August 24 to September 14, Milwaukee to Peoria

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

Milwaukee, swallows on the rail

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

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

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

Waterfront homes in Kenosha

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

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

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

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

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

Waukegan Marina sunset

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

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

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

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

Waukegan sunrise
Minnie at the boat ramp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Burnham Harbor sunset

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

Nine Lives heads down the Chicago River

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

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

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

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

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

Barges on the river between Joliet and Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenery on the Illinois River
Nine Lives on the Illinois River

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

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

Dick had ribs at Heritage Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunrise at the anchorage

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

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

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

Steakhouse potato skins
salad bar at the steakhouse

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

Peoria Grandview Drive character house
Peoria Grandview Drive viewpoint

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

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

August 10 to 24, Green Bay to Milwaukee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pelicans and cormorants roost in Green Bay

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

Passing a Lake Freighter heading for the port of Green Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dock damage in the marina

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

The marina in Fish Creek

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

Pizzas in Fish Creek
Only in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

failed engine raw water pump for rebuilding

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

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

Kewaunee waterfront
Kewaunee Lafond Fish Market

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

Historic tug Ludington, Kewaunee

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

Kewaunee former Life Saving Station
The former Railroad Depot garden

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

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

Water like glass on the run to Sheboygan

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

Morning mist in Sheboygan

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

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

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

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

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

Lottie Cooper, a Great Lakes Schooner
Lottie Cooper

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

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

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

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

Waves crash on the breakwater at Sheboygan

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

moonlight

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

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

Milwaukee skyline

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

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

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

Milwaukee historic Third Ward
Milwaukee sunset

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

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

Storm in Milwaukee

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

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

July 23 to August 9, Winthrop Harbor to Green Bay

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

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

The harbor breakwater at Racine

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

The large marina at Racine

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

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

Downtown Racine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racine marina sunset

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

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

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

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

Waterfront condos in Port Washington

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

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

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

St Marys Catholic Church
Steps to St Marys Church

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

Twisted Willow is a very nice restaurant in a historic building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manitowoc marina

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

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

Just about the best pizza ever

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

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

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

SS Badger coming into Manitowoc

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

SS Badger in port

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

Wisconsin Maritime Museum wooden boat display
more wooden boats

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

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

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

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

cheese curds the Wisconsin way
Seafood nachos for lunch
Manitowoc Courthouse

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

Docktails platter

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

Kewaunee Marina

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

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

Entrance to Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal with historic lighthouses

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

Sturgeon Bay Irish Pub garden

Passing the Coastguard Station on the waterfront, it was interesting to see the stacks of ATONs.  These are floating buoys, set in place as aids to navigation of US waters.  Most common are the green ones that are shaped rather like a floating oil drum, round, with a flat top.  These are called cans.  The red ones are also round, but with a pointed top, and are descriptively called nuns.  (a little nautical trivia for you).

ATONs at the Coastguard Station

The next day we wandered around the town, visiting some of the upmarket tourist shops.  We enjoyed the pretty gardens, and some fascinating tree stump sculptures.  Dick rode his bike to the local West Marine to get an electrical fitting, while I did the laundry.  In the evening we hosted docktails for 6 Looper guests.  The other 3 couples are all about to start their Loop this fall, so it is possible we will see them again in September when we are all in the rivers.  It is quite interesting how many “about to start” Loopers we are meeting on this side of the Lake.  The group was happy to be joining their “first real Looper docktails”. I hope we set the right tone! Even though it is tradition, we asked the guests not to bring food on this occasion, and we set out a platter of some of the delicious treats we have been collecting along the way.  After docktails we walked out for a late Italian dinner at Trattoria Dal Santo.  Good food, and unfortunately we won’t be able to enjoy it again when we return to Sturgeon Bay as they won’t be open.

Gardens in Sturgeon Bay
Gardens in Sturgeon Bay
tree stump sculpture, an owl sits on a cello
another interesting tree stump sculpture, a lighthouse
Docktails with soon to be Loopers
Italian restaurant in Sturgeon Bay

It was a short trip the next morning to our planned anchorage in Little Sturgeon Bay.  It was very windy, with some rain in the night, but our anchor held firm.  After consulting a U-Tube video, Dick spent time installing the replacement electrical fitting on our power cord.  Anchoring allows us to use the grill (usually forbidden in marinas), and Dick prepared some of the Berkshire pork chops from our initial meat order.  The next morning was a good opportunity for a big breakfast.  Chef Dick makes an excellent bacon, eggs, and fried potatoes breakfast.

Electrical repairs while we anchor in Little Sturgeon Bay
Berkshire pork chops and baked potatoes on the grill
the chef prepares breakfast at anchor
bacon and eggs, potatoes and toast

Anchor up, and we set off towards the city of Green Bay.  The winds were quite high, and the fetch of at least 20 miles meant the waves were also higher than expected.  We started to run fast to compensate, and all was well until the starboard engine started making a roaring noise and the temperature dial climbed.  Dick shut it down immediately, and we had to proceed on just one engine.  A short investigation, as much as was possible with a hot engine, showed no obvious immediate fix.  I asked tentatively if we could go faster with the one engine, to be told certainly not.  About an hour later, the third cup of coffee stimulated the engineer’s mind, and he realized there was no reason not to attempt to get up to at least hull speed.  That improved our speed by 30%, and (important from my perspective) smoothed out the rock and roll considerably.  It also gave us a better chance of missing the thunderstorms that were heading in our direction.

Docking turned out to be impossible in the wind with one engine, in spite of 5 eager dockhands to help.  After briefly starting the starboard engine, we got into the fuel dock for a pumpout, and then some of the young ladies ran around to catch our lines at our slip.

Now, I’m just sayin’… When we first took over Nine Lives, she had another name.  We did a proper ceremony with lots of friends, calling on the gods of wind and waves to forget the old name, and introducing them to the rechristened Nine Lives.  It is bad luck to mention the name that the gods have been asked to forget.  At docktails the other night, in spite of my trying several times to stop him, Dick insisted on telling the other Loopers the former name.  (Cue spooky music of your choice). Now two days later we lost an engine… I call that unlucky.

Dick was able to get a tech on board, the good news is that it appears to be the water pump that failed, a relatively minor fix once parts are obtained.  The tech had hoped to confirm that the next morning, but, as everywhere, staff are short, and there were too many other jobs ahead of us.  Our plans are to stay until Tuesday morning anyway, so we can only hope that it will be possible to get the repair done on Monday. If it had been the port engine, there is a good chance that Dick would have been able to make the repairs himself, but because the water pump is on the side of the starboard engine that is up against the wall, one has to work by touch only, and without the intimate knowledge that a trained marine tech has, there is no way to do the work blind.

