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.
Thanks Jack and Jerry! These guys came to our rescue as we idled in the bay trying to reorient ourselves and contemplated heading back. Relieved to see another boat, we waved them over to ask where they were headed. They told us, but we really had no idea where they were going besides north. We asked to follow them, and to our surprise and relief they escorted us half way up the Georgian Bay, all the way to Pointe au Baril.
Eventually we arrived at Jack and Jerry’s destination, their buddy Dave’s new cabin. We stopped just briefly to look at our maps and guide books and make sure we were better prepared to navigate ourselves, on our own this time. We only traveled a few more miles today, just south of Byng Inlet, to Thompson Marine. They had very few big boats here, but small skiffs and dinghies were common. This dock spot is popular with folks living on local islands, which are only accessible by boat.
There wasn’t much there besides a dock and small office that sold cold drinks. We used the rest of the afternoon to prepare for the 2nd half of Georgian Bay. We highlighted the route we intended to take and organized our charts so we could access them quickly.
Around dusk, Peter, or Piotr, an employee of Thompson Marine with a very strong polish accent invited us to join him for dinner. Hungry and tired of eating peanut butter we were happy to have evening plans. Peter served cabbage wraps, a dish whose polish name I can’t remember, and gave us advice about our up coming leg of the trip.
The father daughter campers saw us off the next morning, as did another boater who had caught wind of our story. The lockmaster was also interested and apparently relayed the whole story to the next lock when he called ahead to tell them we were on our way.
The next lock was actually not a lock at all. When it was built, back in the 70’s it was cheaper to build what they call a “marine railroad”. Boats drive into the lock as usual, but the lockmasters help you position your boat under big belts. The entire frame of the lock lifts out of the water leaving your boat hanging high and dry with the nose of the boat resting on wooden slats. The suspended boats slowly chug their way up and over a hill, much like a roller coaster as it reaches the crest. Then, as the boats decend the hill, they are slowly eased back into the water. We had front row seats on this ride and our little Duroboat was swaying slightly in the wind. We half expected to go plummeting over the other side of Splash Mountain. The lockmasters assured us this engineering design is still completely safe. I would be even more nervous in a big expensive yacht.
As we left, upon request of the lockmasters, we sped away so they could see the “giddy-up-and-go” of a Duroboat.
Our last lock on the Trent Severn was pretty uneventful, but we did meet a guy who had gone from Port Severn to New York. He told us to look for his boat on the rocks as we left the lock. It was a 12-foot jon boat with a 15hp motor – that’s impressive!
This was our last lock and the start of the Georgian Bay. We had read and been warned of this treacherous body of water. Shallow and full of rocky obstacles Georgian Bay is known for destroying props and severely damaging hulls. Less than 10 miles into the Bay, we went skidding to a stop and the engine cover flew forward into the boat. We had missed a channel marker, partially covered by overgrown weeds, and learned a scary lesson of how dangerous Georgian Bay can be. Motor and prop seem to be fine, except some scuffing and minor dents.
Further into the southern portion of the Bay we were faced with choppy water due to a southwest wind. To make the passage easier we waited for a large trawler that we knew was behind us in the locks. We followed in their wake for a calmer ride and added assurance that we wouldn’t miss any more channel markers.
We needed to turn off for gas, and made a quick trip down to Penetanguishene. Also, by this time, the winds had picked up, we needed charts, and we were hungry. We tied to the public dock and headed to town for our first meal (besides peanut butter) in 24 hours.
Lunch was so good, but slow. This late in the afternoon, we decided it would be smart to spend the time to recoup and reorganize so we would be more prepared to tackle Georgian Bay in the morning. We sought the help of the American Great Loop Cruiser’s Association to help us find a good source of information for tomorrow’s crossing. They directed us to Amanda at Bay Moorings Marina.
We needed charts as our Navigation software did not cover this portion of Canada in the same detail as it had the US. While in the locks it had not been an issue but Georgian Bay was something else.
Set with charts and a place to dock, we cleaned up, took advantage of the rare Internet access, and spent the evening preparing for tomorrow. We huddled in sleeping bags and sweatpants, not to stay warm, but to armor our bodies against mosquitoes. We worked by the dim light of the computer and a pocket flashlight.
Our late 9am start felt really early. With only a couple hours of sleep, we changed back to swimsuits and Tyler drove us back to Bobcageon. The lockmaster teased us about our late start and we finished our fist lock well after 10am.
Still tired we locked through as usual, and talked about the previous days adventure and our new Canadian friends. About 5 locks into our day the lockmaster said to us “so I heard you guys went out last night.” Surprised, we asked how he knew. He replied, “lockmasters know everything” and that’s how our conversation ended.
It’s an unusual feeling to meet strangers who already know you, but it’s also comforting to know there are folks watching out for us and our boat.
We are spending another night camping at a lock wall, but time to blog and early bedtimes tonight are okay.
The lock wall at Swift Rapids is nice. There are several other boaters staying here this night, included a father and daughter. We told them about our trip and asked questions about the upcoming final leg of the Trent Severn.
This morning, as we locked through, a squirrel splashed into the water about 5 feet away from the boat. I’ve never known squirrels to swim, so I can only assume that he didn’t see the edge of the lock tank. He immediately swam to the wall and crawled the 90 degree incline clinging to the mossy side.
Today we reached the most beautiful part of the Trent Severn. There are houses on their own islands, a church that is accessible only by water, and gorgeous smooth rock clusters. People swim out to the rocks and lounge on them to bask in the sun.
At one of the locks two guys in ski boat pulled in behind us. By the third time we locked through together we had an invitation to go wakeboarding. We’ve been on a pretty tight schedule, but we didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. Wakeboarding is one of the things we’ve missed most about this summer. In summers prior, our boating has centered on water sport, not travel.
We followed the guys to find a smooth spot off of the channel, and used our Sand Spike gear to secure our boat. We joined Adam and Tyler, two Trent University business students, on their boat. We each took a few runs while those in the boat discussed serious topics like, Canadian accents, the use of the word “eh” and the songs under consideration for our summer play list.
Adam and Tyler are both good wake boarders and water-skiers. They are in great shape from boarding nearly every day after work. Elizabeth and I, on the other hand, were shaky and out of breathe when we drug ourselves up on the swim platform. Apparently waiting until the middle of August to break your body into boarding is not the best idea, and I’m sure our diet of mostly fried comfort food hasn’t helped either.
Wakeboarding was a needed break, but we felt pressure to get back to the locks. We are running out of time and money, so to help insure that we are able to finish the loop, we have been committed to making strong progress everyday.
Tyler and Adam escorted us to the next lock – Bobcageon, It was later in the afternoon and becoming more obvious that we would not make it to our predicted stop before the locks closed at 7pm. We were not interested in spending another night eating peanut butter at a secluded lock wall. Instead, we opted to leave our boat in Bobcageon and spend another night in Peterborough. Tyler and Adam offered to drive us back to Bobcageon in the morning.
I explained our plan to the Lock Master and bought a dock permit, while Elizabeth secured the boat and threw our stuff into Tyler’s boat. The four of us took Tyler’s boat back through the locks we had passed through this morning. Several of the lock workers recognized us and ribbed us with various versions of the same “aren’t you headed the wrong way” joke.
It was the wrong way, but definitely the right decision – Tyler and Adam were excellent tour guides. They drove us past the house the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen” filmed, and passed another house with an amazing view made of all glass. They also made a stop at Burleigh Falls to ride the waterfall. After anchoring the boat we swam up to the rocks midway down the falls where we jumped in and let the current push us back out and down stream. Our tour ended just before dusk with another round of skiing.
Elizabeth and I were both excited to have a real shower and a night away from the tent. They found us a place to crash at their house. We ate pizza, drank beer, and listened to music. Canadian guys are alright, eh?
We left Frankford early to get to the next lock in time for the first opening. The Lockmaster in Frankford never did make us pay for our tie up to the wall. The evening before he gave us maps, a bathroom key, and some free pens. The savings was greatly appreciated.
We made it to the lift lock just past Peterbourgh. Lock 21 on the Trent Severn is the highest hydraulic lift in the world, there are only two like it in North America. We drove into the giant tray of water, and when the tray above us was filled with water it lowered as we ascended. The lock works like a huge balance and a fun ride.
We got a ride to Peterburough from a lock worker. We ate dinner at a brewery in town and visited the Tank House patio for some live country music. We talked with the bartender and DJ then headed back to the boat.
On the way back we decided to visit the highly recommended Tim Horton’s for an authentic Canadian experience. We ordered a breakfast sandwich and a Diet Coke. When it came time to pay they told us they only take cash. Having used most of our cash a few stops back we scrounged together some money. I gave the lady the money which included two 1951 Canadian dollar bills. My Aunt Lynn had found them in a drawer and gave them to me before we left on the trip. The woman working insisted that I not pay with the bills because they are rare and no longer issued. So I kept the bills and the woman working covered the last $2.50 of our meal. We ate our sandwich, and trekked home to the wall. Hooray for the staff at Tim Horton’s.
Welcome to the Trent Severn Waterway
We had to cross parts of lake Ontario from where we exited the Rideau to the start of the Trent- Severn Waterway. Lake Ontario was smooth as glass. We made great time and were amazed at how clear the water was.
Surprised to see a police boat driving next to us while we were going about 25mph, we figured we’d better stop to see what they wanted. When our boat was in neutral the police boat approached for a safety check. Luckily we had our lifejackets, watertight flashlight, and whistle all on board. It must have been a slow day on the job.
We were back up to speed in no time and soon entered the first lock on the Trent Severn Waterway.
We made it to Frankford well before the locks closed, and could have traveled on but we made Frankford a stopping point because we had heard so much about a Chinese buffet in town. Chinese food sounded great to Katie and I as did the buffet part, so we quickly got the boat organized and walked into town. The buffet was in a house on the town’s main street, which gave it some charm. We left the restaurant wondering why so many had recommended it, but were full none the less.
8.11.09 – 8.12.09
Our time on the Rideau River was longer than expected because of all of the locks. We spent most of our nights tied to a lock wall eating peanut butter sandwiches. The daily plan was always to get at far as we could while trying not to bypass cities that could offer something more exciting than a peanut butter sandwich.
When we arrived in Smith Falls we stayed at Victoria Park Campground. There, Katie and I were well received by the owner, Dave. The best part about our say was that we were finally able to shower. From the campground we walked to dinner and the grocery store, and then slept in the tent on the boat.
Continuing towards Kingston we were hung up at a flight lock. While waiting the hour and a half to lock through it started to rain. After being in the sun all day the rain was too cold to enjoy. It was still very sunny but we sat in our swimsuits under an umbrella.
When it was finally our turn to enter the flight lock we were packed in tight. Our boat –the smallest of them all was one of the last to enter. In one of the locks we actually cut the motor while other boats in the lock manually maneuvered us into a small space in the middle of the pack –under the bow and anchor of a huge trawler. The crowded locks made the daily travels more exciting, but slowed travel.
I woke up when water splashed on my forehead this morning. It started raining early this morning and our tent is far from water proof. It can wick-a-way a light sprinkle, but eventually water seeps through. This was the case this morning and our bedding was beginning to puddle.
We loosely packed our sleeping bags in garbage bags (instead of tight rolls) hoping they would air a little throughout the day, and headed to a breakfast shop for shelter and eggs.
We waited out the rain and fog and finally left around 10am.
Disappointed with her hair, and without a shower, Elizabeth shampooed in the bathroom sink at the lock before leaving.
Once on our way, we had about and hour run to our first lock on the day – the largest lock we’ve seen in a while at approximately 60ft. Our next set of lock where more than 4 hours away in Ottawa.
The water conditions varied depending on the direction of the river bends relative to the wind, but the wind was coming from the west – the same direction we where traveling most of the time.
Aware that the locks close at 7:30 and forewarned to arrive at the lock 3.5 hours prior to close, we began to worry that we wouldn’t make it to the lock before 4pm. Knowing we’d be late, we tried anyway and arrived just before 5pm. There was a healthy crowd of other boats and a 45 minute wait, but we were relieved to get through.
The Ottawa flight locks were 8 locks and took us about 2 hours to complete. We tied up to the wall for the night which was right down town. We had no bathrooms so we had to pretend to be hotel guest while we were roughing it across the street. With all of the traffic noise and early building construction, sleep was less than peaceful.
Canal de-Saint Anne de-Bellevue
Spirits on board were low today. We are running short on time, money, and sleep. This coupled with colder weather, unexpected lock delays, and a language barrier have made travel a lot tougher.
We had finally made a left turn leaving Sorel which meant we were that much closer to Lake Michigan. As we headed south towards Montreal Katie and I noted that many locks we would have to go through before making it to the Ottawa River. Our guide book had mentioned an alternate route just north of Montreal, but didn’t give details. This is what prompted us to try taking a route that headed down the west side of Montreal. We paid close attention to channel markers in order to traverse the shallow waters. At one point we arrived at a caution sign that warned against strong currents. We continued forward thinking that the well marked area must indicate that many travel the area. We made it through no problem, but it was very unnerving.
After 10 miles of slow travel we arrived at a dam. We had to turn around. The worst part about turning around was the anxiousness that came with knowing we would have to travel through the strong current section again. Now we were traveling with the current, but that made for a wild ride through the caution section. The boat took another beating, which made me cringe. 10miles north of the dam we were back on track.
As we approached Montreal we were fighting strong currents and rough water. We got through the series of locks. Stopped for fuel and made a 20 mile journey to Saint Anne-de-Bellevue. After finishing our last lock we paid for a spot to tie up on the lock wall. We were amongst many other boats tied to the wall, but by the time we came back from dinner they had all departed and we were left alone.
We couldn’t have asked for better water this morning. Lake Champlain was smooth and friendly the whole way from Burlington to the Canadian boarder. We stopped at the first marina we found after reaching Canada. The music playing in their shop was so loud we could hardly hear the employee’s answers to our few questions about the route ahead. – Communication was made even more difficult by her heavy French accent – Quebec, we hadn’t thought much about the language change until now.
Eventually the river narrowed to a canal with cement walls on both sides, and onlookers hanging over the guard rails above. We didn’t realize we would be traveling through locks so soon. Before heading through the lock we backtracked to a marina to get some maps, find a cash machine, and snacks for the boat. Everybody was speaking French. We had been expecting to hear French but we hadn’t expected not to hear English. With just a few words of French in our repertoire we were out of our element.
We pulled up to our first Canadian lock. It was much smaller than we were used to. We spent the next few hours traveling a narrow canal in and out of 9 locks. Many of the locks and bridges we passed through were manually opened and closed. The locks were usually ready for us, no need to talk on the radio or wait. It was great service. There was a busy bike path that ran along the entire length on the canal, so there was always a crowd watching as we locked through. Lots of opportunity to tell our story.
When we left the last lock we found a marina shortly after. Paid for gas by the liter, split a pizza at the marina’s restaurant, and went to bed feeling guilty we didn’t know more French.
Burlington (it’s that much fun)
Back at Small Boat Exchange we gave the boat another once-over, and John’s son Ian helped us removed the floor boards so we could inspect the earlier repairs. Everything was pretty much the same, so we filled the boat with gas and returned to the boat ramp to launch the boat.
We contemplated moving on, but choppy water, mild headaches, and the prospect of another night in Burlington convinced us to stay.
We made the quick run 5 miles north of the boat ramp to downtown Burlington and docked the boat at Ferry Dock Marina. The marina had an adjacent restaurant with large patio seating. The hostess directed us to the marina office and shortly after hearing our story, we where offered a place to tie up and encouraged to come listen to the band playing that night. Ferry Dock Marina is right in the heart of Burlington, a very short walk from Church Street and our temporary apartment on College Street.
Peg and Mike, the couple we met back in Schuylerville who offered to arrange our accommodations in Burlington, made it possible for us to extend our stay. After a few phone calls Peg had everything arranged. The apartment owner, Tim, a self described strong-opinioned-conservative-business-owner (by Burlington standards anyway), hooked us up with the apartment keys and suggested some evening entertainment options.
