September 15 to October 3, Peoria to Iuka

We and other Loopers were made wonderfully welcome at the bar and in the restaurant of IVY Club in Peoria.  This is just the way the yacht club reciprocal arrangement is supposed to work.  Members stopped by and asked about our travels, and shared some of their own boating experiences.  In the past we have found that this level of friendliness and welcome is sadly lacking at most other yacht clubs we have visited, so it was a nice change.

IVY Club marina, Peoria

The next morning, we were up early and moved to the fuel dock to be ready at opening for a pump out.  It was an easy run to the only lock of the day.  The lock was ready for us, but we were happy to wait for two other Loopers who we knew were a little behind us.  The rest of the day was surprisingly boring.  After all the interesting sights and wildlife further north, there was little to see.

We anchored behind Quiver Island, along with 6 other Looper boats.  It’s an obvious stopping place, especially as the water is very low this year, and many docks at marinas are inaccessible.  For dinner I tried a modified recipe for pizza dough, that was much more successful than the previous effort.  It also was helpful that I found the proper pizza pans!

Early morning at the anchorage behind Quiver Island
Home made pizza, ready for baking
A tasty slice

On Friday morning we left the anchorage a little later than we had planned, especially with a long 60-mile passage ahead.  Again, it was mostly uninteresting scenery, with a few highlights to relieve the tedium.  We met a 15-barge string on a bend.  The big tows like this take up the whole river when they negotiate a corner, so we were glad to be able to talk to the tow and arrange safe passing.  A little later, from around another bend and only a few feet above the water came a bright yellow airplane.  It rose a little to pass over us, and then dipped again and continued to follow the river northward.

Passing an abandoned tower on the Illinois River
Scenery on the Illinois River

Eventually we arrived at LaGrange lock, shortly after noon.  We were advised by the lockmaster that as soon as the tow ahead of us was finished he would refill the lock and put us through.  We floated quietly in the channel, as we had done at every other lock, nudging with the engines to keep position.  There was no other boat traffic above or below the lock.  Unexpectedly, the lockmaster came on the radio and told us we could not wait in the channel, and we should move over to near the bank and anchor.  The reviews on Active Captain and Waterway Guide indicated that this was a bad place to anchor, with poor holding, but we did as we were told.  It took a couple of tries before the anchor held.  Just 15 minutes later, we could see that the tow had cleared the lock, so we called and asked if it would be our turn.  The lockmaster told us to pull our anchor “now”.  Well, we tried.  It absolutely would not come up.  Dick made many attempts, and the bow of the boat dipped alarmingly as the chain tightened.  The Illinois River has a strong current, and due to our width, and proximity to the bank, as well as the current, we were unable to bring Nine Lives around to be above the anchor and try to pull it out that way.  We called for help from TowBoatUS.  They had to come more than 60 miles, and could not get to us in daylight, so we stayed where we were overnight.  No worries about the anchor dragging anyway!

A bald eagle at LaGrange lock
Chili and home made bread for supper

I made a new recipe for chili for our dinner, very tasty, definitely a keeper, although Dick commented that he might prefer it on a cold winter evening instead of in 80-degree heat!  The next morning there was plenty of time for one of Dick’s famous bacon and egg breakfasts.  TowBoatUS arrived shortly after 10am.  The first attempt to free us appeared successful, until we tried again to raise the anchor and it was clear that all that had happened was the rescue boat had dragged us and the tree along the bottom!  (We are presuming it was a really large sunken log that we were caught on).  The rescue boat then took all of our anchor chain onto their boat.  This involved cutting what is known as the bitter end, the line that connects the very end of the chain to the boat.  Nine Lives then moved out of the way, and the rescue boat was able to maneuver with their powerful engines and work the anchor free of whatever it was that had caught it.  We were very glad that the last option, cutting the chain and abandoning the anchor on the bottom of the river, was not required.  To remind us just how lucky we were, on the day I am writing this, there is a posting from another AGLCA member who had a similar experience, catching a large submerged log at an anchorage.  TowBoatUS was too far away to travel to help them, and they were forced to cut their anchor chain and leave a very good, expensive anchor on the bottom.

Dick cuts the bitter end to release the anchor chain
The anchor is freed by the towing service

Next, we had to wait for the lock.  Although TowBoatUS has priority as a commercial vessel, there was a split tow already negotiating the lock.  When a string of barges is too large to fit into the lock all at once, the string has to be split, and locked through in parts.  This takes a very long time, as the tow has to maneuver to and fro, the barges have to be uncoupled and recoupled, and the lock has to be emptied and filled several times.  After about a 2 hour wait, we could see that the tow was finished.  Dick overheard a conversation between the lockmaster and the tow operator, that suggested that there were no tows waiting for locking, “just a pleasure boat”.  That would be us.  We watched for another hour while nothing happened.  We are quite sure that the lockmaster and the tow were enjoying a leisurely lunch together while we waited.

