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It was never determined who was to blame for the spilt wine last December. My mom said, "He wouldn't let go!" My dad said, "My pinky got caught!" Either way, the table was flooded by a full glass of Mirassou Merlot. The silence as we waited for the waitress to mop up our embarrassing mess was eventually broken by my Dad's explanation of why he had ordered a Mirassou in the first place.
He had just finished reading the first half of John Mirassou's book, "Only in America." John and his two buddies, John and John, spend a summer on the Great Loop back in 1987, and the book recounts the best of their adventure. In the early pages of the book, John tells a side story about his family's stop at the Mirassou winery while on a summer road trip and their unsuccessful attempt to prove their relation to the wine-makers. That weekend I borrowed the book, and ordered a copy for my sister at Knox College in Illinois. A sticky table of wine soaked napkins is not the best start to happy hour, but this was my introduction to The Great Loop, the start to our Small Boat Big Summer, and proof that a glass half-empty is merely a reason to pour more.
In January, I asked my sister, Elizabeth, what she planned to do after college this summer.
"I don't know," she said.
"Wanna go on a boat ride?"
Little did she know the ride I was proposing would take us 5,805 miles from Chicago down the Mississippi, up the Eastern seaboard, and around the Great Lakes. All in a 16-foot Duroboat. We know the boat well. Our Dad, Larry, runs the company, and I've worked just about every job possible in the factory and business offices. Still, some will think it a little off the wall for 21-year-old Elizabeth and me (25) to ride the loop. We're not out to prove the impossible. Just the opposite. We want to prove that boating is possible for everyone – and it doesn't have to be complicated or ritzy. It just needs to be fun. Ours happens to be about three months of fun, or so we hope. (Newest posts at the top)
Check out media coverage of the McPhail's journey:
The trip home
WI, MN, SD, WY, MT, ID, WA
With the boat in tow, we started our journey home on Tuesday Sep 2. Summer break is over which means it is time for Katie to go back to work and for me to find a job.
We took our time getting home. We had five days to get to the Dave Mathews concert at the Gorge in George, WA. Along the way we stopped in Beaver Dam, WI to see Aunt Moe and the Neitzel family; and Beloit, WI to see Jen for the fourth time this summer and the now, married lady, Breeze for the second time.
We made timely progress to South Dakota where we stopped at all of the "must sees" along I-90. Our stops included The Corn Palace, Wall Drug, and Mt. Rushmore.
We arrived at the Gorge Friday evening and set up camp for the Sunday show. At the concert campsite it was difficult to maneuver the car and boat through the crowded and unorganized Dave fans. As we entered we could read lips that read, Why would you bring a boat here. Once we found a clear spot that would fit us and our joining friends, we set up camp.
A storm rolled in which was disappointing. At least we weren't on the boat. The wind and rain lasted 30min then it was clear again for the concert. The Gorge venue looks over the Columbia River with beautiful cliffs behind the performer. This was my first time seeing Dave at the Gorge and Katie's fourth time. It was great!
The next morning, Labor Day, we finished our last 3 hours to Issaquah. Home Sweet Home. Ready to take it easy until our next adventure.
As we get time we will be adding comments, acknowledgements, notes and pictures from the trip to Duroboat's website, check in once in awhile.
Waupaca's Chain 'o Lakes is comprised of 21 small lakes which every summer draws vacationers to the area. Katie and I are the 4th generation of our family to spend our summer vacations on the lakes. It was the perfect place to celebrate the end of our trip.
Sunday morning we launched our 16' Duroboat into Long Lake along with a 12' Duroboat that Sammy had brought from Seattle on top of the Suburban. Katie and I were in the Loop boat while Joel and Sammy trialed in the 12 footer. After making it to Taylor Lake we followed the Chief Waupaca paddleboat around the Chain. We pulled up to Clearwater Harbor where Amy from the Waupaca Chamber of Commerce and Maureeen Meighan the harbor Manager had organized an end up the trip and welcome to Waupaca celebration. They had prepared a wonderful welcoming banner. A professional photographer and another newspaper interview were all arranged. We ate lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the band at the Harbor and talking with folks who were interested in the boat and our trip. We met Pat Meighan the owner of the Harbor. Pat lives a large part of the year in Florida. He has actually completed some large portions of the trip in his Stamas Yacht. Remember we met John Stamas, the builder of that boat in Tarpon Springs.
