
Saint Paul Grill warm cheese plate
Saint Paul Grill escargots
Saint Paul Grill main dishes

Sunday morning, sadly, the water pump was definitely on strike, and the “hit it with a wrench” activity was required every time water was needed.  This unfortunately also included using the toilets.  It was a fair walk along the dock, up the hill, and around the road to the marina facilities, a disappointing requirement every time there was a call of nature.  We had a spare pump, but the tight access meant this was not something Dick could easily install himself, so we hoped that there would be a tech available Monday morning.

Chatting with the friendly boaters on our dock, we were directed to Grand Avenue for boutique shops and ice cream.  That morning, following one of Dick’s excellent full English breakfasts, we investigated the possibilities.  There was a shop selling Irish goods, and another cookery shop, so armed with the addresses, we set out for Grand Avenue.  The cookery shop was one of the best we have been in, although there was nothing we needed, or had space for on board.  The ice cream shop was a great disappointment.  The ice cream was crystally and quite tasteless regardless of flavour.  The amount served was ridiculous.  Dick had a so-called single scoop, and I had two half-scoops so I could try two flavours.  The photo of my two half scoops tells the story.

This was described as 2 half scoops. The dish is about 5 inches diameter.

In the evening we went out to a Spanish restaurant.  I can tell you that while I am very fond of Spanish wines, in general, the food does not appeal to me.  Dick was looking for something a little different, and the restaurant was highly rated, so I suspended my doubts and agreed to try it.  The restaurant was certainly busy, and the wines were as excellent as expected, but the menu was very limited.  There were only 7 tapas choices, and 6 main dish selections.  We ordered 3 tapas to share, and Dick chose a pasta dish with fennel sausage as his main course.  The shrimp dish was delicious, and Dick enjoyed the other selections, but the evening was not a success for me.

Upon our return to the boat, we saw that the light calling for a pump-out had come on, thus piling additional inconvenience on top of the issues caused by the inoperative water pump.  A long walk in the dark to the marina facilities was now essential, especially as the “hit it with a wrench” technique was no longer effective.

In the morning Dick hovered around the marina office, hoping to speak to the service manager as soon as possible.  He also took the time to return the rental car to the airport.  After he was back from that task, we untied Nine Lives and maneuvered to the fuel dock to get the pump-out.  At least after that exercise we were able to use the toilets on board, with the aid of a bucket of water to add to the system.  Dick had another word with marina management, and was assured that a tech would be able to install the new pump some time in the afternoon.  As Dick prepared by taking all the stuff out of the lazarette, I noticed two children, well, teenagers, coming down the dock.  In fact, they were the tech and his assistant (and only looked like teenagers I am sure).  They were very quick and professional, and it was the assistant, a girl, who actually did the work of swapping out the old pump for the replacement.  She was small enough to fit right down into the space under the deck and could see what she was doing.  Less than half an hour later, we were back in business!

Dick enjoyed taking the old pump apart to see whether it could be repaired and perhaps diagnose what had failed.  On the outside, except for the various dings from hitting it with the wrench, it still looks brand new, but it is completely seized, and Dick believes improper assembly allowed water to get into the motor.  Our first water pump lasted 7 years, this second one is just over a year old, with perhaps 6 months of actual use.  A replacement will certainly be ordered and kept on board in case the newly installed one has a similar short life.

The seized water pump looks brand new

On our last evening in Saint Paul we were delighted to be invited by Sharon and Mike to join them for dinner at their home.  They live in a high-rise condo building on the south side of the Mississippi River, across from downtown Saint Paul.  The views are spectacular.  It was a lovely evening, with great food and company, and a wonderful finish to our stay.  The next morning we left Saint Paul and began our trip back towards our starting point at Pickwick Lake.

Saint Paul skyline at dusk

July 25 to August 6 Sabula to Red Wing

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

A calm morning on the River

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

The signs warn boaters of unexploded ordinance

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

A wing dam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dubuque Courthouse

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

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

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

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

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

Guttenburg marina

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

McGregor Marina

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

McGregor downtown
A pretty, somewhat neglected, garden in McGregor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

disappearing cheese curds

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

One of many trains passing the marina at Trempealeau

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

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

sand dune created from dredge spoil

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

Mississippi Driftless Region

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

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

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

Bald eagles
National Eagle Center at Wabasha

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

Lake City Marina

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

Early morning at Lake City

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

Excellent ice cream

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

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

Red Wing sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022

June 20 to July 9 Pickwick Lake to St. Charles

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

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

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

A great disappointment!

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

A large adult beverage was required.

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

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

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

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

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

freshly prepared clove bags

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

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

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

Bye bye Aqua Yacht
Pickwick Lock

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

First night toast
Ready for the grill

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

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

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

Sunrise at Swallow Bluff Island

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

The basin outside Pebble Island Marina

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

Tennessee River Lighthouse

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

Ospreys nest on the daymarks
Repairing pylons

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

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

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

Installing the new TV

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

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

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

Exposed tree roots show how high the water was this spring

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

Collapsed Federal Mooring Cell

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

Paducah Docks

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

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

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

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

A dredge on the Ohio River

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

Barge 5 wide and 6 long

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

anchoring in the rain
He got wet!

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

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

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

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

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

Sunrise at Little Diversion Channel

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

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

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

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

Tower Rock
Tower Rock

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

Hoppies, a Looper legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mississippi Cruise Ship

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

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

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

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

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

August 24 to September 14, Milwaukee to Peoria

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

Milwaukee, swallows on the rail

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

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

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

Waterfront homes in Kenosha

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

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

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

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

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

Waukegan Marina sunset

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

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

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

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

Waukegan sunrise
Minnie at the boat ramp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Burnham Harbor sunset

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

Nine Lives heads down the Chicago River

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

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

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

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

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

Barges on the river between Joliet and Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenery on the Illinois River
Nine Lives on the Illinois River

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

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

Dick had ribs at Heritage Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunrise at the anchorage

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

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

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

Steakhouse potato skins
salad bar at the steakhouse

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

Peoria Grandview Drive character house
Peoria Grandview Drive viewpoint

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

Cheese and charcuterie
cioppino
cajun barbecue shrimp