Finally through the lock, after more than 24 hours, we ran fast to try to catch up some of the lost time, slowing occasionally to pass villages, and tows with their barges.  We were undaunted, and got right back on the horse and anchored behind an island off the river that night.  Is that the right metaphor?  Back on the horse?  Hmmm.  Anyway, we were fine, very tired after a stressful day, and we slept well.  In the morning the anchor came up without problems, although we noticed a certain amount of strain on the electric winch.  We decided that the lesson to be learned from our experience is to anchor well away from shore when in a river, as the debris on the bottom gets washed to the sides of the channel.

So how do we anchor?  Once we are roughly in position, I take over from Dick at the helm, and after donning life vest, gloves, and headset, Dick goes up to the bow and lowers the anchor using the electric winch.  We have marked the chain at 20-foot intervals, so he knows just how much rode (chain) goes out.  Once the anchor is on the bottom, we allow the wind and current, with a little help on my part from the engines, to gently move us back, first until we feel the anchor take hold, and then further as more rode is paid out.  After a ratio of 7 to 1 is achieved (that is, if the bottom is 10 feet down from the bow, there must be 70 feet of chain), the bridle is attached.  This is two lines, one from each pontoon bow, clipped to the anchor chain.  More rode is then paid out.  This means that any strain caused by wind or wakes is taken by the bridle lines rather than the winch.  In the morning, the whole process is reversed, and I am always glad to hear Dick tell me, “the anchor is up” as it comes off the bottom!

Dick attaches the bridle while anchoring

A few low hills varied the scenery the next day.  We saw lots of bald eagles, showing that the river is a clean environment in spite of the amount of industry and commercial traffic.  We also started to see kudzu.

Kudzu is a highly invasive plant that has been dubbed “the vine that ate the South.”  It was imported to the USA in 1876 as an ornamental garden plant, and was used for erosion control in the 1930’s to 1950’s.  The vine grows up to a foot a day.  It is gradually spreading northwards, and has been found in Oregon, and in Southern Ontario.  Kudzu smothers everything in its path.  It spreads by runners that root where they touch the soil, by rhizomes underground, and by new vines that root at the nodes and form new plants.  It destroys native grasses and plants, and even mature trees, as it covers them and prevents the leaves from photosynthesis.  Despite its negative environmental impact, kudzu does have some uses.  It is used as animal feed, the fibres are used in basketry, it can be used to make clothing and paper, and it is an ingredient in food and folk medicine in Asia.

Trees and bushes covered with kudzu

We found the tows we met were universally helpful.  The procedure when one meets a tow is to call, and depending on whether you are meeting to pass, or wish to overtake, you explain your intentions and ask where they want you.  They will tell you, “on the one” or “on the two”.  This is quite confusing at first!  “On the one” means that you will meet or pass with the tow on your port side.  “On the two”, is starboard.  You need to remember that it is your port or starboard, not that of the tow! 

We arrived in Grafton shortly after noon.  Note to selves, not a good stopping place on the weekend!  The marina was chaotic, reminding us of Henry’s Fish Camp in Georgian Bay.  Mostly little boats arrive and depart, and a lot of smaller slips are kept available for them.  The very popular Grafton Oyster Bar is located in the marina, and many boaters arrive for lunch and dinner.  At one point I overheard the dockhand telling another to “help this pontoon boat, he says it is the first time he has ever driven a boat!”  Well, conditions were not good for a complete beginner, it was windy and choppy, and the space in the marina is tight.  In spite of my warning to Dick to see if he could fend them off, the neophyte boater managed to add another scrape to Nine Lives hull.

Grafton Marina. The empty slips are for day boats visiting the restaurant

Another interesting few moments occurred when a very large houseboat arrived in the marina.  They did not use their radio.  The dockhand called out to them that there wasn’t room for them, and I could clearly hear a man on the boat call out to the driver, “just keep going!”  They swung into the open space at the end of the dock we were on, a space that was clearly reserved for another boat.  There were at least 15 people on board, and the men were aggressive and (I later learned) quite drunk.  One can hardly blame the teenage dockhands for not wishing to challenge them.  Unfortunately, the Loopers whose spot they had taken arrived long before the entitled idiots departed, and had to spend the night on the fuel dock.  We were not surprised when they chose to leave the next day rather than taking up their second night’s reservation.

We will return to Grafton Marina I am sure, but not on a weekend!  The food at the Oyster Bar was excellent.

Chowder at Grafton Oyster Bar
Crawfish enchiladas at Grafton Oyster Bar
Sunset at Grafton Marina

We had a very short run to Alton, a suburb of St Louis on the Mississippi River.  No restaurants nearby were open that night so we ate on board.  We were now in delivery mode, travelling as quickly as possible to our final destination this summer.  We expect to travel these rivers several times in the next few years as we complete our various summer voyages, so there is less incentive to stop at this time.  Unfortunately, the weather was filthy, with rain and fog all day, so we stayed an extra day at Alton.  Docktails was arranged for Loopers in the evening.  It was the largest group we have participated in for some years!  We agreed on a spokesman for the boats leaving the next day who would negotiate with the lock for all of us.

The extra day did allow for an excellent meal at a nearby fine dining restaurant.