The weather was unseasonably cool but it was sunny. We were happy to have spent some time at our favorite vacation spot. We lounged for a few days around Waupaca before heading home.
We arrived at Wolf River Outfitters around 10:30am for our first real fishing trip. Louis Woods the owner leads fishing excursions on the Wolf River. Louis is also an inventor who has made a forearm brace to assist handicapped people to fish. Katie and I have been disappointing fishermen around the country when we answer their fishing questions with "ahh, actually we don't fish". Katie and I have dangled a few lines in the water when we little, but when we didn't catch anything in the first 15min we both lost interest and have never given it another chance. We were hopeful a professional like Louis would be able to help us out.
We took the Duroboat out on the Wolf, now equipped with poles, live bait, and Louis showing us the way. When Louis instructed we cut the engine, dropped our lines into the water and slowly floated down river. The fish were slow to bite and beginner's luck was no where to be seen. Louis got a few bites, which Katie and I would reel in. Eventually Katie caught one of her own. It was a small Catfish. Worried that the catfish would poke her, Katie gave Louis the honor of removing it from the hook and throwing it back. While we were unable to find and monster fish we did have fun.
We met family and friends at Channel Cats the largest of several restaurants and bars along the downtown Fremont waterfront for lunch. After a time we returned the boat to Wolfriver outfitters, secured it for the night and drove by car 15 miles to Waupaca for the evening.
On saturday there were no trip events. We just moved the boat over to Waupaca.
Appleton, Freemont, Waupaca
Sammy drove us to the Appleton Yacht Club so we could start the trip to Freemont. Upon arrival, we talked with two members of the Yacht Club about our trip. They informed us that the one lock we had to go through didn't open until 10am. So we ventured back to town to find some breakfast. We enjoyed some Mexican baked goods and Jell-O. We highly recommend the baked goods, but cannot say the same for the Milk Jell-O.
The first lock went quickly and the Appleton newspaper was there taking pictures as we passed through. They later published an article in the Appleton post Current. It is on line.
Lake Winnebago was quite rough and we kept a close eye on our depth finder. Because we traveled along the shore, the depths could quickly go from 8ft to 4ft very quickly. Luckily we never passed through any areas shallower than that.
We cruised from Winnebago back into the Fox which becames Lake Butte de Morts. At the west end of Butte de Mort up river on the Fox is to the south. We head west and north up the Wolf River which starts with Lakes Winneconne and Poygan. On the way to Fremont we pass through the waterfront town of Winneconne that features several waterfront restaurants. The Wolf is a recreational hot spot that features lots of boat traffic from large cruisers to Pontoons and fishing boats, to jet skis and kayaks. It offers something for those who want excitement but also world class bass and walleye fishing as well as eco-interesting paddling up isolated backwaters.
We arrived in Fremont. The area looked like a fun place. The river was lined with many cottages and several bars and resorts. Unfortunately it was a cooler weekday which left the place looking empty.
We docked the boat at Wolf River Outfitters, where we met Louis Wood. We are scheduled to go on a fishing tour with him tomorrow. Katie and I have never fished beyond dangling a line in the water at age seven. This should be interesting.
Sammy and Aunt Lynn met us in Freemont. From there we went to local waterfront restaurant for lunch and drinks. The rest of the afternoon we relaxed in Waupaca at Aunt Lynn's cottage and again caught up on much needed sleep.
Green Bay, Appleton, Waupaca
Before leaving the Tarragon Motel we had a deliciously large breakfast at the Stampede. We launched into Green Bay at Marinette to complete our lake michigan run heading south to the town of Green Bay. We made it down the west side of Lake Michigan quickly. The water was completely opposite from yesterday. We still had medium sized waves, but they were slower rolling and headed our way. They still made for a rollercoaster ride, but they gave us a little push down the length of the lake.