The apartment was beautiful and a welcome alternative to our tent. Laura, the property manger is also responsible for 6 locally owned full service salons, 4 al a carte budget salons, and several apartments. We were lucky enough for a free stay, but typically boaters interested in renting an apartment can get a 20% at Burlington’s O’Brian Salon or Bimini Bills
We spent the afternoon walking around town, and later decided to use the apartment kitchen and ate dinner at “home” on the couch, in front of the TV.
After dinner, we ventured back to Breakwater, the restaurant near Ferry Dock Marina, to hear the music. A few other stops and two foosball games later, we met up with Nick, another friend from Beloit College. The most wonderful thing about going to a small college is the connections. On this trip Elizabeth and I have stayed or caught up with, 8 people we’ve gone to school with!
We ended the evening with a breakfast burrito from a late night eatery, a short walk home, and set the alarm to ring 4 hours later.
Up at 7am again! We finished locks number 5 through 12 before noon and decided to shoot for Burlington VT, 60 miles after Whitehall and Lock Number 12. The remainder of the day could be as short as 3 hours or much longer depending on the water conditions of Lake Champlain.
Luckily the water was fairly calm until we were 20 miles from Burlington. The first stretch of the Champlain Waterway was swampy looking, but as we traveled north the river opened up and the terrain became very similar to the Pacific Northwest. The water temperature has dropped to about 72 degrees, which feels frigid relative to the water down south. We’ve pulled out our pants and hoodie sweatshirts.
We slowed down when we hit choppy water caused by a south west wind, and the last 20 miles took nearly two hours. On our slow ride to port we called John Freeman, the owner of Small Boat Exchange, one of the oldest Duroboat dealers. When we arrived, John pulled our boat and took it to the shop overnight. Tonight we didn’t need it . . . we were lucky enough to have accommodations in Burlington.
On the way home John told us he is the reason for blue Duroboats. When Duroboat started in 1983 the only production color was yellow. Frustrated by macho fishermen that wanted a Duroboat but couldn’t see themselves in yellow, John ordered a truckload of custom blue Duroboat, and now blue is now the top color. I still like yellow!
Burlington instantly made our list of top stops. This mini-city is full of artsy shops, hot entertainment, and lots of young people. We spent the evening (and early morning hours) on Church Street, the main strip of downtown Burlington. The areas is closed to traffic and crowded with pedestrians and it was very easy to meet people.
We shared our story with several groups through out the night, but my favorite question was, “Doesn’t that take a lot longer?” A lot longer than what, we asked. “Driving?” Some people just don’t get it.
The calm water this morning was enough to excite us out of bed early again – that and our thin sleeping bags had us shivering early this morning! We’ve learned to make a run for it when the water is good, and fortunately the good water held up most of the day and we were able to log 130 miles. It’s nice to be back on the water and making progress. Recently we’ve had lots of delays, some planned and some unexpected.
Our first stop today was in Coeyman Landing in, Coeyman NY. Pronounce it Kweemans, don’t know why. We met the owner Carl Allen and got the scoop on the locks up ahead. We were pleased to hear that the speed limits along the Champlain waterway have changed. It used to be 10mph the whole way, which would have hampered our progress. Now, the speed limits vary, but are sometimes as high as 35 mph.
Lunch was at the restaurant next to the Marina. We hit the water again around 1pm. In the next 20 miles, we passed through Albany and Troy and came to our first lock since the Dismal Swap in Virginia. The Troy Lock is sometimes mistakenly called Lock Number 1, but the numbered locks start about 15 miles after the Troy Lock. We’ve been told that there are 12 locks but no Lock Number 11. (Found out tomorrow that there is a Lock Number 11, must have been a bad rumor.)
I’m not sure how this came to be, but it makes communication regarding locks tricky. Today we traversed 5 locks, but Lock Number 5 will be our first lock tomorrow morning . . . see how this can get confusing.
Shortly after passing through the Troy Lock we came to the turn for the Erie Canal. Didn’t wwant to take 15 years so… We took a picture and pressed on north to Burlington.
It was a long day, but Elizabeth and I both appreciated the calm water and our return to “normal” travel days.
We stopped over night at the Schuylerville Yacht Basin and are taking it easy. We did laundry, set up camp, and walked into town to get dinner: sandwich fixings and fruit, from the local grocery store. Our marina tonight is very quaint. Schuylerville has all the usual marina amenities, with a very relaxed feel. We have spent the evening sitting in their gazebo chatting with other boaters and working on our blog and journal.
Our 2.5 hr bus ride from Rob’s apartment back to Brown’s Point Marine was pleasantly cut short when a women riding behind us offered to give us a lift from her stop back to Brown’s Point. This cut more than an hour off our transit time.
Her name was Leigh, a production employee at the Today Show. Met her just a day late. She is also coincidentally visiting friends in Issaquah this fall. Even in a city as big as New York a small coincidence can make the world feel smaller.
Arrived at Brown’s Point and chatted with Paul and the guys about our trip and repairs. Ever since Paul first heard of our trip from Suzuki he has been anxious to participate. He is a great guy and a real credit to the Suzuki dealer network. The Brown Point crew have been over the top helpful, from picking us up, to last minute service work in a hurry; they did everything possible to get us back on the water quickly.
We did our best to thank them for all there help, and took a group picture in front of the Marina. Mike and George gave us a lift to the gas station, boat launch, and saw us off.
That afternoon we passed by the Statue of Liberty. A part of the trip Elizabeth and I have both been looking forward to. Lady Liberty was an impressive sight from the water and we wanted to capture a few souvenir pictures. Photographing your own boat is tricky, so we looked for another passing boat to trade services with. We took their picture and they took ours, and we agreed to email one another the pictures.
Most of you have the picture they took of us. We just sent Brad G. a pic of his boat and crew as we published this.
After New York Harbor we headed for Upstatre New York via the Hudson.
That night we stayed at the Front Street Marina in Newburgh NY. The connection there was made by Duroboat friend Arnald C. and his associate Tom. We walked into town looking for the Orange County Chopper shop. We never found them, but we saw a town like nothing we’ve seen on the trip so far – people everywhere! Block parties on every corner, kids playing wall ball against a brick building dodging cars from the middle of the street, babies and strollers, and wonderers everywhere. We’ve been told it’s not the best neighborhood, but there were so many people out, it it felt festive not dangerous.
We ate dinner at the outdoor restaurant next door to the Front Street Marina. They had a good crowd for a Tuesday night and line dance lessons in full swing.
We slept in the tent – rocked to sleep by the country music and the boat.
Got up early to seek our 2 seconds of fame. We made our way to Rockefeller Center to see the Today Show. We stood outside with a sign that read “6,000mi in a 16′ Duroboat to be in NYC Today” The sound crew asked us some questions and came back with a picture printed from the Duroboat website and said, “this is your boat?”. It wasn’t our boat, but it was the same model. There were some skeptics in the group so we gave them our cards. Our sign made it on the show as they panned through the crowd. Unfortunately we were not invited inside to chat with Al, Matt or Meredith.
After the show we walked to Boarders to use the Internet. While walking a bird pooped on my head and arm. We’ve heard that is good luck, so we bought a lottery ticket. We won $3 but have yet to cash it in.
We met up with Rob and his friend Manzel when they got off work. We visited a bar that had a comedy show in back. The comics were funny.
It was nice to wake up without the sound of an alarm. Everybody lounged around until 11am when decided to go get Brunch. There were Mimosas and the food was several notches above your typical greasy spoon. In the middle of lunch it started to downpour. NY has been unseasonably wet. The Seattle rain jokes got pretty old. Later Katie and I escorted Joel to the airport via the subway. We continued our ride to Manhattan and spent more time walking and gawking. We sat on a Central Park bench and ate mac and cheese. The people watching was excellent.
Philadelphia to Browns Point
It was great getting on the water it was smooth as glass. As we got further north there were a lot of floating logs and trash in the water. Just south of Trenton we stopped at a boat launch to meet Chris from Brown’s Point Marina. He showed up with a trailer and a Hummer. Chris picked us up on the New Jersey side and towed us to the Suzuki dealer in Laurence N.J. The engine was due for a regular maintenance.
Katie and I had never seen such intense traffic. Seattle has it’s fair share of gridlock, but in New Jersey and New York it is scary! Chris maneuvered the Hummer and the boat through angry people and toll booth traffic jams. After dropping off the boat at Brown’s Point we continued into Brooklyn to meet Katie’s friend Rob from Beloit College. We ate lots of NY pizza and visited some sights in Manhattan.
Leary of crossing Delaware Bay with the heavy weight of three people in less than perfect water conditions we decided to head North East up the Delaware River towards Philadelphia. Also, Elizabeth has a water polo friend from Knox that currently lives in Philly. We made it a short day, less than 40 miles, in moderately rough chop.
The Marinas in Philly were not what we are use to. The water was very dirty, plastic bags and floating pop bottles became new obstacles to avoid, and the marina offices were less than obvious.
The first marina we tried was enclosed on three sides by multi-story brick buildings. After temporarily tying up, we followed signs to the “Marina Office,” but our passage through several gates and glass doors left us locked on the city side of the marina – estranged from our boat. We called the number on the door and got reprimanded by the man who answered – “Where are you?! Don’t you know you can’t do that?! Can’t you read the keep out signs?!”
Firstly, there were no “keep out signs” and secondly, we followed arrows directing us to check in at the “Marina Office.” The guy was a little nicer after he heard more about our trip, but we opted not to inquire about saying and just asked to be let back to our boat.
The next marina was fine, but still very “city” feeling. More locked gates and a call button to request permission to access the office. We didn’t talk to anyone except the women that rented us our slip – $2.50 a foot!
After quick showers followed by lunch at Dave and Busters, we headed off to find the Liberty Bell. It was only a 5-block walk. We arrived drenching wet. This was a kind of rain and lightning we never have in Seattle and have experienced only a few times on the trip.
We took our time visiting the Liberty Bell and waited until the rain let up to head over to the train station. Elizabeth’s water polo friend Lexi was out of town, but she offered to let us sleep at her house. The house was empty, because she and her roommates have not yet moved in. It was further out of the city than we expected, but we were happy to have dry accommodations.
We stayed at a bar later that evening than we should of, and then set our alarms for an early, early, 6am departure.
We were a bit apprehensive as we shoved away from the dock this morning. Joel’s quick repairs seem to have held up well, but we were careful to ride easy and keep our speeds calm and reasonable today. We have been pushing the limits a little too far in rough water and want to build up gradually to gain confidence in the repair.
Before leaving, we took a trip down “ego-alley” the main cruising drag in Annapolis. The 300-yard runway passes through old town Annapolis and past several restaurants. It is a dead end with a tight turn around. The only reason to turn down this way is to strut your hull past the hundreds of onlookers. It was still early when we cruised down “ego-ally” and the usual hordes of people were not out yet. So instead, we insisted that Joel take pictures from shore, so that our egos can pine over them later.
The harbormaster of the Annapolis City Docks came down to meet us. We were on our way out of town, but he graciously offered us a slip and confirmed all the wonderful things we had discovered about Annapolis. He is so charmed with the city that he has moved there 5 times! We were also impressed.
The day passed relatively uneventfully. We had calm water – less than 1-foot waves, and good weather – a light cloud cover.
We made it to Chesapeake City in about four hours – an easy day’s cruise. We stopped for lunch at a waterfront restaurant and talked over our evening plans.
Joel dreads sleeping three across in the 5-foot tent again, and at a height of 6’3″ I don’t really blame him. He decided to gamble on another “name-your-own-price” website, and scored! $50 for a three-star Hilton. This goes against efforts to budget, but Elizabeth and I didn’t’ complain. Instead we bought a cheese platter and a bottle of wine to take with us to the hot tub!
7.28.09 and 7.29.09
We had breakfast at Chick and Ruth’s, but were there too early to partake in the daily Pledge of Allegiance. We got a great deal on hotel rates for the next few days in Annapolis –always a welcomed surprise. Joel spent time working on the boat. We did some sightseeing, eating, and met Katie’s friend John in Baltimore for an Orioles game.
We lightened our load. We have been encountering more big water slamming the boat than we ever expected and we think hare carrying too much weight. With about 2000 miles to go to Lake Michigan we think it makes sense to reduce the load in the boat particular in the forward areas that are suspended over the peaks of waves a good deal of the time. We sent two boxes full of clothes and books back to Seattle.
We spent some time visiting other marinas in Annapolis while keeping an eye out for the AGLCA burgee. We are excited to get further north, so we can catch up with more Loopers. We are ready to get back on the water.
After an uncomfortable night’s sleep, three across in the tent, we departed Fair Point Marina. The water was rough, again, but we tried to take it slow to build conficence in the new repair. Joel still suspected damage may have occurred to the other side of the boat.
In addition to rough water, buoys and fishing nets scattered the sides of the channel and seemed to booby trap the water for boaters. We made sure that the front passenger kept an active look out and alerted the driver of hard to see obstacles.
Eventually the water calmed out, but 10 miles from Annapolis the waves picked up again and we began seeing water from the other side of the boat where joel suspected we might.
We decided to head to shore just south of Annapolis and ended up at South River Marina.
Gerry, one of the first people we met, gave us a ride down town to the a little bed and breakfast located above Chick and Ruth’s Deli. It’s a cute place with lots of history and character.
We spend the evening walking and exploring Annapolis.
Despite more rough water, we made it to Reedsville, just 50 miles North of Hampton, by about 1:30pm. We heard later that the waves reached 5 feet by 2pm.
We pulled into the Fairport Marina and Mary helped us fuel up for tomorrow’s trip and showed us to our slip. We ate lunch at their crab house and asked for suggestions on how to spend the rest of our day in Reedsville.
We took our boat over to the other side of the inlet and walked Reedsville’s main street. After one and a half miles we saw an out of place gift shop. We asked the owner how much further away town was, but apparently we had missed it! Town was one ice cream shop, two B&B’s, and a closed gas station. The area was quiet, very nice and definitely a sleepy fishing community.
Fairport had a strong fish stench from the processing plant just south of the town. One advantage to staying at the Fairport Marina is that the majority of the time the wind blows the odor in the opposite direction.
We spent the evening with a young couple on their sailboat. Nick is a pilot, and Lucy is a preschool teacher. They are both learning and perfecting their skills as new sailors. Just a few slips down were Bill and Lisa who live aboard their 43′ sailboat. We used Nick’s extra bright lantern to try to catch crab. The crabs are attracted to the light, but we were unsuccessful.
We all squeezed into the tent for bed.
After launching the boat, we tied up, secured our belongings, and drove back into Hampton to return the rental car. We shoved away from the dock around 10:30 – a late start for us. It was Joel’s first day on the boat since he left us weeks ago in St. Louis. The water conditions have changed and so has our confidence in the boat. We’ve come a long way since the mild flow and calm waters of the Midwest river systems. We have since overcome the challenges of heavy port traffic; severe weather, abuse of open water conditions, and the apprehension of navigating with land barely in sight. Gradually our confidence in Duroboat and our own boating skills has improved.
Joel has been dropped in to these new conditions without the building assurance of the prior experiences. His nervousness makes me nervous, and he’s made me question whether we’ve pushed the limits too far and run the boat too hard. His apprehension is a healthy reminder of the importance of staying safe and reasonable, so as to avoid accidentally going beyond our limits.
I’ve also realized how much I love boating! Four more hours of rough water is not everyone’s cup of tea. While, I certainly appreciated calm water conditions, long hours of cruising day after day have been fun. We’ve had our share of hiccups, but in the grand scheme of the trip this summer has been amazing.
We’d never heard of the Great Loop until this year, but now half way through I would definitely recommend the Loop for anyone seeking big boating adventure. For smaller adventure, one weekend at a time, boating is still the way to go! It’s unbelievable how much of the country you can explore by boat. Plus, the boating community, as vast and diverse as it is, is remarkable. Nearly all of the boaters we’ve met have been amazingly supportive of our trip.
Williamsburg and Hampton Marine Service
We returned to Hampton Marine Service. Once again Jeff was very helpful in getting us set up in the shop, and making sure we had everything we needed. Joel’s diagnosis was a testament to how comfortable Katie and I have become in the boat. Between the big water, our willingness to run the boat hard, and the added weight of our customized set up and gear; the sub-support stanchions under our storage needed to be replaced. Duroboat has sent some stanchions which will arrive on Friday. Joel added extra sealant to a portion of the joint, and we were on our way back to Williamsburg. We grabbed some dinner in Colonial Williamsburg and walked around the historic homes. We visited Jen, Jon and the kids one last time before we see them the end of August. Hope to get the boat shipshape on Friday and be moving again on Saturday.