Lobster risotto and a half duck at Gentelin’s restaurant in Alton

The next morning 10 Looper boats plus one TowBoatUS rescue boat transited Mel Price lock together by 7:30am.  It was a very early start, with engines running at 6:15am!  It really does make a difference when we travel as a group through the commercial locks.  There were no delays at the second lock of the day, and we were all through by 9:30am, unprecedented!

Dick read that 30% of the world’s grain passes through Mel Price lock, which gives you an idea of just how busy the Mississippi River is.

Waiting for Mel Price lock at sunrise

It was a very long run that day.  While St Louis was interesting, this part of the Mississippi is very industrial.  We passed many tows, the last one pushing 24 barges.  We also had a chance to look at a popular Looper stop.  Hoppies is the only fuel stop for many miles on this stretch of the waterway.  It is not a real dock, instead it is several barges that boats tie up to, then later arrivals must raft up.  Although it is part of Looper legend, we are thinking that we may well give Hoppies a miss when we pass through in future.  We tied up at that night at another popular Looper stop, on the wall below Kaskaskia Lock, a short detour up the Kaskaskia River.  There were 5 boats that night, so there was room for all and nobody had to raft up.

A 12 barge string passes under the bridge in St Louis
St Louis, the Arch
Hoppies, a famous Looper stop on the Mississippi
A tow passes derelict moorings on the Mississippi
Dredging near the shore on the Mississippi

The next day was a 100-mile run with a 7am start, but we were still anchored by 4pm, thanks to a 4-knot current in our favour and a stretch of running fast.  Now that we were on the Mississippi (Huckleberry Finn country), the accents of the tow operators became increasingly impenetrable.  It was quite amusing to listen to them on the radio when they were talking to each other, clearly a lot of important information was passed along, and we couldn’t understand a word of it, between the strong accents and the jargon.  Fortunately, they were easy enough for us to understand when we hailed them to ask for passing instructions.

The lock wall at dawn at Kaskaskia
Morning mist at Kaskaskia

We stopped at a good anchorage just north of the town of Cairo, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi.  Unfortunately, while well off the river, it was under a highway bridge, so quite noisy.  Two other Looper boats joined us.  This was our last anchorage of the season, and while the anchor came up cleanly, the winch was really struggling, so we will need to get it looked at.  We suspect it was overstressed when we were stuck at La Grange lock.

Once again Nine Lives was covered in mayflies.  It was a surprise to see them, so I looked it up and discovered that mayflies are not just for May, they hatch right through September!  We were also troubled for the first time by small biting gnats, and even larger biting flies.

The anchorage at Boston Bar
Sunrise at Boston Bar
Nine Lives at anchor at Boston Bar

The next day we turned up the Ohio River.  We went from travelling with help from a 4-knot current on the Mississippi, to fighting against at least 3 knots resistance.  Some of the time on the Ohio we were making as little as 4.6 knots against the current (our normal speed is about 8 knots).  There were a large number of anchored barges, but fortunately not many underway, possibly due to construction operations at Olmstead Lock.

Anchored barges on the Ohio River

We arrived at Olmstead Lock at 11:30, and had to wait for the day’s blasting program to finish.  We had to anchor in 25 feet of water against a 3-knot current, not ideal.  We could have been held up as late as 2pm, but fortunately we were allowed to proceed at noon.  The water on the Ohio was so high that the lock was not operating.  Instead, we passed right over the dam, against a strong current that increased to 4.5 knots over the wickets.  It was a strange experience.

Passing over the dam at Olmstead Lock

We were at Paducah town dock by 3:30, but the free dock was already very busy, so we had to stay on the fuel dock the first night.  It is a rather stinky location, because that corner traps a lot of dead fish and algae, and the power pedestal is too far away for our cords to reach, so we cannot run the air conditioners without the generator.

Paducah was definitely the most interesting town on this part of our journey.  The town was laid out by William Clark (remember Lewis and Clark from your American history classes) in 1827.  It is believed he named the town Paducah after the Comanche people of the Western plains, who were known as the Padoucas by regional settlers.  The town became an important port on the river system, as well as being a railroad hub.  It is clear from the beautiful old houses and downtown buildings that there was once a great deal of wealth in the town.  The area has been prone to flooding, with a flood in 1937 that rose to more than 60 feet.  The earthen levee that should have protected the town was overwhelmed, so a substantial concrete flood wall was built.  Part of this wall has been painted with over 50 murals depicting the history of the town and the area. 

Paducah town dock. The incredibly tall pilings are in anticipation of flooding.
The murals on Paducah’s town wall.
House smoked salmon at Cynthia’s
An interesting fried mozzarella dish at Cynthia’s
Grilled scallops at Cynthia’s
Sea Bass at Cynthia’s
Cheesecake to finish a great meal at Cynthia’s

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner that first evening at Cynthia’s, excellent fine dining.  The town looked fascinating as we walked to the restaurant.  After several very long travel days I was glad to have a quiet day while Dick explored the town.  He returned in time to help 6 Looper boats tie up.  We made plans to head out to dinner an hour early, so I would have time for a few pictures.  As Dick set the ladder into the slots at the side of the boat for me to get off, a big Sabre came round the point and waked all the boats so badly that our ladder fell into the water (it was 10 feet deep under the boat, and in spite of fishing with our longest boathook, there was no chance of retrieval).  The owner of the Sabre happened to be coming into the dock for fuel and an overnight stop.  He was very sorry, and said he would replace the ladder, even offered to build something temporary.  When we returned from dinner there was a step ladder on our deck, kindly left for us by a fellow Looper, but unfortunately it was not useable.  Dick was able to pull the stern of the boat in closely enough to the dock for me to get on.

