Pensacola, FL to Punta Gorda, FL

Happy New Year from Stout!

 After staying tied up for 6 weeks in Tarpon Springs, FL, we are thrilled to be cruising again, heading south along the west coast of Florida. For most of the last 6 weeks, we were either home for the holidays or biding our time in Tarpon Springs for this reason or that, so there haven’t been many looping experiences to share. Now that we are moving again, I hope to return to more regular blogging.

Turtle Cove Marina - Stout’s home for 6 weeks

Turtle Cove Marina - Stout’s home for 6 weeks

Early morning view toward the Sponge Docks

Early morning view toward the Sponge Docks

Having said that, I do believe our experience before reaching Tarpon Springs is worth sharing.  I last posted just after Thanksgiving when we left Pensacola to head east along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) toward Carrabelle.  The GIWW ends near Carrabelle before it picks up again at Tarpon Springs, with open water in between.  Loopers with slow boats like ours have an important decision to make when getting ready to leave the Panhandle for Florida’s west coast – whether to make several daylight only hops along the Big Bend of Florida or do one overnight passage across the Gulf, a trip lasting more than 20 hours, most of which is out of sight of land and, at this time of year, in the dark.  We chose the latter for a couple of reasons.  First of all, we have become very comfortable with Stout’s seaworthiness. In reasonable weather, the boat can easily handle the Gulf waters. Also, the Big Bend presents challenges of its own – long, shallow inlets (perhaps too shallow at low tide) at Steinhatchee and Crystal River and a relatively unprotected anchorage at Cedar Key. Then, there’s the need for several good weather days in a row. After much consideration, we decided on an overnight passage and prepared accordingly.

We took the Tarpon Springs route - From Captain Alan Lloyd’s hugely helpful  Great Loop Navigation Notes

We took the Tarpon Springs route - From Captain Alan Lloyd’s hugely helpful Great Loop Navigation Notes

The trip from Pensacola to Carrabelle was all inland cruising and pretty uneventful.  We spent the first night on the hook in Baklava Bay.  We did a little fishing (unsuccessfully) watched the sunset and relaxed, with time to discuss the upcoming overnight passage.

Another sunset on the hook

Another sunset on the hook

The next day dawned overcast and gloomy, a fitting backdrop for our return to the hurricane-ravaged areas near Panama City.  The pictures tell the story – swamped boats and miles upon miles of broken trees lining the waterway.  

We felt very fortunate to find a marina with a slip for us with power, though it may have been the only transient slip available, and the marina offices were fully out of commission. They were grateful for our business and offered a very nice restaurant next door that, inexplicably, was untouched by the storm.  During the Captain’s conversation with the dockmaster, he learned that more than 150 boats were lost in the marina-owned storage area just across the river.

Remaining sections of Lighthouse Marina, Panama City, with restaurant in the background

Remaining sections of Lighthouse Marina, Panama City, with restaurant in the background

The following day was gloomy as well, and a storm taunted us as we worked our way through Mexico Beach, the hardest hit area, to Apalachicola.  A good section of the waterway there is quite narrow, and we spent several hours passing between damaged river banks that must have been quite lovely before the trees were split in half and scattered like toothpicks.  The not-too-distant thunder and occasional flashes of lightning served as an eerie reminder that Mother Nature could impose her will at any time.  How must that feel to the people living here facing the daily task of picking up the pieces and moving on?  Hard for a couple of northerners to imagine. 

My mood declined even further when I called the marina in Apalachicola to confirm our reservation.  A lovely woman named Thelma answered the phone, confirmed our spot and then explained that power may not be available given the water damage they’d sustained.  I told her we understood and were grateful simply for a place to tie up, power or no power.  Apparently, the 48’ yacht one day ahead of us had complained several times about the power situation and followed up with a phone call after their departure to rant about the absence of oysters in the restaurant.  Wait, what?!!  How could someone cruise past all the destruction and then complain about compromised service?  It boggles the mind.  We experienced a secure night in Apalachicola, with power, and enjoyed a super fresh seafood dinner in the restaurant.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to meet Thelma and express our appreciation in person.

Scipio Creek Marina, Apalachicola … looks pretty good from this angle

Scipio Creek Marina, Apalachicola … looks pretty good from this angle

From Apalachicola it was on to Carrabelle to wait for the next weather window that appeared to be opening the following day.   We made one more marina reservation then changed our minds when we got there.  With building winds from the west, a very small slip, questionable docks and no way to contact the dockmaster, we decided this location was a no go.  After a couple of grumbly minutes that go part and parcel with a trip of this nature, we settled on an anchorage off Carrabelle Beach.  The spot we chose was lovely.  However, the steady winds kept us rocking all night.  Tolerable, but bouncy enough to encourage an early departure the following day.

Early morning at Carrabelle Beach

Early morning at Carrabelle Beach

In the morning we were ready to get going.  The trick with this overnight crossing is not to leave too early on the day of departure, as doing so could set us up to arrive with the morning sun in our eyes.  That plus fatigue could make it difficult to navigate through the crab pots and up the shallow river at the end of the trip.  Most of the guidelines we’ve read recommend an early afternoon departure.  We made it to about 1030.  The Captain ran his checklist, I secured the interior and we weighed anchor with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Here’s what a single crab pot looks like, about the size of a softball - they are usually laid out in strings and heavily clustered

Here’s what a single crab pot looks like, about the size of a softball - they are usually laid out in strings and heavily clustered

For context, here’s what we expected.

Many loopers look to “Eddy” first for crossing guidance.  Eddy Johnson is a former air force pilot and a loop veteran who voluntarily analyzes weather data from various sources and shares his opinion on comfortable crossing days through the looper forum.  He has a lot of credibility among loopers and is an appreciated resource for those of us trying to make our own decision.  We also checked our usual sources and found that they were generally in agreement.  We would have a very narrow crossing window on a moonless night with higher winds/waves on the front end diminishing a few hours into the crossing and resulting in calmer seas overnight and in the final hours.  That all seemed reasonable to us, so off we went.

East Pass, last sight of land for many miles

East Pass, last sight of land for many miles

I have to say that cruising out into the Gulf knowing we would lose sight of land at some point was pretty exciting.  Our route took us out through East Pass and into the Gulf. Soon we began to leave the shoreline behind.  To start we had 2’ to 3’ waves off our port rear quarter which resulted in something resembling following seas.  That kept us relatively comfortable but the auto-pilot and rudder were both working hard to maintain a course.  And they did so all night long.  In these early hours before sundown with auto-pilot engaged, the two of us spent the afternoon on the foredeck with the waves at our backs and the unobstructed sea in front of us.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of cruising aboard a stout vessel in open water with the person you love beside you and the sun warming your neck as it sets behind you.  Suffice it to say that you feel very much alive.

Nothing but water …

Nothing but water …

Right before the sun set, we found ourselves surrounded by a huge pod of dolphins, mothers and their young, all riding our bow wake or gliding through the water alongside us.  I know when recounting moments such as this it’s easy to get sentimental.  But this truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We estimated there to be more than a hundred dolphins around the boat (though the video shows only those off the starboard bow).  And this was their territory, not ours.  We maintained our course and speed, took as many pictures as we could and mostly just appreciated being part of what was happening around us.  Not something you see every day.

And then the sun set.  At 1730.  It is winter after all, and the days are short. Despite all of our planning, we hadn’t given any thought to the Captain’s occasional struggle with motion sickness.  After all, we’d been nearly 3,000 miles with not even a hint of discomfort.  But when it got dark with no moon and he lost sight of the horizon, there it was.  I was oblivious.  Instead, I was paying attention to the wind which was getting stronger despite predictions that it would start subsiding around this time. Instead, it increased to a max of 18 knots just after sunset and stayed in that range for several hours causing me some concern.

Stunning; also the start of a long dark night

Stunning; also the start of a long dark night

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The Captain eventually drew my attention through the act of being quiet.  Very quiet.  When I asked, he told me what was going on and at my urging took respite on the daybed in the pilot house.  I took the helm.  We had planned to get through the night by alternating 2-hour shifts – 2 hours at the helm followed by 2 two hours of sleep and so on.  My first shift just happened to start a little earlier than expected.  There wasn’t much for me to do.  The pilot house was dark and quiet.  We were still on auto-pilot, and my only responsibilities were to watch the course, radar and depth sounder and make sure I didn’t see anything on the water that might represent a hazard.  I took my job very seriously and “manned” the helm while the Captain took some time to acclimate to his surroundings.  Happily, the wind began to subside by 2030 and remained steady at 11 knots for the remainder of the trip.  Much more comfortable.  The Captain resumed control of the helm at 2200 hours, at which point I caught some shuteye.  At 0200 I wiggled myself awake and fixed us both a light meal.  I took over again at 0300 so the Captain could catch his needed winks, though I think he only dozed with one eye open.  I watched the instruments, jumped up and down and stretched to get the blood pumping and made a point of peering out into the darkness to stay alert.  Still, there was absolutely nothing on radar … no ships, no land, no junk in the water.  All good for purposes of navigation but really boring when on watch in the middle of a dark night.  The Captain woke up and took over permanently at 0500.  I made him some coffee and then crashed … hard.

 When I woke again at 0700, we were back within sight of land and beginning the approach to the Anclote River which would happily take us from the Gulf to Tarpon Springs.  The Captain had adjusted our speed to time our arrival without the sun in our eyes. We cruised to our slip at Turtle Cove Marina at mid-tide – we probably couldn’t have made our way in at low tide – and were grateful to have helpful hands to guide us into our slip.  We tied up, followed the dockhand like tired puppies as he led us to the office – to pay and to shower – and then returned to our vessel for a long nap in a secure location.  And what a great nap it was.

Anclote River entrance - we made it!

Anclote River entrance - we made it!

Tarpon Springs was an excellent place to leave Stout when we flew home for the holidays. We spent time in Vermont and Maine over a 3-week period and immersed ourselves in family and friends. While it was wonderful to catch up with our loved ones, Vermont was cold and gray and both of us had colds for the duration of our stay. After New Year’s we were ready to return to our floating home and warmer weather.

One final week in Tarpon Springs allowed us to take care of some necessary boat projects.  The hot sun is tough on varnished wood, and the cap rails around the foredeck were in dire need of attention.  Neither the Captain nor I have experience with this kind of work, so during our first week in Tarpon Springs we drove to Sarasota to seek guidance from Bill Turner at Teakdecking Systems. There we were given great advice and acquired the materials we needed for the job.

Thanks, Bill!

Thanks, Bill!

We were blessed with favorable weather and got busy with a heat gun, 2 coats of stain, 8 coats of topcoat and lots of sandpaper and elbow grease.  We finished last Saturday quite pleased with our work.  On Sunday, we were ready to cast off our lines and get cruising again. Finally!!

So far the GIWW on the west coast of Florida offers wonderful cruising.  We’ve spent 3 nights at anchor, first in Boca Ciega Bay in Gulfport, then off Otter Key in Sarasota followed by a night at Cape Haze. Then yesterday we made our way to Burnt Store Marina just south of Punta Gorda to spend a wonderful evening with friends.  We have slowly regained our cruising rhythm after 6 weeks in port.  South Florida awaits.

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Inland Rivers to Gulf Intracoastal Waterway – Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway to Pensacola, FL

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We hope you all enjoyed good company and great feasting and had some time to reflect on the things for which you are most thankful. 

The Captain and I spent Thursday at a marina in Pensacola thinking of family and friends back home and feeling thankful but rather far away. We are not missing the freezing temperatures that hit the northeast this week, not even a little, but we do miss our families and appreciate that technology allows us to stay in touch. There’s not much technology can do about a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, however. The restaurant we chose tried but couldn’t come close to the usual family fare.

We have been very, very spoiled …

We have been very, very spoiled …

Nevertheless, we continue to celebrate our journey and have made a lot of progress in the past few weeks, though not necessarily in terms of distance traveled.  We left Bobby’s Fish Camp on November 2 pleased that we had only 2 more days of river travel ahead of us.  The lower Black Warrior-Tombigbee, which joins with the Alabama River a little below Bobby’s to become the Mobile River, was my favorite part of our entire inland river cruise, with the possible exception of one remote section of the Tennessee River.  As we worked our way south toward Mobile, we continued to meet a fair amount of tow traffic but saw little else other than a gradual transition from forested banks to marshland.  And yes, our first gator – a big one!

What this picture doesn’t show is the egret just outside the frame that is the subject of the gator’s intense interest

What this picture doesn’t show is the egret just outside the frame that is the subject of the gator’s intense interest

Because this section of the rivers offers no marinas and limited anchorages, we cruised until we found the right place to drop the hook, just before sunset.  The Captain pinpointed a beautiful anchorage in the Tensas River which we shared with 4 other boats and still had plenty of room to swing.  We didn’t really need a lot of room, though, because the anchor set well in the muddy bottom and a gentle current kept us exactly where we wanted to be.  It was a very peaceful night, and we both got a good night’s sleep.

Here’s a satellite map showing where we pulled off the main river to spend the night at anchor -  from Active Captain

Here’s a satellite map showing where we pulled off the main river to spend the night at anchor - from Active Captain

We woke to a beautiful morning, enjoyed a cup of coffee on the hook and then started the cruise that would take us off the rivers.  The day was bright and so were our moods, as we were more than ready to break free of the inland waterways and enter the Gulf of Mexico.  The riverbanks continued their transition to sandy shoreline and saltwater marsh, and at last we found ourselves in Mobile Bay.

The bustle of the bay was a bit of a wakeup call after many days of relative quiet, but we were too busy enjoying the moment to be terribly concerned.  As we caught our first glimpse of the busy harbor, we relived our entry into the river system in Chicago 7 weeks earlier and all that we had experienced since then.  And we shared a true sense of accomplishment recognizing the new perspective we’ve gained, what we’ve learned, the challenges we’ve overcome and how we’ve grown as a team.  And then we experienced one of those cool little coincidences that occasionally punctuate life events.

A little context. Coast Guard regulations require pleasure craft, like ours, to keep a formal ship’s log.  We bought a new log book at the start of our loop, and completing the log is an important beginning and end to every day’s travel.  We log the captain and crew, ports of departure and arrival, times of departure and arrival, weather conditions, barometric pressure, wave height – you get the picture.  We also log events, like when we lock in and out, and certain milestones.  So, as we entered Mobile Bay, a huge milestone, I made a log entry.  And then when I turned the page, I discovered that we’d reached the last page of the log book just as we exited the river system.  That meant we would start a new log book with the next and very different phase of our journey.  We thought that was pretty cool timing.

From there things became a little unpredictable, more so than usual.  We had preexisting plans to visit family and friends in Tucson for several days in the early part of November.  We had made arrangements to leave Stout at a marina in Mobile while we were away.  But when we got there that afternoon, we were surprised by the poor condition of the facilities and the apparent lack of any managerial oversight.  This particular marina had enjoyed a fine reputation in the past but experienced decline when it’s highly regarded owner passed away a few years ago. We certainly weren’t going to feel comfortable leaving our boat there while we were in Arizona, so we made some quick phone calls and decided to make our way to The Wharf marina at Orange Beach the next day.  That meant a Mobile Bay crossing on a very windy day, leading to a seasick little boat cat. Fortunately, he’s very resilient and recovered quickly, and the peace of mind we gained from having changed our plans was well worth it (not sure Charlie is in full agreement on that).

Charlie’s getting his sea legs

Charlie’s getting his sea legs

 

It was on that trip that we finally entered the Intracoastal Waterway after having dreamt about cruising it for years.  As if on cue, the moment we left the bay for the protected channel, 4 dolphins rode our bow wake as if to welcome us to calmer, warmer waters.  Since then they’ve become somewhat regular visitors, but for me that was definitely a loop highlight.

We pivoted yet again at The Wharf because we were lucky enough to find a great boatyard nearby that was willing to haul Stout and attend to some important maintenance issues while we were away.

Then off we went to Arizona.  The Captain, who is also a travel agent extraordinaire, found us a fantastic little casita in the Sonoran desert, which placed us within a few miles of the family and friends we were visiting.  To say we were a little disoriented by the 180-degree change in our surroundings is an understatement.  But we do so love the desert, so we traded our webbed fingers and toes for cowboy boots, dried out our bones and had a blast.  Most important of all, we enjoyed an annual gathering of family and friends and got to spend time with our daughter whom we hadn’t seen since June!

Then back to Orange Beach with nowhere to stay.  The Stout punch list took longer to complete than anticipated due to unseasonably cold and rainy weather, so we had more time to kill before we were able to move back aboard.  What to do?  “Well,” we said, “we can sit in a hotel room for a week. OR… New Orleans is only a 3-hour drive from here, so why not go there and continue the disorientation.”  So we did.  We took the scenic route by rented car and stayed in the French Quarter.  What a hoot!  It was exactly like I expected and nothing like it at all.  We loved the diversity – human, musical, culinary and otherwise. Two days later we were quite sated and ready to leave the wonderful chaos behind.  

Back again to Orange Beach, and Stout was spic and span and ready to travel in salt water. And we were ready to resume our journey and reengage in more reasonable behavior as to our personal finances.

