August 16 to September 9: Gore Bay to Drummond Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind River sunset
Sunset at Blind River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Mines
The pretty village of Bruce Mines

 

leaving Bruce Mines
Calm seas as we leave Bruce Mines

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

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

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

Drummond Island Yacht Haven
Drummond Island Yacht Haven

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

Drummond Island stormy weather
Stormy weather approaches Drummond Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henrys fish chowder
Dick enjoyed fish chowder to start
Henrys smoked fish
A large portion of smoked salmon with cream cheese was too much with what was to come!
Henrys fish and chips
Fish and Chips at Henry’s, battered pickerel, chips, coleslaw, and baked beans!
Henrys dock
After dinner at Henry’s you can sit on the dock and watch the world go by

 

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

Parry Sound marina
Stormy skies over Parry Sound Marina
Parry Sound sunset
The sun sets behind one of Georgian Bay’s distinctive tall pines on Parry Sound.

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

Log Cabin elk carpaccio
Elk carpaccio at Log Cabin Inn
Parry Sound waterfront 2
The trestle bridge that crosses the river in Parry Sound is the longest east of the Rockies. Built in 1907, it is 1695 feet long and 105 feet high. It is still in regular use. A tall ship can be seen leaving the docks.
Parry Sound tall ship
Another look at the tall ship leaving Parry Sound. It left the docks entirely under sail, no engine.

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

Parry Sound refuelling seaplane
Refuelling our seaplane before we got on board.
Georgian Bay from the air 1
Georgian Bay from the air. Note the boats rafted up in one of the many anchorages.
Georgian Bay from the air 2
You can see all the small islands of Georgian Bay
Georgian Bay from the air 3
Some of the protected bays and inlets of the 30,000 Islands
Georgian Bay from the air 4
From the air you can see how clear the water is, and how many rocks lie just below to catch the unwary boater!
Georgian Bay from the air 5
Many of the islands have large homes on them, often built and maintained at great cost and only visited for two or three weeks a year.
Georgian Bay from the air 6
A last look at 30,000 Islands!

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

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

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

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

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

Pointe au Baril Lighthouse 3
Pointe au Baril Lighthouse
Pointe au Baril Lighthouse
A closer look at Pointe au Baril Lighthouse

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

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

Collins Inlet 2
High water has killed many small trees at the water’s edge in Ontario this year
Collins Inlet 3
Spectacular scenery of Collins Inlet
Collins Inlet 4
Collins Inlet
Collins Inlet 6
A sailboat leaves the narrowest part of Collins Inlet.
Collins Inlet 7
Collins Inlet
Collins Inlet 8
A geology lesson from the waters of Collins Inlet
Collins Inlet 9
Approaching one of the narrow channels of Collins Inlet
Collins Inlet 10
When the channel is this narrow, it is important to “colour between the lines!”

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

Killarney Mountain Lodge
View of the Lodge from the docks
Killarney Mountain Lodge 2
Killarney Mountain Lodge

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

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

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

Killarney breakfast 1
Dick begins to prepare breakfast on board
Killarney breakfast 2
It’s ready, dishing it out!
Killarney breakfast 3
English bacon, two eggs (lots of pepper), mushrooms, hash browns and toast, yummy!
Killarney tall ship 2
Tall ship Madeline cruising through Killarney Channel. A piper plays bagpipes on the foredeck.
Killarney tall ship
Another look at Madeline
Killarney channel tugboat
A beautifully restored tugboat passing through Killarney Channel.
Killarney workboat
One of the large fishing vessels we have been seeing on Georgian Bay

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

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

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

Killarney Lodge crab cakes
Crab Cakes at Killarney Mountain Lodge
Killarney Lodge venison
The special was venison en croute, Dick said it was delicious!
Killarney entertainment
Evening entertainment at Killarney Mountain Lodge
Killarney channel 2
The well stocked general store in Killarney, you can drive up by car, or by boat!
Killarney channel
Passing the Sportsman Inn as we leave Killarney

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

lighthouse near Little Current
Lighthouse on the point as we approach Little Current
Little Current bridge
Once a railway bridge, now a single lane highway bridge at Little Current. It opens only on the hour to allow boaters to pass.