7.21.09 Tuesday and 7.22.09 Wednesday
Williamsburg to DC via car
Katie and I started for DC in a rental car. We pick Joel up from Dulles Airport late afternoon, and headed into the city to stay with Nick, my friend from High School. He had just moved to DC for a research fellowship in the medical field. Lucky for us, he had moved into his apartment the day before our arrival, so we had a floor to sleep on. We walked around and saw all the monuments lit up at night.
The next morning we went to The National Air and Space Museum, The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Memorial, and The American History Museum. On our way out of town we stopped at the Coast Guard Warrant Office to talk with Ed Swift to see where we could tie up the boat if we are able to visit DC again via boat.
We returned to Williamsburg to see Jen and family –again, and get a hotel room. We were ready to make a visit to the boat the next morning.
Norfolk to Hampton Marine Service
We ventured into the Chesapeake around 8 am. We later found out from Alan, our now official weather resource, the waves we were battling were close to 4ft. We had noticed it was getting pretty rough, so we decided to duck in just north of Hampton. Unfortunately the area we had stopped at did not offer food within walking distance. The idea of turning around to Hampton did not sound appealing, but there was no way we could continue going forward. While we were deciding what to do, we noticed the bilge pump was periodically turning on and off. Water was slowly creeping in from somewhere. Unfortunately this made our decision pretty easy. We needed to get the boat pulled to see what was going on.
We called Hampton Marine Service who towed us out and brought us to their shop. Jeff from Hampton Marine Service was more than willing to help us out even though they work on fiberglass boats. We did find a breach of metal near the chine.
This was a stroke of bad luck but at least the timing was right. Joel who had assembled the boat and designed some of its unique modifications was planning on meeting us in DC to ride along for the DC – New York portion of the trip. We communicated what we could do about the leak back to Duroboat and a quick kit of parts to fix the boat was prepared for Joel to carry with him.
Still unsure of when we would be moving again, we decided to hitch a ride to Williamsburg, VA with Jeff to crash Jen’s family reunion.
7.18.09 Saturday and 7.19.09 Sunday
We stayed with Katie’s college roommate Miranda and her brother in Norfolk. Saturday morning we went kayaking with Miranda and Stefan, and then spent the day relaxing around the city. Sunday afternoon we went to Tidewater Marina to fuel up for our departure the next morning, and find some maps for the Chesapeake. The guys working in the marina office were very helpful. They gave us a chart free of charge because it was slightly outdated. It will do the job for us. After a boat ride and a visit to the marina’s restaurant, we said our goodbyes to Miranda who was flying home to Chicago that evening. Coincidentally, Katie’s other friend from college happened to be in the area for a family reunion. That night with stayed with Jen, Jon, and their two kids Jonathan and Jade.
Elizabeth City to Norfolk
We encountered rough water on our way to Elizabeth City. Because we had to make Norfolk by the afternoon we were stopping to walk around town, and so I could take a picture next to the Elizabeth City sign. When we arrived the Mayor of the town (Daniel Evans) happened to be at the city dock. The Mayor suggested that we talk with the city’s newspaper and check out the visitors’ center. We did both, and in the process met Michael and Nancy another couple doing the loop. While there the Mayor also told us that the state of North Carolina is promoting its own loop for cruisers. For those of you east coasters interested in cutting your teeth on a slightly shorter loop maybe you should check out info on the NC Loop.
Because our time in Elizabeth City lasted longer than expected, we missed the scheduled 11:30 lock opening. We had plenty of time to get the next one at 1:30 so we ate some lunch and cruised slowly.
Our cruising guide had noted the color of the water as a deep brown, like ice tea. Katie preferred to describe it as the color of Diet Coke. The stretch between the first lock and the second lock is called the Dismal Swamp and is a no wake zone. When we got through the first lock we thought we would have no problem making it to the second one by 3:30 the last opening of the day. We miscalculated, and found ourselves strapped for time. We slightly increased our speed because we couldn’t spend a night on the boat in the Dismal Swamp. The area was beautiful and the trees were reflected in the water the whole way. We made it to the second lock just in time, and were happy to see the lockmaster was unaware of our early arrival from the first lock. Instead he was more concerned about the storm that we were about to be caught in.
After passing through the lock, we quickly made our way north. We had about 10 miles to Tidewater Marina, but only got as far as three miles north. We were in a very industrial area with bolts of lightning on both sides of us. The man controlling the bridge just ahead said over the VHF radio, “girls you better get off the water quick”. We turned around in hopes of finding the wake boarders we had seen as we came out of the locks –maybe they could let us tie up to their dock. A boat launch came first, so Katie tied up while I went to ask some fishermen for a ride. Jeremy and Rodney gave us a ride to Wal-Mart so we could wait out the storm. After our drop off at Wal-Mart, Katie and I decided Applebee’s might be more comfortable. Soaking wet, Katie and I walked to Applebee’s to watch the weather channel and use a gift card I had been carrying around. When we called Jeremy and Rodney, they returned to give us a ride back to the boat. We got back on the water to complete the last seven miles of our day. It took a very long time to navigate around huge ships and under bridges. Our hearts sank when we encountered a bridge that read “closed to pleasure craft” during our exact time of arrival. I called on the radio to ask if we could go through. The answer was, “Duroboat, I can’t tell you what to do. But if I fit under, I know what I’d do”. We interpreted that as an “ok”. And we arrived at Tidewater Marina around 8:30pm. From 3:30 to 8:30 we traveled approx. 10 miles.
This morning we ran aground going about 20 mph. Somehow we missed a channel marker and went right into a shallow sandbar. Prior to the mishap, I noticed boaters nearby staring – but that not unusual since we are in an unfamiliar yellow boat.
We both jumped out into shin high water and started walking the boat back into the channel. As we pushed we were fighting the current, and I thought maybe we were still trying to drag the rudder through sand. I started to use my foot to gage the depth of the water under the rudder. A wave came, lifted the boat, and dropped it back down on my foot. Dumb move, but lesson learned.
When we got back into 3 feet of water we hopped back into the boat and powered the rest of the way into the channel. Only seconds after getting back on plane a stingray wider than our boat flew out of the water, flapped in mid-air for a moment and dove back in – a live version of a clip you might see played in slow motion on the nature channel. I don’t exactly know the consequences of startling a stingray, but we were both happy to be back in the boat and out of the water.
The rest of the day was rough – lots of open water, pounding waves, and water splashing over the gunwales. We were literally counting down the miles and minutes until we reached Alligator Marina.
Unfortunately our arrival wasn’t the relief we had hoped for. We were not especially welcome at the Marina. This response is perplexing – they have lots of open slips and we always buy gas. Our boat may be unusual, but we don’t require anything special. In fact, we never use electrical or water hook-ups and we require half as much space as most transient boats.
At first we were told we would not be allowed to leave our boat there. When we politely explained that we didn’t have a trailer and that docking was our only option, she reluctantly agreed with an “Okay, but you’ll pay.” Their minimum slip rate worked out to nearly $2 a foot. The marina discouraged us from camping on the boat and seemed worried that we would try to sleep in their shower area.
Besides no desire to sleep in a shower, there were quickly approaching storms. We called the closest motel, still more than 10 miles away. While trying to arrange transportation, another patron overheard our story and offered to give us a lift. He had a delivery truck with only three seats in the cab. His passenger graciously offered to ride in the utility portion of the vehicle. This was much appreciated, because for security reasons Elizabeth and I draw the line at be shut in the back of a moving truck.
The driver was very friendly, and he was impressed by our travels. His co-worker had recently made the trip from here to Norfolk – the leg of the trip we will complete tomorrow.
We checked into the motel, walked to the gas station (the only dining option within walking distance), and ate cup-o-noodle and fried chicken for dinner. Early to bed.
We left the dock in Myrtle Beach at 7:55, and after a quick stop for fuel we were well underway by 8:15. We typically estimate our arrival time based on 20 mph. We are often traveling faster than that, but no wake zones and occasional stops slow us down. Based on this math, we would arrive in Swansboro, NC around 2pm.
The mornings have been considerably colder than we became accustom to in Florida. Temperatures are still warm compared to Seattle summers, but I find that if we are at speed, my sweatshirt stays on until almost noon. This is okay because the long sleeves offer extra sun protection.
We took a lunch break at Wrightsville beach. A very cute beach community, which from what we could tell, attracted people of every age. We made it a quick stop and were back on the water by one.
Before shoving off the dock we called ahead to make accommodation arrangements. Lately we have been arriving so late that the dock masters have already gone home for the evening. We were determined to try and plan ahead this time.
No such luck. Upon arriving in Swansboro, we decided to press on another 20 miles and stay in Beaufort, NC.
When we pulled up in Beaufort we realized we had made the right decision. The waterfront was lively and beautiful boats of all sizes were docked right downtown. There was live music playing in a park near the Beaufort Docks.
As Jebb the harbormaster was helping us get settled he introduced us to a couple strolling the dock with their dog. After hearing our story the friendly couple, Mike and Corliss, offered to let us stay with them for the night. We were once again spoiled by the kindness of strangers.
We rode, via boat, back to their house and Mike pulled out a map and recommended travel options ahead. Mike is very involved in the North Carolina’s boating industry. He is a consultant and was involved in efforts to recruit boat builders to North Carolina. We understand he has in the past pitched NC to Duroboat and is again taking up the challenge.
The state now has more than 100 builders, 40 some of those are custom sport boats, and our route will pass by nearly 80 builders. Mike told us Carolinians are very committed to locally built boats, and pointed out the flared bow style that is typical of North Carolina boats.
Corliss made a delicious pasta dinner, and Elizabeth and I were happy to have a home cooked meal. After dinner we walked downtown to the Dock Street Bar for another night of live music. Despite a healthy Wednesday night crowd, Mike and Corliss tell us the economy has slowed down Beaufort too.
Always a fishing community, Beaufort was once a whaling town. Now known for sport fishing and recreation, we happened to arrive just as the town we gearing up for a tournament. Huge boats were being cleaned and prepped for the upcoming weekend. The fancy boats lining the docks dwarfed our little dinghy. Their underwater lights created a romantic looking green glow and gave the dock a ritzy exclusive look.
It’s amazing to me how wide the term “boating” is. The only common denominator is water. Countless different boat styles, sizes and purposes make boating as distinct as the individual at the helm. I wonder how other boaters would fare on our trip and I on theirs.
We met more young people at the dock that night and told them our story.
We began the day with a large breakfast from the restaurant next to the City Marina. We met with the Channel 5 news in Charleston, and then we headed out of town. Along the way we passed through a lot of ‘no wake’ zones. Some of the signs read, “You are responsible for your wake”. Because we have passed so many trawlers with huge wakes, I can see why damage would be a concern for floating-dock owners along the intercoastal. No wake signs are frequent as you pass waterfront homes, but the signs are not enforceable unless they have been posted by the Coast Guard. Only the Coast Guard’s are posted in the middle of the channel. Marinas also have no wake zones that boaters should follow. All of the slow areas between Charleston and Myrtle Beach delayed our arrival time. We think an exemption should be made for Duroboat which even at full speed has almost no wake.
We arrived in Little River just north of Myrtle Beach. We tied up and walked to the marina next door for some dinner. A man playing acoustic guitar was the entertainment for the evening. He told us he had learned to play at the age of 27, which inspired Katie. I guess learning guitar is next on her to do list. We tried to walk around to see the town a little more, but there really was nothing to see from our location. We went to bed early only to later have a group of partygoers intentionally disturb us. While we could hear them trying to talk to us, we thought it best that we ignore them. After they shook our tent and went on their way, we were free to fall back asleep.
Monday July 13th
Today was a long ride – 130 miles in total, but the slow zones made it feel like 230.
The Duroboat likes to run and so do we. Our one advantage over the more luxurious cruisers with real beds aboard is we can move faster and cheaper. We hate losing that faster part to imposed slow zones.
Cruising was easy, with smooth calm waters and lots to look at as we crept through the dockfront areas at idle speeds. We made a quick stop in Beaufort SC . . . . we are still unsure how it’s pronunciation differs from Beaufort NC. We grabbed lunch and an ice cream cone and once again asked around for the Skipper Bob books we’ve missed since our last copy ran out in the gulf. No such luck. Why are these books are so easy to find out in Seattle and impossible to buy along the ICW? Skipper, get your presses and your delivery team running.
It started to sprinkle just as we arrived to the Charleston City Marina. Both Elizabeth and I are getting frustrated with the thunderstorms that hit us every evening just as we are trying to get ourselves settled into a new town. It all dries out the next day, but our belongings get stored overnight in wet compartments that don’t always smell so great the next morning.
Amanda, one of the boat crew at Charleston Marina, was extremely helpful, and she seemed excited about our adventure. We were impressed by Amanda’s VHF radio skills as she radioed back to pleasure yachts approaching the marina. “Roger Capt, this is the Charleston Marina, over”
We walked downtown to explore Charleston and try to find WIFI to finish our blog. After a couple hours of bloging at a Hooka Bar, we wondered Eastbay and other touristy streets in the same neighborhood. The homes are huge Southern style houses. The straw market which was once the slave market, is long stalled building that now houses a daily art fair.
We had lounged a bit waited out the rain and then walked back to the boat to set up camp.
Sunday July 12th
We arrived at Hell’s Gate around 10:30 am so we could get a few hours sight seeing in Savannah. The name Hell’s Gate made us a little nervous about what we may encounter, but the water was the smoothest it has been on this whole trip. The marshland was curvy and pretty.
Bruce another Looper, who knew of us through our mutual membership in the AGLCA, picked us up from the marina in his 1930’s Model A antique car. Katie and I rode to his house in the rumble seat. Quite a kick and another first. Upon arrival we met Jeanne, Bruce’s wife. We all headed to Savannah for a city tour. The Savannah architecture was beautiful and very different in the various parts of town. Along the riverfront we saw were the historic cotton industry business was conducted during colonial times. We took lots of pictures of the live oak trees.
Katie and I got some laundry done at Bruce and Jeanne’s house and took a short nap. We went to dinner at the country club. The seafood was delicious and the buffet style dessert was too. Thanks Bruce and Jeanne.
On our way to St Simon’s IS
Katie and I decided to get an early start so we would have some time for sightseeing. One of the challenges of our trip is trying to see as much as we can in our short stays. We decided to head for St. Simon’s Island. Along the way we stopped for just an hour at Fernandina Beach. Found out later we should have said high to a Duroboat dealer from the early 90’s at the Fernandina Boat Shop. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to buy another pair of flip flops. The night before my shoe was knocked into the water, and there was no chance I was going to find it. After a stop at a beach apparel store, I was able to continue my sightseeing without people staring at me.
We continued on to St. Simon’s Island and encountered very large waves. The waves were pushing us along, so at certain parts it felt like we were surfing. At other points we had to work getting up over the next wave. There have been so many different types of water on this trip. A real learning experience
We arrived at Morningstar Marina, and tied up at a slip that was protected from the strong current. The very hospitable dock master matched us up with Charlie the captain of Sea Hunt who was shortly headed into town. We caught a ride with him. He gave a tour of St. Simon’s Island and dropped us off at Beach Bed & Breakfast where we met Larry McDonough. Larry had heard of our adventure and offered up a room. Charlie said a quick hello to Larry, and departed. Katie and I found this was no ordinary B&B. We were about to spend a night in the lap of luxury. Wow.
We took the B&B’s bikes to the Lighthouse, and rode around town. We returned to Beach Bed & Breakfast to get some work done. We lounged in the bathrobes and refreshed as if we had been at a spa were ready to go back town.
We took a short walk after dinner and were surprised at the amount of people that were out late into the evening.
We soon returned to our comfy beds, not at all anxious for another early departure.
Just a note to Loopers. In our opinion, the Waterway Guide downplayed the character and lively atmosphere of the town. This is a wonderful Looper port. When you are ready to splurge on a night off your boat you cannot do better than the Beach Bed and Breakfast in St Simon’s Island.