All ready for salt water - new bottom paint, new anodes (magnesium for fresh water/zinc for salt water), new gasket for the pilot house window, fiberglass dings repaired and freshly washed and waxed hull

All ready for salt water - new bottom paint, new anodes (magnesium for fresh water/zinc for salt water), new gasket for the pilot house window, fiberglass dings repaired and freshly washed and waxed hull

Refurbished prop, too - the rivers apparently had taken their toll

Refurbished prop, too - the rivers apparently had taken their toll

Oh yes, and a transom cleared of soot stains and newly lettered

Oh yes, and a transom cleared of soot stains and newly lettered

We just spent 2 nights in Pensacola and this morning began making our way farther east along the Florida Panhandle.  We expect to make it as far as Carabelle early next week and then wait for a weather window to make the “jump” across the Gulf to Tarpon Springs.  Until then, we will be cruising, planning, preparing and reorienting ourselves to the simpler life to which we’ve become accustomed.

Santa’s sleigh and Christmas carols in downtown Pensacola. Disorienting, indeed.

Santa’s sleigh and Christmas carols in downtown Pensacola. Disorienting, indeed.


Inland Rivers (Mississippi River to Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway)

After a rather lengthy hiatus, I’m returning to the blog.  Since my last post we have traveled just over 700 river miles and have completed all the “big” rivers – Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee - as well as the Tennessee-Tombigbee (“Tenn-Tom”) Waterway.  A very loyal subscriber sent us the great graphic below which illustrates our progress.

Thanks again, PBW!

We are now on the very peaceful Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway making our way to Mobile Bay and the transition to salt water, tides and points south.  As I began to write this, we were tied to the dock at Bobby’s Fish Camp in rural southern Alabama.  Bobby’s is an iconic location among loopers.  It boasts one of the oldest restaurants in Alabama and a 150’ dock that’s the only game in town other than a few anchorages that we find are either a little too small for us or too exposed to tow traffic.  Our first night there and the following morning, we had the whole place to ourselves, and it was delightful.

More boats arrived mid-day, and we ended up tied to the dock with 2 other boats tied to us (rafting), 3 boats rafted in front of us and another boat behind us.  Because there were 7 boats here that night, our hosts opened the otherwise-closed restaurant for us and served what is generally considered to be the best fried catfish, hush puppies and cole slaw in the region.  We concur.

We ended up staying for 3 days due to strong storms that pushed through yesterday, so I finally had some time to focus on the blog. I sat there on a stormy day literally surrounded by boats and tried to figure out how to describe the last several weeks.  I had a really hard time writing my last post and an even harder time rereading it.  Too much of it focused on detail and logistics and not enough on our experience.  I noticed, too, that the tone reflected a degree of stress though we weren’t necessarily aware of it at the time.  I have gained some perspective on that in hindsight.

Once your loop takes you into the inland river system, a few things happen.  First, it's fall and the days start getting shorter so your daily planning needs to ensure that you reach your destination before nightfall.  The number of river miles you can travel in a day can vary greatly due to the strength of the current and whether you are moving with or against it. For example, cruising downstream on the Mississippi River getting pushed by a 2- to 3-knot current, we were able to travel 110 river miles in one day – our greatest distance yet.

On the other hand, when we entered the Ohio River the very next day and began cruising upstream against the current, our average cruising speed of 9.5 knots immediately dropped to 5 knots.  We made it only 54 river miles that day.  About half the distance!

One small turn to port, around the corner from the Mississippi to the Ohio, and an abrupt loss of 4.5 to 6 knots of forward speed

One small turn to port, around the corner from the Mississippi to the Ohio, and an abrupt loss of 4.5 to 6 knots of forward speed

Next, finding good marinas becomes even more challenging, not only because those that can accommodate larger boats are fewer and farther between but also the number of loopers moving south and funneling into the rivers increases the (mostly but not always) friendly competition for resources.  Anchorages are also more challenging because in a river you are dealing with current, sometimes a strong one, and debris, not to mention passing tows which traverse the rivers 24/7.  Just a couple of weeks ago, an anchored sailboat (which had its anchor light on) was hit by a tow in the middle of the night - the boat was damaged; thankfully, no one was hurt.  Not something anyone ever wants to happen but certainly a risk that comes with this kind of journey.

And even the best laid plans can be halted by fog.

Photo taken by another looper

Photo taken by another looper

Interestingly enough, our enjoyment of the rivers has increased as we’ve moved south, and in ascending order.  The Illinois was the least appealing.  We found any beauty overshadowed by industry and pollution.  Oh yeah, and Asian Carp. The river’s relatively narrow with lots of tow traffic as I’ve described in an earlier post.  So navigation can be quite stressful. And the locks are notoriously unpredictable which gets back to the planning challenge.

Next, the Mississippi. The Mississippi locks also added an element of uncertainty, but there were only two of them.  The biggest issue we had with this river was the swift current, lots of floating debris large enough to be hazardous and the sparsity of marina/anchorage locations and distance between them.  But it’s a nice wide river with lots of room to maneuver and for me, at least, it evoked some sentiment due to its place in US history and literature.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

The Ohio, while still quite industrial, began to offer more glimpses of the natural environment, and our passage on it was blessedly short with no real locks to contend with.  That’s because a new lock that just opened (and is still under construction after 30 years and $3 billion!) has replaced two old locks that frustrated prior loopers to no end.  The big issues with the Ohio were the current, which the Captain fought all day and which meant slow, tedious progress.  On the bright side, our long pull upstream landed us at the Paducah municipal dock, a very secure mooring in a cool little city where we got off the boat to enjoy a delightful steak and wine experience at historic Doe’s. Check it out! http://www.doeseatplace.com/index.html We also treated ourselves to a a night at the Riverside Holiday Inn with a real bed, a real shower and an escape from the incessant heat and humidity! This was our first night off the boat since leaving Vermont in June.

Paducah is protected from changing river levels by a high wall that seals off the city when necessary. The images that follow are a few of the many paintings that line the city-side of the wall and share the city’s history. They’re huge and really beautifully done.

Paducah is protected from changing river levels by a high wall that seals off the city when necessary. The images that follow are a few of the many paintings that line the city-side of the wall and share the city’s history. They’re huge and really beautifully done.

As we were finishing up on the Ohio, we had a decision to make as there are two possible routes south.  One route follows the Tennessee River.  It is shorter in terms of river miles, but boaters must pass through the Kentucky Lock, a lock that is known to have no patience or love for pleasure boats.  The cruise itself may be a more direct and shorter route, but chances are you are going to be held up at the lock, sometimes for hours and for no apparent reason, or so we’ve been told.  The second route is the meandering Cumberland River which ends at Barkley Lock, a more friendly place that opens to beautiful Lake Barkley.  We chose the latter and were locked right through with no wait.  

I enjoyed the Cumberland River because it marked our return to a narrower waterway where we could see both riverbanks, and I could hear birdsong over the engine. We were still going against the current, but it wasn’t as strong, and the narrower waterway meant smaller tows to contend with. I found it to be a lovely fall day and a leisurely cruise. The Captain, however, was distracted by an out-of-the blue problem with one of our stabilizers – still to be addressed – and the tedium of an endless cruise in the “ditch.”

The “ditch” led us to Green Turtle Bay Marina which is where we picked up the Tennessee River.  The following graphic from Captain John’s website provides a good illustration of the transition from the Cumberland to the Tennessee River, and shows how the two run in parallel for quite a while.

We followed the Cumberland River through Barkley Lock and stayed at Green Turtle Bay in Lake Barkley just below the Kentucky Lock and Dam (which we avoided). From there we passed through the tiny Barkley Canal, into Kentucky Lake and then headed south on the Tennessee River

We followed the Cumberland River through Barkley Lock and stayed at Green Turtle Bay in Lake Barkley just below the Kentucky Lock and Dam (which we avoided). From there we passed through the tiny Barkley Canal, into Kentucky Lake and then headed south on the Tennessee River

The Land Between the Lakes is a huge recreational area between the two rivers that apparently has abundant wildlife.  We passed by in the fog and rain. But it was lovely, nevertheless.

Most of our cruise alongside the Land Between the Lakes looked like this, but that was okay because it provided relief from the heat and was scenic in a different way

Most of our cruise alongside the Land Between the Lakes looked like this, but that was okay because it provided relief from the heat and was scenic in a different way

For the first couple of days on the Tennessee River we cruised in the rain.  Overnight, the weather changed from the hot, humid cycle we’ve experienced almost since leaving Vermont to fall with morning temps in the 40s.  Good thing I packed our quilt!  Cloudy days followed the rainy ones, and we tucked into small marinas on the way down the river.

In Paris Landing State Park Marina (Buchanan, TN) on a cold rainy morning, we lost our shore power cable splitter in the water due to a collection of errors on our part, a very expensive loss. And who appeared but our guardian angel, Ray, offering an extra long boat hook and other useful resources which allowed us to recover our loss. Remember Houlegan from the Big Chute Railway in Canada? Turns out they’re our guardian angels …

In Paris Landing State Park Marina (Buchanan, TN) on a cold rainy morning, we lost our shore power cable splitter in the water due to a collection of errors on our part, a very expensive loss. And who appeared but our guardian angel, Ray, offering an extra long boat hook and other useful resources which allowed us to recover our loss. Remember Houlegan from the Big Chute Railway in Canada? Turns out they’re our guardian angels …

I do like Tennessee, rain or shine.  We passed through beautiful natural sections with abundant wildlife. We spotted foxes, coyotes, deer, tons of great blue herons and great egrets, more eagles, hawks, turtles and lots of smaller birds I couldn’t identify by sight or by song. Of course, we were still navigating around tows and some riverbanks littered with industry, but they were well-balanced by the natural environment that is still intact.  

We also passed through small riverfront communities. The river architecture in this area is quite different from what we see in New England, with most homes built on stilts due to changing river levels.

Reaching the Tenn-Tom Waterway was another major milestone.  We spent our first night at a marina right on the Mississippi/Tennessee border.  After tying up and making arrangements to borrow the courtesy car, we found a great little bar/restaurant and spent some time talking to the locals. Apparently, we have accents.  Dessert for me that evening was sitting in the cockpit listening to the crickets and squawking herons – there were lots of those around.  That’s more like it.

The Tenn-Tom starts at beautiful Pickwick Lake with the big rivers firmly in the rearview mirror. It’s divided into 3 sections. The first 25-mile stretch is the “Divide Cut” and is entirely man-made.  This section really does look like a ditch, and it’s only real appeal is the engineering involved.  A lot of time and money was devoted to this section of the waterway. And there’s just enough room to squeak by the tows.

From there it’s on to the “Canal Section” where some effort was made to straighten the waterway by digging canals to eliminate switchbacks. And finally, “The River” section, so named because it follows the old Tombigbee River with all of its twists and turns. Both sections basically consist of dams and pools to maintain a navigable depth, so there’s lots of locking.  After the locks of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, these were a pleasure – no lines, no waiting.  And more natural beauty and southern hospitality. 

We are now on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway, the most remote of all the inland rivers, and will follow it to Mobile, Alabama.

Black Warrior-Tombigbee, a little south of Bobby’s Fish Camp

Black Warrior-Tombigbee, a little south of Bobby’s Fish Camp

We completed our final lock(!) this morning and have one more river anchorage tonight (our first in salt water with tides to consider). Next stop, Mobile Bay. We expect to be there tomorrow.

Because we just finished our last lock for the foreseeable future, I have to sum up the experience. By our count, we have completed 128 locks since the start of our trip in June. The inland river locks are different than those in Canada where we each grab a line, one at the bow and the other at the stern. In the rivers the boat is secured by a midship line tied to a “floating bollard” which floats up and down as the lock chamber fills and empties. The Captain and I make a very good team and find them to be a breeze, but I thought a couple of pictures might be of interest to those who’ve never seen a floating bollard.


Our fenders, fender covers and lines are dirty and worn in places reflecting what we’ve put them through, but they’ve served their purpose well. In the words of another looper “We’ve cleaned the lock walls with our balls.”

So, I know this is another post heavier on detail than perspective, but that’s because we’ve traveled 700 miles since my last post.  And much of that time has necessarily been spent on planning and logistics rather than in the moment.  Which is probably why this is generally regarded as the least interesting part of the loop.

But I do have a big dose of perspective to share as I wrap up.  We spent a week in Demopolis, Alabama, because we arrived there earlier than expected, and our insurance policy places restrictions on traveling further south during hurricane season.  Under our policy, hurricane season ends November 1 and we arrived in Demopolis the last week in October.  One thing we’ve learned on this trip is that we don’t like to stay in one place for very long unless we have something to do.  We live in a small space that can start to close in when sharing it 24/7.  And we’re happiest while traveling anyway. 

 So, we rented a car in Demopolis and drove along the Florida panhandle to aid our future decision-making. We knew we’d see some hurricane damage but definitely weren’t prepared for the extent of the destruction. Panama City was absolutely torn apart. I don’t even know where one would start in terms of recovery. But people were sorting through debris, making piles, patting each other on the shoulder and doing what they could to make room for the utilities and clean-up crews. Blue tarps served as roofs everywhere. GEICO, Verizon and others filled parking lots with disaster recovery teams. And of course, the churches mobilized to make sure bottled water, meals and laundry services were available to whomever needed them. There are clearly many displaced people who need such support.

I was hesitant to take pictures at first feeling it might be disrespectful to do so, but we ultimately decided that it’s important to understand what happened there. Pictures cannot even begin to capture the devastation, but I am sharing a few.

The Captain and I took all of this in while driving the coastline to make sure we could make safe passage in our pleasure craft as we continue our journey south.  It was both humbling and sobering and even a little embarrassing.  And it drove home the point that while for us this trip is a trip of a lifetime, what really matters is that our family, our friends, our communities, ourselves and the survivors of this latest hurricane are all safe, and we give thanks for that daily.  Literally.

Grateful

Grateful

Inland Rivers (Illinois and Mississippi Rivers) - Peoria, IL to Modoc, IL

Our overnight stay at the City Dock in Peoria marked the beginning of two very long Illinois River cruising days.

This is us at Oktoberfest in Peoria, taking a rare shot of Jagermeister in honor of our daughter (private family joke - sorry)

This is us at Oktoberfest in Peoria, taking a rare shot of Jagermeister in honor of our daughter (private family joke - sorry)

The following morning we would start our trek to Grafton Harbor at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, the next milestone.

The little blue dot marks Grafton Harbor

The little blue dot marks Grafton Harbor

To get there we needed to travel more than 150 miles in two days. And each day’s cruise would take us through another Illinois River lock, meaning that forward motion could be impeded significantly by a long, unexpected delay. And on day one, it started to look that way.

At the Peoria City Dock we were well-positioned for the Peoria Lock first thing in the morning. Following the pattern we’d established, we got up at the crack of dawn to, hopefully, get through the lock early, and … circled for two hours. So, once again we focused on getting comfortable where we found ourselves, enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee together, watched a pair of eagles and waited for further instructions.  

Despite our attempts to live fully in the moment, it was not a stress-free wait because we needed to get to Beardstown, our next overnight stop 70 miles downstream.  70 miles is a long way to go in a 7 – 7 ½ knot boat while daylight hours are diminishing, but we knew we had time assuming we could get through the lock reasonably. While waiting we met up with other loopers with whom we would travel for the next few days – Sea Trolley, Dream Quest and Prime Meridien.  Because we are the slowest boat, once through the lock we suggested they pass us, and we all made the long pull to Beardstown more or less together, each of us pushing our boats a little harder than usual to make sure we arrived and were tied off before dark. The River continued to be lots of industry, lots of tows and barges and surprisingly, lots more eagles.

Tiny tow working on the riverbank

Tiny tow working on the riverbank

Oh yes, and lots of carp.

I had never heard anything about Asian Carp until we started planning this trip, and based on what little I’d heard I thought it was all a bit exaggerated.  For those who don’t know, Asian Carp are an invasive species of fish that have infiltrated the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and are able to leap out of the water to significant heights when frightened, sometimes injuring boaters. Really.

https://undark.org/article/asian-carp-chicago-illinois-lake-michigan/

In fact, several days earlier we passed over electric barriers installed in a section of the River the sole purpose of which is to keep these fish downstream from Lake Michigan.

Well, the Captain and I initially thought this to be a little bit of hooey, that is until we found the first dead carp in the dinghy we were towing.  We tossed him overboard, rigor mortis and all, poor guy, cleaned up the dinghy and laughed it off.  On the day we cruised from Peoria to Beardstown, we stopped laughing.  While underway, we heard an unusual sound (which we would soon come to recognize), checked the usual spots on the boat and finding nothing out of sorts, cruised on.  It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that I had a reason to check the starboard side deck and found the source of the noise we’d heard earlier.  One of these carp had lept high enough to make it into the stern of our boat and then proceeded to thrash and bleed as he made his way from the stern all the way down the side deck to the set of stairs leading up to our bow.  These are big, strong fish.  The guy on our deck was at least 18 inches long.  I stepped into my girlie role (which I haven’t inhabited for a while) and asked the Captain to remove it from the boat for me, which he did, reluctantly.  Then I began the clean-up process. Not fun.  

