August 16 to September 9: Gore Bay to Drummond Island

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

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

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

Gore Bay early morning 2
The marina at Gore Bay in early morning
Gore Bay early morning
Gore Bay anchorage, water like glass and perfect reflections
Meldrum Bay key lime pie
Key Lime Pie at Meldrum Bay Inn
Meldrum Bay shortcake
Berry shortcake at Meldrum Bay Inn

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

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

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

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

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

Blind River sunset
Sunset at Blind River

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

travelling in fog 3
Travelling in fog means using the radar on a split screen with the chartplotter.
travelling in fog
Looking back, fog all around us
travelling in fog 2
A hole in the fog shows there is blue sky above!

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

North Channel lighthouse 2
A historic lighthouse on Georgian Bay’s North Channel
North Channel 2
The North Channel on our way to Richard’s Landing
North Channel lighthouse
Another historic lighthouse on the North Channel
North Channel
Pretty scenery in the North Channel
Richards Landing
The village of Richard’s Landing built this picturesque lighthouse on their harbour
Richards Landing 2
A gardener in Richard’s Landing with a sense of humour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sault Ste Marie bridge
The international bridge connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste Marie
Sault Ste Marie Gliss
Steak and shrimp at Gliss Restaurant in Sault Ste Marie
Sault Ste Marie marina at sunset
Nine Lives in Sault Ste Marie marina at sunset.

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

Sault Ste Marie converted mill
The beautiful converted paper mill in Sault Ste Marie now houses several restaurants and an events venue
pizza at Breakfast Pig
We enjoyed breakfast one morning at The Breakfast Pig, I tried a breakfast pizza, it was delicious!

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

Agawa Canyon train depot
At the depot on board the Agawa Canyon train
Agawa Canyon train 2
A glimpse of one of the lakes as we ride the train towards Agawa Canyon
Agawa Canyon train
The best moment on the train, as we passed over a trestle and could see the power plant far below
Agawa Canyon park 3
Agawa Canyon park
Agawa Canyon park 4
The train and Agawa Canyon park
Agawa Canyon river 2
Agawa Canyon River
Agawa Canyon river
Agawa Canyon River
Agawa Canyon from viewpoint
Dick climbed the 372 steps to the Canyon Overlook
Agawa Canyon park root cellar
A root cellar in Agawa Canyon. We have no idea who or what it was for.
Agawa Canyon waterfall 2
One of the two waterfalls you can visit in Agawa Canyon
Agawa Canyon park
The train waits to begin the 4 hour return journey to Sault Ste Marie

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

Chippewa Falls 4
Chippewa Falls. Notice all the different kinds of rock.
Chippewa Falls 3
Clear water and a hint of autumn at Chippewa Falls
Chippewa Falls
Another view of Chippewa Falls, popular with fishermen.
wildflowers by the roadside
Wildflowers by the roadside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Mines
The pretty village of Bruce Mines

 

leaving Bruce Mines
Calm seas as we leave Bruce Mines

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

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

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

Drummond Island Yacht Haven
Drummond Island Yacht Haven

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

Drummond Island stormy weather
Stormy weather approaches Drummond Island

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

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

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

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

haulout positioning
Positioning Nine Lives on the slings of the travel lift
haulout lifting
Nine Lives is lifted out of the water
haulout leaving the slip
The travel lift leaves the slip
haulout driving away
Nine Lives is taken down the road to the boat sheds

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

Nine Lives tunnel
Placing blocks of wood for Nine Lives to rest on above the concrete.
Nine Lives oops
Oops! Water pours out of the sponsons once the plug is removed.

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

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

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

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

July 1 to 15, 2019 – Bath to Peterborough

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

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

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

Portsmouth appetizer
Beautiful presentation of a cheddar tart with tomatoes, shallots and arugula at Bayview Farm Restaurant in Portsmouth.
Portsmouth fish
Dick enjoyed a main course of Arctic Char
Portsmouth dessert
The dessert special was a maple cheesecake. Irresistible! And note the reasonable portion size.

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

Picton restaurant
Merrill House in Picton
Picton vegetarian
I chose vegetarian, a delicious concoction of asparagus and chevre with quails eggs.
Picton dessert
Dessert was as glorious as the rest of the meal.

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

Picton 4
Picton’s town centre

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

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

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

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

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

Picton cement plant
The cement plant outside Picton
Picton quarry
Next to the cement plant is an enormous quarry

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

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

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

fixing the fridge
A shoulder is almost as good as saw horses at holding the fridge balanced on the counter while repairs are attempted!
Trent Port
Weeds are an ongoing problem in marinas. Trent Port has this very interesting floating machine that scoops the weed out of the water for later disposal.

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

Trent River
A quiet section of the Trent River

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

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

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

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

Hastings
The dam at Hastings

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

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

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

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

Peterborough Marina 2
Dick taking Minnie, the dinghy, out for a spin in Peterborough
Peterborough Marina
Oh my! The wind came up!