July 10, 2009
St. Augustine – Jacksonville
Our second day in St. Augustine was much better. Unfortunately Sammy missed it. We packed our bags and had the cabbie drop Sammy at the bus stop before taking Elizabeth and I back to the boat.
We had tentative plans to meet with Ron from Turning Point Propeller in Jacksonville that night. Since Jacksonville was less than 40 miles, we had time and were determined to redeem our experience in St. Augustine. We also needed to do a little more trip planning.
Elizabeth and I walked into town and found a little café with WiFi. Later we walked around St. Augustine, ate ice-cream, and took pictures. The lady at the ice cream counter told us we “smelled beachy.” Not sure whether to say “thank you” or “sorry” we just laughed a little and told her about the boat trip.
Before leaving we had one last stop at Hurricane Patty’s. I think we were both stalling and enjoying the air conditioning. This trip has been a blast, but exhausting – sometimes it’s hard to get yourself psyched up for another boat ride.
When we pulled up at the Landing Marina in Jacksonville a small group of live-aboards helped us tie up and encouraged us to come share a drink with them.
We showered and met Ron, a Turning Point Propeller contact, and his family for dinner. They are avid boaters and really nice folks. Their stainless prop has provided excellent out of the hole performance and an nice top end for the entire trip. We have managed to go almost halfway through the loop without hitting anything and resorting to our aluminum spares.
After dinner we went back to the boat and were invited over to the sailboat docked next-door. Wayne, the boats owner hosts a happy hours every Friday night. His friends were eager to hear our story and share their own sailing stories.
We began setting up our tent, but were persuaded to stay with one of our new friends from the sailboat. Kyle was our age – a rare find at marinas.
Boating seems to increasingly become a hobby reserved for the middle-aged and older. It’s a shame, but our age makes us a novelty amongst loopers. The cost and time it takes most boats to complete the loop makes the trip inaccessible to those on a budget and constrained by work responsibilities. We are told time and time again that we are “rushing” the loop experience. We are rushed, but it’s the only way we can do it. Our Duroboat makes the trip feasible and affordable – even for us!
July 9, 2009
Today was a pretty uneventful boat ride. We had to pull out the Mustang jackets that were still wet from the downpour the day before. We knew another storm was coming so we set them out on deck before we needed them hoping they would air out a bit.
We watched the weather on our Lowrance. It allows us to see the elevation of the systems, the direction storms are traveling, and how fast. It’s like a high school math problem. If storm A is traveling West at X mph, and the boat is traveling North at 22 mph, what time will we be soaking wet AGAIN?
We slipped between two, west moving, rainstorms, catching the tail end of one and the beginning of the next. We tolerated about and hour of light to moderate rain, but avoided the torrential downpours and lightening.
When we arrived in St Augustine we saw the oldest bridge on the ICW. We took a short trip down a side river and parked at a seafood and burger joint called Hurricane Patty’s. It was already about 6pm and the Oyster Creek Marina next-door was closed. We walked into Hurricane Patty’s and the manager “Okayed” us to tie up at the dock and camp on the boat overnight.
We hadn’t eaten all day, so before showering or trying to clean up we headed into Patty’s. Sammy and I ordered the “all you could eat catfish.” I think our stomachs got the best of us, because we both had at least a pound of leftovers – unfortunately with no where to store them.
After dinner we walked into town to check out the guided ghost tours, but it started pouring again. We headed towards to a hotel purported to be haunted. Female guests that stay in room 3A often have their purses knocked over in the middle of the night. We were excited to test this. Rooms at the haunted inn were way outside our budget. Maybe it would stop raining and we could still camp on the boat. It didn’t.
We decided it was too wet to camp and didn’t want to risk a lightening strike. The second hotel we tried to stay at had a crazy women working the front desk – no need to relive the details, but after our horrible check-in experience we decided not to stay here either. After nearly wrestling my credit card back, we left and took a cab to a chain motel a little outside of town.
Still upset by the earlier altercation with the crazy receptionist, and feeling guilty that we’d wussed out and left the boat, I went to bed unsatisfied with our experience in St. Augustine.
It was hard to leave the comfort of our cabin at Loggerhead Club and Marina. All of us stalled our departure by sleeping in, eating left over Chinese food, and talking with Captain Tadpole – who claimed to be the first black captain in 500 years to travel the Okeechobee Waterway. We admired the size of a dead alligator on the marina wall, and then saw a real one as we loaded up the boat.
The last bit of the Okeechobee rim route was choppy to say the least. Water was splashing over the gunwales at rapid rates, and our bilge did not get a break until we entered the first lock of the day. The importance of a properly functioning bilge must be noted –especially in a small boat and big water. We have been keeping a close eye on ours, because in the past it has auto ran when there was no water to be pumped.
We locked through with a Manatee. We heard the Manatees are the reason some of the Okeechobee locks are closed this year. While fueling up, the dock attendant told us the male manatees will follow the females into the locks and get crushed in the doors as the locks close. I guess until I hear otherwise I will believe this theory.
We once again found ourselves tying up to a dock much to tall for our boat at Capt Hiram’s Resort in Sebastian. We were pleasantly surprised to have coincidentally chosen a marina that was hosting a concert on a Tuesday night. The outdoor bar where the band Rehab played was a great setting and was packed with people. We stayed at the resort hotel.
We woke up cramped, ready to leave the tent and stretch out our legs. We made another early start with the challenge of crossing Florida via the Okeechobee Waterway ahead of us. We had been told throughout the last couple weeks that one lock, all locks, and even the lake itself would be closed. Obviously something along today’s stretch would be blocked, but the varying reports left us wondering what.
The first lock, purported to be closed, was actually closing NOW! We asked the gentleman at the visitor’s center if he could radio our last minute request to the lockmaster. After receiving the begrudging “OK”, we took off running back to the boat. We locked through, but it was obvious the lockmaster was not pleased. He told us he was taking a big risk letting us pass. If there was a manatee in the camber with us he’d be in trouble – they were drying out the tanks for the rest of the season.
The second lock was business as usual.
The third lock was just after Moore Haven. We pulled off at the City Marina and went into City Hall to inquire about marina services. They have none. Basically you dock your boat and leave money in a drop box. Fortunately, someone in the office called a mechanic in the area with a fishing boat. He agreed to “come take a look” in a few hours.
While we waited, we walked down to find something to eat and escape the heat. After walking several blocks, we realized the rest of town would be much further away. We stopped at restaurant that barely looked like a business, beside the word “restaurant” hand scribbled on the back of a placemat hanging in the window. I would have given them a plug here (food was decent and the people were nice), but I’m not sure the place even had a name.
After eating we returned to the dock to meet today’s hero – the mechanic with the fishing boat. He agreed to launch his boat, use his trailer to pull ours, and drop us on the other side of the lock. The whole process took less than 20 minutes – problem solved! We offered him a little cash and a T-shirt as thanks.
We pressed on and reached Lake Okeechobee quickly. We opted for the rim route with took us passed the town of Pahokee and Loggerhead Club and Marina. They have recently reopened since the hurricane-rebuild. We stayed in a very cute, cedar two-bedroom cabin a quick walk from town. Andree and the staff at the marina was very helpful they new we were coming and had made a few calls on lock status and to inquire about our schedule.
It really wasn’t until we emerged from the rim canal near the Marina that we got a good look at Lake Okeechobee. It is a large flat inland sea. The far shore is too distant to actually see so it is much like looking across an ocean.
The walk to town was heavy with mosquitoes – big mosquitoes! They attacked us through a heavy layer of bug spray and long sleeve clothing.
Town was small and bit run down. Very different from the touristy towns we had been seeing in Florida. It didn’t offer many dinner choices. We ate at an old Burger King that had been converted to a Chinese restaurant. Without any real local ambiance to soak up opted to take our food to-go and eat in the comfortable cabin at Loggerhead Marina formerly the Pahokee Marina. With the new Marina and the recreational opportunities on Lake Okeechobee, maybe Pahokee would be a good place for a little stimulus money to help the folks capture a few tourism dollars.
When we left Twin Dolphin Marina, Camille shot overhead photos of us from the Green Bridge. Since she and her family did The Great Loop, they have started a photography business that has become a passion.
Our trip to Ft. Myers turned out to be a very eventful day on the water. Because of the cigarette boat races in Sarasota there was a lot of boat traffic headed in the opposite direction. Everyone with a boat was traveling past us to go see the big event. We were battling large wakes all day, including the wakes of two police boats. We were almost swamped by two police boats that flew up from behind us and passed on each side, only leaving about 5ft of space between our boat and theirs. The wakes came crashing together right on us but thanks to some expert defensive boat driving by Elizabeth we were just fine.
Today we saw just how playful the dolphins can be. One dolphin swam right up to the driver’s side and put one fin out of the water waving at Katie and I’m pretty sure he had a smile on his face. Other dolphins came up and played in our wake as we were motoring along. We also witnessed stingrays jumping up to 4ft out of the water. The day seemed very long due to the extreme heat and humidity, as well as the no wake zones that are in place to protect the manatees. Manatees are like huge sea cows that like to lounge around and eat sea grass. We arrived in Ft. Myers late in the day just before the Legacy Harbor Marina and everything else in town closed. We found refuge in the marina’s upstairs lounge room. The area was nicely furnished, had a computer and we thoroughly enjoyed the air conditioning and the opportunity to do more laundry. One of the only restaurants open was a small Italian place. We camped on the boat and were ready to sleep in until 7:00 the next morning.
We began our Independence Day with some delicious blueberry pancakes prepared by Camille. Ray and Camille loopers we met via the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association, let us borrow their car for the day so we could sightsee and make a stop at West Marine. Our trip to West Marine was unsuccessful -we have had trouble getting our hands on Skipper Bob Books. We returned to Twin Dolphin Marina for the 4th of July celebration. We spent the afternoon hanging out on the boat, and we eventually made our way up to the pool area for a swim and potluck. The food was great -I have never seen so many different kinds of pasta salad.
We got cleaned up and walked to downtown Bradenton. The streets were closed for a concert, and were filled with people decked out in red, white and blue. At dusk we returned to the boat for the fireworks show. We stretched out on the front deck with all of our backs leaning on the starboard bow rail. That put us in a perfectly reclined position to watch the show that was directly in front of us. We returned to Ray and Camille’s for another night in a comfy bed.
July 3, 2009
Wrong! We weren’t back to calm water just yet. Tampa Bay was as nearly as rough as the Gulf. Unlike the open sea, the chop in Tampa Bay comes at you from every direction. The waves are unpredictable and chaotic, and there is no time to position the boat to minimize the impact. We took a wiggle-wobbly route across the bay and tried to follow larger boats whenever possible. Staying between the wakes of other boats helped to smooth our path a little, but our speeds rarely matched, so this technique only worked temporarily.
Again the boat was swamped and my eyes burned from the sting of salt water and dribble of sunscreen. Everything is wet all the time, and we are all learning to live with the musty crusty smell of dried seawater.
As we entered the channel into Bradenton we had our first up close meeting with a dolphin. It was not the majestic experience I had hoped for. Watching dolphins jump alongside a 42-foot boat is very different than a dolphin jumping above the gunwale when you’re not expecting it. He only jumped once. My “Flipper experience” seemed more JAWS encounter.
We stopped at the first Marina we came to – Twin Dolphin Marina. Charlie, the Harbor Master, hooked us up with a free stay and all the marina perks. We were lucky to get a spot because Twin Dolphin is a popular place. The marina was packed! Five boat clubs had made reservations to spend the holiday weekend here and the place was alive with festivities.
After a dip in the pool, cold showers, and a couple drinks at the marina bar we got ready to meet two former loopers, Ray and Camille.
Ray and Camille are followers of our blog and completed the loop with their 8-year-old son back in 2003. They are a fun loving couple that sold their house in order to upgrade from a 19-foot boat to 43-foot boat. Near the tail-end of their loop they stopped in Bradenton and ended up buying a house. Ten months later they sold their boat and resumed life on land. We enjoyed dinner, conversation, and a slide show of their Great Loop.
Next up we are heading to Fort Myers then it is cross state via Okeechobee to the eastern Intercoastal. The little boat that began in Seattle will have crossed the continent.
July 2, 2009
Tarpon Springs FL
Another 5:30 alarm! I can’t wait to be back on the ICW so we won’t have to leave every morning at dawn still dreaming of calm seas. We are getting fairly good at packing the boat quickly, even in our groggy condition.
The day started out unbelievably well – the water seemed too calm to be true and we hopefully talked of reaching Tarpon Springs. We made it past Crystal River and Homosassa in great time, but shortly after the waves picked up again.
The boat was slamming down hard and water was spraying over the gunwale and slapping the front-deck passenger (me) in the face. Even bundled in my Mustang gear, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, I was still feeling the sting of pelting water on my cheeks and the burn of saltwater in my eyes. I felt sick again and tried to spit the taste of salt out of my mouth.
Two menacing storm clouds loomed in front of us – one slightly to the right and one slightly the left, but both moving inshore. We pointed our bow dead center at the one on our left, nearest to shore. Our logic was to slip between the two systems (or rather Sammy’s logic, because we joke that Oklahoma weather has better equipped him to read storm conditions than our experience with the monotonous cloud cover and mild weather of Seattle).
It worked! . . . well almost. The tail end of the first nasty cloud hit us, but I was already soaked, so I appreciated the freshwater rinse, which helped to remove the salt caked onto the exposed portions of my face.
The boat was pounded hard during our three days on the gulf. The transom got a particularly hard workout.
Our friend Gus Blakely of Suzuki, several days ago suggested we let John Stamas, the owner of Stamas Yachts know we were coming to the area.. Stamas Yachts sells Suzuki motors and is also a member of the United Marine Manufacturer’s Association, (remember Jill from 3 weeks ago, seems like forever now). We were relieved to learn that John had since been following the blog and was willing to have his guys pull our boat out of the water for a structural once-over before we continued.
I’m familiar with the construction of Duroboats, but I appreciated the expert opinion of a boat builder. Some non structural caulking in the transom well was beginning to pull away from the transom. Stamas Yachts quickly re-caulked a seam and we were again shipshape and ready to run.
The whole crew at Stamas Yachts was great – good people! John offered to leave our boat in the sling over night so we wouldn’t have to worry about moorage. He also offered to give our wet baggage and us a lift to a nearby motel. John really impressed us with his trust and generosity when he also lent us his car for the night!
After a stop at the Motel we went out to explore Tarpon Springs. The town is famous for sponges and Greeks! Natural sea sponges are gathered by fishing boats and sold everywhere – apparently an industry started by the Greeks. Greek restaurants, bakeries, and bath sponge stores line the touristy portion of the Tarpon Springs, appropriately called the Sponge Docks.
Wednesday July 1 2009
Cedar Key FL
One of our favorite things about Cedar Key is their successful ability to fend off chains and franchises. You won’t find a McDonald’s or Wal-Mart anywhere on the island – every single business in Cedar Key is privately owned. Even their grocery and convenience stores are neighborhood businesses.
We walked down the dock street and ate lunch at Frog’s – a laidback, Parrot-Head-style restaurant, that came highly recommended by the friends we met in Steinhatchee.
After lunch, we walked through a few shops. Limited space on the boat diminishes the excitement for accumulating souvenirs. I can fit more memories in a journal than a suitcase anyway.
After lunch, we grabbed one of the 9-gallon fuel tanks from the boat and carried it 6 blocks into town. Elizabeth and I have been spoiled with Sammy on the trip – he declined our offers to help carry and chivalrously decided to tote the tank both ways.
Fortunately he didn’t have to. An off-duty law enforcement officer stopped us just after we filled up and had begun walking back to the dock. He drove a pick-up truck with only enough room for one passenger – Sammy and the tank went with him and Elizabeth and I walked.
The officer was just pulling away when we arrived back at the dock. He yelled, “good luck on the trip!” as he passed. Sammy is fairly confident the officer will someday buy a Duroboat. Apparently he was really excited by the no-rivets-no-weld concept and liked how we had customized the interior. Our bright yellow Duroboat is unique here in Florida and has received a lot of attention throughout the trip.