Green Bay is a city at the southern end of Green Bay, a long bay on the west side of Lake Michigan, separated by the Door County peninsula, a popular tourist destination.  I am not really a fan of cities, but Dick is, so we visit them.  Can’t honestly say that Green Bay is on anyone’s top ten tourist destinations, even for those who have heard of it!  The Green Bay Packers are of interest to sports fans (but I have had to check google to see that they are a football team, competing in the National Football League).  Aside from that, initial impressions are of a tidy downtown with an improved waterfront on the Fox River.  Our marina is located in a heavily industrial area at the mouth of the river, so the choice is either a 3+ mile bike ride, or launch the dinghy and use the convenient docking facilities downtown.

A small trading post was established by French fur traders in 1634.  It was originally called La Baie des Puants, which translates as the Bay of Stinking Waters.  I can tell you that as we passed the largest of the several rookeries, the smell of guano leaves no doubt of the accuracy of the early name. Over time the name gradually changed to Green Bay, due to the presence of algae that colours the waters a bright green, especially in the spring.  Over time, and especially with the arrival of the railroads and the opening up of Great Lakes shipping, the city continued to grow as an important international trading port.  It is a major centre for the paper industry, sometimes called “The toilet paper capital of the world”. Wikipedia duly informs me that Northern Paper Company (now part of Georgia Pacific) offered the first splinter-free toilet paper in the early 1930’s. (gosh).

Minnie duly launched, and all dressed up for our fine dining outing, we set off down the Fox River.  We were happily tootling along, when suddenly the outboard engine cut out.  (more of that spooky music please). I felt a certain amount of panic, sitting in our tippy dinghy in the middle of a shipping channel, but the engineer calmly tried various press this and squeeze that.  He then took the top off the outboard (rather as men always look under the hood/bonnet when a car isn’t working), shook his head, put it back on, pressed the starter again and the motor came to life and settled down to a gentle purr.  It’s not that I am afraid we would drown, we always wear life jackets, are close to shore, and carry a handheld radio.  I just don’t want to be toppled into the water under any circumstances!

Our destination was a very new restaurant (open only since May) called Slander.  The menu is interesting, with a lot of creative offerings divided into sections under small, medium, and large plates.  The waitress explained that it is expected that all the dishes could be shared (rather like tapas).  Very trendy of course, but Dick and I are both getting somewhat tired of having to choose a dish that would not necessarily be the first choice for either of us, just so we can share.  As it happened the lobster fried rice appealed to us both as a starter.  It was tasty, with some interesting flavours, but the overly mushy rice was a bit disappointing.  Instead of sharing for the main course, we each had our own choice.  Dick went for the duck, which he enjoyed very much, and I ordered a smoked burrata salad.  My salad was delicious, with a variety of very fresh lettuces and tomatoes, and a generous amount of torn, lightly smoked burrata cheese.  This was set on an amazing smoked basil aioli, and topped with balsamic pearls.  These are tiny balls with balsamic vinegar, a wonderful alternative to the usual drizzle.  We will most certainly be combing the specialty shops to see if we can find some to take home.

After the excellent meal we returned to the dinghy, and as it was well into dusk, we were glad to find that the lights worked.  Mid-trip, we experienced the same disturbing engine failure, this time while we were sitting right in the middle of an open railway bridge.  So, in addition to wondering whether we would get the motor to start again, we also hoped the (always automated) railway bridge didn’t need to close for a train while we were stuck in the channel!  After a certain amount of muttering and button pressing, the motor duly started up again and we returned to the marina without further incident.  The sunset was beautiful.  Even though it is an industrial area, with huge piles of coal, gravel, and sand on the shoreline, at dusk it is still pretty magical.  This area is also a mecca for wildlife.  We have been seeing a lot of white pelicans in the last few days, and there are several rookeries at the mouth of the Fox River and just outside in the bay.  We also saw deer, as well as the usual ducks, geese, and cormorants.  I am sure I can hear osprey as well.

even an industrial area is beautiful at sunset

The next day rained all afternoon and evening.  Dick had a chance to get on his bike in the morning to do grocery shopping.  He brought out his new cart (trolley), a clever folding contraption with two wheels.  It hooks to the back of the bicycle, and has the advantage that it can carry heavy weight without affecting the balance of the bike.  Capacity is not much more than Dick’s usual complement of saddle bags, but being able to transport large jugs of water, many beers, and other adult beverages, is a great advantage.

With the heavy rain all afternoon, there was no chance to look at the dinghy motor.  The forecast had the rain continuing all evening, so our plan to dinghy into town again had to be scrapped.  Dick weighed up the choices of missing the fine dining restaurant that was booked, or letting go of his absolute rule that we do not take taxis to dinner.  Fortunately, the alluring menu heavily influenced his decision, and we had just about the best meal this summer.

Chefusion offers fine dining meals from an extensive and wonderfully creative menu.  There are two multi-course prix fixe options, or one can order a la carte.  After we made our choices and ordered, we were delighted to be presented with a delicious bread basket with three spreads, and a little amuse bouche.  It was a tiny piece of rare beef with mustard grains, a heavenly bite!  For first courses I had another burrata salad, this one with the burrata served on top of a grilled half avocado.  Dick chose matso ball soup.  The excellent experience continued with a palate cleanser of strawberry lemon sorbet.  For main dishes, Dick loved his rack of lamb, and I had some of the best mac and cheese this side of the Atlantic, accompanied by lobster claws.  My dessert was a wonderful amalgam of mascarpone cheesecake with a brulee topping and strawberries, while Dick was in heaven with a bread pudding.

Chefusion bread basket and amuse bouche
avocado and burrata salad at Chefusion
Chefusion rack of lamb
Chefusion mac and cheese with lobster claws
Chefusion heavenly desserts

After we returned to Nine Lives, the rain and thunderstorms picked up in earnest, lasting all night and resulting in flash flood warnings for the area.  The dinghy was still tied to the dock, waiting for attention from Dick and to be transportation to the next dinner.  It filled with water, sitting very low, but did not sink.  Dick took a bucket out in the morning, and bailed at least 100 gallons of water before we could put it back on the hoist and open the drain plug to get the last of the water out.  Further investigation will be required, to ensure that the water has not damaged the battery, and also to see if it can be determined why the motor stopped during our evening outing.

Minnie

I am writing this on what we hope will be our last day in Green Bay, as we wait for the tech to arrive to fix the engine.  We have had a very lucky break.  Another Looper boat arrived the other day, and in conversation yesterday, Dick discovered that not only do they have the same engine as us, they even had a spare water pump on board.  They are leaving their boat here for a week while they visit friends, so Dick has made a sort of exchange, and will use their water pump while ordering a replacement that will be waiting for them when they return.

We enjoyed a very convivial evening of docktails with Karen and Bob last night.  They are from New Zealand.  After buying their boat in Louisiana in 2018, they have been doing the Loop on a multi-year basis, returning to New Zealand periodically.  They expect to “cross their wake”, that is, complete their Loop, this autumn, and will then plan to sell the boat.  They are great travellers like us, and we really enjoyed their company and hearing their stories.

The weather has been a combination of extremely high humidity and very heavy thunderstorms during our whole visit.  Dick hopes to take care of the dinghy between raindrops, but we have already booked another taxi to take us to the restaurant this evening.