Our dinner that second evening was interesting.  Clearly a talented chef, but much better quality control was needed.  The steaks were tasty, but neither the asparagus nor the potatoes should ever have left the kitchen.

Paducah downtown
Another view of historic downtown Paducah
Lobster dip at the steakhouse
The steaks were delicious, the vegetables not so much.

In the morning Dick was able to find and order a replacement ladder.  He showed the receipt to the owner of the Sabre, who immediately handed over the full cost in cash.  Interestingly, while the owner was full of apologies, his adult son, travelling with him, had nothing to say and scowled the whole time.  If we were to make a guess, we think it was in fact the son driving, and he didn’t see anything wrong with his speed and was annoyed with his father who likely told him off for it.  Perhaps a good lesson for him anyway, the law says that you are responsible for your wake, regardless of whether it is a “no wake zone”, if you cause any damage.

We had an uneventful passage to Green Turtle Bay, except that the current was even stronger against us on the Cumberland River.    At one point we could see the current push a red marker right under the water.  Even when it bobbed up again only the top third was visible. We ran fast for part of the day to make up some time.  We passed several huge quarries on the journey, an enormous scar on the landscape.  The first, and largest, was purchased in 1903 by Barrett & Son.  The company was based in Cincinnati and ran barges on the rivers.  At the time, the quarry extended for a mile along the bank of the Cumberland River.  Today the quarry is operated by LaFarge Aggregates.  As we passed, we could see a barge being loaded with sand.  The loading is done from one end, and you can see in the photo that the stern of the barge is only a few feet above the water, while the bow is still very high.  The sheer weight of materials that these barges hold is incredible, and then to think that they are attached together in strings of 12, 18, even 24 barges, all pushed by a single tow.

Cumberland River. The current is so strong only the top third of this marker is visible.
LaFarge Aggregates quarry on the Cumberland River
Loading a barge at the quarry
Approaching a tow on the Cumberland River

Barkley Lock is a 57-foot lift into Lake Barkley.  As we made our way in, we could see that the port side was roiled by jumping 3- and 4-foot silver carp.  Unfortunately, we had already committed to tying that side!  It proved impossible to snap a picture that captures the sheer number of jumping fish, but you can see how big they are and how high they jump.  Some jumped under Nine Lives, hitting the tunnel between the hulls with a loud crack!  Fortunately, none ended up on board (or worse, in the dinghy).  We have heard from others that if they get on board, it is a heck of a mess to clean up, because they bleed all over as well as slime.

Jumping carp in Barkley lock

Green Turtle Bay is a large resort and marina on Lake Barkley.  Many Loopers stop there, often for a few days or even weeks.  It is a very pleasant resting stop after a fairly gruelling trip down the rivers.  We only stayed one night, expecting to be back several times in future.  We walked up to the tavern, and enjoyed the evening.

Loaded fries at the tavern in Green Turtle Bay
Sunrise at Green Turtle Bay

The passage to Paris Landing State Park was straightforward.  The docks were nearly empty, but we were delighted to catch up with fellow Loopers on Island Girl, who we first met in 2018.  We could see from our Nebo app that there was a very large pack of Looper boats making their way south.  With limited transient slips available this year, and the concerns about our anchor winch, it was better to stay ahead of the group.

As we headed south on Kentucky Lake, it was a little confusing.  We were actually up-bound, as the lake/river system is flowing north at that point.  Dick had to remember which direction we were travelling when calling the tows.

Kentucky Lake is a reservoir created by the construction of Kentucky Dam in 1938 to 1944.  The reservoir drains the entire Tennessee Valley watershed, which covers an area of 40,200 square miles.  It is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, helping reduce flooding on ten million acres of the lower Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  The top of the gates on Kentucky Dam are at 375 feet above sea level.  The TVA requires that all permanent structures be built at 381 feet above sea level.  This results in what we thought were very strange looking houses and cabins on enormous stilts along the waterway.  The lake is long and narrow, and for much of its length it appears to be more like a river, and has a fairly strong current.  Where it widens, it tends to be very shallow, as we discovered when we tried to follow a more scenic route closer to the western shoreline!

Houses on Kentucky Lake must be built with the main floor above 381 feet above sea level.

Although the lake may help with flood control, erosion can still cause problems where the banks are sand instead of shale or other rock.  We passed one area where there was evidence of land slips, and at one point we could see a house perched precariously on the edge of the hillside, with debris at the bottom where another structure had been completely destroyed.  In spite of the obvious danger, it appears that the house is still occupied.  We could also see places along the water where the limestone banks had been undermined by the flowing water.  Some quite substantial houses were built above, and we thought that the owners would likely not have chosen to built there if they had seen the site from the water!