That night we stood on the balcony of our condo at The Island Place, which overlooked the small bridge leading into the public dock. Shortly after the last fishing boats rushed under the bridge to dock for the night we watched the sunset over Cedar Key.
For several days while we were in Steinhatchee we had planned to meet Kelly from the Cedar Key Beacon newspaper. When we finally arrived she had a commitment out of town. We still hope to do a phone interview with her to relate our story and our impressions of cedar Key.
Wednesday July 1, 2009
Cedar Key FL
Five days, one alligator, lots of beers, and a scary tornado later . . . we finally made it!
We woke up before the sun expecting the water and weather to cooperate. We checked the weather on the Lowrance GPS with the weather overlay turned on. This feature has been helpful the last couple of days because it shows us the waypoints, channel markers, and updates while you move. It shows the weather in different categories of intensity that are color coated. The map looked clear for the beginning part of the trip but there was what looked like a small patch of storms moving into Cedar Key. Eager to make progress we all voted to beat the weather and make it to our destination.
The water was a little bit rough but not unbearable. The Suzuki 50 powered us up and over the three-foot swells with ease. Making great time we began to see the storm clouds that we had previously seen on the Lowrance looking very ominous in front of us.
At this point there was only one option and that was to keep on going and hope for the best. The storm was moving west and we were racing it to the channel markers that lead into Cedar Key. As we made our approach about 500 yards from the storm, Elizabeth asked in a concerned voice, “is that a water spout?”
We all looked to the backside of the storm and sure enough there was what looked like a tornado. As we got closer there was definitely growing concern because now we could see the twister on the water and it was headed for the same area we were. We quickly turned up the volume on the VHF to channel 16 for emergency updates. The tornado, or waterspout, was being reported. I turned inward and headed for land. We zoomed in on our GPS location and used it to navigate around the bad part of the storm following markers very closely all the way into Cedar Key.
After driving through a storm we were all soaked, cold and ready to get off the boat. The public docks had 3hr and 24hr spaces. We pulled up to the first one we could find and got off the boat before the second wave of storms moved in. The bilge pumps were working hard to keep all the buckets of rainwater out of our boat. Still soaking wet we ate breakfast at a local restaurant.
Our next stop was The Island Place. It is a group of well-furnished condos right on the water that makes you feel right at home. The condos are literally adjacent to the little downtown area of the island and provide a great view.
Tuesday June 30, 2009
The decision to stay was not up to us. We got ready to go and loaded the boat at 5:30am. We were still tied to the dock and busy entering our GPS waypoints when the sky opened up. We grabbed our stuff and headed back to bed. It continued to storm until later that afternoon.
That afternoon Jarrod, Fiddler’s bartender and inheritor, drove us to Perry about 30 miles away to do laundry. Scott, the former owner of another marina in town, drove us up to the Steinhatchee Falls and let us borrow his kayaks to paddle the upper portion of the river, too shallow and rocky for any motored boat.
That night we returned to Fiddler’s where we were enticed by our new friends to stay for Scalloping season starting tomorrow. After 5 days in one spot we’ve nearly forgotten we are still on a boat trip. If the water is good we’ll leave tomorrow, if the water is not good we won’t be that disappointed.
Monday June 29, 2009
Advised not to attempt traveling due to weather conditions, we slept in – a rare treat this summer. We made what had become our daily stop at Hungry Howie’s, an inexpensive pizza joint with WiFi, AC, and TV – perfect for transients like ourselves.
That afternoon we took a boat ride upstream as far as we could go before the water got too shallow. The Steinhatchee River is lined with quaint privately owned vacation cabins, and floating docks with a fishing or pontoon boat parked on the end. The fish were jumping and we saw trees full of white tropical looking cranes.
On our return trip we saw a pontoon boat with its paddles out and several other boats floating near by. Thinking the pontoon was experiencing technical trouble and the others were there to help, we got closer. Engine trouble was not the issue; all the boats were floating quietly to avoid disturbing the manatees. Maybe our motor scared them away. We floated with the group for a few minutes but never saw any manatees.
We returned to Fiddler’s again that night and the crowed continued to prove the Steinhatchee slogan (“drinking town with a fishing problem”), but we met some really friendly people that offered to entertain us for as long as we were stuck, in fact, they invited us to be “stuck” all summer.
Sunday June 28, 2009
Unsure where to go after our unsuccessful attempt to leave Steinhatchee, we headed over to Fiddler’s – the bar and restaurant we had intended to try the night before. Fiddler’s came highly recommended by Tom, an American Great Loop Cruisers Association member and Gulf crossing consultant.
Once secured to the dock we headed into the bar. We ordered a couple beers and asked to speak with the owner. Jim, the owner, chef, and comedic personality listened to our story and offered us a room at his hotel next-door – Pelican Point. He suggested, well, almost required that we come back that evening.
We were happy to oblige and even happier to have a place to stay. Dinner was in a quiet dining room, but the size of the restaurant was obviously well equipped to handle the tourist season – which we would later learn started on July 1st, the opening day of scalloping.
As we paid our bill, our waiter whizzed passed our table and waved us to follow him into the bar. Jim had one leg lunged on top of an overturned metal ice tub and was strumming a single string that stretched from the tub to the end of a broomstick. In addition to his other talents, Jim also plays the Gut Bucket.
Jim’s wife and his son Jarrod were both working the bar too. They made us a giant margarita while Jim sang along to a Floribama Boy’s CD.
Later that evening we ended up at another bar down the river called Crabbie Dad’s. There was a surprisingly large crowd for a Sunday night in such a small town, but locals tell us that Steinhatchee is a “quiet drinking town with a fishing problem.” I’ve heard this saying before, but Steinhatchee really lives up to its slogan. Fisherman at the bar pulled out their maps and gave us drinks and unending advice.
We have relied heavily on local knowledge through out the entire trip, but everyone has a different opinion of how to approach the next leg of our route. As we’ve written in earlier blogs, the Florida bend is probably the most treacherous portion of the Great Loop. Some have suggested that we hug the coast as closely as possible, others have suggested that we set way points far enough off shore that we avoid collision with sandbars, oyster beds, and other shallow hazards, and skeptics have suggested that we trailer across to Jackson FL to avoid the risk all together. We must weight all these opinions, judge our advisor’s credibility, check weather conditions religiously, and in the end make the best plan we can.
Sunday June 28, 2009
We knew that the water had the potential to be rough with high wind and waves coming in from the west but we made a run for Cedar Keys anyway. As we trolled through the calmer water of the Steinhatchee River we checked the weather and wave report with the Lowrance VHF radio. The report said the water was going to get worse throughout the day due to the high winds that were gusting at 20 to 30 mph.
The boat has been great so far. The versatility of the Duroboat combined with the Suzuki 50 hp four-stroke has proven to be a seaworthy vessel. We’ve had very few problems. In fact, the few challenges we’ve encountered are due more to our learning curve than the boat itself.
As we entered the Gulf the waves rose and the periods in between waves shortened. When we got out to our first previously plotted waypoint on our Lowrance GPS we turned south and the waves hit us hard from our starboard side. Having three of us on the boat we all sat in the back to keep the bow up above the waves. With the motor churning, waves crashing over, and the dual bilge pumps working hard we were faced with the decision to turn back and not risk the rougher waters later in the day.
I am almost positive that that the boat could have made it there but with the sharp rocks and shallow water further south the decision to turn around was the right one. Why risk doing damage to the motor when we could just wait for better conditions. If there has been any advice that locals who know these waters well have told us it is to respect the water and there is no shame in waiting for better conditions.
We have now spent more time in Steinhatchee than any other spot, and it is not a bad place to be stuck. The small community runs along the Steinhatchee River on both sides. The river functions as main street, which has been very convenient for us. Everything is within walking distance, but we have been using the boat as our primary method of transportation.
Saturday June 27 2009
We woke up after 4 short hours of un-restful sleep aboard the boat in our muggy overcrowded tent. It was 5:15am and we dragged ourselves out of bed to start packing up for a pre-sunrise departure.
We have been on the water for a few weeks now, but we expect the Big Bend of Florida to be one of our most challenging runs. While we have been boaters for a long time we have not always been too involved with selecting our equipment. The types of gear we needed for this trip (particularly this portion of the trip) are very different from what we typically used to ski and wake board back home.
We have driven Duroboats now and then but most of our experience was with an inboard Century Resorter. For those of you who have driven both inboards and outboards you know they are a bit different. This trip is by far the most outboard control time we have ever logged. The inboard is like a big heavy car, powerful and fairly cushy. The outbords are a bit sportier. The outboard with a light Duroboat sure uses a lot less gas than the Century. Playing the wind, moving in reverse and docking in general are a bit different in the two types of boats.
Several companies have provided gear for us to test along the way and with 1500 miles under our belt we think we are starting to become qualified to talk a little bit about some of the items we are using.
Nervous for our first day of open water on the Gulf, we made special care to take every safety precaution we had available. We had our float plan ready, entered waypoints on the Lowrance GPS, sent our first Spot messages of the day, called my dad (3 am Seattle time), and buckled up our Mustang PFD’s.
The waves were large and rolling. Katie felt ill so she spent the majority of the trip lying in the front of the boat. It was difficult to see land, but the waypoints we had entered kept us on track when we could hardly see anything beyond water. We used the coordinates provided on our charts and guidebooks to plot a route that would take us out away from rock and shallow areas. This makes navigating as easy as keeping the arrow on your screen headed towards the waypoint.
I was frequently sending out Spot messages so our lat and longs would be well documented in case something went wrong. We press an “okay” button and everyone on our contact list receives a text message or e-mail letting them know where we are.
We kept our Mustang survival gear on and clipped onto the emergency shut off switch. Our PDF’s are self-inflating vests so they are very unobtrusive. Even as Katie was laying on the front deck trying to recover from seasickness, she was able to rest comfortably in her life vest. I am accepting of the minor tan lines in exchange for extra safety.
We arrived safe and sound in Steinhatchee and stopped at Hungry Howie’s for a pizza and chicken strip lunch. We met Pam from the Steinhatchee chamber of commerce. She showed us around town and drove us down the Steinhatche waterfalls. There is a canoe trip that starts here and takes paddlers back into town. If we end up sticking around we might make that adventure. Katie and I were quickly reminded of Waupaca, Wisconsin -our favorite vacation spot. The Steinhatchee River at this particular point looks a bit like Waupaca’s crystal. Search Google for “North to Waupaca” to learn a little more about this.
The town is small and the quite Steinhatchee River runs right to the center. On both sides of the river there are small marina resorts and vacation homes. Steinhactchee has one school that is k-8 with 150 enrolled students. Pam told us the workings of scallop season, which starts the 1st of July. We may get to stick around for that if the wave conditions worsen as expected.
Our last and final stop of the day was the Gulf Stream Marina. Our room was just a few steps away from the resorts restaurant that is named after Mel Tillis a famous country songwriter who happened to eat at the table next to us after a returning from a fishing trip. The hospitality was wonderful, and the crab artichoke dip was delicious!
Friday June 26 2009
We enjoyed muffins and yogurt for breakfast at the Water Street Hotel then walked next door to the Scipio Marina to check the status of our motor maintenance. The guys as Scipio had pulled the boat out of the water with a forklift so the guys at Wefing’s Marine could service the motor. We truly appreciate the effort from both parties especially as we prepare for the Big Bend. By late morning we were making our way into town for some lunch and air conditioning. Apalachicola is the first town we have stopped at where everything is within walking distance. It was nice not having to worry about transportation while making plans. We spent the rest of the afternoon overstaying our welcome in a seafood restaurant, ice cream parlor, and a cafe with Wifi. Our visits were prolonged because at that point we had decided it was going to be another night on the boat and we were trying to beat the heat during the day. We returned to Scipio Marina early evening where we met JD who was putting the Duroboat back in the water. Seeing the boat on the forklift was fun to watch and made for an interesting picture. JD –new to the marina– was friendly and helpful. He showed us footage on his cell phone of a sea otter eating a crab on the boat ramp, gave us tie up suggestions, and talked about the marina business. After we organized our stuff on the boat, all three of us freshened up with some deodorant and we made our way to Papa Joe’s where we sat at the bar and watched oyster shuckers working hard and quickly to meet the needs of the restaurant’s patrons. That was the beginning of our self-organized Apalachicola Bar Crawl. By the end of the night we had eaten oysters, played darts, met some locals, watched and sang karaoke, ate crab cakes, and danced. In need of a little rest before our early start into the Gulf, we went back to the boat for bed.
Thursday June 25 2009
We stuck around Bay Point Marina most of the morning trying to figure out where to get our oil changed. They had a breakfast shop near by that catered to elderly folks looking for a cup of coffee or a social atmosphere to collaborate on crossword puzzles. We ordered egg sandwiches and started calling around to find a Suzuki dealership. We nursed our meals and our drinks as we blogged and made phone calls. A few hours later we had a plan . . . winging -it is harder than one would imagine.
Suzuki contacted Wefing’s Marine in Apalachicola and arranged for a 100-hour service maintenance. Relieved to have a plan we head for Apalachicola, the last stop before our next major challenge – Florida’s Big Bend.
We arrived in Apalachicola around 4pm. Following Mark, the owner of Wefing’s, instructions, we docked at Scipio Marina and walked over to the Water Street Hotel. The three-bedroom condo suite was much classier than the three weather and sun burned patrons that came staggering into their lobby dripping with sweat. After hearing about our unusual journey from Mark, the women at the front desk agreed to give us a discounted stay. It was a deal we couldn’t pass up, although admittedly still a splurge outside our budget. Our hotel room was actually several rooms – two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, living room, and a screened porch with a view of the river.
After cleaning up, we all walked over to a restaurant called Up The Creek to meet Mark and his wife Anita for drinks and oysters on the half shell. I did my best to enjoy the local fare, but I’m told raw oysters are an acquired taste – I’m two oysters closer.
Mark gave us an evening tour of the town. We were pleased to see that everything was in walking distance from our hotel and there were several stores, restaurants, and some nightlife options for tomorrow night.
Wednesday June 24, 2009
Panama City **
We left Destin around 8am. The water was glassy, the air was cooler than the day before, and we made excellent time. We crossed Choctawhatchee Bay and entered what we’re told is the “Grand Canyon” of the ICW – a narrow passage with tall rocky bluffs on both sides. As we came out of the Grand Canyon and back into open water we saw pods of dolphins fishing all around us. We slowed down and circled around several times. I struggled to get good pictures because as quickly as the dolphins appeared they would dip back under and reappear in a completely different direction.
We stopped for lunch at a very small waterfront restaurant called Joe’s Bayou. We pulled the boat up to the dock and stepped off into the main dining deck. The boat was nearly at the table with us. We split a fish basket and tried to re-hydrate and cool down.
After lunch we walked into town. Panama City is a different experience than Panama City Beach during spring break. We strolled the sleepy streets and popped into a few antique stores (more for the air-conditioning than for the shopping.)
We cut back across the bay to the Bay Point Marina. On our way there the wind picked up and the oil light came on -something we had been expecting as we got closer to logging another 100 engine hours. The chop got bigger and we heard an oilrig over the VHF radio talking about a cyclone headed their direction. Wet from the spray and with no interest in seeing a cyclone we booked it to shore as quickly has we could.
Wet and tired, we sat on the boat discussing our next move. After more perpetual reorganizing of the boat we showered and headed to the marina bar. We had a couple drinks and a plate of nachos and brainstormed sleeping arrangements. Our options were limited because we were not within walking distance of a motel and the tent does not easily accommodate three people. In the end it was a wet, uncomfortable night, which ended early when some fisherman returned to the docks around dawn, saw our tent, and yelled in a southern accent, “What the hell is this? Some Green Peace Gurus?!”
Tuesday June 23, 2009
Niceville FL **
Sammy’s Grandparents are well qualified for positions with the Destin chamber of commerce. His grandmother gave us piles of maps and Destin area attraction brochures and his grandfather is well versed in Destin real estate. Once snow birds from Indiana, the couple built their own house and moved to Niceville, a suburb of Destin, in 2005.
Destin’s main attraction is its white sandy beaches, but our skin needed a little recovery time out of the sun. We toured Destin in 110-degree weather from the comfort of the air-conditioned car, jumping out just long enough to take pictures, visit an alligator exhibits, and stop for lunch on the beach.