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

Little Current
Little Current

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

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

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

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

Gore Bay
Gore Bay from the southern tip
Gore Bay wetlands
Wetlands at the southern end of Gore Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 12 to May 4 2018, Hilton Head to Norfolk

2018_Spring_Rendezvous_Group_Photo
Over 300 Loopers and 50 boats attended the Rendezvous

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

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

September 5 to 16, 2018: Cleveland to Brewerton

September 5 to 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock n Roll
Rock n Roll – the main entrance plaza of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Surf and turf Cleveland
Surf and turf in Cleveland – one of the best I have ever eaten, delicious tender lobster tail with drawn butter, and a perfectly grilled steak in a simple presentation with mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus at the Blue Point Grille.
keeping out the rain
Keeping out the rain – we will blame the photographer (Dick) for the blurry photo of me, valiantly holding back the rain as it lashes the boat when we pass through a squall. It’s probably blurred because he was laughing!
Erie PA
Erie PA – the harbour with a view of the Sheraton Hotel and the walkway to the Convention Center.
Erie PA 2
Erie PA 2 – a shipyard with a vessel under construction. At the left you can see the large rust red bow (or stern), while on the right are blue plastic covered sections of the midship. We don’t know whether this is a Lake freighter being constructed, or a large barge tug.
Buffalo
Buffalo – extravagant flowerbeds in the gardens at the marina on the edge of Buffalo’s Inner Harbor.
Buffalo 2
Buffalo 2 – another picture of the marina garden, with the attractive architecture of downtown in the distance.
Buffalo 3
Buffalo 3 – the Edward M Cotter, a historic fireboat, still in service, and also used in winter as an ice breaker in the Buffalo River.
Buffalo 4
a detail of the stern area of the Edward M Cotter.
Buffalo 5
Buffalo 5 – General Mills is still a grain milling presence on the Buffalo waterfront. The high rise manufacturing facility is of unusual architectural interest. It is also the place where familiar brands such as Cheerios, Gold Medal Flour, Bisquick, and Wheaties are made.
Into the Canal 2
Into the Canal – a somewhat unprepossessing entrance to the Erie Canal between Buffalo and Niagara. The Canal turns to the right of the image.
Erie Canal bridge
Erie Canal bridge – one of the many lift bridges on the Canal. The car parked beside the tower belongs to the bridge keeper. Typically, one keeper will be responsible for 2 or more bridges, and must shuttle between them when boats need to pass.
Erie Canal boat
Erie Canal boat – one of the English narrowboat style boats that are available to rent and cruise the canal.
Albion 2
Albion – the main street of the pretty village is glimpsed through the lift bridge. You can also get a sense of the bridge mechanism. The whole span slides up to raise the bridge over the canal. Pedestrians can climb the stairs and cross when the bridge is lifted, but cars must wait.
Albion 4
Albion – the sign for the village as we leave. We were particularly interested in this because we have a friend, Stuart Albion, and had no idea there was a whole town named after him!
Short ribs Spencerport
Short ribs in Spencerport – Dick’s favourite dish, served with mushroom ravioli. Sadly, it was not as tasty as he had hoped. As he put it, “it tastes the way it does when I make it at home, and I know I don’t do it very well!”
Spencerport
Spencerport – sunrise at Spencerport, where we were docked with two of the English style canal boats.
Rochester
Rochester – we docked beside an apartment and restaurant complex on the Genesee River in historic Corn Hill, with a view of downtown.
Wine bar Rochester
Wine Bar in Rochester – they specialize in flights, currently very fashionable. Dick tried champagne and sparking wine, while I enjoyed tasting three different roses. A delicious meat and cheese board accompanied the wines.
Ithaca concert hall
Ithaca concert hall – the historic State Theater was saved from demolition after it was condemned.
Pittsford
Pittsford – we passed through this pretty village. Creative use has been made of the former grain elevators, they have been turned into luxury flats.
Pittsford 2
Pittsford 2 – another view as we leave the village.
Newark
Newark – sunrise over the pedestrian bridge at Newark, NY. The building at the left of the bridge houses a visitor center and excellent shower facilities for boaters.
Erie Canal lock 25
Erie Canal lock 25 – the quiet wall above the lock where we docked for the night.
Erie Canal lock 25 2
Erie Canal lock 25 – still water and reflections of the trees lining the Canal.
painting a bridge
Painting a bridge – this was interesting to see, they set up a tent to completely wrap the bridge so that the paint does not contaminate the water. As we passed under the bridge we could hear the high pressure paint sprayers at work in the covered section.
Baldwinsville
Baldwinsville – a pleasant seating area in the waterfront park.
Baldwinsville 2
Baldwinsville – the canal and town wall leading to the guard gate and lock. To the left of the image is the park and amphitheatre where weekly concerts are held in summer.
Erie Canal 15
Erie Canal – our last morning on the Canal and on this year’s voyage. The leaves are beginning to turn, and it is time for us to return home.
Winter Harbor
Winter Harbor – the aptly named boatyard where Nine Lives will sleep for the winter. You can just see one of the huge red and blue sheds in the background of the picture.