July 7 to 23, Muskegon to Winthrop Harbor

Our pizza evening on our last night in Muskegon was a mixed success.  We walked over to the highly recommended pizza place just outside the marina, to discover that it was take-out only.  There were a couple of rickety metal tables outside on the sloping pavement.  After quite a long wait, as they were very busy, we opened the box on the tiny table and enjoyed some of the best pizza ever.  This reminded us just why we stayed home last summer, sitting outside on wobbly furniture, on a busy street in a chilly breeze, trying to eat pizza with plastic cutlery (impossible).

Our voyage from Muskegon to Grand Haven was most unpleasant.  The waves were 3 ft instead of the 1 ft that was forecast, and they were on the quarter instead of the stern, making Nine Lives yaw (corkscrew motion), I will stop before making my readers feel as queasy as I did…

Grand Haven Riverside Waterfront

Grand Isle Marina was another Safe Harbor Marina.  A huge marina with great facilities, aimed squarely at seasonal slip holders, with no dockhands to help, nor is the radio monitored.  It is quite difficult to hold a phone conversation when on a boat underway, the engine noise means it has to be me calling, and I have to stand at the front of the boat.  Since Dick makes the reservations, I never quite know what has been said or agreed to, and the offices are seldom manned by anyone who has a clue about slip arrangements for transient boaters.

Grand Haven is a relatively small city on the outskirts of the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Area.  A fur trade settlement by French colonial settlers began European occupation. The area began to grow after the War of 1812, with a large tannery, several churches, and banks.  The usual mix of lumber, shipping, and ship building contributed to growth during the 19th century. A piano factory was an important employer in the town for much of the 20th century. Today, Grand Haven is a tourist destination for boating and fishing, as well as stunning local beaches, and there is also a Great Lakes Port importing limestone, slag, cement and coal, and exporting sand.

Sand pile at the Cement Plant
Swallows nest in the precarious sand piles

On our first evening we walked to a nearby highly rated restaurant.  On the outskirts of Grand Haven, we could have been anywhere from Seattle to Alabama.  It was all chain restaurants and auto parts stores along a noisy highway.  Very useful for cities to put this away from downtown, with easy access from the main highways, but there is an awful sameness about it all.  I can well understand why our friends who are making long road trips don’t bother to take the slower routes or stop at anything other than chain hotels off the interstate.  When they do venture off the highway, they see nothing to suggest that a place is worth exploring and a longer stay.  The meal we had was acceptable, but by no means memorable.

The next morning, we rode our bikes to a breakfast place (very noisy, and the weirdest tasting pancakes I have ever eaten) and explored the town.  This was certainly much nicer than the outskirts, but very spread out with several different neighbourhoods of small shops and restaurants.  Downtown proper was bustling, with lots of people sitting outside on sidewalks.  The river waterfront area has a musical fountain that plays after dark.  Sadly, 10pm just seemed too late to ride the bikes quite a long distance on an unlit path.  Instead, we sat watching the boats and dinghies in the marina until sunset.

Creative use of broken crockery at the breakfast restaurant
Downtown Grand Haven architecture

We made an early start for the trip to Holland, as we planned to anchor and wanted to have enough time to get the dinghy off and go into town for the afternoon.  It was a calm and very easy journey, and we anchored with no problem in Pine Creek Bay, off Lake Macatawa.  Our dinghy trip to Holland was rather more exciting than one might wish, with a lot of wakes from big boats and wake boarders.  We are looking forward to the new RIB dinghy later this summer, which should be more stable in chop.

Holland was founded in the mid-19th century by Dutch Calvinist separatists, who emigrated from bad economic conditions in the Netherlands.  The story is that the newly arrived Dutch did not get on with the natives, apparently stealing sugar and venison from them, and eventually forcing them to leave the area.  Dr. Albertus Van Raalte, the founder of the city, was a spiritual leader, as well as overseeing political, educational and financial matters.  I was interested to read that as a group seeking religious freedom, the settlers were not at all tolerant of other points of view.  The Reformed Church of America was founded by Van Raalte, and the city became a centre for several reformed church congregations as well as Hope College and Western Theological Seminary.  Holland is called “The City of Churches”, with 170 in the general area, many of them associated with the Reformed Church.

Nearly 30% of the residents of Holland associate themselves with Dutch descent, and Dick noticed many businesses and even street names that were clearly of Dutch origin.  Today it is a considerably kinder and more welcoming city, with tourism being an important part of the economy.  The attractive downtown is listed in The National Register of Historic Places.  A Tulip Festival brings visitors from all over, with 6 million tulips planted throughout the city.  Heinz opened the largest pickle factory in the world in 1897, and it processes over 1 million pounds of pickles a day during the season.

Former furniture manufacturer in Holland, note the stylized tulip sculptures on the lawn

After tying the dinghy up at a conveniently provided dock at Boatwerks, a waterfront restaurant, we walked into town.  The farmer’s market was just finishing, so there was very little on offer, but Dick bought a pint of blueberries.  Holland is very attractive, with a real European feel and lots of interesting shops and restaurants.  After exploring the town, we returned to Boatwerks for an excellent meal.  Sadly, all the tables for 2 outside were set at the edge of the canopy (no tables available inside), so we were sitting in the hot sun.  Even Dick found it just too hot to linger.

Attractive downtown Holland
Shrimp with two sauces at Boatwerks

We returned to Nine Lives, and I set an anchor alarm on my phone.  This is a useful app that I have used for all our previous voyages, because the alarm setting on our chart plotter doesn’t work in any practical way.  In the middle of a short nap (it had been an eventful day with an early start), I was woken by a very loud siren from my phone.  Google is always my friend, and I discovered that recent versions of Android have a new “feature” intended to conserve battery power.  This feature automatically stops GPS tracking on all apps that are not active on the screen.  In other words, unless you put the app up on the screen, disable the screen lock, and of course plug in the phone, any app that uses GPS will not work.  Or, as in the case of my anchor alarm, will alert you with a loud siren to warn you that the GPS is off.  This feature is not optional and cannot be stopped or adjusted for any or all apps.  So far, I am told that Apple has not included this so-called feature in its operating systems, so I was able to use a different anchor alarm on the iPad instead. 

Nine Lives at anchor

We enjoyed a very quiet Sunday at anchor.  Dick made breakfast (bacon and eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, toast, and coffee) on board, and in the evening he grilled some of our wonderful steaks that are waiting in the freezer for anchor evenings.  There was a small craft warning, and threatening skies, so the pontoon boats with party groups and swimmers, and most of the wake boarders, must have decided to stay home, even though the bay we were in was very calm.  We watched a few fishermen, as well as swans and of course rafts of ducks and geese, and generally enjoyed a peaceful day.

Pulling up the anchor the next morning went smoothly. Altogether, our first anchoring since September 2019 went very well!