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

June 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.

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

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

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

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

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

boat repairs
A small oops, fortunately above the waterline!
boat repairs
The much bigger oops, that we knew nothing about!
boat repairs
That hole was carrying 15 gallons of water, fortunately not in the main part of the pontoon.

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

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

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

preparation for voyage
Taking a look at all the wiring behind the TV. Who knew all that was back there!
preparation for voyage
Checking out the dinghy, making sure it starts.
preparation for voyage
In theory, these little bags of cloves discourage ants. They do make the cupboards smell nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ithaca tour boat
Tour boat with Amish visitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watkins Glen
A historic building in downtown Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen
Downtown Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen
The World’s Smallest Diner!
Watkins Glen gorge
Dick hiked up the Gorge in Watkins Glen

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

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

Seneca Lake salt plant
US Salt on Seneca Lake

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

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

Seneca Falls sculpture trail
In addition to its many other attractions, Seneca Falls has an interesting sculpture trail.
Seneca Falls church
The beautiful Trinity Episcopal Church on the canal in Seneca Falls
Seneca Falls church
The Anglo Gothic architecture of Trinity Episcopal Church

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

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

Seneca River Aqueduct ruins
Impressive ruins of the Seneca River Aqueduct

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

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

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

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

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

July 5 to 24, 2017. Utica to Oswego and back to New Jersey

There and Back Again

On July 6th the lock above us on the Erie Canal finally reopened and we were able to leave Utica and head for Oswego.  The waters of the canal still looked like extra thick mushroom soup, and we had to keep a careful watch for floating logs, some of them whole trees that were partially submerged.  We passed dredgers working on silted up areas, and other barges with workmen still gathering and cutting up debris.

Oneida Lake has a reputation for building up waves when the wind is from the west, and we wanted no further delays so we ran wide open (that means pushing the engines to just below their top speed, which gives us about 18 knots, as opposed to our normal travelling speed of 7 knots) and cut the journey time in half.  Brewerton is on the northern shore of the lake and was our next stop.  There is an attractive town dock, but we wanted to stop at one particular marina that Dick is planning to leave the boat with at the end of next season.  They have heated indoor storage, so you don’t need to go through the rigmarole of winterizing.  They also have excellent fuel prices, so we made a point of filling up!

North of Brewerton we passed a number of very nice cottages and full-time homes on the side of the canal before arriving at Three Rivers, the junction of the Erie and the Oswego Canals.  The Oswego Canal was completed 3 years after the Erie Canal opened, and allows boats to travel directly north into Lake Ontario.  8 locks later we arrived in Oswego.  Interestingly, the last two locks are right in the centre of town, and as you walk over the bridges you can see how the canal and the river have been kept separate.

Oswego is another old town that was once wealthy and has now lost much of its industry.  In addition to being an important freshwater port it was also a railway hub.  There were grain elevators and mills, the Kingsford starch factory, and textile mills.  Today there is still a cement depot in the harbour, but most of the mills and factories are gone.  We tied up at the Oswego marina, and prepared to leave the next morning for Kingston, Ontario.

There is a historic fort at Oswego that we did not explore on this visit, but there is also a marine museum, where we saw one of the tugs that was built for Operation Overlord in WWII.  It was used to tow barges of ammunition and supplies in convoys across the English Channel to the Normandy beaches in 1944.  After the war, she continued to work as a harbour tug for more than 40 years.  We also went for a harbour ride on a solar powered wooden boat.  This was an interesting experience, the boat was quite dreadful, all plywood, and extremely basic.  The captain and his wife are very enthusiastic about their various projects, this one being their second solar powered boat, and a third is currently being built in a shed at Kingston (NY) harbor.  We had seen the project when we stayed at the museum on our outbound journey.  Dick was fascinated by the technology, whereas I was amazed at the complete lack of any safety briefing or life jackets on board when they are taking out members of the public.  The liability issues are staggering.  However, it is certainly a good cause.  The boats are built by middle school students, closely supervised of course.  It is often the first time any of these young people have ever picked up a hammer and nails.

Our original plans were to explore the Thousand Islands as far as Cornwall, and then work our way west towards Hamilton, eventually circumnavigating Lake Ontario before heading south towards home.  Alas, the many weather delays changed these plans, but we were still expecting to cross Lake Ontario to Kingston and have time to visit Trenton, and friends and family further west.  For once the weather was in our favour, and at 8am Dick turned on the chartplotter to plan the route to Kingston.  At one mile outside Oswego Harbor, all the chart detail stopped.  It wasn’t quite “Here Be Dragons” but close! When we bought the boat, everything had been equipped to such a high spec that it never occurred to Dick that the previous owner would not have bought the complete North America charts.  With no paper charts for Canada either, we were not going to proceed, so Dick got busy and placed the order for the updated and complete charts, paying extra for “overnight” delivery.  Nothing on the Navionics website suggested that they only process orders Mon-Fri (and this was a Saturday).  Dick waited in vain on Sunday for the new charts.  Then we gave it some more thought and realized that even if we did get another weather window we would risk getting stopped more times while travelling around Lake Ontario, and with a deadline for being back in Hilton Head we decided that Oswego would be our turnaround this year.  Dick rented a car and visited his Mum while I stayed to keep an eye on the boat and Mr Tucker.