Erosion on Kentucky Lake
Shoreline of Kentucky Lake
An old lighthouse and homes on the shore of Kentucky Lake

We stopped next at Cuba Landing, and enjoyed dinner on Nine Lives with Ken and Karen from Island Girl.  I tried a new recipe for the pressure cooker, a sausage and bean cassoulet.  Another keeper!  We traded stories of people we had met and places we had been on the loop since our last meeting.

Nine Lives underway
Nine Lives running fast to make up some time

The run to Clifton was pretty, with the leaves just beginning to turn, and bald cypresses looking picturesque in the afternoon light.  There was a lot to look at, mostly cottages and homes along the river, rather than the industry we had been seeing since Chicago.  Clifton was not the most salubrious marina, with many small biting insects, especially after dusk, and the restaurant is outdoors.  The food was rather strange, but we had a lovely evening in company with Loopers from California who were only 5 days from their start.  Unfortunately, those small biting insects thought that Dick was dinner, and by the end of the evening his legs were covered in bites. 

Bald cypresses and early autumn colours on Kentucky Lake
An abandoned dock on Kentucky Lake

It was another easy trip from Clifton to Aqua Yacht at Iuka.  Dick phoned Pickwick lock when we were an hour away to get a sense of how long we might have to wait.  The lockmaster said that if we could get there within half an hour, we would go straight through with the boat that had been waiting two and a half hours, otherwise we would have to wait several hours for a big tow to lock through.  Dick radioed Island Girl and asked, “do you have another gear?”.  They did, and our two boats took off and made it with time to spare.  We were tied up in our covered slip at Aqua Yacht on Pickwick Lake in Iuka, Mississippi by 2:30pm.

First though, we had to find the slip!  Then once we were in, we discovered that we had no mobile signal whatsoever, and no way to contact the marina to ask for the wi-fi code.  Fortunately, the owner of the slip, who we are renting from for the next 3 winters, showed up very soon after we arrived and was able to give us the information we needed.

The covered slip where Nine Lives will stay for the next 3 winters

The next morning, we had Nine Lives hauled out to check the situation with the sponsons.  We suspected that they were filled with water again, as happened the last two seasons.  I have never been on the boat when it was being lifted by a travel lift before, not really an experience I wish to repeat.  Once we were at grade level, we had to climb off over the bow pulpit.  I declined the privilege of returning the same way, and chose instead to walk over to the fuel dock to meet Dick and the dockhands.

On the travel lift
Nine Lives is lifted out of the water
There was no water in the sponsons!

We were very surprised to find that the sponsons did not have any water in them.  Also, the props are in excellent shape.  The tech was very impressed that they were not dinged.  Good driving on Dick’s part!

We had dinner at Aqua Grille, the onsite restaurant.  The food was very good pub food, but they do not serve wine, only beer and mixed drinks!

Shrimp and fries at Aqua Grille

After a day and a half of sorting, organizing, packing, and cleaning, we were ready to head out on Sunday morning.  Nine Lives will snooze until next June in her covered slip, in the water for the first winter in some years.  Dick will be back to check on her and take a couple of small space heaters to keep the engine room warm in the case of freezing temperatures.  He will also drain the water system.  We took off all cans and jars this year, again, in case of freezing weather.

We stopped overnight outside Atlanta, and were happy to arrive home in Hilton Head by noon.  This concludes the Nine Lives 2021 voyages.  We travelled 2112.5 miles, underway for a total of 244.1 hours.  We passed through 13 locks.  We spent time in 7 states, and our journey took 119 days.

The story will resume some time in June of 2022.

Nine Lives route and speeds for September 2021

August 24 to September 14, Milwaukee to Peoria

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

Milwaukee, swallows on the rail

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

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

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

Waterfront homes in Kenosha

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

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

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

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

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

Waukegan Marina sunset

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

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

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

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

Waukegan sunrise
Minnie at the boat ramp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Burnham Harbor sunset

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

Nine Lives heads down the Chicago River

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

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

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

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

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

Barges on the river between Joliet and Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenery on the Illinois River
Nine Lives on the Illinois River

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

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

Dick had ribs at Heritage Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunrise at the anchorage

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

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

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

Steakhouse potato skins
salad bar at the steakhouse

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

Peoria Grandview Drive character house
Peoria Grandview Drive viewpoint

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

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

July 7 to 23, Muskegon to Winthrop Harbor

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

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

Grand Haven Riverside Waterfront

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attractive downtown Holland
Shrimp with two sauces at Boatwerks

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

Nine Lives at anchor

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

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

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

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

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

Hand cranked historic chain ferry in Saugatuck

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

Dinghy sailing lessons in the lake at Saugatuck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charcuterie and wine tasting at J. Petter Galleries

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

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

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

Shrimp cocktail at Bowdies

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

Saugatuck sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago cityscape from the water

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

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

Filming beside Burnham Harbor

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

Snapping turtle at Shedd Aquarium
An interesting fish at the Aquarium

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

Gardens outside the Shedd Aquarium

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

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

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

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

Fireworks over the harbour on our last evening in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traverse City Marina waterfront gardens

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

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

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

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

Dick changes fuel filters

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

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

desserts at Amical

Dinner at Red Ginger

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

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

A loon feeding in the marina, an unusual sight.