Breakwater and lighthouses outside Lake Macatawa and Holland
On our way!
A dredge immediately outside the channel made the exit a little challenging

We had calm seas for the trip to Saugatuck.  There was a little mizzle at first, but it cleared up.  On arrival at the marina there was much confusion.  No response to radio (as is unfortunately common these days), and a lady at the end of the phone who kept asking me what was our slip assignment.  Since I was calling to ask what was our slip assignment, this made for a frustrating conversation on both sides.  Eventually the person who Dick has been dealing with was tracked down, and we were told our slip, and set off down the fairway, only to see that our space was already occupied.  More phone conversations, and we were finally sent to the far end of the marina on a temporary basis for one night.  This end of the marina was a strange but potentially charming little enclave.  There was a large B&B boat (apparently unoccupied), and several brand-new houseboats, incomplete and unfurnished.  Apparently, they are being staged in that location while wrangling over their final location on the river in Saugatuck goes on.  At the end of the dock is a real dive bar, that advertises the loudest live music in the area.  I gather it is very popular, but operated in an eccentric manner, open only when the management feels like it and with no predictable hours or days (except always closing at sunset), we were very thankful that this was one of the closed days!

We were expecting Saugatuck to be one of the highlights of this trip, and it did not disappoint.  Initially a centre for lumber and a port, Saugatuck became an art colony and cultural centre in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Lovely old homes line the streets, many sympathetically converted into art galleries and restaurants.  Beautiful beaches in the area add to the attraction.  There is an interesting hand cranked historic chain ferry that crosses the river to connect visitors to the town with the beaches and parks. The Kalamazoo River leads from Lake Michigan to Saugatuck and its sister city of Douglas.  The river opens out into a smallish lake that is lined with marinas and waterfront condos.  Douglas was initially called Dudleyville, settled in 1851 as a lumber mill town.  The town provided much of the lumber used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire in 1871.  Once most of the trees had been cleared, the area became a centre for growing and shipping fruit, particularly peaches.

Hand cranked historic chain ferry in Saugatuck

There were no available transient slips in Saugatuck, so our marina was across the lake in Douglas.  We had planned to ride our bikes to Saugatuck for dinner, so we got ready and wrestled the bikes off the boat.  At this point we discovered that my rear tire was completely flat.  Further investigation clearly showed that there was a problem that could not be solved with a bicycle pump.  Since Google told us it was just 1.8 miles to the restaurant, and my weather app said clouds and a pleasant 72 temperature, we decided to walk.  Naturally, the sun came out, there was not a breath of breeze, and it was a lot closer to 80.  I was fine with the 1 mile, it was the .8 in the hot sun that was miserable!  The restaurant was another one with good food served in a very crowded and noisy setting.  Certainly not worth the long, hot walk.

Dinghy sailing lessons in the lake at Saugatuck

We were able to order a new inner tube for the bike, to be delivered to the marina in just two days.  We have had several urgent orders this year.  Our AGLCA burgee, critical for making new friends on the docks, had become so frayed that it was about to fall apart.  Our Eartec headsets (aka marriage savers) that are very important aids for docking, had the plastic on the ear pieces flaking off.  One of my only pair of sandals decided to shed its sole, and the ink cartridges in the printer ran out.  Fortunately, between our friends in Whitehall, and those in Chicago, we were able to place online orders for these important items.  Funny that we have been travelling for 3 years and never needed to order anything.  I guess everything wears out, and the gap year allowed things to deteriorate.

The next day we took the dinghy into town.  There is an excellent dinghy dock at a park right in the centre, very convenient, and of course much cooler than trying to walk (or even ride the bikes).  As we walked around town, we enjoyed seeing the most amazing old cars.  They were part of a car club, really old, in stunning condition, and more than I have ever seen outside of a museum.  My father would have been in his element, chatting with the owners and reminiscing.  I couldn’t help but think about how much Dad would have enjoyed this trip we are taking!

Dick considers his next car, a Ford perhaps?
Another lovely old car making a turn. Note that the passenger is using a hand signal out of the window for the turn!
This one is a Packard

We enjoyed more of the shops in Saugatuck (some wonderful art galleries particularly), and went to a restaurant on the waterfront for dinner.  On this occasion we decided to sit outside, in hopes that it might be a little quieter.  While we were waiting for our order, a lady came out and stood at the railing.  It seemed as though she was taking pictures, very strange because it was a foggy, drizzly day and nothing much to see (or photograph).  In fact, she was trying to get a signal for an important phone call.  Eventually the lady turned around, and (in her words), was about to stop at our table and tell me that she knows someone who looks just like me.  Then she looked at Dick, and realized that I am who she was thinking of!  Leslie is a neighbour from Wexford, and we were all very surprised at the chance meeting.  No wonder there are so few people in our neighbourhood in summer, they all head north!

The next day was a quiet morning for errands (Dick) and laundry (me), and then a return to Saugatuck in the dinghy.  We explored the remaining shops and enjoyed a very nice meal at Coast236.  Finally, a quiet dining experience with good food, although a very limited menu.

Starters at Coast236
Dick had an elk chop at Coast236
I enjoyed the salmon with mushrooms at Coast236

On Thursday we walked to J.Petter Galleries, an art gallery and wine shop just off the bridge between Saugatuck and Douglas.  They offer wine tastings, and a very pleasant selection of accompaniments.  We shared a wonderful cheese and charcuterie plate with tastings, and returned to the boat with 3 bottles of a delicious white wine from Navarre and some more yummies to enjoy on board. A new boat had joined us on our T-head, another catamaran, this time a sailing cat.  We paused for some dockside chat.

Charcuterie and wine tasting at J. Petter Galleries

Friday was a quiet day.  Dick walked over to what he thought was a museum, but wasn’t, and took the time to repair my bike.  This involved some critical bike repair tools that he found in the cutlery drawer, but the repair was successful and I am once again mobile.

Dick fixes my tire, note the spoon from the cutlery drawer I mean critical bike repair tool.

In the evening we again took the dinghy across, this time to a steak house called Bowdies.  After Dick overheard the bartender say he was moving to Hilton Head in the fall, he mentioned to our charming waiter that we live there.  The bartender came over and introduced himself.  He is in fact the restaurant owner, and is opening his 4th Bowdies very near to Wexford in October.  The steaks were absolutely delicious, and we are looking forward to the opening in the autumn.  As restaurants go, it is very pricey indeed, with everything ordered separately (in other words, you order your steak and it comes with no sauces, vegetables, or starch), so I expect it will be a special occasion destination!

Shrimp cocktail at Bowdies

On our return to the marina, we had, ahem, fun, putting up the dinghy.  It is always a tricky job, because of the weight and design of the dinghy and supports, and several glasses of wine do not make it easier!  The boaters on the other side of the dock had returned to their boat for the weekend, very friendly people, who are planning to do the Great Loop soon.  We sat with them and enjoyed further adult beverages while chatting with them and other boat neighbours until 11:30!  Whoa!  Very late hours for Loopers.