The evening before, we had one of the best get-togethers of the trip.  We had enjoyed docktails with a group of Loopers earlier on the Erie Canal.  The rest of that group got stuck in Ilion, two locks south of where we were in Utica, but once the canal reopened we all met again in Oswego.  We gathered at a local restaurant and enjoyed a very pleasant evening of chat and consultation.  One of the group is solo on a sailboat, he is Australian and has been planning to do the loop for nearly 15 years.  He had spent time in Long Island Sound, and is now making his way around the loop with the rest of the pack.  It was a great evening.  The next morning, I stood on the stern of our docked boat and waved goodbye to all our new friends as they headed out across Lake Ontario and onwards.

Dick enjoyed visiting his Mom, and made a detour on the way back to shop at Wegmans, once our favourite supermarket when we lived in NY State.  Then we waited some more for the not-even-close to overnight delivery of those pesky charts.  They finally arrived at noon on Wednesday, and we decided we were quite tired of Oswego and ready to move on immediately!

On our return journey we are planning a combination of repeat visits to places we enjoyed, and new stops just to make things different.  One new stop was Amsterdam on the Erie Canal.  Another once wealthy town, but they have made major efforts to make it an attractive destination for boaters.  There is a beautiful park on the river, with a bandshell and concerts weekly through the summer.  You can tie up on the wall right in the park.  Downtown has nicely restored buildings, but there is the usual sad problem that they are unable to attract a good mix of shopping and residential, so many of the shops are empty and those few that are open are a strange mix of tattoo parlours and wedding shops.  East of Amsterdam we stayed overnight at the Schenectady Yacht Club, probably the prettiest location on the Erie Canal as the canal/river cuts through a gorge.  After locking down through the final 6 lock flight we stopped again at Waterford.  This is another village that has made efforts to attract boaters to the waterfront and the historic downtown. By this time, I was quite glad to get out of the Erie Canal and back into the Hudson River, with only one last lock to transit.

As we approached the lock above Albany, we watched replicas of the Nina and the Pinta travelling upstream on their way to Oswego and parts west.  They looked quite strange with all their masts and rigging stepped and piled up on the decks.  The authenticity stops at propulsion… they both have efficient modern motors to supplement their sails.

Our air conditioning pump was unreliable, so we stopped for an extra couple of nights at Shady Harbour in New Baltimore on the Hudson.  The mechanic was able to get a replacement quickly.  We certainly did not want to be travelling south into even greater heat and humidity without working air conditioning! That said, the other day this area had higher temperatures than Hilton Head, and the humidity was over 90%. I used the time to scrub the fenders with soapy water to get off most of the crud from the Erie Canal, and then Dick gave the boat a good wash as well.

I like the Hudson River.  There is so much history and it is both beautiful and interesting with all the commercial traffic.  One morning the river was completely covered in fog, and a big tanker passed, blowing its whistle every few minutes to warn oncoming traffic.  We later read about the requirement for all cargo vessels to take on board a Hudson River pilot.  He climbs up the side of the moving vessel in New York Harbour, and takes the ship up to Hyde Park, where another pilot takes over so they are always fully rested.  Most of these ships have foreign crews, and many have never been through New York or on the Hudson before.  The pilot must know how to navigate every kind of vessel, and these ships are huge!  They run right through the winter, sometimes travelling in convoys because of ice.

We stopped again in Kingston, having enjoyed the Marine Museum and waterfront so much earlier.  This time we tried the other restaurant we had noticed, and had the best meal so far on the trip.  I had lobster ravioli that I will dream about for some time!

Our transit of New York Harbor was uneventful, if lumpy.  This time most of the ferries and all of the NYFD vessels that had created such huge wakes on our outbound journey were not there, but there were a lot of sailboats enjoying the brisk winds.  They all have the right of way when they are under sail, so we had to keep a sharp lookout and try to anticipate where they might be going.  There was also very confusing chatter on the radios, with crackle, jargon, and add strong New York accents into the mix and it was impossible to work out what was going on and what we should be looking out for.  After we had passed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge and were heading west along Staten Island I looked back and could see what we missed.  There was a huge autocarrier that came out just behind us, followed by another big tanker.  Timing is everything, it would have been nasty to try to get out of their way in the busy harbour!