When carp fly …

When carp fly …

And here is how the locals handle things, party barges providing a platform for carp archery. We really saw this! (I apologize for the video quality, but the boat’s movement and location of the sun made filming a little difficult.)

We made it to Beardstown at the end of a very long day, happy to be there. The Beardstown stop is one of the more unusual on our trip so far, and there have been a few. Other than one anchorage 40 miles north, Logston Tug Service in Beardstown is the only option on this section of the River for a boat that draws as much water as ours.

Logston Tug is exactly what it’s name says it is, a tug service.

Logston Tug is exactly what it’s name says it is, a tug service.

This company very graciously allows pleasure boats to tie up to its tugs and docks for the night with the understanding that we may need to move in the middle of the night if specific tugs are needed for service calls. Being the slowest boat in the “flotilla,” we arrived last and tied off to the outermost of two tugs tied to the dock. A young member of the crew helped us tie off. When I told him we were aware we might have to move, he said that wouldn’t be a problem. “The only problem you could have,” he added, “is if a tow comes around the bend and under that bridge upstream and misses the turn. That happened a year or so ago. The people made it off the boat just before it was hit.” He told us that in earnest. I looked at the bridge and bend upriver and told myself that if it was our time, it was our time. I could have done without that bit of local knowledge, however.

As it turns out, that was not a restful night. We were tied off well and trusted our lines, but we were moored without power so the Captain was on high alert. We were awakened around 0230 when one of the tugs left the dock - none of us had to move. The Captain’d been concerned about the batteries even while sleeping and, once awake, decided to go up to the pilot house to take a look at the battery control monitor. I knew things weren’t good when I heard him start the generator. He really didn’t sleep for the rest of the night - I dozed, fitfully. He woke me up at up at 0500, asked me to call the lock to get a status report and we cast off our lines. We were told that if we could get to the lock within 30 minutes, the lockmaster would squeeze us in between two tows, one upstream and the other downstream. We knew 30 minutes was a reach given the distance but left anyway, using spotlights to spot channel buoys since it wasn’t daylight yet. I called the lock master again to let him know we were underway and was told then, with his apologies, that the upstream tow had started moving into the lock so we’d have to wait until he had locked through. So, we slowed down, texted our friends in Beardstown to tell them not to hurry, took a look around to understand where we were and circled for 90 minutes, long enough for our better-rested friends to join us. We all locked through at 0825, not terrible. 80 miles to go to Grafton Harbor.

The best way to describe the next travel day is that we were driven by our motivation to be done with the Illinois River. Two more carp hitched a ride.

The first of our carp passengers lept aboard exactly as his predecessor had the day before, except the Captain used our fishing net to get him off the deck before he thrashed himself to death. Not an easy thing to do. He still left a huge mess behind, and I swabbed the decks underway … again. Here’s what happened with the second one, and this involves a moment of true confession. We’d been cruising for a few hours, and I said to the Captain (I’ll probably burn in Hell for this), “I know this is an awful thing to say, but given the number of carp we’ve pulled off our boat, I’d kinda like to see one jump into one of the boats ahead of us” (sorry Sea Trolley and Dream Quest!). Literally one second later we heard Kathunk! And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!!!” And yes, a carp had jumped aboard on our starboard side stern quarter and was thrashing around. Before he could make his way down the starboard side deck and foul it again, I grabbed our brush handle and timidly poked at him to see if I could push him through the stern scupper. As soon as I poked him, he started thrashing. Seriously, these are super strong fish. I waited for him to settle again and decided I’d had enough. I gently but forcefully (yeah, I know) pushed him through the scupper, not sure I could do it and not sure he would fit. But he did, and off he went leaving a minimal mess requiring my attention.

For context, the carp have to leap up and over the deck railing to make it onto the deck - quite a feat. The stern scupper is the the small opening at the bottom (after it had been cleaned).

For context, the carp have to leap up and over the deck railing to make it onto the deck - quite a feat. The stern scupper is the the small opening at the bottom (after it had been cleaned).

I meekly returned to the pilot house where the Captain and I looked at each other and said, “now that’s karma, and not the good kind.” I won’t be venturing forth thoughts like that again.

After a 12-hour day, we pulled into Grafton Harbor marina and heaved a huge sigh of relief. We were done with the Illinois River. Both of us slept great that night. On the trip from Beardstown to Grafton, the Captain had found a good battery source, negotiated for quick delivery to Grafton Harbor and purchased 12 new 6-volt batteries. We arrived on Monday and were told to expect delivery on Thursday. Over the next couple of days we got to know the folks in Grafton Harbor (these are great people with a very well run marina), did laundry, provisioned, cleaned the boat (especially the decks to remove any remaining carp residue) and filled our water and fuel tanks. Time well spent.

Charlie had no problem staying put for a week

Charlie had no problem staying put for a week

We had a nice slip on the T end of a covered dock.

We had a nice slip on the T end of a covered dock.

Our view of the Oyster Bar where we almost became regulars

Our view of the Oyster Bar where we almost became regulars

We enjoyed a different version of this sunset every night for a week.  Note the height of the pilings. That’s how high the river can rise …

We enjoyed a different version of this sunset every night for a week. Note the height of the pilings. That’s how high the river can rise …

No batteries arrived on Thursday, and by Friday afternoon we understood they had been loaded onto the wrong truck and wouldn’t make it to the St. Louis depot until late Friday. Since everything is closed on the weekend, that meant we couldn’t expect delivery until Monday. Sigh. We loved Grafton Harbor but on this journey a week is a long time to stay in one place, so the Captain formulated Plan B.

Plan B involved renting a pickup truck. On Saturday we picked up a Ford F-250 for the price of a smaller truck. Perfect. The very persistent Captain then did some research and determined that our batteries were sitting in the lot of a common carrier in Fenton, MO, an hour away from Grafton. No one answered the phone, and Google showed the facility to be closed on Saturday. “No problem,” said the Captain, “let’s go anyway. What else are we going to do?” Now, I am usually the glass half-full girl, but in this instance about 5 miles south of Fenton, I suggested that the Captain be prepared to find a closed facility. Well, we passed the no trespassing sign and entered the carrier’s parking lot and came across a couple of drivers eating their lunch with a dispatch employee taking a smoke break on the other side of the lot. We pulled over to talk to them, told them our situation and before we knew it we had two or three people doing whatever they could to find our batteries. And they didi! We completed a little paperwork, drove around the back and they got out the forklift to load 800 lbs. of batteries onto our pickup truck. We drove away feeling grateful once again.

We spent Saturday afternoon taking 800 lbs. of batteries off the boat and loading 800 lbs. of new batteries onto the boat, just the two of us. The Captain took the brunt of it, of course, did the necessary and completed the install.

Hot and cramped in the engine room

Hot and cramped in the engine room

We left Grafton Harbor feeling like we’d become a part of the family. Not to mention our relief to have the battery issue behind us. While we were sorry to leave, we were ready to start moving south again. Next stop, Hoppies.

Dinner at the winery with other loopers

Dinner at the winery with other loopers

Winery view of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers

Winery view of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers

Just one more sunrise …

Just one more sunrise …

The cruise to Hoppies on Tuesday was a long one. After a week at Grafton Harbor, we threw off our lines at 0645, officially leaving the Illinois River behind (hallelujah!) and entering the mighty Mississippi. We would pass through only two locks on the Mississippi River portion of our journey, both of them on Tuesday and both of them busy and unpredictable. We needed an early start to assure we could clear both locks, travel a total of 63 miles and make Hoppies before dark. On our way to the Mel Price Lock, the first, we learned by radio that there had been an overnight accident and the lock would not be open to any traffic until 0900 at the earliest. So we began making large ovals (upstream, downstream and back up again) and making calculations (so many statute miles equals so many nautical miles, and our speed with this current is x, and the number of daylight hours left is y). And I started making calls to assess our options should it become necessary to turn back. After almost 5 hours of circling (well, ovalling rather) we received a hopeful radio communication literally moments before we pulled the plug and returned upstream to Grafton. We finally locked through at 1220. One more lock to go.

Our delay at the Mel Price Lock actually turned out to be fortuitous. While we were “ovalling,” we learned that the River in St. Louis Harbor was closed from 1000 to 1400 that day as the Coast Guard was laying cable. Two hours was just about how long it would take us to cruise from the Mel Price Lock to the Chain of Rocks Lock, just upstream from St. Louis Harbor. In fact we arrived at the second lock at 1420 just in time to lock through, with no wait. How about that?! From there we entered the Harbor and “enjoyed” a turbulent and sometimes challenging cruise through the Harbor and down to Hoppies. It made for a very long but quite successful day. As I’ve said before, it helps to have a great Captain.

We spent our first night on the Mississippi at Hoppies, a small marina formed by a couple of old barges tied to the river bank. That’s it. On this segment of the loop, there are very few overnight options. The current is moving downstream at 3-4 knots and carrying lots of debris, including some actual tree trunks.

There goes one now

There goes one now

Safe anchorages are scarce and marinas, scarcer, and quite a few of us are seeking the same resources as we make our way south.  Careful attention and advance planning are vital.

Hoppie and his wife Fern are in their 80s and legendary among loopers.  For decades they have offered a secure overnight stop accompanied by a daily briefing to assist river travelers with our planning. We did not have the chance to meet them, as their daughter and son-in-law are handling the physical aspects of the marina this year. Nevertheless, we were grateful to give our lines over to such practiced hands, as the swift current and constant flow of debris make the approach to Hoppie’s and subsequent departure quite tricky.

We stayed at Hoppies with 6 other boats and were very lucky to get a spot since as the only game in town it’s often booked solid. We continue to be the slow boat in the flotilla and the last to arrive. After tying up, we all arranged our own cocktails, gathered around for the briefing and spent some time afterwards either catching up with boaters we’d already met or getting to know folks we were meeting for the first time. Our conversations lasted until the mosquitoes came out in force and generally revolved around logistics - how fast are you running with this current? how far are you running tomorrow? what have you heard about the blah blah blah anchorage? how long was your wait at the locks?, any mechanical issues? and so on. Such information sharing is helpful to all of us, but even while talking, I made a point to look at where we were and thought to myself, “I can’t believe at this moment we are actually tied off on the banks of the Mississippi River. How cool is that?” Meanwhile, the River flowed past and tested our lines and fenders.

That’s how you cast off in a strong current.

From Hoppies we made a relatively short cruise to our next secure spot, a lock wall in Modoc, IL. This lock is in a small river just off the Mississippi, and while we were able to tie up there for the night, we didn’t need to lock through. Instead, we spent a sunny evening pretty much in the middle of nowhere tied off with no power (which we can do now with our new batteries!) with two other looper boats spread out along the lock wall. It was hot and humid, but very peaceful. For the past two weeks or so we’ve either been in busy ports or cruising our way down the busy rivers. I don’t think we’ve had such peace and quiet since we left Canada, and I enjoyed the moment immensely.

IMG_1997.jpg

I would like to end this post with a little treat. Recently, my Mom asked whether we ever get bored while cruising. In all honesty, some days are longer than others, but there is almost always something to do. Here is how the Captain chose to keep us entertained one particularly long day.

I dare you not to smile.

Lake Michigan to Inland Rivers – Michigan City, IN to Peoria, IL

After much anticipation, here we are again in a river system yet it’s another completely new experience.  This morning we woke up at the City Dock in Peoria, Illinois after partaking in an unexpected Oktoberfest last night. Yesterday we woke securely tied to a crumbling lock wall, the oldest lock in the Illinois River abandoned shortly after it was built.  Marinas are now few and far between and packed with other loopers.  So we are having to pursue other options – city walls, anchorages or in the case of Henry Harbor, abandoned lock walls with rebar loops instead of cleats or pilings to tie to.  Our guidebook listed Henry Harbor as “not recommended” for overnight mooring. But we were secure, in a peaceful spot, giving our business to a good person working hard to earn it and we couldn’t have been happier.  There’s that perspective again, the reason we are looping.

Crumbling lock walls and rebar loops

Crumbling lock walls and rebar loops

Doggone, it’s peaceful though, that is until a large tow passes by

Doggone, it’s peaceful though, that is until a large tow passes by

When I last blogged we were making our way to Chicago.  We spent two days south of Chicago at a small marina in Jackson Park.  We chose it because of its proximity to the Museum of Science and Industry and hoped the park would provide good bike riding opportunities.  Biking didn’t really pan out – too congested and unfamiliar.  But the Museum was a great way to spend the day.  The highlight was our tour of U-505, a real German U-boat captured by the US Navy during World War II. It’s a great story. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

https://www.msichicago.org/explore/whats-here/exhibits/u-505-submarine/

View of the Museum from Lake Michigan

View of the Museum from Lake Michigan

The real U-505

The real U-505

Original letter signed by crew member swearing to secrecy, the breach of which was punishable by death

Original letter signed by crew member swearing to secrecy, the breach of which was punishable by death

From Jackson Park it was a short jump to DuSable Marina in Chicago.  Because of its location right in downtown Chicago, DuSable is one of the most expensive marinas we’ve visited yet.  But for a couple of nights, it was worth it.  Our slip offered a priceless view of the skyline from the north and abundant people-watching opportunities , and there was no shortage of people of every type imaginable.

Our first evening in Chicago we took the Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Cruise.  Now, neither the Captain nor I are generally “tour” people.  As a pair of introverts (in the words of a close friend), we are quite happy doing our own thing.  This particular cruise allowed us to survey the river before making the trip on our own boat two days later. We were also able to see Chicago from a unique point of view.  It did not disappoint.  We had a great time and walked away with a different perspective on the city as well as some context for the next couple of days.

During the next 36 hours, we took a long walk to the end of the Navy Pier, did some provisioning using an excellent online shopping/delivery service and engaged in some pretty typical Chicago activities —namely, Chicago pizza, Chicago hot dogs and some serious Chicago steak at Gibson’s, our first real steakhouse in months.  And then it was time to move on, though truth be told the calories we’d consumed caused us to move more slowly than usual.  Yup, time to leave.

Early Monday morning, things changed. We’d been warned that locking on the inland rivers is not the same as locking in Canada. Delays, sometimes extremely long delays, are commonplace. So we got up before sunrise to prepare to cast off and head for the Chicago Harbor lock just as soon as there was enough daylight. We knew things were going to be different so we were experiencing what I would call “early morning anticipatory stress.” Translated - we were not on our game.

The first unexpected thing to happen involved an electrical issue that could have stopped us in our tracks. In true form, the Captain (after freaking out a little – after all, we hadn’t even had coffee yet) very deliberately isolated the problem and determined that we could go forward without a safety risk. I very deliberately made coffee.

We got to the lock within 10 minutes of casting off and almost felt giddy when we learned there was no wait and no other boat traffic.  Particularly since, according to Wikipedia, this is the second busiest lock in the nation for recreational use and the fourth busiest for commercial traffic.  

Early morning cruise to the lock

Early morning cruise to the lock

Well, with all of our locking experience up to this point, you’d think we could grab a couple of lines tied to the lock wall, settle the vessel and complete a lock that accomplishes a mere 2- to 5-foot drop.  Not so PC (Pre-Coffee – it was still brewing).  The lines tied to the wall were unusually short, likely due to the short drop in elevation.  Handling lines on the boat is my job, and in all of my mental preparation (PC) I wasn’t prepared for short lines.  Our bow bumped against the lock wall (not a good thing) while I was retrieving the bow line for the Captain, and by the time I ran back to the stern to grab my own line, the boat had drifted away from the wall enough to make grabbing a short line very difficult.  I could go into more detail here for the handful of people who might be interested, but suffice it to say it was not a happy start to a long day on a new river. 

Once through the lock I quickly filled our coffee cups just in time to pass under the Lake Shore Drive bridge, the first of many bridges on the relatively short Chicago River.  And Wow.  Even though we had done the tour, cruising through downtown Chicago on our own boat, early in the morning, admiring buildings and other landmarks we’d learned about on our river cruise was in a word, spectacular.  I wish it had lasted longer because it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was enough.

And then we entered the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The name says it all.  Again, without going into too much detail (I hope), this canal was opened around 1900 to actually reverse the flow of the Chicago River so the sewage from the city flowed downstream instead of upstream into Lake Michigan, where the city gets its drinking water.  It’s 28 miles of sanitation and industry, and it looks and smells like it. Strangely enough, this is also where we encountered our first bald eagles on the trip.  Hard to believe we cruised the pristine Georgian Bay and North Channel with no eagle sightings but saw two shortly after entering the Sanitary Canal.  Says something about the resilience of wildlife perhaps…

First of many eagle sightings

First of many eagle sightings

It’s also where we started seeing tows which were to become more and more a part of our daily experience for the foreseeable future. We’d heard a lot about tows.  Well, now we know what that means.  This is a true working river system, and many of the goods moved up and down the rivers are moved in barges.  For anyone who may not know, barges like the ones we are seeing are flat-bottomed ships that must be towed or pushed by towboats because they are not self-propelled.  And frankly and in my own humble opinion, the tow captains own the river, and they should.  They are pushing mountains of deadweight up or downstream and through the locks.  And along come pleasure craft, like ourselves, wishing to pass them as we leisurely make our way around the loop. 