Saugatuck sunset

The next day was another horrible corkscrewing passage to St Joseph for me, even though both wind and waves were acceptable speed and heights.  I now realize that when a fellow Looper refers to Lake Michigan as Lake Washing Machine, he is not necessarily referring to stormy conditions.  Instead, it is the rolling corkscrew that is so much more common than the easy chop we were used to on the other Great Lakes.

Initially a trading post, St Joseph lies near the southern end of Lake Michigan, and is a convenient location for crossing to Chicago.  The convenience was recognized during the early years of the city, as a number of shipping companies and routes provided transportation, freight, and mail between the cities.  In 1911, three brothers, Emory, Lewis, and Frederick Upton, began a company manufacturing household washing machines.  By the 1950’s the company became Whirlpool, and is still the world’s largest manufacturer of household appliances, with its world headquarters in Benton Harbor, across the river from St Joseph.  Some of Whirlpool’s many brands include Maytag, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Amana, Hot Point, and Indesit.  Our route by bicycle to St Joseph shops and restaurants took us through the enormous (deserted over the weekend) parking lot of the Whirlpool Headquarters building.

Taking bikes over lift bridges is never fun or safe!
Downtown St Joseph. The brick streets look charming but are not bike friendly!

St Joseph is quite a large city, and once again the marina was across the river, requiring a long and quite unpleasant (and unsafe) bike ride to the town and restaurants.  The St Joseph waterfront has a beautiful park, and the town is at the top of a bluff, so taking the dinghy instead of the bikes would  still have involved a lot of walking.  Dinner in a highly rated hotel restaurant was good, but staff shortages meant that our poor waitress was trying to look after far too many tables.  We like a leisurely dinner, but more than two and a half hours is too long even for us.

Pink chocolate cheesecake for dessert in St Joseph
Waterfront park in St Joseph
Leaving St Joseph behind a dinghy sailing school

We enjoyed a very easy crossing to Chicago, running fast for about 2/3 of the distance.  On this stop we stayed in Burnham Harbor, a 1000 slip marina located beside Soldier Field, The Shedd Aquarium, and the Planetarium.  We had our slip assignment (a T-head), but as usual no docking assistance. We are now at the point where we prefer to handle the docking ourselves, and were reminded of that when we were “helped” at the fuel dock on our way out.  The helpful young man grabbed the bow line, and prepared to try to haul Nine Lives in with that.  Leaving aside the fact that 12 tons of boat is a lot for even a strong young man to haul about safely, pulling us in by a bow line results in the stern going out away from the dock to the point where even a good throw of the stern line won’t reach.  Of course, getting no docking help means no tip is required, a small saving, but it all adds up!  It is especially annoying to tip a dockhand who has made our arrival more difficult that it would have been without the well-meant but useless assistance.

Chicago cityscape from the water

This marina was the worst so far, with just 2 showers for the entire marina, and no other facilities.  Of course, being downtown in a major city, it was also the most expensive!

Our location on the t-head next to the fuel dock made for interesting watching.  It soon becomes obvious that having a lot of money does not necessarily mean that a boater has any actual boat handling skills, and the dock hands spend a lot of time grabbing tangled lines, jumping over errant fenders, and pushing and pulling just to get some of these big yachts set for fuelling.  I watched a Chicago Police boat decide on a stop and search.  They tied their big RIB to a yacht that was fuelling, and after taking the owner’s keys, they sent down a diver to look at something.  Of course, from the position of an observer, the story is all speculation, and one never really knows the whys or wherefores, or the eventual outcome!  I also watched the set up for some sort of filming across the harbour.  There was a big green screen set up, and all sorts of people bustling about, moving equipment in and out and stringing wires everywhere.  Actors (?) in white shirts and ties stood about looking at large dark cars.  I didn’t see the actual filming, but the setting up took hours, and then suddenly everyone was gone and there was no trace they had even been there.

Filming beside Burnham Harbor

We visited the Shedd Aquarium.  Normally we love aquariums, but this was not quite the experience we had hoped for.  With COVID, there are still only advance timed tickets, and I (wrongly) thought this would mean fewer people.  Instead, it was horribly crowded, and being summer, there were also large numbers of children jumping about, banging on the glass, and generally being a nuisance.  Worst, the rules are now that for indoor venues, if you don’t wear a mask you are certifying that you are fully vaccinated.  Given that the US has roughly 50% of the population vaccinated, that would suggest that in any given venue, about half the visitors should be wearing masks.  If it was 10% I would be surprised.  I found it quite disturbing, and wished I had tucked my own mask into my pocket, with all these potentially infected people crowding around me.  Yes, we are vaccinated, but there are still breakthrough infections, and I don’t want it, no matter how “mild” the symptoms might be!  We never found the underwater viewing places for the belugas, and we decided that any of the other shows would be even more crowded than the exhibits, so we didn’t stay as long as we might have done.

Snapping turtle at Shedd Aquarium
An interesting fish at the Aquarium

What can I tell you about Chicago?  It is the third largest city in the United States (by population), and one of the 40 largest urban areas in the world.  The location of the city, incorporated in 1837, was close to the portage that connected Lake Michigan (and thus, via the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River with the Atlantic Ocean) with the Mississippi watershed and the Gulf of Mexico.  In 1848 the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened, connecting the two watersheds.  One of the destination cities of North America, Chicago is a centre for food, culture, architecture and history, and of course, shopping.  As we have been finding with many American cities, the waterfront has been beautifully redeveloped, with parks connected by bike paths and pedestrian trails.

Gardens outside the Shedd Aquarium

We enjoyed a wonderful evening with Thor and Jim, friends from Wexford, who have a stunning condo overlooking the waterfront and Lincoln Park.  We had dinner with them at a French Vietnamese restaurant that is one of their favourites.

Delicious starters at Le Colonial
Dick enjoyed his duck at Le Colonial
I had a wonderful shrimp stir fry

The next day was our turn to entertain.  Dick spent hours with the water hose and boat soap, and also window cleaners, so Nine Lives sparkled.  I prepared cottage pie with some ground bison meat we had found in one of the specialty shops on our travels, and made some chocolate mousse with plenty of grand marnier for dessert.  We loved having our friends on board.

While Dick was boat cleaning, I had an interesting phone conversation.  I answered Dick’s phone for him, it was a nice lady to say that he had left a message about a reservation, but she was calling to advise that they don’t take reservations, it is first come first served.  I explained to her that we understand some places do this, but we are a catamaran, and 19 feet wide, so usually we are able to talk to the dockmaster and he will hold a slip for us.  The nice lady heard me out, there was a pause, and then she explained that they are a restaurant.

Fireworks over the harbour on our last evening in Chicago

Our passage from Chicago to Winthrop Harbor was done fast.  The water was very smooth, and if it had been the ocean it would have been perfect, but there was a very long fetch from the top of the Lake, and a short period (to explain to the non-mariners among us, the fetch means that waves start at the north end, and have the whole length of the lake to build up.  The period means that unlike the ocean where the distance between the tops of the waves is longer, here it is short, and boats bob up and down much sooner).  This made for what would have been an awful trip for me.  Dick was good to his wife and we ran fast, thus shortening the passage by hours.