We are now in Great Kills, New Jersey, again waiting for a weather window.  It is incredible how weather dependent we are.  We knew intellectually that we would experience delays, but actually living it has been a big surprise to both of us.  It is not rain we worry about, it is winds and currents, as well as fog and thunderstorms.  The winds and currents must both be in our favour before we can set off.  We already know how unpleasant (and scary) it gets if we are caught in unexpected conditions.  Even when everything is “perfect” it can be very bouncy at certain times such as when we came through New York Harbor with the tide behind us, the wind in front of us, and the East River outlet on our beam!  We arrived here on Saturday and don’t expect the conditions to be acceptable until at least Thursday.  Of course, you have to keep checking, the forecasts change continually.  I have three different weather apps on my phone, and Dick has at least two others, and we look at all of them two or three times a day.

So, what is a typical day on our boat?  Well, of course it depends on whether we are staying in port or planning to get underway.  I tend to get up pretty early, usually between 5:30 and 6:00.  I make a pot of coffee and wash up any dishes from the previous day.  We both like our quiet mornings, sitting in the cockpit with coffee and watching the world wake up.  Dick gets out his laptop and catches up with news and weather, and we both read the daily digest of the Great Loop forum.  If we are heading out we try to go sometime between 8 and 9am, but this might also be dependent on the tide.  If the tide is against us we will take longer and use more fuel to arrive at our destination, so some days it is better to wait until it has turned.  When the time comes the engines are started, various lines and fenders reorganized, Tucker gets his harness put on, and the gate at the top of the steps is put up.  Once we are underway we can close up the cockpit and take away the gate so Tucker can come up and enjoy the wind and be with his people.  Unfortunately, if it is a day on a canal with locks, Tucker has to stay below because we need to be able to step in and out through the doors.  It takes two of us to hold the boat in position in a lock.  I bring the boat in, and Dick catches the lock-side ropes or wraps a line around the pipe that goes down the side of the lock.  Then I can shut off the engines and get out and hold the stern rope to keep us in place.  When the lock doors open I start the engines and drive the boat out.

Most of the time Dick does the driving.  The seat is too far back for me to really see well, so I have to stand to drive, which gets tiring very quickly.  I also prefer Dick to take the helm in tricky winds or currents.  He is calmer than I am, not to mention if somebody is going to bump hard into the dock because of winds or currents I would much rather it was him!  Instead I stand at the rail and throw the lines to the waiting dockhand, or make my best rope-toss over a cleat if there is no help available. We have headsets that are appropriately called “marriage-savers” by other cruisers in the know.  It means we can talk to each other through the various manoeuvers calmly instead of having to shout or make easily misunderstood gestures.

Days spent in port begin the same way, but after breakfast there are usually necessary chores to be done.  I am lucky to have a washer-dryer on the boat, but it uses a lot of water and power, so we have to have access to dockside services.  Dick vacuums thoroughly once a week, and every other week there is a proper cleaning to be done, just as at home.  Sheets get changed, bathrooms are cleaned, the kitchen gets a deep clean, and the rooms are dusted and the wood polished. Dick also gives the outside of the boat a good wash.

We usually alternate dinners out with cooking on board.  Mostly the restaurants that are walking distance from the boat are not exactly fine dining, but we have had some very good burgers and steaks.  I try to plan ahead for about 7 or 8 meals to be cooked on board.  When we are in a port Dick gets his bicycle off the front rail and heads out with saddle bags and a shopping list.  We have enjoyed most of the meals that have been chosen from a fairly extensive collection of on-board cookbooks left by the previous owner, plus my own cookbook.  Last night I made chicken breasts in a wine sauce with cheese and bread stuffing topping.  Other successful meals have included cooking a whole chicken in the pressure cooker, various beef or pork stews, plus we have the grill and Dick will do pork or lamb chops as well as steaks.  We have tried pizza on the grill, so far not very successful, but we will keep trying!

Our next couple of weeks are likely to be spent mostly in port waiting for weather.  We will first have the trip “outside” down the coast to Atlantic City and Cape May.  Then there will need to be suitable wind and wave conditions on Delaware Bay, followed by the several days of good weather we need to transit the Chesapeake.  South of Norfolk we must again cross Albemarle Sound and the (dreaded) Neuse River.  After that we are at last back in the ICW and can expect mostly smooth traveling through North and South Carolina to get home.

clearing debris
Clearing debris
Brewerton
Brewerton
in the lock
In the lock
Oswego canal
Oswego Canal
Oswego gathering 1
Loopers gather in Oswego
solar boat
Solar powered boat
WWII tug
World War II tug
Oswego tavern
A tavern in Oswego
wash the boat
Wash the boat
Tucker
Tucker
downtown Amsterdam
Downtown Amsterdam
Nine Lives in Amsterdam
Nine Lives in Amsterdam
Schenectady
Schenectady
Schenectady Yacht Club
Schenectady
docks at Waterford
The docks at Waterford
downtown Waterford
Downtown Waterford
Maid of the Meadows
Maid of the Meadows
tanker in fog on the Hudson
Tanker in morning fog on the Hudson River
Captain and crew
The captain and crew
Louise and Tucker
Louise and Tucker
lobster ravioli
Lobster Ravioli