Mama and baby liked our swim platform.

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

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

Fishtown

The dam and Fishtown

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

Beautiful dogwood in bloom.

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

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

The best french fries ever!

Fishtown from the bridge above the dam in Leland

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

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

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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

Point Betsie Lighthouse

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

Historic buildings in Frankfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine Lives docked in Manistee

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

Historic downtown Manistee

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

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

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

White River Light Station, Whitehall

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

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

Duckweed and water lilies in our slip in Whitehall.

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

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

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

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

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

This tractor reminded Dick of his childhood.

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

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

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

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

Whitehall fireworks display
Whitehall fireworks display

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

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

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

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

USS Silversides, Muskegon

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

Improving the marina breakwater.

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

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

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

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

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

The Cheese Lady, Muskegon

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

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

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

Historic Round Island Lighthouse

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

The main street on Mackinac Island

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

Carriages, bicycles, and the old fort on Mackinac Island

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

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

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

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

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

Glimpse of the water from the bike route

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

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

One of the beautiful old inns on the island

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

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

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

Mackinac Bridge looms out of the fog

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

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

Nine Lives was in the water waiting for us

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

She’s glad to be back in the water!

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

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

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

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

DeTour Reef Lighthouse

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

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

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

Dick had rack of lamb at Nauti Inn

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

Old Mackinac Point Light Station
Mackinac Bridge from Mackinaw City

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

A lighthouse on the route from Mackinaw City to Beaver Island

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

The waterfront at St James on Beaver Island

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

A house with an interesting chimney on Beaver Island

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

the marina at Harbor Springs

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

A garden in Harbor Springs

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

One of the beautiful Harbor Springs waterfront homes

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

The Bear River in Petoskey

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

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

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

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

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

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.

July 25 to August 13, 2017. New Jersey to Beaufort NC

Retracing our steps

Our stay at Great Kills Yacht Club in New Jersey was very enjoyable.  Without question it was the friendliest yacht club we have visited.  Each day there were people working on their boats or in the evening spending time in the bar.  Most made a point of chatting to us, and several came along the dock to look at Nine Lives and ask questions.  She likes that kind of attention!  We rode our bikes into town and found a very nice Italian grocery.  Although we didn’t really need any provisions we couldn’t resist a few things on the shelves.  We also rode over to the park on the Atlantic side of the basin.  We were amused to see many people relaxing and sunbathing on lounge chairs set up in front of their cars in the parking lot.  Wide sand beaches and acres of grass were completely ignored in favour of being within spitting distance of the car!

Eventually we got a one day weather window that was enough to get us to Atlantic City.  Here we were again stopped for several days.  We had planned to stay at a large marina in front of one of the casinos, but it was fully booked for the weekend and instead we docked at a small family run facility across the basin.  The Coast Guard Station was opposite, and we could hear Reveille and Taps across the water each morning and evening. The next day a huge out of season nor-easter blew in.  The waves were right on our beam, which meant rocking from side to side so much that one of our lines frayed nearly through.  We had to get out at the height of the storm and move the boat further into the slip and retie everything.

We did have an interesting stay in Atlantic City apart from the storm (which was a different kind of interesting).  We rode our bikes all the way along the boardwalk through both Atlantic City and Ventnor.  The dreadful tourist souvenir shops, attractions,  and hot dog stands show that the British by no means have the monopoly on tacky when it comes to seaside resorts.  On the other hand, the mostly closed casinos are fascinating architecture, and it is rather sad that they are so quickly becoming derelict.  Ventnor is entirely different, with large gracious homes with beautiful gardens all along the shoreline. Atlantic City is trying to diversify their economy, and local residents are quite pleased that there is a university currently building a new campus near downtown.  Why they would not take over one of the enormous empty casinos I do not know, probably the casino owners or the debt holders are holding out for more money than it will take to build a new campus from scratch.  One can only shake one’s head at the waste.

Shortly after our arrival another boat came in to the marina and the captain walked over and introduced himself.  It was a sailing catamaran, also built by Endeavour (the builder of our boat).  We enjoyed two evenings of docktails with this very nice couple, and it was fascinating to compare the similarities and differences in the two boats.

Finally, the weather calmed again and we made a fast run to Cape May.  We tried a different marina this time, and hope to return and spent a bit more time next year.  The town seems very quaint, with lots of interesting shops and restaurants to visit.  The next day was also calm and we were able to proceed up Delaware Bay and through the C&C Canal to Chesapeake City.  This is a lovely little town, that has done a wonderful job of sprucing itself up and turning into a boater’s destination.  We docked at one of the restaurants, and even though it was a weekday it was packed until very late, both the fine dining restaurant and the more casual outside deck.  We enjoyed a great meal in the dining room, lobster for Dick and red snapper for me. The houses in the village are beautifully restored, not just the mansions, and most have nicely kept lawns and gardens.