We had made reservations and been assigned a slip in Winthrop Harbor, but on our arrival, we discovered that our place was already occupied.  We tied up at the next slip over, and eventually managed to get an answer from the marina to say they were sorry, someone had bought that slip for the season, and if we were happy where we were, we could stay there.  So followed all the palaver of spring lines, careful and judicious tying of bow lines, and placement of fenders here and there, and the last job is to connect the power.  That was when we found that the elderly pedestal did not have an outlet that was suitable for our boat.  More calls to the marina, and explained the situation, so we were sent to a different dock that we were assured would have the right power, and would be wide enough for a catamaran.  After some exceptional manoeuvring on Dick’s part, he shoehorned Nine Lives into the assigned slip, and we began the tying up process.  It was clear that our 44 ft, plus another 5 feet of dinghy, was not appropriate for a 35-foot pier, as we were sticking out and obstructing about half of the fairway.  So, untie, more clever ducking and spinning of our fortunately very nimble cat, and we returned to the first spot with the plan to run the generator if necessary.  Fortunately, the slips directly across from us do have the right power outlets, so we have run our (trip hazard) cable across the dock and are all set.  Dick rode his bike to the handy local West Marine, and bought an adaptor for the next time (and there will be a next time for sure).  We figure that since this exceptionally large marina of 1500 slips probably has many boats arriving with the same issue, the relatively small West Marine outlet keeps a good stock of what must be a big seller for them!

Winthrop Harbor is the location for the National Weather Service’s marine warnings for Lake Michigan.  There doesn’t seem to be much else to tell, other than that the marina is the largest in the Great Lakes.

Winthrop Harbor has little to offer in terms of restaurants or shopping, so we are eating on board both nights of our stay.  Today is our 44th wedding anniversary, so I planned a nice supper, trying a new recipe for chicken pies, followed by some blueberry cake for dessert.  There just happened to be a bottle of champagne on board as well.  One of the local AGLCA Harbor Hosts arrived in time to join us for cocktails and dinner.  A convivial evening with exchanged stories of visits to Europe and future boating plans.  The new recipe for chicken pies is a keeper too!

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

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

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

Traverse City Marina waterfront gardens

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

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

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

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

Dick changes fuel filters

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

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

desserts at Amical

Dinner at Red Ginger

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

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

A loon feeding in the marina, an unusual sight.

Mama and baby liked our swim platform.

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

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

Fishtown

The dam and Fishtown

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

Beautiful dogwood in bloom.

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

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

The best french fries ever!

Fishtown from the bridge above the dam in Leland

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

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

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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

Point Betsie Lighthouse

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

Historic buildings in Frankfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine Lives docked in Manistee

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

Historic downtown Manistee

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

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

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

White River Light Station, Whitehall

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

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

Duckweed and water lilies in our slip in Whitehall.

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

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

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

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

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

This tractor reminded Dick of his childhood.

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

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

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

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

Whitehall fireworks display
Whitehall fireworks display

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

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

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

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

USS Silversides, Muskegon

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

Improving the marina breakwater.

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

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

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

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

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

The Cheese Lady, Muskegon

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

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

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

Historic Round Island Lighthouse

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

The main street on Mackinac Island

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

Carriages, bicycles, and the old fort on Mackinac Island

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

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

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

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

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

Glimpse of the water from the bike route

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

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

One of the beautiful old inns on the island

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

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

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

Mackinac Bridge looms out of the fog

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

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

Nine Lives was in the water waiting for us

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

She’s glad to be back in the water!

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

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

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

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

DeTour Reef Lighthouse

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

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

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

Dick had rack of lamb at Nauti Inn

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

Old Mackinac Point Light Station
Mackinac Bridge from Mackinaw City

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

A lighthouse on the route from Mackinaw City to Beaver Island

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

The waterfront at St James on Beaver Island

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

A house with an interesting chimney on Beaver Island

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

the marina at Harbor Springs

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

A garden in Harbor Springs

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

One of the beautiful Harbor Springs waterfront homes

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

The Bear River in Petoskey

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

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

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

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

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

June 16 to 30: Oswego to Kingston via the Thousand Islands

We left Oswego on a morning that was forecast to be good weather and calm seas on Lake Ontario.  Unfortunately, the passing weather system had roiled the waters enough that they had not quite settled down.  It also created quite a significant morning fog.  We went through the last lock and then pulled in to the marina dock for a pumpout and to wait for visibility to improve.  After an hour we had about 1 mile of visibility, so we set off.  Instead of the usual display of just the chart on the chartplotter, Dick activated the radar and set up a split screen.  We were following 3 other loopers, all with different destinations, but we could see them easily on the radar screen.  The light chop was uncomfortable at our regular cruising speed of 7 knots, so we gave her a fast run for a couple of hours.  At 18 knots the boat rides nicely over the chop, and we soon left the other boats behind.

leaving Oswego
Looking out onto a misty Lake Ontario. The chartplotter has a split screen, showing radar on the right hand side and the chart on the left.

We arrived in Sackets Harbour, and proceeded to Navy Point Marina.  Here we could really see the extent of the high water that this spring has brought to Lake Ontario and the 1000 Islands.  The large covered boat dock was entirely under water, as was the dock next to the one we were assigned.  Our beam meant that, as often happens, we were on the fuel dock, but it was not a problem because power was turned off to all the docks in the marina.  If you look at the picture you can see where the other dock is, with the power pedestals standing up above the water.  Unfortunately, any wake will almost certainly have washed water into the outlets on those pedestals, and I gather they are very difficult to dry out once that happens.  So it will be a difficult summer for any marina with fixed (as opposed to floating) docks this year.

Sacketts Harbor marina
The covered docks are submerged, as is the dock beside us. You can see the power pedestals sticking out of the water.

We loved Sackets Harbor, and wished we had planned to stay a bit longer.  The town was founded in the mid-1700s, and the main street has some beautifully preserved and tended homes.  The town takes good care of their heritage, and we enjoyed the beautiful municipal plantings that complimented the tree lined streets.  The village was the site of a major Navy shipyard, built specifically for the War of 1812. The shipyard and a naval station continued to bring prosperity through the 19th century, and Sackets Harbor was an important Great Lakes port.  By the early 20th century it was also a destination for families taking long summer vacations from the major cities of the Great Lakes and New York.

Sackets Harbor
Pretty waterfront homes and docks in the Sackets Harbor basin.