This is a tow we photographed while still in Lake Michigan, one example of what we would later encounter in the much narrower rivers

This is a tow we photographed while still in Lake Michigan, one example of what we would later encounter in the much narrower rivers

That morning after cruising for about 25 miles, we encountered our first real challenge (other than trying to get through a simple lock Pre-Coffee).  There is a 5-mile section of the river that is very busy with working barge traffic.  We had already met a couple of tows on the river and learned that tow captains are great to deal with over VHF.  They want to know where we are and understand that we are looking for instructions as to when/if to pass and on which side, etc.  Well, in a very narrow section we met two tows going in opposite directions who decided to make a little window for us so we could get through without being totally in their way.  Oh yeah, and without BEING CRUSHED.  With good radio communication, we all agreed on the plan And then our engine (our only engine) stalled.  Okay, that’s never happened before.  45 seconds of coffee fueled panic, and the engine was back on line.  The Captain humbly radioed an apology to the tow captains, admitting the stall, and received a couple of knowing chuckles in reply.  The downstream tow impeded his own progress to let us pass, and we received well wishes for safe travel as we pulled away downstream with all of that traffic behind us. These guys were professionals and gentlemen.

These guys are really big, and the river, pretty small …

These guys are really big, and the river, pretty small …

A look back upon a very tight squeeze

A look back upon a very tight squeeze

From that point on we learned how to navigate the many tows we encountered using good communication and following instructions received.  By day’s end we made it to the free wall in Joliet and tied up.  We laid low and watched as 1, 3, 6, 8 other loopers tied to the wall in front and in back of us.  At this time of year all of the loopers who have been happily floating around Georgian Bay and cruising down the east and west sides of Lake Michigan enter the river system which basically acts like a big funnel, so we were starting to bump into loopers more frequently, some we’d already met and others we were meeting for the first time.  We politely declined the offer of docktails that evening and knew there was going to be a rush for the first of three locks to be traversed the next morning, which was a short way south of our mooring.  We made our own plans to cast off early and set our alarm for 0515.

At 0545 next day the sun was rising, and as we prepared to leave, we noticed several other boats doing the same thing. We have enjoyed the many loopers we’ve met along the way but for various reasons, including our slow rate of travel, we are not inclined to cruise in groups like others do. So we said good morning and safe travels and watched them set off before throwing off our own lines almost 90 minutes later.

Looper flotilla heading south from Joliet wall

Looper flotilla heading south from Joliet wall

When ready to leave, we called the lock downriver, Brandon Road Lock, to request instructions.  We were told to be ready to lock through in 20 minutes, so we planned our departure accordingly.  Consistent with what we’ve now learned is common practice, we circled for over an hour before locking through.  Two more locks to go before reaching Heritage Harbor Marina, our stop for the night. 

We cruised happily for about 15 miles, still negotiating tow traffic but going at our own pace. As we approached the Dresden Lock, we began to plan for contingencies.  Let me explain.  In Canada, the locks are pretty small and primarily handle recreational traffic.  The waterways and their traffic are closely monitored.  If you approach a lock and have to wait, there’s a wall you can tie up to and wait your turn.  Logical, orderly and manageable.  That is not the case on a working river.  On the Illinois River, commercial traffic gets priority (again, as it should), and there are no lock walls for mooring. Recreational boaters need to find a way to wait things out, which is not always easy if there is current and/or wind.

So back to Dresden. We rounded the bend, got out the binoculars and saw 1, 3, 6, 8 other boats – all the loopers who’d left Joliet before us – anchored and waiting for the lock. That wasn’t a good sign. They’d clearly been waiting for several hours. Meanwhile, we made our pokey way downstream and caught up. And just as we arrived, after a couple of small circles in the channel, we were given the signal to lock through, all 9 of us. Somehow, Stout ended up in front of the lock. We locked down, transited out and then radioed the other boats to suggest they pass when convenient, given that we are the slowest boat. For the next several miles, we were part of the looper flotilla, and all of them passed and eventually cruised out of sight. We got some good pics in the meantime.

The final lock of the day was the Marseilles Lock.  Now, this beast is notorious for long waits.  We were sort of prepared but hoping for the best, particularly since our marina stop was just past the lock and it had already been a long day.  We heard some radio traffic as we approached and were able to monitor things somewhat using our instruments.  We’d inferred that the looper flotilla had locked through ahead of us.  However, on approach we again saw 1, 3, 6, 8 looper boats, with another one behind us, all waiting for the lock.  They weren’t anchored this time but were able to hold their positions because currents and winds were calm.  And again, moments after we arrived, the entire group received permission to lock through.  Our luck in timing made for some interesting conversation later on in the marina bar.  Think, tortoise and the hare.  It was all good-natured, and we met some more good people.  

We stayed at Heritage Harbor for 2 days as we prepared to return to the river and figure out a plan for the first 240 miles south.  The marina provided a courtesy car which allowed us to refill our propane tank and do some provisioning.  Jeremy, the harbormaster at Heritage Harbor, provided a complimentary overview of points south that was extremely helpful – he does this for all the loopers.  What we learned, though, is that the marinas on our wish list were likely out of the question due to low water levels.  And for the next several hundred miles, things we’ve started to take for granted, like provisioning, laundry services, water, etc., are going to be harder to come by.

Leaving a marina full of loopers

Leaving a marina full of loopers

So after both of us suffered a somewhat sleepless night, we adjusted our expectations and went into planning mode.  We decided to embrace the next part of this adventure by planning our itinerary day-by-day and being prepared to anchor or tie up securely when- and however necessary at day’s end.  The goal is to get as far as we can each day so we can put the Illinois River behind us.  The first couple of nights have gone well, so we are optimistic.

Next is the Mississippi River, and that is another story entirely …

Lake Michigan - Traverse City, MI to Hammond, IN

Yesterday we got our first good look at Chicago across the lake, yet another milestone.  Lake Michigan is a seductive and fickle host, and while we’ve enjoyed our time visiting many of its eastern ports, we are now more than ready to reenter the river system.

A hot and hazy day’s view of Chicago

A hot and hazy day’s view of Chicago

It’s been a couple of weeks since things have been settled enough for blogging, so I’ll back up to where we left off, Traverse City.

We arrived in Traverse City on the 26th of August and stayed for 4 nights as planned. This was a longer stay than usual, as we had the rare and welcome opportunity to catch up with family.  Cousins Bill and Kelly were returning to their home in Tucson, AZ, after a summer vacation in Vermont and planned a route that took them right through Traverse City.  We had a great time catching up, enjoying the downtown and having a few cocktails on the boat.  I have to admit to periodic homesickness, so we really appreciated their visit.

A motley crew, to say the least

A motley crew, to say the least

Window shopping - no one can wear a hat quite like Kelly can

Window shopping - no one can wear a hat quite like Kelly can

The extra days in Traverse City allowed us to do more exploring.  We took our first serious bike ride which actually highlighted one aspect of the Captain’s and my relationship very well.  

I said,

“Let’s take advantage of these great bike trails and go for a ride.”

Captain’s response,

“OK.  I see there’s a bike and ride program here.  So let’s ride 17 miles so we can take the bus back.”  

17 miles wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but that’s what we did.  We rode from Traverse City to Sutton Bay on a fantastic, well-maintained trail that took us safely through the city and then through woods, farmland, fields, a small vineyard and more.  It was a fantastic way to spend an overcast day.  

Traverse City is also where the weather pattern changed.  We were glad to be secured in a protected port because some pretty severe thunderstorms ushered in the change.  Our first night there we were awakened by thunder and lightning and rain coming in through the hatch.  When the Captain got up to close hatches and doors, he saw that the heavy rain was blowing sideways and for a few minutes the wind sounded like an oncoming train.  We later learned that a few tornadoes had touched down in other towns not too far away.  We also rode past debris and some toppled trees on the bike trail the next day. We felt very fortunate to have missed the worst of it.

After a few stormy days in Traverse City, we enjoyed a beautiful cruise to our next stop – Leland. Now, I need to talk about butterflies for a minute. I know, what?! Well, I’ve always loved butterflies, and when we started cruising south on Lake Michigan, I began to notice monarchs here and there. Not on land, but a couple of miles offshore. There were enough of them to make me realize that we must be in a migratory path. I know a bit about butterfly migration and have always been intrigued by the fact that a small and delicate creature like a butterfly is able to make such a journey. But it’s something else entirely to be several miles offshore on a huge body of water and see them flying by. And yes, at our pokey speed of 7 knots they were passing us, much to the Captain’s chagrin. I became a bit obsessed (Captain’s word) with getting a couple of good photos to share. Here are a few, on the water and on land resting and refueling.

We spent only one night in Leland, as more weather was on the way and we wanted to get farther south before tucking in again.  But it definitely was a stop not to be missed.  To get there we cruised by Sleeping Bear Dunes which is a protected natural area bordered by huge sand dunes overlooking the lake.  I took lots of photos when we passed but later realized I had forgotten to reinsert my camera’s memory card after uploading photos the night before.  Bummer. I’ve included a link to the National Park Service description if you are interested in seeing pictures and learning more about this unique natural area. I would have loved to have spent some serious time there, but that’s another trip for another time.

 https://www.nps.gov/slbe/learn/nature/index.htm

Leland Harbor turned out to be one of the most beautiful harbors we’ve seen in Michigan. Long sandy beaches and gorgeous blue-green water made us feel like we were in the Caribbean. The marina is right next to Historic Fishtown, a collection of 19th-century fishing shanties at the mouth of the Leland River that have been repurposed as cool little shops and eateries.  It has an historic yet hip vibe, and we spent a lazy summer afternoon looking around and treating ourselves to a meal of fresh whitefish probably caught that morning.  Again, we stayed only one night so our touring was limited to the harbor and Fishtown.

The next 5 days and 4 ports were all about taking advantage of weather windows (or so we thought) to move south without getting bounced around too much by the wind and waves. What we’ve learned about Lake Michigan weather forecasts is that 2 foot waves and 8-10 knot winds often translates to 5-6 foot waves and winds in excess of 18 knots.  So we had to make judgment calls based upon the best available information and then commit.  On several occasions this meant 5 or 6 hours of constant up and down motion. The boat did what she’s supposed to do. We held on and found the conditions rather tiring after several hours. Nevertheless, we got where we needed to go and have become increasingly secure in our choice of vessel. The force of the wind and waves is very hard to capture on video, but here’s an attempt to share the experience.

After Leland we tied up in Frankfort, Manistee, Pentwater and Grand Haven, in that order.  We didn’t love Frankfort and stayed at a marina that charged way more than it was worth, so we were happy to move on to Manistee. We tied to the city wall in Manistee, another nice, historic town with potential for exploration.  We were lucky to get a slip there because more than half of the city docks were destroyed last April when a storm created a seiche event (a massive fluctuation in water levels similar to a tsunami).  Apparently, it’s going to take them another year to fully restore the facilities.  

We hoped to stay longer but predictions of strong winds in the coming days continued to drive us south in search of a secure port.  We monitored the weather closely and decided to make a long run to Grand Haven.  We understood this to be a good place to tuck in.  About halfway into the cruise a thunderstorm we’d been tracking to our south appeared to change direction and head straight for us.  So we made a call and reset our course for the town marina in Pentwater. The storm never materialized, but it was still the right call.  

People we’ve met along the way seem to like Pentwater a lot, but again we were only there long enough to grab a bite to eat and make arrangements to travel to Grand Haven the next day.  More winds, more waves, more holding on, and then Grand Haven.  However, we didn’t find it so grand.  It’s probably a lovely town, but we never saw any of it.  Our slip was close to the mouth of the inlet, and there was a strong west wind and surge that caused us to rock in our slip … constantly.  We adjusted fenders and put out more lines, but still rocked …  a lot … for almost 36 hours.  We didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat under those conditions. But we did have a front row seat when a massive ship inched her way by us on her way into the harbor and then back out again after another thunderstorm.

  

Our reprieve came in the form of a change in wind direction.  A north wind meant we could travel to our next port, South Haven, on following seas.  What a difference.  Having the wind behind us meant that while the boat worked harder, we were much more comfortable and even picked up another 1/2 knot in speed.

South Haven turned out to be a nice place to … once again … wait out the weather.  We are finding that we start to get restless if we are in port for more than a couple of days, so we had to find some things to do.  We took another long bike ride, this time on the beautiful Kal-Haven Trail.  


We also went to the farmer’s market and came home with fruit, veggies and a new boat cat.  It’s a long story, too long for this already lengthy post, but we now have a new crew member, Charlie.

Awww

Awww

Charlie is a young shelter cat who’s very affectionate and is doing well on the boat so far.  It’s going to take him some time to fully adapt, of course, but it appears that he’s going to be quite comfortable in his new home.

Charlie

Charlie

By our last night in South Haven, there were at least a dozen other Looper boats waiting there with us.  Enough for a rousing evening of docktails where much of the conversation centered around leaving lovely Lake Michigan behind.  But despite the longed-for forecast, the lake wasn’t done with us yet.  We woke to a flat calm morning … and thick fog.  

A collective “sigh” could be heard

A collective “sigh” could be heard

The Captain and I had lowered our mast again the day before in preparation for the low Chicago bridge, so we had no radar to guide us through the fog.  We made the decision to wait things out and watched the other boats leave one after another into the soup. By 1030, which is a rather late start, we decided to head out, the last to leave. Even though the fog was lifting on land, that was not the case out on the lake. The Captain instituted our first formal watch, with one of us on the bow and another at the helm, ready to signal if necessary. We did this for a couple of hours, at which time the fog lifted, and we experienced an unusual flat-calm cruise to Michigan City in Indiana.

Into the mist

Into the mist

Ghost ship in the distance

Ghost ship in the distance

One night in Michigan City and another in Hammond, Indiana, and we are ready to head to Chicago. We will be there for the next four days. From there, we will reenter the river system and continue our journey south, with a whole new host of challenges awaiting us.

Lake Michigan - Beaver Island, MI to Traverse City, MI

It rained yesterday morning, which is significant because in the 10 weeks we’ve been traveling we’ve had maybe 5 days of rain, yesterday included.  The rain is needed here, so this is a good thing.  Perfect blogging weather, too!

The morning's view from our salon

The morning's view from our salon

Now that we are on Lake Michigan, our cruising pattern has changed.  First and foremost, our travel days are now dictated by the weather.  We have developed a very healthy respect for this huge body of water after a couple of interesting passages.  The first was our bumpy ride to Beaver Island which I described in my last post.  The second was our trip from Petoskey to Boyne City.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

We are members of an online Loopers forum, and the daily digest has included many opinions, some passionate, about whether the east side of Lake Michigan or the west side is the better route to Chicago.  We chose the east side, understanding that the prevailing winds come from the west and south which can lead to rougher “seas” on the east side of the lake.

I found this map online, and it gives a rough illustration of our stops on northern Lake Michigan so far - Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Boyne City (not shown, but east of Charlevoix on Lake Charlevoix), Charlevoix and Traverse City

I found this map online, and it gives a rough illustration of our stops on northern Lake Michigan so far - Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Boyne City (not shown, but east of Charlevoix on Lake Charlevoix), Charlevoix and Traverse City

The morning we left Beaver Island we cruised to Harbor Springs in Little Traverse Bay.  Harbor Springs is a resort community with a pristine harbor that is the deepest in the Great Lakes.  The water is a beautiful, clear green with a sandy floor, and you can literally see the bottom more than 30 feet down.  

We got a great slip at the Harbor Springs Municipal Marina and decided to settle in for a change.  We stayed there for 3 nights.  The town center was within easy walking distance and consisted of upscale shops (a little too upscale for our budget) and a variety of restaurants, cafes and bakeries.  We spent most of our time on the boat doing some chores, reviewing weather predictions, planning out our future slip reservations and relaxing.  The docks there are wide and comfortable and there's a lot of activity in the bay, great for people-watching, so we preferred the boat to the town.  We ultimately decided that this is a summer community where people dress to go out on their Hinckleys (luxury yachts that cost beaucoup dollars) and be seen.  We had front row seats, so we made sure to see them, feeling a little underdressed in our t-shirts and shorts.

Evening view of the docks from our cockpit

Evening view of the docks from our cockpit

View across the harbor

View across the harbor

We also watched SeaQuest go out for an overnight cruise and then return the next morning.  The father/father-in-law of SeaQuest's owners is the founder of Amway.

We met some great people on the docks, including a young family sailing with their 4-year old twins - so cute!  They sail extensively in this region and, of course, shared some local knowledge.  Based on their recommendation, we updated our plans to include a trip to Boyne City, a place we would have missed otherwise.

Taking the twins to their next destination - a nice family and a beautiful sailboat (wish I'd gotten a better picture)

Taking the twins to their next destination - a nice family and a beautiful sailboat (wish I'd gotten a better picture)

From Harbor Springs we took a very short cruise around the bay - less than an hour - and tied up in Petoskey at the Municipal Marina.  On the way we passed a beach framed by high sand dunes, not something I expected to see on Lake Michigan.