It was wonderful to have another day of down time and a real bed to sleep in.
Monday 22 June 2009
We traveled east on the ICW over to Choctawhatchee Bay. This day was turning out to be another record setting day for temperatures in Florida. Florida has been experiencing unusually hot temperatures due to the high pressure front that is lingering over and the fact that it hasn’t been raining as often as it usually does but this is creating perfect weather for the trip – well, as perfect as 115 degrees can be.
As we entered the Bay we headed for a place that I have wanted to go since I was a little kid – Crab Island. It’s not really an Island at all it is actually a big sandbar that is below the Destin Bridge. Due to the weather and vacationers in Destin the area was packed full of boaters all having a great time. The combination of music, hot weather, 80-degree water, an ice cream boat, and drinks made me want to get out and swim around for a while. The crowd of people on this underwater island was made up of just about every age group. The water was a crystal blue color and the sand was soft under our feet. For it only being 2 ft deep there were a lot of big boats anchored all around us. The girls both got stung by some mystery fish in the water that at times would send them jumping into the boat to escape whatever it was. We never saw anything and I never got stung but its still a mystery on what it was that sent them flying back into the boat with no marks where the stings were. After all of us felt like we had enough sunburns we headed across the Bay for a place called Rocky Bayou.
The water in the Bay gets choppier in the afternoon so it was a slower ride back across the Bay. We arrived at Rocky Bayou turning into Ward Cove to park the boat for the night and meet my Grandparents who would be hosting us for this part of the trip. The Blue Water Bay Marina seems to be very large and well kept. We were all ready to get out of the sun and take showers for the first time – well I won’t say how long it was for the girls but it was my first real shower of the trip.
It was an inopportune time for something to break. The lock for the storage area broke. After almost gluing my fingers to the boat we decided that it would be better to just install a new locking system. I thought a Hasp Lock would be a good fix; my grandpa calls it the country boy way of locking something up.
We made a quick trip to CVS to pick up some much-needed deodorant. While smelling sunscreen I accidentally squeezed too hard sending a flood of weird smells to stain my nose for the next three hours. At least I know that the inside of my nose will not get sunburned. It was good to have a home cooked meal of pork chops, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and cranberry salad, topped with Florida’ favorite – Key Lime pie. My grandparent’s house was a great place for the girls to catch up on rest in a real bed as well as catch up on all the other things that they have gotten behind on like this Blog that I am writing right now.
I still don’t have a grasp for all the nautical terms – something I’m practicing. Also being the new guy I get to swab the poop-deck and other undesirable duties. It’s okay though because so far everything has gone smoothly – let’s hope my luck continues.
Sunday, 21 June
So after sleeping on a sailboat that had been found, bought for one dollar and partially refurbished , all after hurricane Katrina; we started our journey that would be my second time traveling in the boat with the girls (even though they say the first time in Illinois didn’t count). A man came walking down the dock before we left. He wanted to meet the girls because he had seen their story in the local newspaper. His name was Richard and he had done the great loop on a Waverunner and was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest trip on a Waverunner. After a short conversation with the girls he was on his way and so were we. We stopped to get gas and ice at the only marina that seemed to be open on father’s day. Elizabeth and Katie borrowed a truck and went to the nearest convenience store for water. They were surprised to find a follower on the short trip to the store, a golden retriever from the marina. He sprinted behind their truck the whole way there and then rode back sitting shotgun between the two in the cab of the truck.
The water was very calm and there was nearly no traffic. The wind coming from the southwest blew us right along on the scorcher of a day. It turned out to be one of many days that will reach over 100 degrees. We were making great time. The second time across Mobile Bay was more enjoyable is what Elizabeth and Katie both told me. Entering the ICW after Mobile Bay was easy. Since we were able to make such great time we decided that it would be fun to stop at Lulu’s which is a restaurant right on the ICW and is impossible to miss. It is bright and huge. The name Lulu’s comes from Lucy Buffet the owner. Lulu is what her family, including her brother Jimmy Buffet the musician, calls her. There was live music and ice cold drinks that tasted better than the bottled water on the boat that had become just as hot as it was outside. We started a conversation with the bartender that later turned into a conversation with one of the managers and Lucy herself. She was a very upbeat person who said she would love to tag along on the trip, but only if there was going to be air conditioning. After talking about the trip and Duroboat with the people sitting around us, the musician on the stage asked what song Elizabeth would like to hear. She suggested Hootie and the Blowfish. After listening to the live music and cooling off for a while we were ready to finish the rest of the mileage for the day. We jumped back into the boat ready to be at Pirate’s Cove. Katie fell asleep, waking only a couple of times due to choppy water. I was driving at this point. I had put my shirt on my head as a makeshift hat because the sun was roasting my head. Elizabeth told me I looked like a pirate, which was very appropriate because we were headed to Pirate’s Cove. We knew it wasn’t far to our final stop that day but Katie was asleep and I guess I was having too much fun driving so we went a little bit further than intended. Pirate’s Cove was not well marked. All we had was an old picture of it in one of our travel books. That old picture put us into some pretty shallow water before finding the real Pirate’s Cove.
Once there, we found out that there was no fee to tie up for the night. Actually the lady inside the restaurant said anyone could tie up for three days for free but no longer than that because they would have too many people living there. While tying up the boat I heard two different people walk by and whisper to their friends “hey that’s that boat from the paper”. It wasn’t five minutes before we had made a friend by the name of Tommy who seemed to know his way around because he himself had a 30 ft sailboat tied up on the other side of the restaurant. After talking with Tom for a while on the dock we decided it was time to eat some dinner. We had one of the best pizzas I have ever had in my life. It was called the Karnivorous Karl. It had every kind of meat on it with pineapple and a mound of cheese. The pizza might have tasted so good due to my extreme hunger from not really eating all day, or the pizza was just that good. Tommy told us he hopes to come back as a dog in his second life because dogs at Pirates Cove live like kings. They play in the water, roll in the sand, and helped us finish our pizza. One was a giant English Mastiff and another was a little hound dog that seemed to be everywhere we were.
It quickly went from daylight to dark. We decided to go for a swim in the shallow water right off the dock. We all agreed that the water was a little bit too warm for a refreshing swim so it didn’t last long. Pirate’s Cove had a bathhouse with laundry machines and four separate bathrooms with showers. We all rinsed off the salt water and got ready to try to sleep. Tom said we could sleep on his sailboat instead of camping on the Duroboat for the night. We joined him on his sailboat where he had cleared the back room for the girls to sleep and I slept in the front room. Tom popped in George Carlin’s comedy show in New York to the DVD player. I struggled to stay awake despite the DVD. Throughout the night I woke up frequently in a panic and then remembered where I was and fell back asleep just to do it again in ten minutes. The next morning we all woke up early, planned our trip for the day with Tom’s help, and headed out.
Saturday, 20 June
I didn’t know what to expect when I got on the plane in Tulsa flying to Mobile. Who would have guessed that the man sitting next to me on the plane would be a man from Baton Rouge who works for McGlasson Marine Service a company that deals with barges and other big boats. He was full of information about barge traffic which would pertain to our trip around Florida. He definitely was surprised to hear the size of the boat we all are traveling in, and warned about big ships in Tampa Bay. This has become a common warning by most boaters who have traveled through Tampa. Clay gave me his card and said if we ran into any trouble to give him a call and he could try to help us. This was a great introduction to my trip around Florida.
Arriving in Mobile I was greeted by Elizabeth and Katie who both looked very tired and a little sunburned. Our way back from the airport began a great adventure of finding our way to Moss Point. Along the way we followed a small map that didn’t get us lost, it just took us to $1.00 snow cones and a scenic tour of southern Mississippi and Alabama and then southern Mississippi and Alabama again. We arrived at Moss Point where I was introduced to all the newfound friends at Rachel’s Widow’s Walk. It wasn’t long before I felt like I had known them for years. It seemed like everyone we met had a hidden musical talent. We ate good food, “fried everything” –shrimp, catfish, squid and even deep fried tomatoes. When the restaurant customers began to leave the staff showed off their amazing musical talent. They entertained us with an assortment of songs – they knew every key and every word. I never got to meet the infamous Lucky that everyone had said so much about.
Saturday June 20, 2009
Moss Point MS **
Today was our first non-travel day since Elizabeth’s graduation. We slept in until nearly 9am, but we stayed up so late the night before that we continued to overdraw from our sleep bank.
We had another interview this morning, with the Moss Point newspaper. We routinely get the same 15 or 20 questions from reporters, dockhands, bartenders, and other loopers. Elizabeth and I both agree that we are getting more efficient in our answers and intend to brief Sammy, our next guest cruiser, with consistent answers. My least favorite question, primarily because we don’t have a good answer, is “Why don’t you have a bimini top?” Our favorite question is, “What? Are you crazy?” We are some of the least crazy people we’ve meet on the river so far. Our three-month summer cruise pales in comparison to the folks who have dedicated their entire lives to water.
Sam has been living on his sailboat for the last 18 years and owns Rachel’s Widow’s Walk. The restaurant recently opened in Moss Point and from what Katie and I can tell will surely be a success. The walls of the restaurant display interesting photos that tell maritime history. The back of every menu tells the story of Rachel who in 1919 fulfilled her father’s dreams of construing a schooner that would carry lumber from Moss Point to California via the Panama Drop. While the construction was a success the endeavor was not and the schooner Rachel ran aground when traveling to South America. This could be attributed to the fact the schooner was renamed. The last line of the story on the menu reads, “You should never change the name on a ship or a boat you’ll take away her dreams”. Sam and his employees also boast much musical talent. Between the scheduled band Good Moon and unscheduled jam sessions, the place was booming with music the whole night.
Sam and Anne were very hospitable throughout our stay. They made sure we were fed, provided us with air conditioned sleeping arrangements, gave us showers, a car and means to do laundry.
Lucky whose name really does read as lucky on his birth certificate, has been famed as the best fiberglass man around. It was a pleasure talking with him because he interjected pirate “arrrrs” every so often and speaks with a gruff voice fitting of an old pirate. We enjoyed listening to him perform Lynyrd Skynyrd on the guitar and watching him attempt a back dive off the pier piling.
Jen, a very outgoing Rachel’s Walk employee greeted Katie and I with high fives while shouting “y’all rock”. Her enthusiasm was much appreciated and we tried to convince her to join us for a leg of the trip. In addition to her enthusiasm I have much confidence in her resourcefulness. While Katie and I were doing some planning Jen approached us with a tiny squid she had found. After we took a picture of Jen and her new friend, she soon returned with bite size pieces of fried calamari.
Moss Point is actually a small deviation from the loop route, but the good company and excellent food made it well worth it. We took the detour because Sam is a fan of Duroboats and currently owns three.
We received much support from all of the people at Rachel’s Widow’s Walk. A special thanks to Sam, Ann, and David.****
Friday June 19, 2009
Rachel’s Widow’s Walk Moss Point, MS
We woke up around 7:30 in the guest bedroom of Kaos, Susann and Alan’s beautiful 46′ boat. They offered us breakfast and Alan give us the weather and wave report for the day – less than 2 foot waves . . . good news. We filled up with gas and bought a chart of Mobile Bay. As we left we talked to teenage boy working at the fuel dock. He told us he and his girlfriend tried to kayak down the Tenn-Tombigbee but only made it a mile before their kayak flipped and his girlfriend demanded to go home. He also described his experience during Katrina – sad and very eye-opening for two Seattleites who’ve never experience any real disasters.
We crossed Mobile Bay and headed towards Moss Point MS to visit Sam. A few years ago Sam was looking for a good tender. He found Duroboat on the Internet and decided he couldn’t settle for anything less. In order to make delivery efficient, Sam bought 6 boats and walked into the local boat dealership, Johnsen’s Marine, with a plan to convince Mr. Johnson to buy a lot of Duroboats too. It didn’t take much convincing. As it turned out, Mr. Johnson used to sell Duroboats back when the company had a factory in Florida.
Sam offered us a place to stay for the weekend at his marina and restaurant, Rachel’s Widow’s Walk. The restaurant is new, but they have good food and a healthy Friday night crowd to show for it. We danced and enjoyed the blues band, Good Moon, and Sam’s own saxophone and piano performances. The evening went well past closing time and ending after the employees took an early morning swim off the end of the Marina pier.
Thursday, June 18
Dog River Marina Mobile, AL
We were on the water at 6am to travel from Demopolis to Mobile. Because the stretch offers only one place to fuel up and no sleeping accommodations, we decided to cram the mileage of two days into one. Half way through our 12-hour day we stopped at Bobby’s Fish Camp. We found Bobby (an elderly gentleman laying in a recliner in the dark store front). Unfortunately, we had to disturb him to ask that he turn the fuel pump on. Before leaving the dock to continue, we called the next lock only to find they were trouble shooting. We waited about 40 minutes and entered, hoping everything was running smoothly.
The second half of our day had been going well but quickly became stressful when we left the Mobile ship canal and entered into a portion of Mobile Bay. The chop picked up a considerable amount and it seemed we were so far from land. We no longer had the protection of the riverbanks on either side of us, which was unsettling. We made it to Dog River Marina and tied up to their fuel dock. Katie and I were discussing how our tie up job would fair, if the tides continued to lower. We’d hate to later find our boat hanging from the dock. When we asked Susann and Alan for their input, we all were happy to have discovered fellow Loopers. The couple invited us to their boat for the night were we had a drink, chatted, and turned in early.
Wednesday, June 17
Another hot day was in store so we got an early start. The sun was still off to the east when we went through the first two locks. We tied up on our port side so we could hide from the sun for a few minutes as the water level dropped us below the sun’s direct rays. We take these moments to wipe ourselves off, reapply sunscreen, and hope it sinks in before we start sweating it all off again. Hawaiian Island Creations sent us a good supply of sunscreen before we left, but we are going through it quickly.
The Alabama banks of the Tenn-Tom offer more to look at. We saw white bluffs, interesting shorelines and houses teetering on the edge of the shore where the river has washed away the ground beneath them.
We arrived in Demopolis, gassed up the boat, checked into a small motel on the marina property and crashed next to the air conditioner.
After a cold shower, we headed down to the guesthouse to use the WiFi. We met Gill Hummel, who upon introduction said, “Google me.” We did, and Gill was a good example of all the free spirits you meet along the Great Loop.
After grabbing a quick dinner in town, we dropped in for a beer at the marina bar. We listened to advice from two locals about crossing Mobile Bay. They had taken their 20′ fishing boat down to Orange Beach on a college trip some years ago and shared the harsh conditions they encountered. We left the bar and took pictures with the fake alligators because we still have not encountered any real ones.
We traded our upper Tenn-Tom guidebook in for charts of the Black Hawk Warrior. A quick trade turned into a small gathering at the fuel dock with some barge workers. We listened to funny stories about life on the river: naked tug drivers, drunken pontooners and barge food (SPAM and Beanie Weenies).
Tuesday, June 16
Today was so hot! We can’t apply sunscreen often enough. It’s a race to get it rubbed in before my body starts sweating it off again. We only had 60 miles and 4 locks today, but waiting at the locks was like sitting in a pizza oven.
The water has been calm, but there are still large pieces of debris to watch for. We’ve hit a few smaller logs, and each time we slow down to check the prop and make sure all is in working order. I don’t look forward to trying to change a prop, but the one Turning Point gave us seems to be holding up well.
We were thankful for the short day and arrived at the Columbus Marina around 2:30pm. We were relieved to get another covered slip — for the shade and protection from potential t-storms like the night before.
Columbus Marina is a member of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association and the whole crew was great. They even called the Columbus news station and urged them to come down to the marina to interview us.
Tim and Blake, two young staffers from the Columbus news crew, arrived a few hours later. Both Elizabeth and I agreed it was lucky that cameras can’t capture smell. Still dirty and gross from 7 hours in the sun and 95-degree weather, we did our best to get the boat and ourselves camera-ready.
After wrapping up the interview and dropping the boys back at the dock, we secured our boat and headed for the shower.