While Dick went off for his usual whirlwind walking tour of the village, I enjoyed people watching and listening to the live music floating across the water from one of the many waterfront restaurants.  A local eatery called Tin Pan Galley had been highly recommended, and we were disappointed to discover that they are not open on Sundays.  However, our spirits lifted when we were told that they had decided to open that day, in honour of Father’s Day, and they had a table for us.  It was one of the best meals we have had so far this trip, enhanced by the live music.  The musician played a variety of instruments, and mostly folk and light rock of the 60’s and 70’s, so we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Sackets Harbor
The patio restaurant Tin Pan Galley, with live entertainment

Sackets Harbor
A delicious presentation of Bagna Cauda

The next morning we set off for Cape Vincent.  Dick had intended to anchor behind the village breakwater, knowing that the docks would be under water.  We arrived to see that the breakwater is a favourite roosting spot for hundreds of birds, seagulls, cormorants, and even oyster catchers.  While it would have been possible to tie up to the breakwater, and the birds would have flown off on our arrival, we also knew that they would return, and as soon as it got dark and quiet, they would avail themselves of the decks of Nine Lives.  So, leaving aside the pitter patter of birdie feet across the deck all night, I asked Dick if he really wanted to clean all the resulting guano off the decks!  Dick decided I was probably right, and we headed for Clayton a day early.

Clayton Marina
Lots of Loopers in Clayton Marina

Clayton is another lovely St Lawrence village with a historic downtown, excellent shops and restaurants, and the main attraction, the outstanding Clayton Antique Boat Museum.  We pottered around the shops, stocking up on local cheese, sausage, chocolate, and some lemon infused vinegar.  Our visit to the boat museum was everything Dick had hoped.  There are both in-water and dry sheds, with a huge variety of wooden boats of all sizes and vintages.  We toured La Duchesse, an enormous houseboat built in 1903, and used for entertaining by George Boldt (more about him later).  This is a beautifully restored barge type of houseboat.  It has no engines, instead it was towed to its destination by a tug.  In addition to running water and flush toilets, the two storey home boasts two wood burning fireplaces, servants’ quarters, a dining room, and a large salon with a stained glass dome above a piano.  Impressive as the fireplaces were, we were told by the guide that the one time the owner tried to light the one in the dining room the flue didn’t work and the room filled with smoke!  An open fireplace is perhaps not the best idea on a boat anyway.

Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
La Duchesse, a 106 ft houseboat built in 1903.

Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
The formal dining room of La Duchesse, with a wood burning fireplace.

Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
La Duchesse salon, with the piano.

Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
The upper deck of La Duchesse. The white wicker furniture is original.

The rest of the museum was equally fascinating.  One whole shed is devoted to canoes of all kinds, from the dugout through sailing canoes to contemporary fibreglass and other materials.  Another shed shows the history of boat racing.  An in-water shed even offers short tours on some of the historic craft.  I found the whole experience quite nostalgic.  In the 1960’s and 70’s my family had a cottage on a lake in southern Ontario.  My Dad was very fond of boats, and at one point we had 7 of them.  He built a sea flea, a plywood hydroplaning boat that my brother and I loved to zip around the lake at ridiculous speeds, creating a noise that today I would find extremely annoying!  Dad was also persuaded to buy a classic mahogany boat, that he could parade majestically around the lake.  He would have loved the museum!

Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
Some of the wonderful historic boats on display

Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
Dick checks out one of the boats in the in-water display shed

Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
A hydroplaning boat similar to the Muskoka Sea Flea that my Dad built

There were several Looper boats in the marina while we were there, and one evening the Thousand Islands Harbor Host and his wife brought their boat down for the evening and a convivial docktails get-together.  Dick and I had cleaned Nine Lives inside and out that day, and it was a very pleasant evening sitting out on the foredeck watching the river, chatting with new friends, and nibbling on a charcuterie platter.

The next day we made the fairly short trip downriver to Alexandria Bay.  Here the municipal dock has had a second dock built on top, so it is still possible to tie up there.  There are two marinas beside the Town docks, both are under water, but that has not stopped them being open for business.  Fuel is dispensed by dockhands wearing wellington boots!  Our visit coincided with a biker’s meet in the town.  One might once have been concerned, but I was reminded of the comment from my neighbour in our UK house in Yorkshire.  Hawes is a mecca for bikers, especially on weekends, as they love tearing along the winding, hilly roads of the Dales.  John told me, “They won’t bother you, they’re all old men, young ones can’t afford those bikes!” This seemed to be true of the bikers gathered in Alexandria Bay, many of whom took a stroll along the town dock and looked at the boats.

Alexandria Bay
The fuel dock may be under water, but they are still dispensing gas and diesel!

Alexandria Bay
Bikers Meet

Alexandria Bay
An unusual and attractive old church.

From Alexandria Bay we took the first shuttle of the day to Boldt Castle.  Normally we would have been able to go there in our own dinghy, but the public docks are under water and only tour boats are allowed to visit.  We spent about two and a half hours wandering around the castle.  Boldt Castle was built by George Boldt for his wife Louise.  From his roots as a poor immigrant, he became wealthy as the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.  He and his wife bought Hart Island, changed the name (and even the shape of the island) to Heart Island, and lived in the existing house while construction and transformation of the island began. There are 3 interesting towers.  The Alster Tower is sometimes called the Playhouse, and was supposedly intended for the Boldt children.  The Power House is situated on a point and housed the electrical and pumping machinery, as well as apartments for the engineers.  The Dove-Cote was the original structure on the island, containing a water tank and topped by an aviary where exotic fowl were housed (one presumes the tank was well covered…).

Boldt Castle
The dove-cote and water supply tower

Boldt Castle
The Power House

The magnificent main castle is certainly an exercise in conspicuous consumption and display of wealth.  The castle was never completed or occupied.  During the construction, Louise suddenly died, and the next day George sent a telegram halting all work.  All the materials had been ordered and were stored in warehouses, as was some of the furniture, and even marble statuary for the gardens, but the construction never resumed and George never visited the island again.  During WWII, the current owner of the castle allowed it to be stripped of iron, steel, and copper towards the war effort.  Over forty thousand tons of materials were removed, not very carefully, contributing to the speed of the deterioration over the 73 years that the castle stood empty and unfinished.  In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took over the castle, the island, and the nearby Yacht House, and began a program of restoration.  We were very impressed with the care and quality of the workmanship.  This is more than a restoration, the Authority is actually completing the castle construction, furnishing rooms as they are finished.  It is a major attraction for the Thousand Islands, and contributes to the economy and tourism in the area.  It is estimated that in addition to employing at least 600 people, the castle contributed nearly $40 million a year to the local economy.

Boldt Castle
The main castle

Boldt Castle
The castle library

The next morning we set off before the local tour boats and circumnavigated the castle.  We also tooled around the nearby bay, off Wellesley Island, home of some stunning summer and full time homes, and the exclusive Thousand Islands Yacht Club.  We then headed north on the River towards Brockville, pausing to loop around Singer Castle on the way.  We had hoped to dock, but a sign suggested that it was closed that day.

Boldt Castle from the water
The Alster Tower in the foreground, main castle in the centre behind the trees, and the Power House on the right.