Web photo of Little Traverse Bay.  Harbor Springs is tucked in behind the peninsula upper right; Petoskey is upper middle left. The beach is middle bottom.  And yes, the water really is this color. From Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council website (https://www.watershedcouncil.org/)

Web photo of Little Traverse Bay.  Harbor Springs is tucked in behind the peninsula upper right; Petoskey is upper middle left. The beach is middle bottom.  And yes, the water really is this color.
From Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council website (https://www.watershedcouncil.org/)

Our view of the beach and dunes

Our view of the beach and dunes

Petoskey was a wonderful surprise and a place where we got off the boat and spent some time exploring.  We wanted to see some sights and had errands to run, so we rented another tiny car.  The morning began with a diner breakfast followed by a visit to the Oden State Fish Hatchery.  With wide walking trails through the woods, clear trout ponds and conservationists on site, it was a great way to spend a couple of morning hours.  And it was really good to smell some earth again.   

When we left the fish hatchery, we decided to put off our errands and drive around a little more.  Before we knew it, we were on our way back to the Mackinac Bridge.  We'd been under it so why not drive over it, too.  From there we kept going and ended up in Sault Ste Marie so we could visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and get a glimpse of Lake Superior while in the area.  We arrived at the Soo Locks which is a huge, heavily traveled commercial waterway connecting Lake Huron and Lake Superior.  We got there after driving for an hour, looked at each other and said "Yup, another lock" and turned around.

On the way back we exited the highway right after the bridge and found a coastal route that took us right alongside Sturgeon Bay down into Little Traverse Bay.  What a great ride.  It was a very windy day, and the wind was whipping up the waves.  We took our tiny car off the beaten path (as we often do) and entered the Wilderness State Park following roads that required a recreational pass.  We didn't have one but kept going anyway.

The road eventually dead-ended in a small parking area, so we gave our tiny car a rest and followed the trail.  The trail passed through some conifers, opened up into the low dunes, crossed over them and ended at the cobbled shoreline.  We spent a few minutes combing the beach for the elusive Petoskey stone (see link), which eluded us, and instead collected an assortment of beach stones that we took with us as a reminder of this beautiful and wild place.  http://www.petoskeychamber.com/find-petoskey-stones

From there we turned onto scenic M-119 which would take us through the Tunnel of Trees and back to Petoskey.  The Tunnel of Trees is a narrow, shoulderless road lined by hardwoods and evergreens that have been allowed to grow right up to the edge of the road and form a canopy in some places.  It's a favorite local attraction running 20 miles along a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, including through the tiny township of Good Hart.  By tiny I mean a small general store, a miniature art gallery and a sweet gift shop staffed by a lovely 20-year old named Mary.  We chatted with her for a bit and picked up a couple more mementos.  A perfect end to a very nice day.    

Tunnel of Trees - it reminded us of the Mountain Road in Smugglers Notch, only flat

Tunnel of Trees - it reminded us of the Mountain Road in Smugglers Notch, only flat

We kept the car for an extra day so we could actually complete our errands.  We also kept our eyes on the weather.  Winds were predicted to be 10-15 knots on our planned day of departure, so we decided to add another day to our Petoskey stay and continued to explore on foot once we'd returned the car.  It's a walkable city with beautiful Victorian architecture and great shops and restaurants in what is known as the historic Gaslight Village.  I wish I had taken more pictures, particularly of some of the small Victorian homes we passed, but I chose not to carry my camera when we walked.  Most of the pictures I took focused on the marina and adjoining park.  Here are a few.

The night before we left Petoskey (and again the next morning), we checked our weather sites - 3 of them - and agreed that the conditions looked good for an early morning cruise to our next destination in Lake Charlevoix.  Winds of 10-12 knots and 2 foot waves were forecast.  Good to go.  We watched the sunset and got a good night's sleep.  

The rather ominous sunset should have given us pause...

The rather ominous sunset should have given us pause...

The Petoskey Municipal Marina sits behind a breakwater that runs south to north providing protection from Lake Michigan to the west.  The day before we left, our original departure date, we watched waves pound against and over the breakwater, stirred up by the strong west wind. By the next morning, things had calmed considerably.  We cast off our lines and headed out past the breakwater and past several fishing boats.  A good sign.  After a little while we commented that there was still a significant swell that must have been the residual impact of the prior day's high winds.  Still okay.  Before long we were starting to see waves consistently at five feet and occasionally higher, and our instruments were measuring 20 knot winds.  As we did on the way to Beaver Island, we secured the interior, closed all of our hatches and braced ourselves for another uncomfortable ride.  Our weather sources were quite wrong.  Thank goodness Stout is a seaworthy vessel in the hands of a good captain.

After 3 very windy hours on Lake Michigan, we reached the entry to Lake Charlevoix.  Our next port, Boyne City, was at the eastern end of Lake Charlevoix, a protected lake.  I thought we had farther to go so was quite relieved to see that we had reached the light marking the entry into the Pine River Channel.  The Channel leads from Lake Michigan to Round Lake (a very small lake) and then into Lake Charlevoix.  It is spanned by a drawbridge that opens every half hour, so we circled in Lake Michigan for a while and then started our approach with a couple minutes to spare.  The Channel is relatively short, wider at the mouth and narrower near the bridge so we knew there would be a need to do some maneuvering while waiting for the bridge to open. What we hadn't anticipated was the impact of the wind and swells on the Channel currents. Maneuverability became increasingly difficult with another boat behind us.  I think it's safe to say that this was the most stressful moment of our trip so far, and the bridge was raised just in time for us to get our anxious selves and white knuckles to the relative calm of the lake.  We've spoken with several people since then who've had the same experience there and listened in on a few concerned VHF calls from boaters in the channel to the bridge.  This experience made an impression on the Captain in particular.

From the drawbridge looking west toward Lake Michigan - looks pretty calm but looks can be deceiving

From the drawbridge looking west toward Lake Michigan - looks pretty calm but looks can be deceiving

Reflecting on a difficult passage

Reflecting on a difficult passage

It took us an hour to get to Boyne City and about that long to settle back down following the morning's events.  We stayed at the F. Grant Moore Municipal Marina and loved it.  This is one of the smaller marinas we've visited, and it's very well kept.  The grounds are well cared for and include beautiful gardens maintained by the local garden club.  We watched the Assistant Harbormaster sweep every slip clean of spiders and their webs which is a huge(!) help to boaters.  We've not seen this done anywhere else.  During our stay we had the good fortune of talking with Dean on Jubilee.  He's very knowledgeable about Great Lakes cruising and his resume includes delivery captain in the Philippines and Singapore.  We exchanged stories, and he took some time to introduce us to the best weather site we've come across yet and told us it's the most accurate he's used.  https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/glcfs/.  What a gift.  It's already become our go to weather resource.

Zach and Rachel from Cafe Sante in Boyne City.  Their approach to bartending made us feel like we were back at the Guild Tavern.  Thanks guys for a great happy hour - we needed it!

Zach and Rachel from Cafe Sante in Boyne City.  Their approach to bartending made us feel like we were back at the Guild Tavern.  Thanks guys for a great happy hour - we needed it!

After Boyne City we spent one night in Charlevoix, another cool little Michigan town with a busy marina full of Loopers.  We weren't there long enough to have much to share.  Except that the next day offered a good weather window so there was much talk about folks getting up and out in time to hit the 0700 drawbridge opening.  We made it a point to get there at 0630. The way out through the Channel was much quieter than the way in.  And from there it was smooth sailing to Traverse City in Grand Traverse Bay, our current port.

The Canadian portion of our trip was all about the cruising.  The Lake Michigan piece will be all about the weather and the ports, at least until we enter the river system south of Chicago, 

 

 

Georgian Bay to Lake Michigan - Thessalon, ON to Beaver Island, MI

After two lovely months in Canada, we reentered the US on August 10.  And we did so via FaceTime on an iPad in the middle of Lake Huron.  Times really have changed.  

We followed the procedures for NEXUS pre-screened travelers and called a Customs agent to report our intent to cross the border within the next few hours.  He directed us to the ROAM app, which we downloaded, completed our profiles and hit “Submit.”  The system generated an immediate electronic processing confirmation, and within a few minutes a videochat request came through on our iPad.  A very courteous Customs officer chatted with the Captain for less than a minute, asked to see me (I just waved to the camera and said hello) and then promptly approved our entry.  It was so efficient that there was no need for us to fly our yellow quarantine flag or report to anyone when we landed at Drummond Island, our port of entry.  We simply cruised to our slip, tied up and toasted the fact that we were back in our home country. 

Our low-key reentry into the US, approaching Drummond Island

Our low-key reentry into the US, approaching Drummond Island

We’ve spent the last few days in the northern end of Lake Michigan.  More on that in a minute.  First, I need to spend a few more minutes reflecting on our Canada visit.

I don’t know what we expected when we entered the Richelieu River on June 18 and crossed into Canada, but I’m quite sure neither of us expected to experience such beauty and warmth.  The scenery changed constantly with each mile, as we traveled through farmland replaced by marshland, three canal systems loaded with history, small quiet villages, large bustling towns, a couple of cities, one with a canal passing right through it, beautiful lakes with large cottage populations, small meandering channels, isolated anchorages, gunkholes with enough nooks and crannies to get lost in, granite islands, bays large enough to feel like oceans, lots of lighthouses and marinas large and small.  And that’s just two months’ worth.

An enthusiastic subscriber suggested that I share our progress to-date - great idea PBW!  Our location can also be viewed in real time by clicking on Where is Stout Now? on the blog site.

An enthusiastic subscriber suggested that I share our progress to-date - great idea PBW!  Our location can also be viewed in real time by clicking on Where is Stout Now? on the blog site.

The one constant, however, has been the warmth – and I’m not only talking about the high temperatures and almost constant sunshine.  Yes, it’s been hot... and humid.  And we’ve only had a handful of rainy days.  But the warmth has really come from the people.  All the people we met in Canada were hospitable, helpful, interested in our journey and always eager to share information about their favorite spots which has led us in new directions.  They’ve brought us chowder and coffee, loaned us their vehicles, grabbed our lines when docking, invited us for breakfast and cocktails, and spent minutes and hours talking with us about our journey and theirs simply because we happened to be in the same place at the same time. They have enriched our days, and we hope we have added something to theirs.  We feel like we've finally met our Canadian neighbors.

Having said all that, it's good to be back in the US.  Our first stop was Drummond Island Yacht Haven.  We spent some time getting situated and had lots of laundry to do.  Getting situated included going someplace for our welcome to the US toast.  The marina rented out vehicles for a reasonable price, so we rented the only one available, a 1988 GMC Sierra Classic Suburban.

It looked something like this

It looked something like this

This car was an old beast with an immaculate interior including a faux wood dash and console.  It reminded me of cars we had as kids.  So we journeyed back in time and did a little joyriding on the way to dinner.  From what we could tell, Drummond Island is pretty rural with lots of campers and "jeepers."  We later learned that the Island boasts the largest “closed loop” trail system in Michigan, offering more than 100 miles of off-road vehicle trail riding opportunities.  Indeed, we passed more four-wheelers than cars, many completely covered with mud, and almost all of the little eateries and drinkeries we passed, and there weren’t that many, had huge signs out saying Welcome Jeepers.  That explains why I found the Laundromat to be so busy.  We were lucky to get there early enough to do what we needed to do.

While at Drummond, we also accepted an invitation from fellow loopers on Hoolegan (remember them from the Big Chute?!) and enjoyed getting to know them better over drinks and hors d’oevres on their back deck.  We were also formally introduced to their boat cat Shipmate, better known as Kitty.  We’ve been toying with the idea of our own boat cat for a while…

From the tranquility of Drummond we cruised to the craziness of Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island. 

Ferries shuttle tourists to the island in droves

Ferries shuttle tourists to the island in droves

Despite warnings about a very bouncy harbor, including from the marina itself in the form of a disclaimer, we elected to stay at the City Marina for a couple of nights.  The constant ferry traffic did keep things bouncing, but we returned our dinghy to the top deck – we’d been towing it for a while - and secured our lines and fenders and had no problems.

Mackinac had been described to us as the land of horse***t and fudge.  I kid you not.  The horse reference comes from the fact that motor vehicles are banned on the island, except for some emergency vehicles.  Taxis are horse-drawn, and of course there are many horse-drawn tours available for a price.  Because our marina slip offered a view of the ferry terminals, I was also able to watch as provisions from the mainland were loaded onto horse-drawn carts for delivery to island businesses.  These are real working draft horses, and they are impressive.  They look very well taken care of and I have to hope that they are, though I didn’t engage anyone in that particular conversation.  The locals tending the horses and leading the tours all had the same sort of mid-summer, let’s make some money and get this over with look about them, so a question about horse-care probably wouldn’t be that well received.  There were tourists everywhere, hence the fudge.  And yes, we bought some.  It was really good. 

The island itself is beautiful ... the waterfront, the land, the structures, the flowers...  

We decided to get off the boat and biked the 8-mile trail around the island.  Yes, I said biked, as in bicycle.  It’s been a while since either of us has ridden, but it was immensely enjoyable.  The island is surrounded by crystal clear water and pebble beaches, and we stopped at the halfway point to dip our feet in the water.  I’m finding that it’s very hard to capture images of the pristine water.  A more experienced photographer could do it for sure.  Even so I’m including a couple of pictures I took from that stop.  The cairn is like the structures you see all along the trail.  The stones you see are under water. 

I also have to mention the Pink Pony.  We spent an evening there listening to live music while enjoying a few cocktails.  I now have a Pink Pony hat, a Pink Pony t-shirt and a Pink Pony wine glass.  Enough said. 

Weird, I know, but for some reason I loved this place

Weird, I know, but for some reason I loved this place

A couple of days on Mackinac and we were ready for more solitude.  We decided to cruise to Beaver Island next based on recommendations we’d received from folks we'd met along the way.  Instead of getting up in the morning and throwing off the lines, our preferred cruising method, we decided to have brunch at the Grand Hotel first.  We knew we probably wouldn’t pass this way again for a while, if ever, and apparently it is a "must-do."  So we hailed some horses and went out for brunch.  The horses were grounding, like they always are.  The setting was beautiful and historic.  The brunch was mediocre as we’d expected.  

This is the way things are done here - slow, steady and horse-pungent

Afterwards, we traded our “fancy” clothes for our now favored shorts and t-shirts and cast off our lines.  What we neglected to do was double-check the weather before leaving.  Another novice mistake we won’t make again.

Soon after leaving Mackinac Island, we passed under the impressive Mackinac Bridge and officially entered Lake Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes.  

This is a really beautiful bridge

This is a really beautiful bridge

Welcome to Lake Michigan, another milestone!

Welcome to Lake Michigan, another milestone!

From there things started to get bumpy.  While initially expecting 10-12 knot winds based on the reports we’d read the night before, we actually encountered 15+ knot winds, from the south. Remember, most of Lake Michigan was due south of us, giving the wind lots of time to build the waves before they ever reached our position.  Due to our course and speed, turning around wasn’t really an option.  Stout was in her element.  This is what she is designed for.  We were managing, the Captain better than me. I don’t get seasick.  I get concerned, primarily because I’m not experienced at this kind of passaging.  Knowing that the boat is sound helps.  The fact that I am rebuilding some leg muscles after years of sitting also helps.  The rest is using handholds and making sure that every movement is deliberate. Oh yes, and a little faith goes a long way.  We eventually arrived at Beaver Island, tied off and were done for the day.

Beaver Island has an interesting history and lots of recreational opportunities.  We’ve found, however, that sometimes we simply need to veg. So that’s what we did.  Part of this lifestyle is balancing the desire to explore new places with the understanding that this boat is currently our home and not every opportunity that presents itself needs to be explored.  So after a quiet day aboard, we got up very early the next morning and started the 30-mile passage back across the Lake to Harbor Springs in Little Traverse Bay.  Given our last crossing, we thought it best to take advantage of the early morning weather window.  

What followed was one of our favorite “big water” cruises so far.  It was relatively calm, and we were completely alone, except for the sun which favored us with a performance prepared just for us, at least we thought so. 

Georgian Bay, ON - Britt to Thessalon

This post was edited on August 13, 2018, to take advantage of the stronger cellular service and upgrade the photos.

On Thursday we reached the northernmost point in our journey – Thessalon, Ontario, Latitude 46°15'250"N.  Assuming the US would have us back, we planned to clear Customs and enter Michigan on Friday.  Sadly, what this meant was that I had to give up my cockpit garden which we’ve had on board since shortly after entering Canada.  Plants are not allowed through Customs, so I gave over custody to a fellow boater who was pleased to add some lavender to her vessel.  I’ll be starting a new garden in Michigan.

Lavender and geraniums - just enough for a touch of home

Lavender and geraniums - just enough for a touch of home

In my last post we were just leaving Byng Inlet and making the transition from the South Channel of Georgian Bay to the North Channel, another milestone.  The chart below is from one of our trusted cruising guides and provides great context for our Georgian Bay travels.

"Charts and Locations on Georgian Bay" from the  PORTS Crusing Guide for Georgian Bay, The North Channel & Lake Huron , used with the permission of Star Metroland Media

"Charts and Locations on Georgian Bay" from the PORTS Crusing Guide for Georgian Bay, The North Channel & Lake Huron, used with the permission of Star Metroland Media

When leaving Byng Inlet we had to go "outside" to avoid the Parry 33 restricted fire zone (which we've learned has just been reopened - great news).  Fortunately, it was a calm day.  Our course took us out into Georgian Bay to a waypoint a few miles offshore, at which point we ran outside for a little over 30 miles and then headed back inland to resume our passage through the small craft channel. 