We borrowed the Columbus Marina courtesy car and headed out to find Proffit’s Porch, a southern seafood restaurant that Tim had recommended. It was only a few miles off highway 45, but it felt like the middle of nowhere. Appropriately named, they have a large wooden porch with several slow-moving ceiling fans. The porch overlooks a sandy volleyball court near the Tenn-Tom Waterway. We ordered a couple beers and the house specialty, red beans with rice and seafood gumbo.
After dinner, we took a driving tour of old downtown Columbus to check out the beautiful antebellum houses.
Columbus was a good stop. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and it offered a true southern experience.
Monday, June 15
We had a late start. A planned 60-mile day turned into a 90-mile day because we missed a turn out of Pickwick Lake. Good thing we fueled up the day before.
The ride was hot and uneventful. We arrived at Midway Marina late evening and were directed to an undercover slip. Midway Marina was different than any we have stopped at so far. It had all the amenities of the other marinas, but it seemed to be a more permanent living arrangement for those who moored there.
We used the courtesy van to go to the nearby town of Fulton for dinner and groceries. We asked the Harbor Master to suggest a good local restaurant so we could try some true southern cooking. He recommended a Mexican restaurant or the recently opened KFC.
We chose the Mexican restaurant, but the KFC had a line 12 cars deep, so maybe we were missing something. As we entered the Los Compadores we tried to take a picture of the sign that read “No smoking on Sundays.” The sign was somewhat amusing given Seattle is a city that has gone so far as to consider banning smoking on the golf course.
We drove the van back to Midway Marina in a thunderstorm, thankful that we had a covered slip for the boat.
We skipped the hot tub and after a quick stop at the marina clubhouse, we climbed into our tent (which, by the way, fits the boat very well, but does not fit us very well) and went to bed.
The next morning we were up early to shower. Katie put a dollar under the rock for cooler ice and we were on our way to Columbus.
Sunday, June 14
Jill went home with Scott and Given, so today was our first travel day alone. Thanks, Jill, for escorting us down the Mississippi River!
We arrived at Pickwick Landing State Park around 6pm and headed straight to the fuel dock. We figured that would be one less thing to worry about in the morning.
Roger met us at the dock. Roger told us right away how he had retired from his stressful shift work schedule at the mill and opted for the more pleasant duties of a Pickwick Landing dockhand. He was quite a character, and his excitement for our trip was very appreciated. Even more appreciated was his effort to find us a room at the Pickwick Landing Inn and arrange transportation to get us there.
We were so relieved to have an air-conditioned room and cold showers that we let the time slip away from us. We headed for dinner at the hotel restaurant around 7:55 — apparently too late on a Sunday night in Pickwick. Not only was the hotel restaurant closed, but the closest restaurant was almost 4 miles away — a distance we would have been willing to walk had we been able to confirm it would be open when we arrived. Unfortunately, this place was so new that their phone number was not yet listed.
By 8:30 we surrendered to waiting for breakfast. Then the Pickwick Park Ranger, who had unsuccessfully tried to help us look up the number for the unlisted restaurant, suggested we order a pizza. Not the local flare we were looking for but it hit the spot. This low-key night gave us a chance to do some laundry and catch up on our blog.
Sunday, June 14
Birdsong Resort Marina Camden, TN
Jill’s son Given tagged along as we wondered up to the main building to meet the owner of Birdsong Resort and see their famous Tennessee Pearl Museum.
The door was open, but the lights were still dim as we wondered in. Bob Keast the Harbor Master (and 48 year veteran) of Birdsong Marina, met us at the desk.
Shortly after, an elderly newlywed couple joined all of us, Bob seated us in the theater room for a short video presentation.
Birdsong is North American’s only freshwater pearl-culturing operation. Bob calls their operation Aquaculture instead of agriculture. Their crop of pearl producing oysters hang in nets just off the shore of our campsite the night before.
It’s an interesting little operation –that’s not so little we quickly found out. Japan, known for their pearl production actually buys mollusk shells from the rivers of the Tennessee for about $20 a pop. They chop the mollusk shells into lots of pieces and use them as the implants for future pearls.
Jill and Scott –worried we’d kidnapped Given- joined us at the end of the presentation and reminded us that we better get going in order to miss the nasty weather headed our way.
Quick pictures and a stop at the dock store, then we were on our way. The girls at the Birdsong fuel dock were great –thanks for the support ladies!
Smooth travels to Pickwick Landing. We met the very friendly dock attendant Roger, who called to get us a ride to the hotel. Things close early on a Sunday night in Pickwick so we ordered a Hawaiian Pizza to the hotel and tried to catch up on email replies and thank you notes.
Saturday, June 13
Green Turtle Bay Marina Grand Rivers, KY
While the gym facility, walking path, and pool were very impressive at Green Turtle Bay Marina; after a night at the yacht club we were not going to make use of these amenities as Katie and I had planned on the night before. Instead we headed into Grand Rivers on Bill’s golf cart to see the town and get some food. Upon arrival we parked and walked in and out of the town’s quaint shops and antique stores. Our hunger caused us to make our way into Patty’s 1880 Restaurant before they had opened for lunch, so we made our way out back to explore the grounds. We stumbled upon huge meringue pies, Ester the pig, miniature golf, and a wedding set up. After meeting the pig none of us had the nerve to order the restaurant’s signature dish –two inch thick pork chops. We ate, returned to the condo to pack, fueled up, and departed for Birdsong.
We passing through the channel into Lake Kentucky, and headed south about 6 miles to meet up with the Ricks and friends to watch the drag races in the cove. We tied to their boat and once again boarded. Katie and I swam in the lake and Jill tested out the boat’s hot tub. After a short stay we got back on the Duroboat to continue our journey. We arrived at Birdsong Marina about 5 hours later where Jill’s husband Scott, and son Given, were waiting on the dock for her arrival. We all camped overnight at Birdsong. I fell asleep the sound of Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock karaoke at the lively resort pavilion.
June 13, 2009
Green Turtle Bay Marina
I’ve spent another night with the girls since my last blog, and I must take back two things. 1) My praise of the Hollander’s because I thought so highly of their boating skills. It turns out they had run their boat aground earlier in the day, and a guy we met at the yacht club told us all about how he had to go get them and tow them out. And 2) I need to take back what I said about the girls, you know, the “lightweight” part. I used to think that most Southern Gentlemen lived in the Carolinas, but I’m now thinking there are more in Kentucky. Thanks guys!
Friday June 12, 2009
Green Turtle Bay Marina Grand Rivers KY
Gimme somma dat
We untied from Kidd’s Fuel Dock in Cape Girardeau at exactly 7am this morning. The Mississippi River has very unforgiving currents, so the first 2 hours of our trip were uncomfortable. There are holes that swirl in large circle and look like they could easily flush us out the other side of China. Even from a good distance away we could feel the pull of these swirls trying to redirect the boat. The Ohio River slowed us down to about 20 mph – this was the first time we’ve traveled against the flow. Elizabeth and I both checked our gas supply several times throughout the day, but even traveling upstream we made the entire 150 mile day without depleting our standard 18 gallon supply, the extra tank Jill brought with her went untouched.
The Cumberland River was a welcome change – smooth glassy water. So smooth that the white noise from the motor made it difficult to stay alert after such an early morning departure. Jill was already dozing on the front deck, and I was planning on doing the same when we arrived to Green Turtle Bay Marina – Bill-4, Green Turtle Bay’s Harbor master, had better plans.
After giving Elizabeth a tour of the facilities and a quick unofficial golf cart driver’s ed lesson, Bill-4 left us at the beautifully furnished two story waterfront condo that his sister Vida had arranged for us, and called in a 7pm dinner reservation at the yacht club.
After quick showers, we drove the golf cart across the Green Turtle Bay facilities. I can see why it takes most loopers years to make the trip. Who would want to leave a Marina like this? Green Turtle Bay has condos, several pools, a health club, tennis courts, a restaurant, lots of boat storage, and some really friendly boaters.
We found ourselves at the yacht club taking advice from a second Bill and his friend Jeff. Remember: Bobby’s Fish camp is closest to the Mobile Airport, LuLu is Jimmy Buffet’s sister and she makes a darn good cheese burger, watch for gators after Pickwick Lake, and eat at Easel’s near mile 160 on the Tombigbee.
Green Turtle Bay Marina is in a dry county – an unusual problem for their yacht club bar. The solution is to allow club members to bring their own alcohol and charge them an uncorking fee rather than for the drink itself. There is a wall of lockers in which members can store their bottles until they give it to the bar tender to be served. Thanks to Bill 4, we didn’t have to embarrass ourselves by bringing the bar tender an almost empty bottle of wine from the night before.
We missed our original dinner reservation time, but we met Rick.
Rick Leeper is the owner of Kentucky Dam Marina. He is also a fan of good smiles, high check bones, bourbon and soda, and a proud grandfather of a little girl that just learned how to snap her fingers. Rick was on an annual trip with some buddies he knows from the concrete business. The group was vacationing on a Sumerset House boat – a boat that Rick insisted is absolutely worth paying slightly more for.
I would agree. The boat had six bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living room with a flat paneled TV. After Rick Locke one of Rick Leeper’s friends bought our dinner, we headed over to their houseboat for an after dinner drink. One drink turned into three and began a night of IPOD karaoke.
Conversation fluctuated between our boat trip and the karaoke play list. Elizabeth and I have decided to create a Small Boat Big Summer sound track
Today our plan is to drive the golf cart into Grand Rivers, KY (population 400), and check Rick’s Kentucky Dam Marina on the way out of town this afternoon.
Thursday June 11, 2009
Cape Girardeau, MO
OMGosh! What a rude! Went from Kimmswick, MO (24 mi south of St. Louis) to Cape Girardeau today, about 110 miles. That 16′ Duroboat is so smooth – even when passing the barges! They can really churn a big wake, but the deep-V Duroboat can take it! Actually went a bit south of Cape today to check out a campground at Thebes, but they didn’t have any place to moor the boat. Neither did Cape G, but fortunately a family friend of Katie and Elizabeth was on business here, and she convinced some people from Holland who had already convinced the owner of a defunct fuel dock to let them stay, to let us dock behind them. They spoke some funny English, but they sure could tie knots! Susie, the family friend, picked us up at the dock and first took us to a gas station where we refueled our portable gas tanks, then she took us to her hotel so we could shower. Then it was on to a famous local brewery, Buckner and Ragsdale (did I mention they also serve wine?). It sure was good, though – excellent cod! It was right on the water. The Hollanders (Hollandaise?) want to get on the road…er…uh…river by 6:00 a.m. and since we’re tied to them, we said we’d be there (ugh!) As I write this, Katie and Elizabeth are already out, and it’s not even 10:00 p.m. – lightweights! Many thanks to Fern at the dock in Kimmswick, who is chock full of good information, including ways to avoid pirates. I wanted to tell her we weren’t off the coast of Somalia. Tomorrow we head for Paducah, KY. All aboard! Oh yeah, hey to my brother, John Carpenter, without whose valuable river skills and insight I may not have made this trip. Thanks Uncle Carpy!
Wednesday June 10, 2009
St. Louis, MO
I conquered my first two locks today on the way into St. Louis. As we approached the Arch from the river, the water was calm so we were moving about the boat taking pictures of the Arch. Soon after passing the Arch we were surrounded by five barges, logs, and choppy waters. I was nervous, but we called the barge ahead of us using the Lowrance VHF radio and the captain on that vessel gave us the go-ahead to pass him on his right.
About an hour later we arrived at Hoppies Marine Service- the last place to get fuel before Green Turtle Bay, 260 miles away. We tied up to a dock made of barges and saw some elderly gentleman sitting in the grass above the marina waiting for passing customers.
Joel talked the Harbormaster into helping us pull the boat so we could change the engine gear oil. We were pleased to see that the prop was in perfect condition despite the amount of debris we hit. Turning Point Propellers gave us two extra props, but this one looked great and I’d be happy if the extra props stay in their box.
We didn’t realize how hot and muggy the weather had become until we got off the boat. The breeze keeps us cool and I have to make a conscious effort to remember to apply sunscreen. We received a big box of skin care from Hawaii Island Creations just minutes before Katie and Joel left Seattle. Katie and I are both trying to be sun safe on this trip, but even the wind does a number on the skin. Joel was not so lucky, he’ll be nursing a life jacket shaped burn for a couple days.
Tuesday June 9, 2009
Alton Marina, Alton IL
We woke up on the Wake Maker and slowly made our way back to our boat to disassemble our tent – still never used. We up-loaded some pictures and looked over our plans for the next few days. At noon we headed into Alton to find some lunch.
B-G diner looked good. This little café has been in existence since 1910 and was originally a bar. It seems as if there has been little changed since its switch to a diner years ago. It has the small wooden booth, laminated 1950’s patterned tables, and chrome coat hooks. Our server was the owner – an older gentle man, with a dark mustache, and a very thick accent. Joel, Katie, and I decided to order specials. Mine was the beef stroganoff. Joel and I got to pick two sides while Katie was allowed to pick three, we’re not sure why. She order chicken fried steak, with three sides: mash potatoes, spaghetti, and applesauce. The meal came with 6 slices of white Wonder Bread already buttered. After I paid the bill, a grand total of $22, I was given a large handful of Double Bubble Gum and sent on my way.
That afternoon we caught a ride to St. Louis, visited the Arch, and enjoyed a beer sampler and appetizers at Morgan St. Brewery.
Later we met up with Ben Fraser, a friend of Katie and Joel’s from Seattle. We later found our thrill at Blueberry Hill, Chuck Berry’s Restaurant in the loop of St. Louis. Exhausted, we crashed at Ben’s house for our first full 8 hours of sleep in a long time.
Monday June 8, 2009
Alton Marina, Alton IL
We woke up early to meet Darren from the S&R Marina at the Beardstown boat launch. We had planned to meet at 7:30 and pull the Duroboat using his trailer and take it back to the shop for an oil change. The trailer he brought had flat bunks – that doesn’t work for a v-hull boat like Duroboat. Darren left to grab tools and returned wearing a poncho to change the oil at the launch in the pouring rain. When we tried to pay he simple said, “don’t worry about it.” We gave him a trip t-shirt.
After the oil change we used our Sand Spike to moor the boat between the beach and an old paddle wheel boat that looked stuck in the shallow marina. We went back into Beardstown to say “Thank You and Good Bye” to Dr Fisher and met Mr. Trone the owner of Trone Appliance Center. He and his wife decided to take a quick trip down to the launch to check out the Duroboat before we left.
We were finally on our way around 10:30 am, just in time for another torrential downpour and lightning. We had our Mustang Survival jackets to keep our top halves dry and made some garbage bag kilts to cover our pants. Approximately 60 miles later we arrived in Grafton, our scheduled stop for the night. Jan, the owner of Grafton Harbor met us at the gas dock. Grafton Harbor is a member of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association.
After securing the boat we walked into town and booked a room at the Ruebel’s Hotel. Joel played Ms. Pac Man in the lobby while the owner showed us to the Captain’s Quarters – a room we hoped would be haunted (as legend and town roomers suggest).
The weight of Elizabeth’s bag persuaded her to take inventory and downsize her luggage. In the end her bag was two swimsuits, three t-shirts, and one pair of shoes lighter.
While looking over the map we realized the Alton IL was only 12 miles down river, and there were still several hours of day light left. Our parents had decided to visit Charlestown IL after leaving Elizabeth’s graduation, and were headed to St. Louis. We enticed them to stay at the Captain’s Quarters in Grafton, left the key at the front desk, and pressed on to Alton IL.
On our way out of town, Jan, the owner of the Grafton Harbor Marina gave us a Quiby’s cruising guide to help us down the river.
As we entered the Mississippi River, the water was smooth as glass. We discussed trading a few t-shirts in exchange for a couple wakeboard runs should we meet some wakeboard friends along the way.
Shortly after that we had our first Duroboat sighting. A blue 12-foot Duroboat on the back of a 32-foot cruiser. Wish I could have found my camera fast enough or at least noted the name of the cruiser. I hope we’ll see more Duroboat’s as we get closer to Florida – Duroboat’s second manufacturing location, years ago.
We made it to Alton Marina around 6pm. Their facilities are all on floating docks, included a pool and two hot tubs. After checking in we started a load of laundry and relaxed in the pool.