June 20 to July 4, 2017. Delaware City to Utica

We left Delaware City early in the morning, part of a mini-convoy of 5 boats.  The group soon split up, partly because we travel at different speeds.  Dick and I followed the excellent advice of the harbourmaster in Delaware City and navigated Delaware Bay on a route that took us carefully southbound until a certain point and then on a direct line towards the canal at Cape May, New Jersey.  We could hear the conversations of the two boats following us.  One captain chose to ignore the advice and angled off towards Cape May Canal much earlier.  After questioning, the boat following took the same line.  We could tell from the conversation (and we could see for ourselves from the swells) that both of those boats had a most uncomfortable ride, while we were smooth for the whole trip.  It was an interesting lesson, going in convoy or as “buddies” may not always be a good thing, sometimes a strong-willed captain may make a poor decision and take the whole group with him.

Cape May is very pretty, with houses built right out over the harbour and painted in ice cream colours.  We passed the famous Lobster House.  Tied up below their deck was a paddleboard with an enormous Golden Retriever asleep on it, waiting for the master to return from his meal.  Sadly, I didn’t get a picture, he was a lovely dog.

We decided after reading reports from the forum that since we only draw 3 feet, we would chance the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway, which is notoriously shallow and seldom dredged.  It is possible that I made a poor decision and persuaded Dick to take on a full load of fuel before we set off.  So, we probably drew more like 4 feet. We ran aground 4 times.  No, correct that, on 4 occasions the earth impeded the operation of our propellers and forward motion was temporarily halted… Fortunately we are a catamaran, and our props are a long way apart.  Dick was able to twist and turn and eventually wriggle free each time.  The route is incredibly beautiful and the small towns you pass through are interesting, but the whole trip to Ocean City was so stressful I didn’t even think about pictures.  The next morning we checked wind and currents and decided to “go outside”, that is, travel on the ocean about 3 miles from shore.  All day we could hear boats that had taken the ICW calling for towing companies, having run aground and been unable to free themselves, so we were happy with our decision.

Our next port of call was Shark River, where we again had to spend a few days waiting for the right wind and currents before we could continue our journey.  It is quite a nice small town, full of friendly folks who all seem to be keen fishermen.  It is also commuting distance from New York, so the newly opened marina restaurant was hopping every evening with twenty-somethings out to see and be seen.  The noise was incredible, but the food was good.

Eventually the conditions were right, and we set off early in the morning for Sandy Hook and New York Harbor.  The seas were very smooth, and we were able to push up our speed (and use 4 times the fuel) and make the first part of the run in time to catch the perfect incoming tide for passing through New York and up into the Hudson River.  New York is amazingly busy, there are ferries everywhere.  They throw huge wakes, as do the FDNY (Fire Department) vessels that seem to need to hurry past as close to unfortunate pleasure boats like ours as they can.  We were lucky that there were very few freighters that morning.  We passed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge.  I have driven over it quite a few times, but this was a different view!  Same again when we reached the Tappan Zee Bridge. I always felt I had at last left New York and was on my way home when I used to live on Long Island and commute weekly to Painted Post.

The Hudson River is very interesting.  Near to New York there are lots of very beautiful homes, and as you get further from the commuting towns, you come into the Catskill Region, and yet more beautiful estates.  West Point is an enormous campus.  We were amused by “Sink Navy” painted in huge letters on the roof of the sports stadium.

Travelling up the Hudson you see evidence of industry that is long gone.  One town we passed was once the site of over 100 factories, all gone now, or only derelict buildings left.  There is still quite a lot of freight passing up and down the river, including big tankers, cargo ships, and many barges, sometimes as many as four linked together, filled with sand or gravel and pushed by a tug.  There are some very pretty lighthouses.  Seven of the original 14 lighthouses that were built after the opening of the Erie Canal are still in existence and carefully preserved. Esopus Lighthouse is called “The Maid of the Meadow”, and is the last of the wooden lighthouses on the river.  Rondout Lighthouse was built in 1915, is still active, and can be visited.

Kingston, NY, has an “old town” that was once the thriving port of Rondout.  This was the terminus of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, now defunct, but what a huge savings in time and effort there would have been in its heyday.  Rondout was also a centre of shipbuilding, and the old buildings on the waterfront have been restored and a very pleasant promenade built along the remains of the old canal.  We spent the night tied up at the Marine Museum.  They have various exhibits, including sheds for building and restoring wooden boats.  Tied up near us was a wooden tall ship that we were told was built for Pete Seeger, who was active in a campaign to clean up the very polluted waters of the Hudson.  The museum is quite popular, and I was amused when one visitor took a great deal of interest in Nine Lives.  He actually undid a barrier and walked out onto the dock to take a closer look… I wondered whether he was going to step aboard in the mistaken belief that we were part of the exhibits!