Boldt Castle Yacht House
Across the bay from the castle is the Yacht House, where George Boldt kept his boats.

riverfront homes Wellesley Island
Some of the beautiful homes on wealthy Wellesley Island

Singer Castle
A freighter passes Dark Island, home of Singer Castle

Singer Castle
Beautiful Singer Castle

We had intended to stop in the small village of Morristown for the night, but on arrival the marina appeared to be deserted.  Our reservation was made online, and there was no response to either radio hails or phone calls.  The docks appeared to be in very poor condition, with metal sticking out and parts under water.  We decided to see if we could dock in Brockville a day early.  On arrival the first task was to contact Canada Border Protection and check in.  Apart from a long wait on hold, it was a very easy process, sitting in comfort on the boat instead of the former requirement to stand at a pay phone!  Dick was duly given the check-in number, and I was very glad he wrote it down and told me where he put it.  A couple of days later two officers walked down the dock and asked me if we had checked in and to see that all-important number.

welcome to Canada
Dick puts up the Canadian courtesy flag on our bow.

We stayed 4 nights in Brockville.  This allowed time for local sightseeing and lunch with another Looper couple and the local Harbor Host.  We met at a tearoom called Cosies, run by a couple who emigrated from England 20 years ago.  Unusually (in my experience), they have not changed their offerings from traditional English fare.  Their breakfast is exactly what one would be offered in any good B&B in England, complete with black pudding and baked beans, although the bacon is the American style strips, rather than English cut.  For lunch they offer many very traditional English treats, including my absolute favourite prawns in Marie Rose sauce.  For our non-English friends, this means small shrimp in a pink sauce made of mayonnaise and tomatoes.  You can have it as an open-faced sandwich, or on an also traditional jacket potato (baked potato).

Brockville
Historic downtown Brockville

Dick took a train to Toronto, staying overnight at the Royal York Hotel, and then joining the annual reunion lunch of his former colleagues from Ingersoll Rand in the late 70’s.  I enjoyed my couple of days with my own company, and took the opportunity for a major session with the washer dryer!  I really enjoyed the people watching, as the marina is located on a spit of land that is a popular park for dog walkers, exercising, and visiting families. There is also a tour boat leaving from one of the docks, taking a 90-minute tour of the 1000 Islands.  At one point I was surprised to be hailed by an Indian lady accompanied by her extended family (about 20 people).  She asked where the 90-minute tour was going to take them.  I politely sent her along to the tour office, and then realized that she had thought that Nine Lives was the tour boat!

I also enjoyed watching two tall ships that were on the docks.  One was out in the river when we arrived, but the larger one was being fitted with spars and sails.  I watched the young sailors hoist one of the spars, and then fit it to the mast.  The next day they attached the sails, and then set off down the river.  There is a tall ship meet and race this year, that will visit a number of the cities on the Great Lakes, and both the ships in Brockville are part of the event.  I hope we have an opportunity at some point to see one under sail, although I suspect the timing won’t work for us.

Brockville tall ship
Tall ships docked in the harbour at Brockville

Brockville tall ship
Crew working on the spar on one of the tall ships

Brockville tall ship
Fair Jeanne leaves the harbour. I watched them rig the two spars on the foremast. It took two days.

Brockville tall ship
Fair Jeanne leaving Brockville

On the last evening I watched a sailing race out in the St Lawrence.  At least 20 boats raced down the river with spinnakers flying in the evening light. An hour later they returned and I had a front row seat while they made hair raising turns just short of running aground on the submerged outer docks of the marina.

Our next destination was Gananoque.  We enjoyed cruising back along the Canadian side of the St Lawrence, and were greeted on arrival at the dock by the local Harbor Host.  The next evening we were entertained by him and his wife in their stunning condo on the harbour for cocktails and chat with them and two other Looper couples.

Another highlight of the trip so far was a 1-hour helicopter ride.  We flew as far as Kingston, passing over Fort Henry, the city, Queen’s University and the Penitentary.  Our route then took us across Wolfe Island and along the US side of the River as far as Singer Castle.  The pilot pointed out the various sights, and also a number of wrecks that are visible from the air in the clear water of the river.  It was a fantastic tour, finishing with a loop over the marina in Gananoque where we could see Nine Lives at dock beside another Looper catamaran.

Thousand Islands by helicopter
Dick and Louise get ready to board the helicopter

Thousand Islands by helicopter
It’s a long way down, but what a view!

Thousand Islands by helicopter
Gananoque Marina. Nine Lives is docked right at the end, that is 900 yards from the marina office and showers!

From Gananoque it is a short trip up the river to Kingston.  We were too late to get in to any of the local marinas, especially as the weekend is a Canadian holiday and the traditional start of a great many summer festivals, fireworks, and of course boating.  With the high water, many docks are unavailable, so transient space is limited even more than usual.  We anchored in a bay disturbingly called Deadmans Bay, tucking in just before the Canadian Forces Yacht Club.  There were long swells coming up the bay from the river and Lake Ontario, so it was rock and roll for most of the afternoon.  Also, it was quite a boring place, with nothing much to see and no boats to watch.  In the early evening the waves calmed down and the wind changed, and suddenly we were facing the opposite direction.  We usually put out quite a lot of rode, so we were disturbed to find that we drifted right over a floating buoy.  This buoy slid under and around the boat all night, banging on the hull and making it very difficult to sleep. Add to that, in the early evening there was first a tornado watch, followed by a squall watch, urging us to “take cover”.  The next morning I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!

Because we left so early, we were able to arrive in the next bay over, called Navy Bay.  The previous day it had been filled with a dinghy sailing race.  We anchored well into the bay, and enjoyed a wonderful peaceful day with lots to watch.  On one shore is Royal Military College (RMC), and as we watched a large group of cadets rig sailing dinghies and set out to race in the River.  On the other shore we could see the ramparts of Fort Henry, and one of the Martello towers beside where we anchored.  Later in the day another Looper boat arrived, followed by 5 sailboats.  This was certainly the most anchoring company we have had in years!

Kingston RMC
Royal Military College, Kingston

Kingston Fort Henry
Fort Henry and a martello tower, with a sailboat and a fellow Looper at anchor.

We enjoy listening to the “chatter” on the VHF radio when we are docked.  I tell you, the young men who handle the radio for the huge Confederation Basin Marina deserve medals, or possibly sainthood!  We listened to people calling in, many not using standard marine radio protocols and terminology.  Some of what we assume are our American boating neighbours kept calling “Confederate Marina”, and one boater became quite frustrated when his calls to “Kingston Marina” went unanswered.  Each boater is given very careful directions to find their slip, and about a third of them then get a subsequent call, “You are going the wrong way, please turn around and exit that channel and turn up the next one.  Apparently, the dockhands in bright red t-shirts are not easily seen…

Our next destination is Trentport, via Bath and Picton, and then after a few days pause we will head up the Trent Severn Waterway towards Georgian Bay.

September 5 to 16, 2018: Cleveland to Brewerton

September 5 to 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 21 to September 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goderich
Goderich – beautifully restored municipal buildings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit
Detroit – approaching Detroit

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

oysters
Oysters – Dick enjoyed Oysters Rockefeller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandusky
Sanduksy – the pretty downtown from the waterfront

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

Sandusky 3
Sandusky – the courthouse is surrounded by beautiful gardens

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