We also began setting up our tent on the front deck of the Duroboat. We had a covered slip and figured this was a safe and dry night to test camping. The owner of “Wake Maker” a neighboring boat, saw our set up, heard our story, and offered to leave the air conditioning in his boat on for us should we decided to sleep there. We did, and we left them a thank you T-shirt.
At the recommendation of the Alton Marina staff, we ate dinner at Alton’s famous Fast Eddies – a large sports bar with and outdoor courtyard, with cheap delicious food, free popcorn, and large frosty beers.
Sunday June 7, 2009
A five-car caravan was headed to Tall Timber’s Marina in Havana, IL. My family, visiting for graduation, as well as my boyfriend Sammy, accompanied Katie and I to the marina to give us a proper send off. Upon arrival, Joel added some decals to the boat, my mom and aunt organized our SiBBS t-shirts, and I learned where everything is stowed on board. My densely packed bag does not easily adapt to limited storage space.
Katie and I sat down for my first lesson on the cruising guides. The first crack of thunder sounded only five minutes in to our conversation. After some chicken nuggets and pizza, we departed slightly behind schedule. Our travel distance for the day was a short 33 miles to Beardstown, IL. The hour and a half trip with special guests Rosemary –my mom and Sammy –my boyfriend; consisted of eating Mike ‘n Ikes. pelting rain, intermittent sun, thunder, lightning, two barges, and floating debris. Dodging the frequent logs and sticks on the Illinois River, reminded me of the Oregon Trail game, where the player’s last task before winning is to dodge rocks while rafting down the Columbia. A skill acquired as a third grader proved to be helpful today.
As we approached Beardstown in the pouring rain, all we saw was a giant sea wall that had no docks. We spotted some stairs that lead to the top of the sea wall and temporarily tied to the stairs so we could meet our contact Dr. Fisher. Joel jumped in the boat with Katie; and my mom, Sammy, and I exited. Katie and Joel were directed to tie up at the Beardstown Marina that was a little ways back. The rest of us went by land with Dr. Fisher to meet up with them. To get to the Marina we drove along the top of the levee. We soon saw that the Beardstown Marina – a muddy flooded area, a run down paddleboat and nothing else. We tied the Duroboat to the old paddleboat and we were on our way to the hotel to clean up and eat dinner. Beardstown was described to us by one of it’s residents as a town with some nosey people. It was this curiosity that made us a little concerned for the boat’s wellbeing. After dinner with Dr. Fisher, we drove the levee with Dr. Fisher to check on the boat. It was fine. Still thinking about the boat, we later went to bed and hoped for the best.
Sunday June 7, 2009
Beardstown was once a bustling city on the banks of the Illinois River. Before the water quality of the river deteriorated, Beardstown was know for fish and was the home of the Blind Pig Saloon, the country’s largest oyster bar at the time. Fish markets were common, and like most cities on the ol’ Illinois, the river was the town’s lifeblood.
Beardstown would regularly host traveling Vaudeville acts. Shows would port and perform at the city’s Opera house, –a historic gem now in the National Register (beardstownopera.com). General Tom Thumb, a dwarf made famous by circus entrepreneur PT Barnum, was the first show at the Opera House when it opened in 1872. Old show bills can still faintly be seen plastered on the walls in the backstage area.
Unfortunately changes to the river upstream have negatively impacted Beardstown’s access to the river. Over the last 30 years silt has been flowing downstream and settling around the now abandoned marina. The area where Beardstown residents once water-skied, is now too shallow for even flat bottom fishing boats when the river is at it’s normal water level. Beardstown has slowly become estranged from the river that flows through its backyard and the town’s vitality has suffered.
Dr. Harold Fisher, the president of Beardstown Main Street board of directors is working to change that. As he walked us around town tonight, he shared with us some of Beardstown noteworthy history. Beardstown was the site of the famous Almanac Trial in 1858, in which Abraham Lincoln successfully defended a man accused by a witness claiming to have seen the defendant attack the victim by moonlight. According to the almanac, this would have been impossible as there was no moonlight on the night of the incident.
The mission of Beardstown Main Street is to promote, attract and preserve diverse businesses in historic downtown Beardstown. Mr. Fisher’s mission is to save history. If he could share with everyone what he shared with us tonight, he’d surely have more supporters.
Beardstown has potential to reclaim a stronger relationship with the river. If Dr. Fisher’s hopes for the town materialize, Beardstown will continue to be an appealing and historical stop for loopers.
Saturday June 6, 2009
Heritage Harbor, Ottawa IL
How did we end up on the side of the freeway talking to the police detective about the blood splattered all over? Well, it all started back in Seattle about 48 hours before. I had been working really long hours trying to get the Loop Boat done in time to make our June 4th launch date. After testing and modifications, we were able to hit the road at 7pm Monday night with a plan to drive 32 straight hours to Wisconsin for propeller testing and the launching of the boat. Along the way, we hit a dead skunk (the smell followed us for hours) and two dead deer on the road (just to make sure they were dead). These incidents made a mess of our brand new and once shiny boat.
After only 4 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours, we were on our way to test the props and blew a trailer tire. It turns out that the second deer we hit bent the trailer axle and made the tires wear incorrectly. Luckily while going to change the tire, a detective from Illinois helped us out and gave us an escort to the local tire shop. Finally we tested props to select the correct one and received our windscreen we had Acrylico ship to Chicago – the boat was officially complete.
T-0 seconds, we have launching. Of all days and ways to start the trip, Katie and I were lucky enough to start the trip with 3 miles of what I was thinking was a reenactment of “The Perfect Storm”. 15 knot winds and 2-3 foot. As I told Katie, it was one of the top 5 scariest times of my life, but the Duroboat handled well and safely got us into the protected harbor. Neither Katie nor I had ever been though a lock so we didn’t know what to do. Realizing the task was much simpler that we had once thought, we found ourselves two feet lower and in the Chicago River. Seeing Chicago by boat was a treat, and it went quickly.
“Tugboat……..this is Duroboat”. I tried again and yet no one would answer my radio calls. Does no one know who I am? We were trying to pass a tugboat that was pushing ten barges. Finally after watching another boat just drive by on the outside channel, we put down the idiot mic. and followed suit. As time passed, we both became much more comfortable with the tugboats by following one simple rule, don’t get in front or behind them.
We came up to our second lock and were a little better at this one. We came in and tied our ropes to the floating bollards and the lock started dropping and felt like it would never stop. The lock in Chicago was a 2 ft drop and this second lock was 39 ft. This doesn’t sound like much except when you are a 16ft boat in a lock made for huge barges and the walls are 50 ft tall, it feels like 100ft.
The rest of the day was spent cruising between locks and waiting for them. We even passed our first Looper near Chicago. We thought we were going to make it through the five locks and to Heritage Harbor (more to come later about this exciting marina community later). We got to the fifth lock at Marseilles and ran into a big traffic jam. When tugboats are pushing “red flag” chemical barges, no other boats can go in the locks and this particular tug had a double load so were stuck waiting for over two hours when it was getting dark in a little under two hours. Katie and I decided to wait and hope we could get though before it got too dark. We had our Lowrance GPS and were thinking about navigating the five miles after the lock in the dark. I decided to plug the navigation lights and anchor lights in for safety and then we hit our first boat problem. Every time the switch for the navigation lights was turned on, the fuse would blow. We decided to go back to Spring Brook Marina and not chance the dark without navigation lights. Once we arrived, I was told that the transients had to park over on the side. This was the first time I had been called a transient and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Mark Palmer from Heritage Harbor picked us up and he took us out for some awesome Chicago style pizza at R Grotto’s in Downtown Ottawa, Illinois. This was some of the best pizza I’ve had in a while and the beer after a long first day tasted great. He took us back to Heritage Harbor to spend the night on a yacht for what they call Boat & Breakfast. We stayed the night on a 32 foot yacht with all the amenities. Heritage Harbor is a marina community when completed will have 471 boat slips and a full housing community, a hotel and full marina facilities. The temporary shower/bathrooms were nicer than the ones at my house. Captain John Mobley was super friendly to us and not only gave us an Illinois chart map but talked with us about what to expect in the coming days. I hope someday to come back and get a chance to see this place when its finished. We left proudly flying the Heritage Harbor Yacht Club burgee.
Saturday June 6, 2009
Havana IL, Tall Timber’s Marina
After leaving Heritage Harbor we had a straight shot to Havana IL. The Peoria lock was completely open – a welcome change after our unsuccessful two hour wait the night before.
We left the boat at Tall Timber’s Marina for a few nights and got picked up by family to attend Elizabeth’s Graduation from Knox College in Galesburg IL. It’s official, she now has a Political Science Degree, with two minors – Spanish and Social Service.
June 1, 2009, Seattle: Words of wisdom from the man who inspired our trip – John Mirassou, the author of “Only In America.”
“Katie, from the moment you leave the dock,” he said, “people will be telling you that you are out of your mind. You’re going to hear horror stories about large yachts that were turned 180-degrees, capsized and sank in minutes; horrible storms that no boat could make it through, especially a 16-footer; bays and sounds that a 16-foot boat has no business being on. Let me make this very clear: Ignore 95 percent of it. Know your boat, know yourselves and trust your instincts, and go have a ball.”
May 30, 2009, Snohomish: It’s nearly midnight and we’re still at Duroboat. Joel and my dad are mounting the motor and I have been continuing to map our route and contact businesses listed on the AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Crusiers Association) web site. Their marketing and services director, Teresa, is sending us our very own AGLCA burgee – the “welcome mat of loopers” and assures us that loopers are very hospitable. As newbies to the AGLCA our burgee is white. The AGLCA burgee colors correspond to the boater’s loop experience. After we complete the loop we can upgrade, but for now I’m okay letting other folks know we’re new at this – we’ll welcome all the help we can get.
May 26, 2009, Galesburg IL: (From Elizabeth at Knox College) Call me positively unsure about all this. As graduation approaches, various thoughts have been running through my mind. Here’s my top 10:
1. My skin is going to age prematurely. We are going to need a lot of sunscreen.
2. I’m hopeful Katie and I will have a place to stay every night, or at least be prepared if we don’t. (Read Katie’s note about accommodations on May 25.)
3. We’re going to have a lot of fun when my friend Amy is on the boat. (Re-read Katie’s note on May 25.)
4. Something will go wrong with the boat and Joel’s not going to know what we’re talking about when we call him.
5. A job opportunity will present itself while I’m on the trip.
6. I’m going to be scared if I see an alligator, and can’t wait to see a dolphin.
7. This trip will be documented with some really cool pictures.
8. The people we meet will provide us with some good stories to tell.
9. I’m going to miss regularly scheduled showers.
10. I’m sure I will reference this list after and during the trip. Can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
May 25, 2009, Snohomish: (From Katie at the DuroBoat factory) We’re getting down to the wire and there’s still so much left to do. Most importantly get the boat in the water to break in the motor. Joel has been working late into the night to get the boat rigged and ready. I didn’t go camping this Memorial Day weekend, but I did lose a frustrating wrestle with my tent. It just wouldn’t fit on the front deck of the boat. It’s about two feet too wide and my attempts to modify it didn’t work out. I broke down and bought a cute little two-person tent that fits perfectly. When we have three people on board I think I’ll implement a rock-paper-scissor rule . . . loser takes middle.
May 22, 2009, Snohomish: While at the Duroboat factory I had a great conversation with Derek at Find Me Spot. Spot is a satellite messenger system that transmits our GPS location. All we’ll have to do is press an “OK” button and 10 people on our contact list will receive a text message letting them know that all is well and that we’re still afloat. We can share our exact location and let friends and family track our progress. There’s also a help button that will call 911 every five minutes until we’re rescued. Let’s hope we don’t have to use it!
May 21, 2009, Seattle: My most urgent task right now is fine-tuning our schedule. I heard the news about possible GPS failure due to aging satellite systems. I think we’re safe until at least 2010 – so that gets us through the summer. I read that the U.S. Department of Defense is taking action to prevent the failure all together. I’m not too worried, but if it could hold up until August that would be great. After work at Villa, I’m headed up to Duroboat again this afternoon. Joel was up there all yesterday working on it, and I’m excited to see the progress and check out the new Suzuki.
May 20, 2009, Seattle: Our Suzuki motor arrived today, but the instruments and cables aren’t here yet. This might push back our Seattle departure date. The Villa Academy (the school where I work) staff meetings always begin with a prayer and then the floor is opened for celebrations and announcements. I announced my leave of absence over the summer this afternoon. In the fall, I hope I can put this once in a lifetime opportunity under the celebrations category. Pat, our middle school director joked that if Elizabeth and I are still on speaking terms after three months in a 16-foot boat, that will be reason enough to celebrate.
May 19, 2009, Seattle: Friends have asked if I’m excited for the trip. I am, but I’ve been too busy to think about the trip itself. Right now my mind is preoccupied with the preparation process. I had an impromptu interview with the Issaquah Press. They asked me why I loved boating – sounds like an easy question, but no one has ever asked me that before. I just love it! I grew up with it! I hope I didn’t ramble too badly in my answer. I’m also trying to wrap up my work at Villa Academy. I talked with Cynthia, Villa’s business manager, today about my health coverage while I’m gone. I expected covering my own insurance over the summer would be expensive, but it’s very very expensive! If there was ever a time to make sure I’m covered, I think a 6,000 mile boat trip is it!
May 18, 2009, Seattle: At the gym this morning, I started to wonder if I would continue to run while on the trip. I’ve kept a running log every day for the past two and half years. Elizabeth and I have both finished several half marathons and one full (26.2 miles). I’d hate to lose the habit, but I imagine it will be hard to keep a routine when we are someplace new every night and there are so many other things to experience. Not to mention the climate change. I sweat even when I run Seattle’s Green Lake on a 65-degree day – I don’t imagine I’ll fair well running in the hot humid South.
Joel is waiting as patiently as he can, which isn’t all that patiently, for parts I know he’s feeling the same time crunch I am because I’ve noticed that most of our conversations lately are recitations of our to-do lists. Hopefully having the bilge pumps will help him make some progress . . . at least until tomorrow. We are still waiting for the motor, but we got great news today – Suzuki has done their paperwork and the motor is on the way!
May 15, 2009, Seattle: My friend Stacie is throwing a send-off party for me next Friday at St. Andrews Bar and Grill. She sent out the e-vite today. I wish Elizabeth was going to be here, but I’m sure there will be lots of celebrating and “sending-off” after the Knox College graduation next month.
April 2009, Seattle: Our boat (and its builder). I met Joel shortly after moving home. Anything he lacks in refinement he has made up for, a hundred times over, in enthusiasm and he quickly learned boat building skills. Joel is an aerospace engineer by profession, but an auto-mechanic at heart.
We are currently spending all our evenings and weekends working at Duroboat to get the boat” loop-ready” and done on time. Joel is compensated with gratitude, pizza, and Gatorade. Our boat is a yellow 16-foot bench model. Besides the usual final assembly of the interior parts, there are lots of custom configurations to do to prepare our boat for a 6,000-mile trip. Sea Dog Line, a marine hardware provider for Duroboat, has sponsored us with everything we could ask for. Their help has made life a lot easier as we experiment with the best storage arrangements, light set-up, and electronic configurations.
Elizabeth and I have both agreed to pack lightly, but there is a lot of stuff to bring on a three-month cruise. Joel’s challenge has been to create the most stowage space possible, while preserving our ability to move comfortably around the boat and access gear quickly. Oh, and by the way, Joel, “we want a sundeck to lie on while we cruise, don’t forget room for the cooler, and you have less than six weeks!”
Not surprisingly, the best place for extra storage is under our sundeck. Using beefy Sea Dog hinges, Joel has built two hatch doors a foot above the usual front floorboard. This give us a 52″x 42″x 12″ of general packing space. We’ve also built a “glove-box” under the standard bow shelf. It latches at the top and folds open with hinges attached forward of the front seat. It will act as a seat back for a passenger at the bow and give us more room to store the anchor and other gear we’ll want to access quickly. The console is custom sized at 36″ wide. We wanted something wide enough that we could both sit behind to block the wind and foul weather. We don’t plan on traveling on bad days and I’d be perfectly happy if we never hit bad weather, but at least we’re prepared.