We stopped in Green Bay for an appointment with John, a photographer hired by Beloit College. He coached us as we cruised back and forth in front of the dock and posed for a few photos.
We traveled through Green Bay and down the Fox River. Unsure how far we could get, we pushed on until we arrived at a lock. Unlike the 100-plus Canadian locks that we had become experts at traversing, this lock had no wall to tie up to and did not answer our attempts at communication via the VHF radio. After eventually making our way into the lock, we learned that the lockmasters don't even have VHF radios!
As we waited for the water to rise, we asked the lockmaster about the water ahead. There was another lock only a few miles away that was only open on the weekends, and the lock after that was closed permanently (until they can find a way to prevent invasive species from travel up the Fox River.) We also realized we didn't have exact cash to pay the $6 charge for the lock we were in.
The lockmaster offered to lower the water and let us turn around and exit from the way we entered. This would save us the $6 fee and prevent us from getting stranded at the next closed lock. We took up his offer and headed back to a boat launch we had seen on the way in. We pulled the boat, moved it around the closed locks. It was only a few miles on land to the Appleton Yacht Club. We secured the boat for the night and took a short drive over to Waupaca to hole up in our Aunt Lynn's cottage on teh Waupaca Chain o' Lakes. From here out our lake travel sort of circles our eventual desitnation so making our way up the fox and Wolf Rivers is mostly day work and we will return each night to the cottage.
We got up very early excited for a run to to Makinac Island. We left De Tour and made it a short 2 miles before we realized we were not going to get anywhere in the current wave conditions. Instead of waiting out the day in De Tour where there weren't too many exciting things going on, we took advantage of having the trailer near.
We pulled the boat and traveled 20 miles down the road. We thought that if we got around the corner the land would block some of the high winds. Once again we ventured out into the open water. The waves were no smaller. We actually found ourselves in very shallow water because we missed a bouy. The green marker was dipping in and out of the huge waves and it was difficult to see. Once again the water was too big for travel, so we headed back to shore. We drove to St Ignace a few more miles toward Mackinac and planned a short run across to the Island.
We are running out of days, but traveling during a small craft advisory, rip current warnings, and waves forecasted at 5-8 feet, is not a smart decision. Instead, we took a ferry to Machinac Island.
Mackinac Island is a small resort town that has outlawed motor vehicles of all kinds. There are no cars, no golf carts, and no emergency vehicles. All taxis, fire trucks, and deliveries are conducted with the use of horse and carriage.
There are 600 or more horses on the island, and they live a pretty good life. On Machinac Island horses always have the right away, they wear rubber soled shoes ( We think this is an opportunity for the next Kentucky Derby to sign on with Nike) instead of uncomfortable metal horse shoes, and they run free all winter long.
Bicycles line the streets where you would normally find cars, and the smell of fudge permeates from nearly every storefront.
After a two hour horse and carriage tour of the Island, we were treated to lunch at Patrick Sinclair's courtesy of Mary and the tourist office. Sinclair's is an Irish pub on the main drag of town. Lunch was delicious and people all over the island are very friendly.
The weather continued get worse. As we took the ferry back to the mainland the waves crashed higher than the window of the boat. We were thankful we did not try to cross the Mackinaw straights today, but disappointed that we would not have the time or acceptable weather to make the crossing in our own Duroboat.
We trailered the boat along the lake Michigan curve of the UP toward the Wisconsin border trying to recover to a pace that would allow us to meet now scheduled events in Wisconsin.
Just over the Wisconsin border we got a motel room from Bob and Kim at the Tarragon Motel in Marinette, WI. The motel is owned by the friendly couple who have built their business up through good service, and word of mouth within the fishing community. After checking in we talked with them for sometime. When we settled into the room we decided to pass up the beach volleyball at the Stampede Bar and Grill next door in favor of sleep.