We spent a night at the Yacht Club in Albany.  We happened to be there on a Wednesday, and joined their “happy hour”.  In addition to generously poured and amazingly inexpensive adult beverages, for $5. you can have all you can eat of grilled chicken, sausages, pasta, salads, potatoes, and various accompaniments!

We turned out of the Hudson and into the Erie Canal.  The first section going west is a flight of 5 locks spaced very closely together.  If we were feeling a bit rusty when we started we were well reminded once we were through!  Most of the locks on the canal lift about 20 feet each time.  They are very large, and it takes both of us to hold Nine Lives in place as the water rushes in.  Sometimes there is a pipe you can put a line around and the line moves up the pipe as the lock fills, but more often there are just ropes dangling down that you have to hold onto.  Needless to say, they are wet, slippery and very dirty.  Add to that we have to keep pushing the boat off the sides of the lock to avoid ripping the fenders off, and you finish the day exhausted and dirty.  Not to mention the boat is also filthy!

At Scotia Landing we saw a lot of preparations going on the various 4th of July celebrations.  When we returned from dinner in a nearby restaurant we were surprised to see that the water skiing exhibition was being held that evening.  Unfortunately, we had missed most of it, but we caught the last two or three runs.

The little town of Canajoharie turned out to be a fun evening.  We tied up to the town wall and saw that there were several other boats already there.  It turned out they were also “loopers”, and we all crowded aboard one of them for a convivial evening of drinks and stories.  “Loopers”, what are they you ask?  Members of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association fly a distinctive burgee(triangular flag) so they can recognize each other.  They are all in various stages of travelling the Great Loop.  Some might have finished and are going around again, some are just starting out, and everything in between.  While we were socializing the rain pounded down, and when we came out to return to our boat there was a lovely rainbow across the canal.  Little did we know that the rainbow was NOT a promise of fair weather to come!

The next morning we set off, somewhat surprised at how muddy the water had become and the strength of the current we were fighting.  Our destination was Utica, just below lock 20.  The other loopers stopped earlier, and we carried on to lock 19.  As the water brought us up to the top of the lock, we seemed to get higher and higher, until it was just a few inches below the top.  At that point, the lockmaster asked us to stop and tie up on the wall above the lock and not proceed any further that night.  We could see the water roiling just ahead, coming out from a stream and carrying whole trees as well as logs and other debris.  We spent two nights on that wall, joined the second by a sailboat.  He had been tied up on the lower wall, which was right under a railway track and the noise was incredible.  The lockmaster took pity on them and allowed them to come up to the top wall.  First, a big sunken tree had to be moved away, it was completely blocking the lock doors.  It had apparently been taken out and tied on the bank earlier in the year, but the heavy rain had washed it back into the canal.  Dick took on the challenge of getting this incredibly heavy obstruction out of the way, helped by the captain of the sailboat.  Together they managed to haul it back up onto the bank and secured it somewhat better this time.  Appropriately, Dick was wearing the red t-shirt that says, “Keep calm and ask an engineer”.

Yesterday morning we watched workmen trying to clear the accumulated debris from the lock.  Then, fortunately, we were allowed to proceed to Utica, at our own risk and only because there were no further locks between us and the town.  Utica declared a state of emergency during the rain, with many of its streets under water.  Another boat was at the dock that night, and was so concerned about the number of tree limbs hitting his boat that he took his family off to a hotel for the night, rather than risk being on board.  I guess we were better off on the lock wall!  We had a nice dinner at Delmonico’s last night, and now, here we wait.  The section of the canal that we are on was expected to open this morning, but looking at the wind forecast for Lake Oneida, we decided to stay put.  A good decision.  The sailboat left this morning and a few hours later he returned, not able to get through even the first lock.  At the moment, the whole canal from the Hudson River to just before the lake is shut, and then the further section of canal that leads to Oswego and Lake Ontario is also shut.  The debris gets trapped in the lock doors and prevents them from opening and closing.  Of course, it is not helped by it being July 4th!  With luck, we will be able to carry on tomorrow, but meanwhile we are in a nice spot and at least here we have dockside electricity and water.

passing a freighter
Passing a freighter
Cape May
Cape May
leaving Shark River
Leaving Shark River
New York Harbor
New York Harbor
Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty
its not a cup holder
It’s a chin rest, not a cup holder!
West Point
West Point
Marine Museum
Marine Museum at Rondout
Rondout Lighthouse
Rondout Lighthouse
Esopus Meadows Lighthouse
Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, Catskills in the background
sleeping on the new throw
What else should a cat do? Asleep on the new throw.
Water skiing exhibition
Water skiing exhibition
approaching Lock 9
Approaching lock 9
rainbow over the canal
Rainbow over the Erie Canal
roiling water
Roiling water above lock 19
dragging the log
Dragging the log out of the canal
securing the log
Securing the log so it doesn’t fall back into the canal
clearing the lock
Canal workers clearing the lock
cappucino
After our adventures, a cappucino goes down well!