The move from the South to the North Channel was accompanied by an almost immediate change in the landscape.  We reentered at Beaverstone Bay where the granite gets bigger and the channel walls get higher.  Shortly after reaching Beaverstone we were treated to a lovely passage through Collins Inlet, an 11-mile narrow channel through solid granite.  

When we entered the inlet, time slowed down for a bit.  It’s well protected so there’s little wind, the water is calm and the narrowness of the channel meant that we could hear birdsong on either bank above the sound of our engine.  I continued to look for bears and other signs of wildlife to little avail.  Although, we did see signs of the area’s most obvious occupants.  

Streaming reruns of Leave it to Beaver, perhaps ...?

Streaming reruns of Leave it to Beaver, perhaps ...?

We spent that night at the Sportsman’s Inn Marina in the port of Killarney which we enjoyed very much.  Killarney is considered the gateway to the North Channel and is a popular port.  The harbor is a channel between two islands, and the Sportsman’s Inn has slips on both sides of the channel.  We were on the far side, a great vantage point for the abundant people-watching opportunities.  Killarney also proved to be a good place to provision before heading into the more remote areas in the north and, as it turns out, a great place to hold over in a pub during a serious thunderstorm with significant winds. By the way, my lines held fast …

We used Killarney as a jumping off point for a couple of wonderful anchorages.  First, we took a cruise into Baie Fine, a narrow bay surrounded by white quartz mountains that is often referred to as a fjord.  The bay ends in "The Pool," sort of a cul-de-sac for boaters just over 10 miles in from the mouth of the bay.  The Pool is a unique and very popular anchorage, but with a very weedy bottom.  After a couple of anchoring attempts, we conceded to the weeds and instead chose an isolated anchorage nearby.  We spent our time enjoying the scenery, reading, swimming, though we were reminded during the night of the importance of a leeward anchorage.  We had anchored at the somewhat unprotected eastern edge of the fjord, and the southwest wind started building after dark.  For once, the Captain somehow slept during the night so I placed myself on informal watch, waking frequently to make sure our anchor was holding as the wind rattled the pilot house doors and tested our anchoring skills.  In the morning, we were where we were supposed to be and everything was calm.

Entry to Baie Fine, looking east

Entry to Baie Fine, looking east

Our anchorage

Our anchorage

Looking west to the mouth of the bay at sunset

Looking west to the mouth of the bay at sunset

In Killarney we also met a cool couple on Gratitude (great name for a boat) who imparted more local knowledge including detailed waypoints to an anchorage in McGregor Bay.  Now, McGregor Bay had previously been described to us quite emphatically as a “flipping minefield” (but he didn't say flipping).  

This chart tells the story - we are the little red boat in the middle on the left; the yellow dots are the waypoints; the rest is granite and water ... mostly granite

This chart tells the story - we are the little red boat in the middle on the left; the yellow dots are the waypoints; the rest is granite and water ... mostly granite

Gratitude’s captain had some connection to a guy who captained a yacht for a famous comedian who liked to vacation in Georgian Bay.  This other captain had explored rocky McGregor Bay by dinghy and charted a course to a very private and protected anchorage that would accommodate a 60’ foot yacht.  We liked and trusted the folks on Gratitude and decided to follow the waypoints, a bit of a leap of faith.  What followed was an obstacle course through rock islands, some visible and some just under the surface, to an unpopulated, isolated and beautiful cove.  It was time to gunkhole.  We dropped our anchor, launched our dinghy and took a look around.  What a beautiful and private spot.  Once again our journey was enhanced by a dose of local knowledge. 

That brings me to the topic of anchoring in general.  Throughout our journey we have been gaining confidence in our boating knowledge and skills, but we still have much to learn.  Anchoring has been an interesting challenge.  It's not only a way to connect more closely to our surroundings, it’s an important skill set in the event there are no marina slips available.  As the summer progresses and boaters think about late season recreation or trips south before the cold sets in, marina slips can get harder to find.  

The irony of anchoring is that while being on the hook provides the ultimate vehicle for peace and relaxation, the act of anchoring itself can cause high levels of stress, at least for the Captain and me.  You first have to find a location with protection from the prevailing winds.  Undoubtedly, several other boats have already found it so you then need to decide whether to try to squeeze in or find another spot.  You then have to make sure you find an anchorage with good holding.  Mud, good.  Weeds and rock, bad.  It then becomes a question of depth and swing - how much anchor chain to lay out, how much room is there to swing to avoid hitting rock or nearby boats.  If the anchor doesn't set the first time, it needs to be hauled and cleaned (in The Pool I spent ten minutes using my boat hook to remove 30 pounds of weeds from the anchor, twice).  And finally, there is often an audience and yes, some ego is involved.  

Our audience at the Fox Island anchorage was "Rock Monster" who watched our efforts with some amusement

Our audience at the Fox Island anchorage was "Rock Monster" who watched our efforts with some amusement

But we've stayed with it, and our skills (and communication) have improved.  The rewards come in the form of sunsets and sunrises.

Georgian Bay, ON – Beausoleil Island to Britt

Georgian Bay is incredibly beautiful and in our experience, unique.  I know I can’t do it justice in words or pictures, but I’ll do my best starting with this slideshow...  

This is truly the land of “30,000 islands” but also the land of big water.  Most cruisers like us tend to stay in the small craft channel as much as possible as it ensures both beautiful scenery and protection from the weather.  The channel is very well marked (thank you, Canadian Coast Guard) and meanders through the thousands of islands comprising the coastline of the bay.  Some islands are large, others are tiny; many are lush and green, others are rocky with a few scrappy pines; most have one or more cottages tucked into the green space or perched on bare rock.  All are mostly granite.

Cottagers who own property here have found a way to make the most of the landscape and surrounding water by building elaborate dock systems, boat houses, decks, swim platforms and, in some cases, clusters of cottages that clearly accommodate extended family with places to spend time together as well as apart.  But the way they’ve done so makes it feel as if they’re a natural part of the landscape.  

It’s common to see kids cruising the waterways in small boats the way kids on dry land ride their bikes in their own neighborhoods.  Living or vacationing here is definitely a way of life, and we feel privileged to share it for a moment or two.  Winter must be a bear, however (no, we haven't seen any actual bears yet ...).

So far our experience of Georgian Bay has been very different from our journey leading here. The Rideau and Trent waterways, all generally leading in one direction, have been replaced with open-ended opportunities that are best explored with some good planning balanced by a flexible spirit.  We’ve always been good at planning.  It’s the flexible part we’re still working on.

Our first challenge arose during our night at anchor off Beausoleil Island.  The Captain noticed a significant dip in our battery capacity, something that could create real problems if not addressed.  Due to the complexity of our boat, our power needs are quite high.  We generate power when the engine is running (while cruising), when we run the generator (which generates some diesel fumes and noise) and through solar generation.  All of that energy gets stored in a huge battery bank and converted as needed to meet the power demands of the boat.  If it can’t be stored properly, we are dead in the water – pun sort of intended. We decided to cruise to our next anchorage, Sandy Bay off Hope Island, and monitor the batteries a second night.

Sandy Bay did not disappoint.  The name says it all. The water there is so clean and clear, you can see the bottom 20+ feet down.  We enjoyed a wonderful late day swim, and the Captain took advantage of the clear water to inspect parts of the boat that are usually hidden underwater. 

This is really what the water looks like!

This is really what the water looks like!

The batteries did disappoint, however.  So we modified our plans and returned to Queen’s Cove marina for a couple of nights.  We ran some tests, made some adjustments, crossed our fingers and resumed our trip.

We next cruised to an anchorage in Port Rawson Bay by way of Henry’s Fish Restaurant.  Henry’s, located on Fryingpan Island, has achieved some level of fame for its Great Lakes fish dinners and is generally considered a stop not to be missed. While we enjoyed the stop, it felt more touristy than we’d expected.

On the other hand, Port Rawson Bay blew us away.  It was there that we unwittingly gunkholed for the first time.  Now, let me explain.  According to Wikipedia, “gunkholing” is a boating term that describes cruising in shallow water, meandering from place to place and spending nights in coves.  And that’s what we did.  We followed a narrow channel and found the perfect, most beautiful secluded cove to tuck into and drop our anchor.   We did our meandering by dinghy.

Sprout II

Sprout II

While at anchor the silence was broken only by a few bullfrongs (of course), a curious hummingbird who was persistent in his attempts to check out the potted geraniums I have growing in the cockpit and a monster dragonfly who scared me half to death when he landed on our boat to devour his equally monstrous prey. 

For scale, the fastener part at the lower left is almost as large as a quarter.  The good news is, these monsters eat horseflies and deer flies, both of whom like to prey on humans.

For scale, the fastener part at the lower left is almost as large as a quarter.  The good news is, these monsters eat horseflies and deer flies, both of whom like to prey on humans.

During the afternoon we took our new dinghy on its maiden voyage and explored various nooks and crannies created by the many islands around us.  There are so many places to get lost that we planned ahead and loaded a navigational app on an iPhone that we made sure was charged so we could leave ourselves a trail of breadcrumbs and find our way back to our home on the water. It’s really helpful to travel with an Eagle Scout…

The following video's a little long, but it was too fun not to include.

In one of those nooks we encountered a family of loons – Mom, Dad and Baby.  I’ve always been enamored with loons, so we shut down our motor to observe for a few moments and were able to capture an up close and personal video of a loon’s call.  I am truly ashamed to say that it wasn’t until the end of the video that I realized we had gotten too close to their territory and Dad, who was a very large and healthy loon with menacing red eyes, was making it known that we needed to leave … immediately.  I pride myself on my deep respect for wildlife and felt a little guilty to have intruded as we did.  Nevertheless, it was a really neat experience and a rare opportunity to observe loon behavior.  Dad very effectively separated us from Mom and Baby and cleared us out of their territory.  

From there we’ve continued to tie up in some locations and anchor in others, keeping our eyes on the batteries.  We tied to the city wall for a night at Parry Sound (which we didn’t love), gunkholed off Black Bass Island near Hopewell Bay (which we enjoyed quite a bit) and spent the last two nights docked at Wright’s Marina in Byng Inlet.  The pictures below were taken during a dinghy ride through "The Hole in the Wall" near our Black Bass anchorage.

This morning we set off bright and early on the next leg of our trip.  We are flexing once again, as there are many forest fires raging in Ontario due to the hot and dry weather, including a huge fire just northwest of us, the direction we’re headed. The local authorities have restricted travel across a large area. The map below shows the restricted area resulting from the “Parry 33” fire.  You can see our most recent location, Byng Inlet, near the bottom right hand corner of the map.  We are traveling this morning across the “big water,” and I’ve included a video that shows the huge wall of smoke off our starboard side.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 12.58.35 PM.png

We’ll continue to flex as we go. And we’ll join the locals who are collectively holding their breath and praying for rain.

Trent-Severn Waterway - Talbot Lock Wall to Georgian Bay - Beausoleil Island

We made it to Georgian Bay!  As I write this, the Captain and I are at anchor, sitting in the covered cockpit enjoying a full-blown summer rainstorm.  This is only the third day without sun we’ve had since leaving Vermont, and it’s a welcome change.  We are totally surrounded by raindrops pounding on the surface of the bay while the wind gently swings us back and forth. 

We completed the Trent-Severn Waterway on Saturday and spent the last three days at Queen’s Cove Marina in Midland, Ontario.  We had some work to do – oil change, alternator belt change (unexpected), cleaning, provisioning, etc.  Now that we are out of the canals and rivers for the next month or two, we also needed to raise our mast.  We enlisted the help of two strong young marina employees, and the mast came up much more quickly than it went down when the just two of us lowered it before entering the Ottawa River.

At Queen's Cove Marina with the mast up

At Queen's Cove Marina with the mast up

For the next three or four weeks we will be exploring Georgian Bay’s “thirty thousand islands” which extend over a hundred miles and are part of the Canadian Shield. 

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/georg/decouvrir-discovers/natcul1

We are anchored near Finger Point, a good example of the geology of this area

We are anchored near Finger Point, a good example of the geology of this area

We’ll be spending more time at anchor in the coming weeks, which will get us closer to the natural environment we’ve come to experience and provide more opportunities for swimming.  With the mast up, we can now access our dinghy again and expect to use it to explore places too narrow or too shallow for Stout.  We’ve been told to expect encounters (distant, I hope) with bears, moose, deer, otters, osprey, maybe an eagle or two, a wide variety of fish, snapping turtles and snakes, including some that swim.  Yes, I said swimming snakes.  They aren’t venomous, but I can’t think of anything much worse than a swimming snake.  I’m going to face my fears and swim anyway, though you can bet I’ll be swimming with my eyes WIDE open.  And the Captain will be getting in the water first …

This part of our journey will take us along the small-craft route, and in addition to enjoying the scenery, we’ll be focused on avoiding contact with submerged granite.  There’s a lot of it around here.  There’s also a lot of local knowledge and a willingness to share it.  Last night at Queen's Cove Marina we spent over an hour and a half with Robin reviewing and highlighting our charts.  Robin runs the marina and is an incredible resource to any boater wishing to explore Georgian Bay.  She is not only generous with her time and knowledge, but she created an itinerary for us and even loaned us her car for a quick provisioning trip that included pizza(!) for dinner.  We haven’t had pizza since moving aboard.    

Thanks again, Robin!

Thanks again, Robin!

But before I fully shift my attention to Georgian Bay, I need to share a few more highlights of the Trent-Severn Waterway.   After writing my last blog post, we spent a couple of days at the Port of Orillia.  This is a really nice city marina and a good stop for us.  The facilities are great, including immaculate, well-appointed washrooms (private bathrooms with showers) and new washer/dryers available for use at no cost.  Both have become real luxuries.  Also, if you stay two nights, the third is free, which is a bonus because the rates are already very reasonable.  Orillia is a pleasant little town with just the right offering of restaurants, bakeries (which I avoided) and shops (which I did not).

From Orillia we cruised through two more lakes – Couchiching and Sparrow, both beautiful – and our final locks at least for a while.  Lock 43, Swift Rapids, is the deepest single chambered lock on the TSW (47-foot drop) and you find yourself in quite a chamber when you lock down and all the water empties out. 

And then there’s the Big Chute Marine Railway.  What a hoot!  When these canals were being built in the early 1900s, they had to do a lot of blasting in some areas.  When constructing the Big Chute, it’s as if they encountered a huge chunk of granite and decided enough was enough, they’d just go over it.  And they did and still do!

We got to the blue line (the waiting area for locks) early on a Saturday morning expecting it to be busy on the weekend.  There was one other boat in front of us, Hoolegan, a looper boat with whom we’d already shared some locks.  Their boat is about the same size as ours, and we were told initially that we would have to lock through separately.  But a last-minute change in instructions directed us to the rear position on the railway, with Hoolegan in front.

Here’s what happens at the Chute.  You cruise into the “chamber,” and while you are doing so, they (the wonderful Parks Canada people) are lining up giant slings that will hold your boat when the water is drained.  The slings are attached on each side to a frame that moves on rail wheels along a track.  Once you are positioned, the slings slowly lift you up and the water drains.  You then ride the rails from one side of the road, up and over it and then down a steep bank on the other side of the road and back into the water.  I’m including a couple of videos, of course, and if you’re not curious, skip them.  But if you have any degree of engineering, railway or boating nerd in your bones, I suggest you take a look.  I have to admit to some initial trepidation.  But it was easy, especially with the great instructions we received, and will definitely go down in our books as a cool and unusual experience.

After the Chute, we had one final lock to get through and then out into Georgian Bay.  In just 5 weeks of cruising, we've passed through a total of 103 locks.  Enough blogging about locks, right?!  We’re ready for some open water.

Well, the rain has now stopped, the sky is clearing, the Captain is trying his hand at fishing and I’ve just poured myself a glass of wine.  Time to return to the moment and appreciate where we are.

The Chair of the local welcoming committee

The Chair of the local welcoming committee

Trent-Severn Waterway - Hastings Lock Wall to Talbot Lock Wall

The air changed yesterday – finally (!) – as did our Trent experience.  Funny how things happen sometimes. 

This morning we temporarily left the canals and rivers for the largest body of water on the Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW), Lake Simcoe, with a 15- to 20-knot wind hitting our bow. And Stout was at her best.  This is what she was designed to do.

Wind and waves!!

Wind and waves!!

Tight canals and locks that require us to constantly start and stop our engine are hard on a lumbering old girl like Stout, but she’s performed well despite a few moments of protest, such as disobeying Captain's orders and refusing to shut down her engine in a lock and spitting a little oil out with the engine exhaust water from time to time.  In the former situation, they let us lock through anyway.  In the latter, we are hoping it is not a precursor to a larger problem, but the Captain has made sure we have a new part if we need it.

Since we started this journey a month ago, the air has been hot, thick and unmoving almost every day.  Then the night before last we were tied to the wall at Talbot lock and sat together in the covered cockpit as a blessed string of thunderstorms chased away the old air and made a fresh deposit of lighter, cooler air.