Our trip across the North Channel was fairly easy. The water started out just a little choppy, so when we found a bigger boat to block the waves, we radioed via VHF and asked to follow in their wake. They were headed the same direction as us, taking a very direct route, straight across the Channel. We traveled a little slower than noemal to match the speed of the larger boat but we were thankful to have company on a fairly desolate portion of the trip.
As we neared our buddy boat's final destination the water had become very smooth. We cut outside of their wake, thanked them for the escort, and continued on alone. The water stayed perfect until we were about 20 some miles from De Tour Village, the end of the North Channel and our passage towards Lake Michigan. The winds were coming from the South and unfortunately that was our new direction. This leg of the day seemed to take forever, we were so close, but only able to travel at a snails pace into the stiff wind and waves.
As we approached De Tour Village, the barge and ferry traffic picked up. In the evening when the sun is glaring off the water it can be difficult to tell what you are looking at in the distance. We hung back to determine which way the larger boats were actually traveling before we made our way amongst them. These are not the boats you want to cut in front of!
Sammy had driven back from the border to De Tour. He was with the employees of De Tour Marina and all were awaiting our arrival. The de tour folks had been reading our blog and anticipating our arrival. Their excitement for our trip and offer of kind accommodations was really appreciated. We were not looking forward to camping because last time we put the tent and sleeping bags away was the rainy night before the wedding. The De Tour Marina opened up an empty house on the property and let us "camp" on the floor – dry, with room to stretch out our legs.
Back to Little Current
Breeze and Stephen's wedding was beautiful! It was another amazing weekend with some of my favorite people. I was sad to leave, and even sadder to think about repeating our trek from Little Current to Sturgeon Bay in reverse.
Sammy again drove us the 8 hours from Sturgeon Bay to Sault Ste Marie. We caught a 3:45am cab ride across the border into Canada and took a 4-hour Greyhound bus ride to Espanola. Then we were stuck, again.
Now we were only 45 minutes away from Little Current but unlike the day when we were on our way to the wedding we did not have a ride lined up for this leg of the journey. At a loss of what to do next, we ate breakfast at Twiggy's, the diner/bus stop and asked the owner (our waitress) if she knew any regulars that might be commuting to Little Current.
She did, but it wasn't the right day. After we had finished eating she told us she would have one of her employees drive us. That is service you are not likely to get at Denny's. We were grateful for the offer and tried to tip enough to cover the cost of gas. Please next time you are in Little Current, Ontario eat at Twiggy's.
Espanola ON / Sault Ste Marie ON
Elizabeth was lucky she didn't drown last night. It down poured and the list of our boat created a puddle just below her pillow. Everything was wet, but her corner was the reservoir. We stayed in the tent a little longer than usual, but we didn't sleep in – we scrunched to the middle, away from the dripping walls, and waited for the rain to let up enough to come out of our humid soggy hole.
A small craft advisory warning and forecasted wind gusts of up to 30 knots prevented travel. With nothing better to do and in need of a dry shelter, we headed to the Anchor Inn for breakfast.
We ran into Tim, the guy that loaned us his charts the night before, and joined him for breakfast. Many of the other boaters from the cruisers-pot-luck the night before stopped by our table to say "good morning" and inquired about our travel plans.
Disappointed we wouldn't be able to make it across the North Channel in time to met Sammy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Elizabeth and I were brainstorming ways we could still make it to Breeze's wedding TOMORROW! We bounced around ideas of rental cars, hitch hiking, or taking a bus.
Most people laughed and joked, "It's not your wedding, is it?" and advised that we just relax because, "you can't do anything about the weather." But, I couldn't relax – one of my best friends is getting married tomorrow and it was looking more and more like I might miss it!
Shortly after breakfast Elizabeth and I met Day and Craig, a boating couple that was driving to Espanola to do laundry. Espanola had a Greyhound station (which we would find out later started only three days ago!) Jib, the owner of Turner's, a family-run gift and convenience store (and an actual Duroboat owner), offered to trailer our boat and store it in his back yard for the weekend. A solution was starting to come together! We took everyone up on their generous offers, and scrambled to get the boat packed and catch our ride to Espanola. Side note: Duroboat's website has for several years, in the Duroboat Experience links page, had links to Jib Turners website but it was strictly a coincidence that he became a part of this adventure. If you are looking for very unique gisfts this year find him on our links page.