Our next challenge was to make our way down Chesapeake Bay.  The forecasts were good for the mornings, but blew up each afternoon to small craft warnings.  Our first stop was Annapolis, staying two nights.  We made a good run to Solomons, where we filled up with fuel and stayed two nights again.  This time I joined Dick on a bike ride around the town, and later we rode our bikes to the restaurant for dinner.  We liked Solomons on both our visits, and plan to stop there again next year.

Having taken on fuel, we decided to make a single high speed run to Portsmouth, rather than stopping overnight part way.  We left by 6:30 am, and made it to our destination before the daily blow up of wind and waves.  Being a weekend, we had to dodge sailing boats that were busy tacking back and forth across the channel, as well as watching for the huge wakes being thrown up by weekend fishermen.  No military vessels or cargo ships to avoid this time, but at least those are predictable when they are underway!

Portsmouth is struggling to attract visitors, especially with extensive new waterfront facilities across the river in Norfolk.  They have many beautifully restored homes and downtown buildings, but as so often happens with these old towns, they don’t seem to be able to attract the mix of shops that will make downtown liveable.  We spent nearly an hour in a wonderful antique shop, and then another happy hour in one of the most interesting kitchen shops we have seen.  So many unusual gadgets and things that you never knew you needed! For the most part, we resisted temptation. The Portsmouth lightship is one of a very few lightships.  They were used when construction of a lighthouse was not practical.  Can you imagine spending time on a vessel like that, rolling around in heavy seas, not to mention climbing up to tend the light!

After a two night stay in Portsmouth we set off down the Elizabeth River and onward to the small town of Coinjock, about an hour north of the Albemarle Sound.  Almost immediately we were held up by a railway bridge that is usually in the open position, but it was down for a train to pass.  After fifteen minutes of stooging around (an important skill for mariners that involves maintaining position in a channel without running onto rocks or into other vessels while waiting for a bridge or lock to open), the bridge lifted and we could proceed.  That fifteen minutes put us behind on all three subsequent bridges and the single lock, turning what should have been a three hour trip into nearly five.  The offending railway bridge is next to an unusual style of highway bridge, that lifts instead of opening.  We have seen this type of bridge for railways (usually open) but never for a highway.  Just after we passed it lifted for a boat that was too tall to fit under, quite interesting to watch.

Albemarle Sound is one of the two crossings that I had been dreading, as it is very shallow and winds pile up the waves and can make a miserable trip.  This time the winds were higher than I would have liked, but they were behind us, so in theory it would not be so bad.  As the day progressed it got rougher, whitecaps appeared, and there was a corkscrew effect that made Tucker and I most unhappy.  At the end of the crossing there is a zig zag required to get into the mouth of the Alligator River, so that put us broadside to the waves and made things worse.  Fortunately, it was a short time before we were tied up at the marina and I could sit still and be quiet for a while!  We watched two sailboats make their way into the marina a bit later.  The broadside whitecaps had them wallowing, and even experienced sailors find that much rolling very uncomfortable.

That evening we invited the couple on one of the sailboats to join us for docktails.  Such an interesting life they are leading!  They left Falmouth, England, in 2008 on their two masted sailboat headed for Spain and the Mediterranean.  A year later they crossed the Atlantic to Brazil, and spent time there, and in Uruguay and Argentina.  Some years on they came north, with stays in Panama, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands before crossing to the US and making their way north on the ICW.  Their current destination is the Chesapeake, and after that, they will go where the wind takes them!  An adventurous life that would not suit everyone, but what wonderful experiences they are having!

Our trip down the Alligator River to Belhaven was dry and uneventful, in spite of threatening skies.  In calm weather this part of the trip is two hours of boredom followed by two hours of tedium, but that is better than the excitement of a rough passage! Perhaps Belhaven is an interesting town, but apparently August is low season, and the best restaurant closes for 3 weeks.  There were very few boats in the marinas.  It is very strange to me to be told that August is low season, but I suppose with so many American schools starting mid-August there are just not that many families travelling.  Most boaters are much further north during the summer months.  One marina owner told Dick that August is just too hot for boating! We were told that the Alligator River Marina has had up to 30 boats in overnight during the season for travelling south in October and November. The night we spent there, we were one of only three boats staying.

We decided to leave Belhaven very early, because we are still seeing high winds and thunderstorms coming up in the afternoons.  Our transit of the Bay and Neuse Rivers was completely calm, and a welcome change from the dreadful crossing we had on our northbound trip.  We stopped in Oriental. Waterway Guide waxes lyrical about the attractions of this sailing town, but we were seriously unimpressed.  The marinas offer little protection when the winds are from the south, so we spent an uncomfortable night rocking in the waves.  Dick went for a bike ride (dodging raindrops), and was not enthused.  Again, we decided to leave early for the short journey to Beaufort, NC. The brief crossing of the Neuse at 6:30am was calm, and the Adams Creek Canal is interesting. We were travelling slower than usual, in order not to arrive to early in Beaufort, but that proved to be a slight error in judgement!  As we came into the tricky part of the trip, navigating through various shoals in the busy Newport river, we were enveloped in thick clouds and torrential rain accompanied by thunder and lightning.  We have radar, which we use on those rare occasions of low visibility, but when Dick updated the firmware on the chartplotter he did not realize that it would change how the radar is accessed.  He didn’t dare risk losing the chart (and taking his eye off the waters ahead) while he poked around trying to find the radar screen.  I was very concerned that not only could we not see any boat coming toward us, they couldn’t see us either.  Eventually, after what seemed like a long time but was probably only about 15 minutes, the storm cleared enough that we could see again.  In addition to a large shrimp boat ahead of us, we came on two kayakers paddling across the channel.  What possessed them to be out in busy waters in such poor visibility I do not know.