We were happy enough with that but then crossed Lake Simcoe the following morning with the sun at our backs, a strong cool wind in our faces and the opportunity to open ourselves up a bit just like the waterway.

Since my last blog post we made our way from the lock wall at Hastings to the lock wall at Talbot, stopping in between at Peterborough Marina, Islandview Marina near Young’s Point and the lock wall at Fenelon Falls.  Our decisions to tie up were made based on several factors.  

First, A/C.  The heat and humidity have persisted, so we’ve searched for inexpensive locations with power, which are more rare on the TSW than in the Rideau Canal unless you’re in a marina which increases the cost.

The second is availability.  During this period we hit a very busy section of the Trent – heavily populated with locks, recreational areas and lots of other loopers – right at the start of a very busy summer weekend.  This means that lock walls filled up quickly, especially those with power, and marinas filled up as well.  We just happened to get lucky at Peterborough and Islandview and took advantage of the services offered there.  

The third is all of the recreational boating.  Many local day boats, jet skis and houseboats traverse the lakes and rivers - often at the highest speed possible - and congregate around the locks in this section of the TSW, sometimes prompting a change in plans.  So rather than start the day with a destination in mind, we’ve adopted more of a wait and see attitude.  This is great except that when you've been running for a full day, are fatigued and options are limited (and its still almost 100 degrees!!), finding a place to stay for the night can be somewhat challenging.  We were quite fortunate.  In the words of a fellow looper, "you guys always make out!"

A few highlights:

In Hastings we not only found power but were tied up right next to a local pub with A/C where we enjoyed a couple of cold beers and watched the World Cup playoffs with several locals (who were not pleased by England’s loss).  One of those locals was Don McMillan (“Mick”) who has lived in Hastings all of his life and went out of his way to share some of its history with us.

Cheers, Mick!

Cheers, Mick!

This is Mick in 1980, the year his team won the Hastings International Fastball Tournament

This is Mick in 1980, the year his team won the Hastings International Fastball Tournament

The highlight of Peterborough, of course, aside from getting to know some other loopers, was the Peterborough Lift Lock.  We walked from the marina to the lock on Saturday to take a look around and understand the locking experience before entering on the boat.  Built at the turn of the century shortly after the introduction of cement into civil engineering, this Lift Lock was the tallest unreinforced cement structure of its time.  And it still operates as it always has.  I’ve provided some pictures and videos, including some that another looper took and sent to us, as well as a couple of links explaining how this lock works.  It’s ingenious, really.  Also included are pictures of the Kirkfield Lift Lock that we passed through a few days later and a link to some background information.  The same idea but different materials (steel versus cement) and a very different experience.  I think we felt more secure with the cement option.

 

https://www.mykawartha.com/community-static/4950767-2-the-peterborough-lift-lock/

http://historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=ontario/kirkfieldliftlock/

The Islandview Marina was a real surprise.  This is the first family-run marina and campground we’ve experienced, and the owner very kindly allowed us to tie up overnight at his gas dock after business hours.  Tucked into a protected little cove, the marina’s gas dock is right in front of a small family run restaurant, Patio 27.   We were hungry from a full day of locking and enjoyed a great meal on the shady deck as well as good conversation with others around us, including boaters we’d met earlier in the day and the restaurant owner and his lovely daughter who was working as a server for the summer.

The marina/campground owner, Keith, is the real deal.  He works hard at several jobs, including operating Islandview, and is proud of the family he’s raising and the business he’s built.  He also welcomes new guests promising to treat them like family.  And he does.  The night we stayed there the Captain spent the evening around the picnic table with Keith and his friends comparing life in Canada to life in the US, among other things.  Meanwhile, I relaxed in the cockpit and read my book while watching Keith’s kids and their friends play in a huge sand pile, swim and jump off the dock for hours. There were no smart phones or video games to be found.  Just kids doing what kids do when they have long summer evenings and the right environment.  We’ve had a lot of great experiences on the journey so far, but this was a brief moment to inhabit.

Boy gleefully in flight off the dock - it's a little hard to see but I didn't want to intrude by getting any closer

Boy gleefully in flight off the dock - it's a little hard to see but I didn't want to intrude by getting any closer

We left Islandview early in the morning so Keith could get his gas dock going.  This is the view we woke to.

Imagine this with a little more morning light, birdsong, no other sound and a hot mug of coffee in your hands

Imagine this with a little more morning light, birdsong, no other sound and a hot mug of coffee in your hands

We left Keith's little piece of heaven and quickly entered Stony Lake.  We've been told several times that Stony Lake gets its name for a reason, and it does.  Stony = granite.  We found it to be one of the most breathtaking parts of the TSW, though pictures can't do it justice.

The Captain found himself navigating around islands of granite, large and small, because they certainly weren't going to move for him.  An important navigational marker is Hell's Gate, so named because this is the only channel through which a boat like ours can pass through the lake.  It's very very narrow and lined with unforgiving granite which without the proper instruments is hidden from sight.  The Captain carefully found our way through, dropping a few beads of sweat in the process, and not from the heat.  Here are a few pictures of what it looks like on the surface and of our chart and depth sounder which tell the real story of what's happening below.

We are long past Stony Lake and now find ourselves at the top of Lake Simcoe getting closer to Georgian Bay.  The map pictured below hangs on the wall at the Peterborough Lift Lock Visitor’s Center.  It’s a great illustration of where we’ve been and have yet to go on this leg of our journey. 

The circle shows where we started, the arrow shows where we are and the star marks Georgian Bay

The circle shows where we started, the arrow shows where we are and the star marks Georgian Bay

 

 

Trent-Severn Waterway: Trenton, ON, to Hastings, ON

Our initial experience in the Trent-Severn Waterway has been somewhat mixed.  Admittedly, we entered this system with very high expectations based on the many conversations we’ve had and the research we’ve done.

In Trenton after three weeks “off the hook,” we were still managing our time much as we did while managing our careers.  So on the day we entered the Trent we made sure we were up and ready and on the blue line at Lock 1 well before it opened at 0900.  We waited for a very quiet hour and a half and then locked through with a couple from Texas, starting the day “right on schedule” but without an actual end point in mind.

At the top of Lock 1

At the top of Lock 1

The locks are pretty close together near Trenton, and we were busy for the first few hours that morning.  The Texas couple stopped at Lock 6.  We passed through 5 more locks after that and cruised by ourselves for much of the afternoon.

The terrain surrounding the lower part of the Trent River and Canal is quite flat, and the view consists of modest cottages and campgrounds and long stretches of marsh grass and reeds.  The deep greens we had seen in the lakes section of the Rideau were replaced with more muted colors.  As the day wore on and the distance between the locks increased, we had more time to enjoy the wilderness.  We started getting into a Trent state of mind and appreciated the simple beauty of the river banks as the human population dwindled. 

At one point that afternoon I moved to the bow to take a few pictures and noticed a group of four motorboats coming up behind us at a much higher speed than ours.  For context, the channels, marked by red and green buoys, are often narrow passages that have been dredged for the transit of pleasure boats and are surrounded by shallow water, reedy banks or rocky ledges.  If a boat like ours is going slow (actually, we were going the speed limit for that stretch of water) and another boat is behind it, there’s not much passing room.  But there are protocols for this kind of thing, like a slow pass with no wake or radio/horn signaling to get everyone on the same page.

Without any signaling, the first boat - an express cruiser - passed us at a speed that had them “ploughing,” which in most instances creates a big wake that can’t be escaped without room to move.  If we know it’s coming and have time to react, we can deal with a big wake by turning into it and taking it at the bow.  Otherwise, if we take it midship, we rock.  A lot.  That’s the way our hull is designed and why Kadey Krogens can cross oceans.  But we weren’t in an ocean or prepped for ocean passaging.  We were in a very small channel with nowhere to go, so we rocked at least 30 degrees in both directions and listened as our interior house was tossed loose.  We were fortunate in that nothing was damaged, and the cool headedness and skill of the Captain kept us in the channel.  Nevertheless, we were rattled by the discourtesy or ignorance, perhaps both.

Looked something like this, only there were two of these in rapid succession

Looked something like this, only there were two of these in rapid succession

We cruised for a little while trying to let it go but couldn’t get past what seemed like such an overt act.  So the Captain called the lock master at the next lock to report the incident and ask that a little safe-boating education be offered since we knew they would reach the lock before us.  That was probably why they passed us.

Wakes are not only an issue for other boaters, but also for shoreline homes and cottages as well as the shorelines themselves.  There are valuable wetlands in this area.  Those using the system are expected to practice common sense and courtesy at all times, and the waterways are full of No Wake signs and buoys.

One of many pleas along the system

One of many pleas along the system

The result of our call was an apology from one of the boats in the entourage, not the cruiser (the driver of that boat and his companion instead turned their backs on us as we later passed by) and an offer for us to lock through ahead of them. This offer would add at least 45 minutes to their day trip and was not something we expected.  We graciously accepted the apology and the offer to lock through but then spent a little time discussing whether to feel vindicated or like the kids who told on the school bully.  In any event we left it behind us and took the recommendation of the Parks Canada folks to tie up in Campbellford.  Our new friends later tied up in Campbellford as well.  Awkward … 

Campbellford is a small Ontario town where we secured a cheap mooring and met some really cool people. On tying up we met two “Loopers” traveling together, each on their own boats.  Mike is from Stowe, Vermont, believe it or not, and is very close to completing the loop on his own.  George is a very warm guy from Alabama who’s doing the loop with his wife. They’ve been at this longer than we have and recognized the symptoms of early looping.  George gently suggested that we rid ourselves of the self-imposed timetable and learn to spend some time enjoying the stops along the way. We took George’s advice to heart and spent a second night in Campbellford.  And because we did so, we met Rudy and Kay (I’m not even going to attempt to spell her real Dutch name) and enjoyed a delightful afternoon in the park sharing stories and a cocktail.  We got a great night’s sleep and thought about staying for a third night, which would have been free.

https://www.visittrenthills.ca/campbellford/

Wednesday morning we decided to keep going.  Because we are committed to following George’s advice and took our time, we got to Lock 13 behind two other boats.  There was no room for us to tie up on the blue line while waiting for the doors to open, so we circled for a while and were the third boat in line when the doors opened.  Being in the rear position in a lock means you are relying on the boats ahead of you to be tied as far forward as possible and secured in position before you can grab the cables and position yourself.  Our situation was complicated by the fact that our mast and antennae are still down, adding another 5 feet of length to our stern.  After 60+ locks we were pretty experienced at positioning ourselves within the chamber, but being the last boat in the three-boat passage provided new challenges, including a scolding from a very bureaucratic (the first of this kind we’ve encountered in Canada) lock master whom we later learned seemed to be yelling at everyone.  Because of her decision to squeeze us in no matter what, we were destined to lock through with these other two boats until they left us behind in Seymour Lake where we were happy for our slow speed and the leisure to enjoy yet another beautiful body of water.

Seymour Lake (yes Mom, Seymour Lake!) is dotted with islands, some cottages and tiny meandering channels.  There are also more conifers which means the greens are greener.  There is something about entering an area like this that resembles taking a huge, clean breath of air.  And breathe it in, we did.  We returned to the Trent state of mind all the way to Hastings where we tied up for the next night.

The old water tower and chimney let you know that you have reached Hastings

The old water tower and chimney let you know that you have reached Hastings

The canal right before the lock at Hastings - love these bungalows

The canal right before the lock at Hastings - love these bungalows

As I believe I've said before in this blog, our lives before the loop had become too comfortable and one of the goals of this journey was to make ourselves uncomfortable. We got a little of that in this leg of the journey, though it does not diminish the beauty around us.

Kingston, ON, St. Lawrence River, to Trenton, ON, the Southern Entrance to the Trent-Severn Waterway

This morning we entered the Trent-Severn Waterway and are waiting on the "blue line" to start the first of 44 locks we will pass through over the next week or two.  We have been talking about this trip for months, years really.  Using Wikipedia's description, "The Trent–Severn Waterway is a 386 kilometres (240 mi)-long canal route connecting Lake Ontario at Trenton to Georgian Bay at Port Severn.  Its major natural waterways include the Trent River, Otonabee River, the Kawartha Lakes, Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching and the Severn River. Its scenic, meandering route has been called "one of the finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world".  [cited to"Trent-Severn National Historic Site", Parks Canada]

Most of the locks in the Trent are like those we've already done, but there are a couple of engineering marvels, most notably Peterborough Lift Lock and the Big Chute Railway.  I've included a link in case you're interested in seeing what I mean.  And of course, I will share our personal experience in future blogs.

https://www.trentsevern.com/index.php/waterway-index/locks-index/lock-index

On our way to Trenton, the starting point for the next leg of our journey, we spent a couple of days in Kingston at the Confederation Basin Marina and took advantage of our time there to take care of routine duties - marine supplies, laundry, etc.  Our visit to the marine supply store required a car rental, and after a bit of finagling, Enterprise Leasing gave us a great deal on a tiny car.  We were glad to have it but not just for errands.  The heat and humidity returned with a vengeance, so we spent a good part of the second day just driving around with the air conditioning on - really. 

Our little lifesaver

Our little lifesaver

We had planned to do some touring while in Kingston, as there are several historic points of interest, including the Penitentiary Museum (which is supposed to be fascinating) and Fort Henry, a restored 19th century military fort/museum that was quite close to the marina.  But other than our popsicle tour in the little blue car, we were content to enjoy time on the boat in view of the marina's own historic offering - the Shoal Tower.  I even got well into my second novel, something I've been too busy to do on this trip so far - really.

The Shoal Tower is one of four Martello towers built in Kingston as part of Britain's defense of colonial Canada in the 19th century and is a designated national historic site of Canada (thanks again, Wikipedia).

On Saturday we headed west.  I lied (unintentionally) in my previous post when I said we were headed into Lake Ontario.  Our westward cruise took us along the very northern edge of the Lake which I guess is still, technically, the St. Lawrence River.  We caught a few glimpses of the Lake and felt some swells, but that was the extent of our Great Lake experience at this point in our adventure.

We were held up briefly by a parade of kayaks and some swimmers crossing a large section of the river ...

We were held up briefly by a parade of kayaks and some swimmers crossing a large section of the river ...

That small dot in the upper right is actually a huge freighter headed out to sea, um, I mean into Lake Ontario.

That small dot in the upper right is actually a huge freighter headed out to sea, um, I mean into Lake Ontario.

We found what looked to be a nice anchorage halfway between Kingston and Trenton and decided to spend the night on the hook.  One of the things we've learned about the canals, rivers and lakes up here is that they are all very weedy, some more than others.  That was definitely the case in Wilton Bay,  The first time we dropped the anchor we knew it hadn't taken hold so we had to raise it to try a second time.  It looked like we had uprooted an actual Christmas tree from the bottom of the bay.  That explained it.

Our second attempt was successful, as we took strong hold in the muddy bottom (probably the one muddy spot left behind by the weeds we pulled up).  There in the bay we were protected from the strong southwest wind we'd been playing with all afternoon, and it was flat calm except for a little rocking and swaying.  We relaxed, enjoyed the quiet and watched the swans march their cygnets off to bed as the sun went down. 

I love the way this boat moves at anchor.  It literally rocked us to sleep.

Yesterday, Sunday, we hoisted anchor early in the morning - requiring another intense weed-thinning workout - and continued our way west.  We spent the night at the Trent Port Marina which is conveniently situated directly at the southern end of the Trent-Severn Waterway. 

We are ready to return to the smaller waterways and expect to reach Georgian Bay, and another milestone, in a week or two.

 

Smiths Falls, ON, Rideau Canal to Kingston, ON, St. Lawrence River

We made it to Kingston on the 4th of July, marking our completion of the Rideau Canal and reaching one of our first milestones.  We left the Rideau and reentered the St. Lawrence River when we passed under the lift bridge on the LaSalle Causeway at 1300.  We plan to stay in Kingston for a few days and then head west into Lake Ontario, our first great lake. 

Lift bridge at Kingston - opens on the hour

Lift bridge at Kingston - opens on the hour

By our count we've passed through 56 locks since leaving Rouses Point, NY, just over two weeks ago - has it really only been that long?  The locks themselves are not difficult, and we've developed a system that works very well for us and the boat.  However, this extreme heat has definitely added a level of difficulty.  We know we've been dehydrated despite our efforts to drink water throughout the day, and it caught up with us on Wednesday as we slogged through our last several locks like a couple of sedated sloths.  The lift bridge truly was a sight for sore eyes.  We tied off at the Confederation Basin Marina and each promptly took a nap, one of two that afternoon.

On Monday, two days earlier, we left Smiths Falls early in the morning and began moving into the Rideau Lakes region.  The weather was hot with a light (hot) breeze.  I needed to get some laundry done, and due to the competing power demands of our various on-board appliances, with A/C taking priority, I was able to get the wash done but the dryer was not an option.  So, I improvised.  Due to the humidex (as we've heard it referred to here on many occasions), the clothes only became less damp.  I snuck in a drying cycle eventually.