Craig hurried to get us to the bus station, at Twiggy's diner, but when we tried to buy our tickets we realized that the 10:45 bus left at 10:45 pm not am. Ugg!
There was an earlier bus, but not until 8:30pm. We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Espanola and loitering at the public library. However, we did have time to do laundry.
We must have looked ragged, because a mother at the laundry mat told us, "you, know the church will give you a meal or a bus ticket if you are down on your luck." We have been very lucky this summer, but short on showers and sleep – obviously it shows.
We finally caught the bus (with tickets we paid for without the assistance of the church) and arrived in Sault Ste Marie, ON around midnight. We started walking towards the international bridge with the intent of crossing the border on foot to meeting Sammy who was now waiting on the US side. After a mile and a half walk from the greyhound station to the border, a Canadian Customs officer told us that we would not be allowed to walk across the bridge.
We asked if Sammy would be allowed to drive over and pick us up. He would be, but without a passport he would not be allowed back into the US – this wouldn't help. Our only other options were to wait for the next bus at 8am, or pay a flat $35 for a taxi. We paid the exorbitant price for a one-mile ride across the bridge to the US customs office.
On the American side, we received the usual questions about where we were from and where we were headed. Unfortunately our answers were too far from usual. The Customs Officer didn't like our story, took our passports, made us exit the cab, and report upstairs for a few more questions. After more pointed questions and proof that we did in fact know Sammy (waiting at a gas station around the corner after being asked to leave the customs office), we were allowed to return to the cab and pay our expensive fare, and join Sammy.
Still another 8-hour drive from the wedding in Sturgeon Bay WI, we felt "almost there." We drove through the night, arrived at 6:30am, the morning of the wedding, slept for 3 hours, and later attended a wedding I couldn't imagine missing!
With all of our charts in order we ventured into Georgian Bay for the second time. The winds were already strong and the small craft route we were following for this portion of Georgian Bay was hardly different from the regular route. This forced us to spend a large portion of the day in open water, rather than amongst islands that would have provided protection.
The waves were uncomfortably large. With every wave that passed we were adjusting our speed in order to lessen the impact of each blow. This of course caused our otherwise great gas mileage to fade. Once we were back in protected island water we were very concerned about our fuel situation. So concerned in fact, we radioed a police boat and asked them where we could find gas. The answer was Killarney –20 miles away with more open water– or possibly 2 miles up the river at a tiny resort.
When we passed the resort, it did not look promising. We yelled to a guy on the dock and he waved us in. He siphoned 5 gallons of gas from a gas can and charged us $30. Disappointed we were paying $6 a gallon; we were in no position to look for a better deal.
We made it to Killarney and the water turned a pretty aqua color. We stopped to fuel up and we checked out a local fish 'n chips place we had heard so much about. The food is served out of an old school bus on the waterfront. It was greasy and delicious.
Upon arrival in Little Current we saw a sailboat with the Great Loop Burgee. We stopped at the boat and met Mark and Terry. They informed us of a potluck dinner later in the evening that was being hosted by Great Lakes Cruising Club. Our contribution to the potluck was a last minute purchase of a bag of potato chips. Didn't exactly carry our weight.
Time and the weather projection, is threatening our ability to finish the trip on time and make it to the wedding in Wisconsin.
We thought the potluck would be a good way to explore all of our traveling options. Perhaps we could make the trip with a buddy boat headed west. We didn't want a repeat of Georgian Bay where the waves were large and we were feeling very alone. We had a lot of opportunities to tell our story but no opportunities for travel the next day. We did manage to borrow some charts for the trip.
Even big boats were now coming into port to avoid the predicted high winds.
At the end of the night we were once again setting up the tent, with hope that the rain would miss us.