June 1 to 19, 2017. Hilton Head to Delaware City

(a note for our regular readers: I am adding the earlier issues of the blog from 2018 and 2017 that were published elsewhere.  Apologies for the blog now being somewhat out of order!)

We are now about 2 and a half weeks into our summer 2017 voyage.

We left Wexford on June 1st, with Tucker on board and looked forward to our first night out at anchor in a creek just north of Beaufort.  There was a small setback when we discovered that our chosen creek was silted up and no longer accessible, so after a slightly frantic search of our two guides, Waterway Guide and Skipper Bob’s, we chose an alternative slightly farther north and the rest of the evening was uneventful.  The next day we travelled through Charleston, towards a planned anchorage north of the city, and “enjoyed” a two hour unplanned excursion up one of the rivers when the helmsman failed to notice the location of the magenta line on the chart.

What is this magenta line?  It is the centre-line on the chart of the Intracoastal Waterway, and is a big help in staying on course.  The boat has an electronic chartplotter, so we mostly don’t use the big paper charts.  We use autopilot, but the helm chair is never empty and it is important to remember that the actual markers in the channel are always to be followed when they disagree with the magenta line!

After Charleston we carried on north, staying with our planned itinerary and stops until we got to our first weather delay.  High winds and thunderstorms were forecast, so we extended our stay in Southport, North Carolina to 3 nights.  The thunderstorms never materialized, but it was very windy the first evening and I would not have wanted to anchor in that wind.

The next and possibly most valuable lesson was two days later.  We set off across the Neuse River, and after his miscalculation in Charleston Harbor, Dick was determined to stick with the magenta line.  Well, we headed straight up the centre of the very wide river, and conditions got worse and worse.  The boat pounded into the waves, stuff fell down inside, and Tucker was terrified.  I had to bring him up into the cockpit and hold him on my lap.  The dinghy jumped off its support and hung in the davits (fortunately it stayed there), and Dick’s bicycle looked as though it was about to flip over the front rail at any minute.  We later discovered that most of our fresh water tank had emptied out of the overflow valves it was so rough.  There was a certain amount of language from me, and Tucker said some very rude words in Cat, but to give credit where it is due, Dick remained calm and handled the rough seas very well, and eventually we were able to make our way into a wonderfully quiet river and anchor for the night.  Two lessons were learned.  One, be sure of your actual destination, and two, when it starts to get rough, and you can see it will only get worse, turn around while you still can and find a place to wait out the weather.

This lesson stood us in very good stead on the Chesapeake.

However, before the Chesapeake, we spent a nice evening in a very small marina on Alligator Creek.  Just five boats were in, and amazingly, three of them were Endeavour TrawlerCats.  The other two were the newer style with the high bridge, a 48 and a 40.  There are very few of these compared to other manufacturers, so to see three at once was most unusual. A very pleasant evening was spent in the large upper lounge of the 48 chatting with the other owners and comparing experiences.  Two days later, we came out of our anchorage to find both of them just behind us, so we led a parade of Endeavours through several bridges and a lock before we all went our separate ways.

Our trip through Norfolk was fascinating.  Seeing all the navy ships was interesting in itself, but the town also has a dock with a number of tall ships.  That day there was a special event of skipjack (working fishing boat) races, so the town harbour was full of hundreds of spectator boats of all sizes, some anchored, some cruising around, and it was quite a challenge to make our way through them all.

We stayed two nights at Hampton Yacht Club, and were delighted to welcome our friends Marilynn and Winkie on board for drinks and a pasta supper.  Our first dinner party on board!  I used to work with Marilynn many years ago at Brookhaven Lab.

The day we came out of Hampton we were just ahead of a warship.  It was fascinating to listen to the radio communication between that ship, another warship that was already out to sea, and a tanker with a tug that was waiting to enter Hampton Roads.  Later that day there was more interesting communication as NASA required all vessels to observe a ten mile exclusion zone where a rocket was scheduled to plunge into the sea. One owner of a pleasure yacht was most annoyed to be told to take a specific heading, not where he planned to go,  and stay on it for 8 miles!

From Hampton we began our journey through the Chesapeake.  The first night was at the quaint fishing village of Tangier Island, all crab huts and working fishing boats.  Dick made me laugh.  He read in the guidebook that due to a strong Methodist influence, the island is dry.  He interpreted that to mean that there was a water shortage on the island.  He was quite surprised when I explained that there would be no beer or wine with dinner that evening! The next day the Chesapeake lived up to its reputation for misery and a gale blew up not long after we set off.  We had to travel well south before we could get close enough to the western shore to gain some protection, and it took a long time to make our way to Solomon’s Island.  There we waited out the weather again, for two nights this time.  The third morning was clear and the bay was (relatively) smooth, and we were able to get as far north as Rock Hall.  From there we passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and then into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

The C&D Canal is the busiest in the nation.  It was first built in the 19th century and widened and modernized in the 20th.  It saves 300 miles in travel between Philadelphia and Baltimore, and it is used by enormous cargo and tanker traffic.  We were very fortunate that in the 12 mile length we met only one tanker, just as we were exiting the canal.  They create huge wakes that reflect off the canal sides and make for an uncomfortable ride.