We arrived in Beaufort to find it celebrating the annual Pirate Invasion.  Beaufort was the home of the famous Blackbeard, and it celebrates all aspects of its nautical history with grand enthusiasm.  Shortly after we tied up there was a battle between a fully rigged pirate ship and a large rowboat with 8 pirates and a cannon on board.  Our view of the naval engagement was blocked, but we could hear the cannons firing and the screams!  Arrrr!  The town was infested with pirates, along with a number of women dressed as heaven knows what.  However, everyone seemed to be having a good time.

We have seen some interesting wildlife behaviours on this trip.  On our way north we passed hundreds of osprey nests; sometimes it seemed as if every channel marker had a nest with osprey rearing chicks.  Now, two months later, the chicks have flown, but I have noticed that there is often a bird perched on the empty nest.  I wonder if it is one of the young, still staying around familiar places.  On one of our ocean passages we saw at least 30 dolphins herding fish into a tight circle to feed from them.  We passed an area on the Chesapeake with hundreds of gulls swooping on waters that were literally boiling with fish.  In addition to the gulls there were pelicans, and even a few osprey diving to catch dinner.  We couldn’t tell what was making the fish rise to the surface, but there were several areas like this over a couple of miles of shallow water.  One of the most fascinating episodes I watched was while I was sitting in the cockpit at the dock in Great Kills.  I heard a repeated banging sound, and turned round to see a young gull with a huge clam.  He was jumping up about 10 feet above the dock and dropping the clam, then following it down to make sure it didn’t roll off the dock.  After dropping it about 20 times, the clam developed a crack in the shell, and the gull was able to break it open and eat the meat inside.  I was so fascinated I forgot to get a camera and take pictures!

We are nearly finished this year’s journey, expecting to be home in about a week.  We have not anchored overnight since we left North Carolina on our outbound journey, and we enjoy the peace and quiet, so we plan to anchor most nights, and to stop just one night at a marina in Southport and one south of Myrtle Beach.  It has been an interesting trip.  We have made lists of things that we want to fix, or improve, before we set off again next summer.  Tucker has finally settled into the various routines, and seems to be reasonably content.  I have enjoyed cooking on board, using some of the special things I spent so much time collecting this winter.  The pressure cooker/slow cooker has been an unqualified success, but I have also found some great recipes for one pot meals and casseroles that work in the toaster oven.  We do plan to replace the Australian style grill for a more familiar type.  I had expected to be able to work on pictures during some of the quiet times, but this has not been possible.  Even a slight motion of the boat makes me feel queasy if I try doing close work on the laptop in the salon, and the table in the cockpit is too high for me to work on. We find that while the cockpit chairs are comfortable, the helm chair leans back too far for me to be able to sit in it and drive, and we both miss being able to relax in a recliner chair.  So we are hoping to replace both cockpit chairs with some that we saw at the boat show that have more adjustment and also a recliner position and footrest.  Dick is going to replace the bulbs on the interior lights, plus a couple of inoperable fixtures, and we hope that will solve the problem of the dim lighting at night.  We are also hoping to get screens made for the side doors of the cockpit, to add more air circulation while keeping the insects out.

This was Tucker’s last voyage for some time.  Between the heat and the continuously changing routines, he became more and more unhappy in the last few weeks of the summer voyage.  He now spends his summers with his other family in Hilton Head, and everyone is happier.

storm at Great Kills
Storm at Great Kills NJ

Great Kills basin
Great Kills Basin, after the storm

whats in there
What’s in there?

Atlantic City Coast Guard Station
Atlantic City Coast Guard Station

Atlantic City
Atlantic City

Chesapeake City 2
Chesapeake City

Chesapeake City
Chesapeake City

Annapolis sunrise
Annapolis sunrise

Sunrise leaving Solomons
Sunrise as we leave Solomons

Tucker and the view of Norfolk
Tucker and the view of Norfolk

lobster dinner
Lobster dinner

Portsmouth lightship
Portsmouth lightship

Portsmouth old town
Portsmoth Old Town

highway lift bridge
highway lift bridge

Carolina Reaper Shrimp
Carolina Reaper Shrimp

a good place to sleep
A good place to sleep

fishing boats on Adams Creek Canal
fishing boats on Adams Creek Canal

rainbow leaving Belhaven
rainbow as we leave Belhaven

keep watching the chart
Keep watching that chart!

Alligator River
Alligator River

Pirate ship
Pirate ship

pirates
Pirates at Beaufort!

red snapper
Red snapper

What do you want
I want to go home!

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