Plan B

Plan B

When moving North to South, as we have, you pass through Lower Rideau Lake first and then Upper Rideau.  In between and around the lakes there are also many narrow channels, particularly when getting closer to a lock.   http://www.twprideaulakes.on.ca/tourism-phototours.html  This is "cottage" country, and boy are there some beautiful cottages.  The lakes are dotted by many islands, large and small, and there's a huge amount of green space despite the number of cottages.  It's a truly beautiful place; another right on our doorstep that we never knew existed.   

On Monday night we moored at Newboro Lock.  Newboro is the second smallest incorporated community in Ontario and the unlikely home of a unique and rather high-end store we'd been told to visit - Kilborn's on the Rideau.  Even though there is nothing we want or need, we thought it might be fun to browse.  The store is lovely with products ranging from kitchen wares to designer clothing to furniture.  We walked a mile or so to reach it from the lock, just long enough to render the showers we had just taken obsolete.  Our appearance by the time we got there seemed to create enough concern for the rather snooty shopkeeper that we had a tail while there - a cute little shopgirl who had probably been charged with making sure we didn't steal anything.  In the words of my good friend Blackie, that's boat life.

The highlight of the Newboro stay ultimately came from a very unexpected place.  When we first tied up, Dave noticed a turtle in the water near the boat.  She was still there after our trip to town.  As I watched her, I noticed that she was trying to find a way to get up on the dock despite the fact that it was too high for her.  Thinking she might be looking for food, I tossed her a couple of small pieces of lettuce (I know I shouldn't have), but she wasn't interested.  It wasn't until a while later that I noticed someone from another boat looking at something on the hill above the lock wall.  It turns out that this little mother turtle had some eggs to lay, and she dug holes and deposited her eggs for hours.  I've never seen anything like it and was thrilled to be a spectator.  I've included a photo carousel (click to view the next photo) and a video.  Please forgive the video quality - I was making sure not to step in any of the many holes she dug.

On Tuesday we continued through the central lakes region.  We stopped for lunch at the Opinicon at Chaffeys Lock in Elgin, Ontario.  This was another piece of local knowledge that was shared and encouraged.  Lunch did not disappoint!

The Opinicon

The Opinicon

Emy and Lucas - this is for you.  Tuna poke!

Emy and Lucas - this is for you.  Tuna poke!

Oh, why not...

Oh, why not...

That day we made it as far as Upper Brewers lock.  Again, the heat and humidity were slowing us down so we didn't push it.  Upper Brewers did not have the charm of the other places we stayed and was our least favorite spot on the Canal, not to mention the fact that the Captain found an oil leak requiring him to spend an hour or so in the even hotter engine room that evening.  True to form, he did the necessary despite the conditions.  We had steak on the grill at 1100 hours.  That's boat life!

Black Rapids Lock to Smiths Falls, Rideau Canal, ON

The best way to describe the past few days is too hot to lock, too hot to blog.  The heat combined with the high humidity has almost made it hard to breathe at times.  We understand that's true for everyone east of us as well.  What that meant for us is that we established a few basic daily goals: do as few locks as possible and tie up at a place with power so we could run the A/C overnight.  We also had to find a stop to refill our water tanks, re-provision and get pumped out (necessary every few days or so).  Local knowledge, which the locals we've met are always eager to share, tells us that provisioning and other services will be harder to come by between where we are now and Kingston.  Kingston is our entry into Lake Ontario and, we believe, a few days away.

The day we left Black Rapids, we made it as far as Burritts Rapids Lock before deciding to call it a day.  The heat hadn’t really come on yet, and we had a lovely time locking through with a few locals, including Nicole and Tracy who live on the Canal just below Burritts Rapids and who were heading up to Merrickville for the holiday.  Their boat is much faster than ours, so we locked through together at the Long Island Lock before they left us in their wake.  However, one lock was plenty of time for Nicole to tell us about the not-to-miss places on the Canal.  She left us saying that we would meet again on their way back home from Merrickville, and sure enough, we shared a wave and a holler when our paths crossed again the following day.

Locking with a little help from our friends

Locking with a little help from our friends

From Black Rapids to Burritts Rapids, the Captain and I went through four more locks, all of them fairly isolated and very pleasant.  Once moored at Burritts, we had the pleasure of talking with an Ontario couple who shared even more local knowledge and not-to-miss sights from there to Georgian Bay.  Their ambassador, Max, was in full agreement with the recommendations.

Very cute but apparently not very self-aware - he wears a harness so that he can be plucked from the Canal every time he falls in, which is often.

The next morning the heat and humidity really started to build, and we hoped to make it to Merrickville for Canada Day on Nicole’s recommendation.  Unfortunately, there was no mooring space left by the time we got there despite the best efforts of the lockmaster (these Parks Canada people are really great).  So we had to check the charts and regroup.  We settled on a private and beautiful spot at Kilmarnock Lock, the closest mooring with power.  The heat was oppressive, and we’d been hoping to find a place to swim.  In this part of the Canal, though, the water is very weedy and dark, dark brown.  We believe that’s due to the organic material present, and there seem to be at least two opposing schools of thought – “you can swim if you want, but …  Oh, and keep an eye out for the snapping turtles!” (most Parks Canada folks) versus “Don't pay any attention to that.  We swim everywhere – love it!” (Nicole and Tracy).

Still not convincing despite the heat.

IMG_0360.JPG

This water doesn't move very much, but damn it's hot ...

Well, just before the lock closed for the evening, a small trawler tied up in front of us and the father and son on board jumped right in without hesitation.  Thus began our debate.  If the kid’s not afraid, what the heck's the matter with us.  So, when the coast cleared we put on our suits and jumped in, too.  Needless to say, we didn’t stay in long, but we did cool down for at least 10 minutes before the sweating began again.  Pre-bed showers were mandatory that evening.

From Kilmarnock we hoped to find a mooring in Smiths Town but were told there were no powered spots available on the Parks Canada wall and the only marina I called, Victoria Park, said they were booked solid.  Even so, we tied off at the marina in the blazing sun to get pumped out.  Apparently, this marina is a campground first and marina second so when I mentioned on the phone that we were a 42-foot trawler, I think they heard trailer instead.  Indeed, their campground was full, but there was powered space available for boats.  So we paid up and tied up.

Watertower Park, Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada Day 2018!

Watertower Park, Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada Day 2018!

And that’s when we met Steve and Linda.  Steve is a man in his mid to late 70s who looks and acts like a much younger man.  He helped us with our lines and then struck up a conversation (which Linda says he does all the time).  Linda is a woman who discovered painting in retirement and is now starting to sell her work.  Well, long story short, after talking with us for 10 minutes, Steve loaned us his truck - insisted actually - so we could make a Walmart and adult beverage run.  He also insisted on helping us lug everything from his truck to our boat in the 90+ degree heat even though our provisions included six heavy gallons of water.

We then spent the afternoon celebrating Canada Day with Steve, Linda and others on the green.  They invited us for breakfast at their home the following morning and offered to come pick us up.  Because the heat has slowed down our progress considerably, we felt the need to keep moving and politely declined.  They were more than gracious.  The Captain and I decided that this is what great karma looks like.  Natural generosity and kindness yielding health and great humor in retirement.

The next leg of our journey will take us into the Rideau Lakes region.  Our eyes are now on Kingston, and we are hoping that moving from the Canal into the lakes will allow us to make some significant headway over the next day or two.

Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, to Black Rapids Lock, Rideau Canal, ON

Right now we are sitting at the top of the Black Rapids lock in the Rideau Canal.  The Canadians really know how to preserve their historic waterways and make them available for enjoyment by everyone.  Since arriving here yesterday afternoon, we’ve shared this spot with other boaters, people fishing off the wall and nearby dam, young lovers taking an evening stroll and a Muslim family who came down to pray.  I can hear traffic, so I know we are close to some hub of human activity, but it doesn’t matter here.  We are surrounded by water, lots of green space, birdsong (this will always be an important part of my boating experience) and others looking to enjoy the moment.

When I last checked in, we were still at the wall at Sainte-Anne’s and had decided to stay a second day.  It's a real gift to be able to be spontaneous.  In the morning we stepped the mast, a daunting experience.  Let me explain.  The mast on our boat rises to 24+ feet and houses many of the instruments we use in navigation, weather monitoring and communications.  When you are traversing inland waterways, it’s extremely important to understand the height restrictions imposed by fixed bridges, etc.  The Rideau Canal begins right in the center of Ottawa, so of course there are many bridges across the Canal that allow city traffic to flow.  We need to be able to pass under those bridges, which means we needed to lower our mast.

If I were a 250-pound wrestler – no problem.  But I’m not.  I’m a pretty capable, 55-year-old woman whose upper arm strength has diminished embarrassingly.  Nevertheless, the Captain has been engineering this problem in his head for weeks (months probably) and came up with a solution.  A solution that we deployed for 3 or more hours in the surprisingly hot morning sun while tied to the wall at Sainte-Anne’s, and we successfully lowered the 500+ pound mast to below 22 feet, the height of the lowest fixed bridge in the Canal.  If you wish to see the process, you can click through the following pictures.

We spent the next few days cruising the Ottawa River, and the only thing we had to worry about were wakes created by boats passing us by, which is most boats because we are the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare tale.  But that’s okay with us.  The river is beautiful, and an uneventful day is as welcome as an active one.  We spent the next two nights at marinas to do more laundry and position ourselves for an early morning lockup from the Ottawa River to the Rideau Canal.

IMG_0239.JPG

Our stay at the Chateau Montebello Marina provided an opportunity for a brisk early morning walk!

 

We tied up at the wall below Ottawa Locks 1-8 on the 28th at 0800 with the goal of locking through when the locks opened at 0900.  Our original plan was to then moor just above Lock 8 in Ottawa’s city center and stay there until the Canada Day celebrations on July 1.  But after spending an evening in the city and knowing that a serious heat wave was forecast for the next week or so, we decided to passage through Ottawa and spend more of our time in the Canal. Absolutely, the right decision.

Locks 1-8 (a much larger staircase than Chambly) are historic and deserving of appropriate respect in that you are met by Parks Canada employees who have a friendly and casual attitude about locking through, but you really need to know your boat and understand what you’re doing on the way up from the Ottawa River into the city.  We locked through with another vessel we had encountered in Chambly.  We chose and were permitted to lock through on the starboard side, which meant we needed to have our fenders properly deployed on the right side of our boat with lines ready at the bow (front of the boat) and stern (back) to wrap around the cables affixed to the wall inside the lock.  We’ve done this several times, and I’m very confident in our locking ability, but when you’re locking through in a small space with another boat, you have to have your act together.  Lock 1 was great but 2 and 3 not so great.  We got it together again at Lock 4.  From there on, it was a great arm and ab workout for a couple of middle-aged people trying to stay off the couch.

So at day's end we traversed 12 locks with many more to come in the Canal.  This part of the Canal is hard to describe.  It’s this oasis in the middle of a town or city that you might hear but don’t see, and the people who pass through here all seem to be looking for the same thing – a place to take a breath and slow down.  I've provided a couple of great links that show the rise and fall profile of the Canal and the villages and locks along the way.

http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/profile1.html

http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/map-waterway.html

We've slowed down a lot.  For the time being, we plan to take this part of our trip at a snail’s pace.  Today we might do one or two lock stations and then tie up for the day.  With the heat wave upon us, we understand we might even be able to swim.  Or, if we’re feeling the need to move on, we might cruise to the next one, village or lock, or the one after that.

 

 

 

Iles de Contrecourt, QC, to Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC

So, my previous blogs would suggest that this adventure is all birdsong and smooth sailing, but that would be glossing over the reality of what we’re doing.

One of many herons we saw

One of many herons we saw

Leaving the Contrecoeur anchorage we had a few days under our belts and the newness was starting to wear off.  We began the day with a low voltage alarm that triggered because we'd been at anchor all night, with no shore power, and I turned on the coffee pot.  When anchoring in the future, I will boil water on the stove and use a Melita filter instead – no power needed, just propane, boiled water and some ground coffee.  Lesson #1 (well, we’re probably up to at least Lesson #6 by now). 

Then we attempted to use our new deck washdown system to clean the anchor and chain before bringing them back on board.  The system had been carefully researched and tested.  However, as soon we set it up and turned it on, the wand launched off the end of the hose and quickly sank out of sight.  We tried to laugh it off – not so easy after a few days of total togetherness in a small space – and broke out the bucket and the brush.  Lesson #7 – laughter helps.

We eventually pulled ourselves together and started our passage to the next port, Old Montreal.  On the way the river again transitioned from rural to industrial, and we needed to be mindful that large, working ships aren't terribly concerned with small pleasure vessels.

The approach to Old Montreal is always tricky because not only are we moving upriver against a very strong current (the current averages between 5.5 and 6.5 knots when our average speed is around 7.5 knots), but the way the water flows around Ile Sainte-Helene creates eddies that can push your boat against the wall if you’re not careful.  The Captain is very careful.  So instead of hitting the wall, he throttled up (our speed was now down to 2 knots even with a much higher RPM) and got us safely into our next port aided by a little adrenaline.

This is what a a buoy looks like in a 6 knot current

This is what a a buoy looks like in a 6 knot current

We spent the next two nights at the Montreal Yacht Club.  Now, I realize I made an earlier reference to scarcity, but this was a bit of a splurge to give us time to pump out our holding tank, take on more water (now that we have a better understanding of how much we use), do a load of laundry and collect a care package from home with a few items we neglected to pack on departure.  The Captain’s cousin was kind enough to make a quick round trip to Montreal to deliver the package, with help from our son who collected the items we needed. 

IMG_0131.JPG

Dick's delivery service

By the 3rd day at the Yacht Club we were more than ready to get going again.  We had cruised to Montreal previously, but the next leg of our journey brought us into brand new territory, starting with passage through the St. Lambert lock closely followed by the Cote Ste. Catherine lock.  Both of these are huge locks.  I mean really huge.  They are designed to service commercial traffic, and we watched a massive ship lock through in front of us at each lock.  

Pleasure crafts lock through separately whenever the lock master decides he can permit it without interrupting the flow of larger ships.  We were fortunate and didn’t have to wait long.  We locked through with only a couple of other boats, making the locks seem even bigger, or our boats seem smaller.  Another brand new and humbling experience.  The link I've provided offers a really cool graphic of how things work here.

http://www.greatlakes-seaway.com/en/seaway/locks/index.html

We ended the day tied to the wall just below the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue lock.  This small city at the western tip of Montreal Island is the second oldest community in Montreal’s West Island.  It has taken full advantage of the recreational boaters that come here to tie to the wall, and restaurants and shops line the Promenade du Canal.  The Promenade is very active this time of year, especially this weekend while Quebec celebrates the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.  The people watching has been fantastic.  We have enjoyed many spontaneous conversations and are loving the openness and diversity.

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A storm blew in and chased all the people away before we could take pictures, so here's the sign!

And then there’s Alex .  He runs Peter’s Cape Cod restaurant in town.  Alex was very interested in our boat and our story, and we spent some time talking.  He left and returned a short while later with two cups of delicious clam chowder in hand, gratis.  We had dinner at his restaurant that night, and he came to see us again the following morning bearing fresh coffee and pie.  A prime example of the friendliness we’ve encountered here.

Alex!

Alex!

We stayed overnight and were prepared to lock through at 0900, but the Captain decided it was time to step the mast.  That production is the subject of my next blog post.  In the meantime, we continued to enjoy the Promenade and decided to stay tied up there a second night.  Like we did in Chambly and again in Montreal, we’ve talked about moving here.  We love this place.

Chambly, QC, to Iles de Contrecoeur, QC

Last night we were on the hook on the Loop for the first time.  Which is to say we were anchored in a protected area in the St. Lawrence River, a bird sanctuary near Iles de Contrecoeur to be precise.  And we celebrated the Solstice with the birds, the fishermen and a little white wine (thanks Jeff!) and bourbon (thanks Dick!).

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We spent the two previous days in Chambly which has become one of our favorite places.  The town is lovely and so are the people.  Where boaters tie up at the wall is adjacent to a park and parallel to the Chambly Canal Path, which is always busy with people walking and bikers biking.  It's still early in the boating season in Quebec – the official start date is today – so we had the wall to ourselves. 

Our spot on the wall

Our spot on the wall

We enjoyed the peace and quiet and used the time to finish up chores we hadn’t completed before leaving Burlington, like cleaning (there’s always plenty of that to do), food shopping and completing the tech hookup (traveling with an A/V guy means that connectivity and music are always top priorities).  And, of course, the afternoon involved a mandatory plate of poutine and a pitcher of Canadian beer.

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On this vessel, the Captain is not exempt from chores.

The wall is also the perfect spot to watch other boats lock through at Locks 1, 2 and 3.  These are called the staircase locks because locking through is like going up or down a set of stairs.  For example, going down from the Canal to the Chambly Basin, as we did, you start at Canal level in Lock 3 and are lowered one level.  The chamber gate then opens and you move immediately forward into Lock 2, are lowered and then repeat the process for Lock 1.  When you exit Lock 1, you are in the Chambly Basin.  The hardware appears to be authentic, dating back to the mid-1800s, and is still manually operated. It's a fun experience and a unique way to interact with history.