We are now at Delaware City, a very picturesque old town that was once an important port between Philadelphia and Baltimore at the mouth of the canal.  The marina is on the only remaining piece of the original canal.  The old canal was dug by hand by free blacks and Irish immigrants who were paid 75 cents a week.  It was (is) 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep.  We visited Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, an important fort that was used to house hundreds of confederate prisoners during the civil war, and was again used for prisoners of war during world war two.  It is gradually being restored, and is staffed by volunteers in period costume who take on the characters of the civil war occupants of the fort.

The marina manager gives an evening briefing for the transit of Delaware Bay.  We were already aware of a small craft warning, but the briefing was very interesting.  We learned how to interpret the symbols in the NOAA wind and current databases and how wind, fetch, and current combine to make huge waves.  We are delayed again by high winds in opposition to a fast current, and expect to be here at least another night if not two.  Apparently it is very late in the season for this strength of wind opposing the currents. Interestingly, there are 5 other “looper” boats (boats, like us, doing the Great Loop), here in the marina with us, so in spite of our late start compared to most of the pack, we are by no means the last ones heading north.  I expect there may be some docktails and trading stories in the next couple of days while we wait for calmer waters in the Delaware Bay.

One of the more interesting boaters awaiting calmer seas is a man in a rowboat.  Granted, this is not your father’s rowboat, it is a modern looking skiff style.  He started his trip in Miami and is heading for New York City.  He expects the whole trip to take him just 55 days.  He says he usually travels 50 miles in a day.  Amazing, comparing that to our usual 50 to 80 miles a day.  I am not sure where he sleeps, but his boat is full of plastic bags with all his stuff.  Needless to say, not the sort of adventure that would interest me!

Goodbye Wexford
Goodbye Wexford! Leaving our Hilton Head harbour to begin the adventure.
Charleston Yorktown
The Yorktown in Charleston Harbor
Nine Lives at Alligator Creek
Sunset at Alligator Creek
Endeavour TrawlerCats
We were 3 Endeavour Trawlercats in a row!
waiting for the lock south of Norfolk
Waiting for the lock south of Norfolk
boat traffic in Norfolk
Boat traffic in Norfolk
Tucker sleeping on the step
Tucker sleeping on the steps
tall ship in Norfolk
Tall ship in Norfolk
Solomons Island
Zahnisers at Solomons Island
Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Tucker asleep at the wheel
Tucker asleep at the wheel
Delaware City Marina
Delaware City Marina
original C&D canal
The original Chesapeake and Delaware Canal
a new vehicle
A new vehicle for Dick?
checking out the cannon
Checking out the cannon

April 12 to May 4 2018, Hilton Head to Norfolk

2018_Spring_Rendezvous_Group_Photo
Over 300 Loopers and 50 boats attended the Rendezvous

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

April 12 champagne 3
Champagne to celebrate our first day out
April 12 Tom Point Creek
Tom Point Creek, our first night’s anchorage
April 13 Charleston sailing race
Charleston Harbor sailing race
April 16 swallow
a swallow perched on the rail one morning
April 18 Wrightsville Beach bridge
Wrightsville Beach bridge opening
April 21 Beaufort beer
Enjoying free beer at the docks in Beaufort
April 21 Beaufort bicycles
whimsical plates on rental bicycles
April 21 Beaufort docks
historic and modern sailing boats in Beaufort Docks
April 22 River Dunes lobster roll
a delicious lobster roll in River Dunes
April 23 River Dunes docktails
docktails, all these folks joined us on Nine Lives!
April 23 River Dunes launch dinghy
launch the dinghy, but the motor did not start
April 23 Tucker in a box
Tucker considers having himself mailed to us
April 25 RE Mayo Hobucken shrimp boats
shrimp boats at Hobucken
April 26 Pasquotank River cottages
Pasquotank River homes
April 26 Pasquotank River
The serene Pasquotank River
April 27 Great Dismal Swamp 1
Great Dismal Swamp, looking dismal
April 27 Great Dismal Swamp bridge
Great Dismal Swamp, that is Nine Lives waiting for the bridge opening
April 27 Nine Lives leaving Dismal Swamp
Nine Lives in Deep Creek after exiting Great Dismal Swamp
April 27 otter 2
our visiting otter
April 27 otter
our visiting otter
April 28 Norfolk NATO parade 2
Norfolk NATO Parade
April 28 Norfolk NATO parade
Norfolk NATO Parade
April 28 otter poop
Dick cleaning otter poop, for the second time
May 1 warship
a warship repositions for drydock in the Norfolk yards
May 4 Great Bridge lock
heading south, we had the huge Great Bridge lock to ourselves
May 4 Nine Lives in Great Bridge
Nine Lives taking a well earned break in Great Bridge