Friday, August 29, 2014

Heading downstream.

It is hard to imagine it has been over a week since I left Chicago and headed downstream.  I left the Illinois River yesterday and am now in the Mighty Mississippi.  There is more than four knots of current in the river, which will make it go by quickly.

I had a very, very blonde moment one morning.  I was checking and emptying my strainers.  I had shut the through-hull, which allows water to come into the engine to keep it cool.  In my blonde moment, I forgot to shut the through-hull.  I started the engine and within a few minutes it overheated.  I turned the engine off, and shut the through hull, hoping I had not done any damage.  It appeared everything was alright.  After about 8 hours of heading down the river, my engine didn't sound right and I had black smoke coming into the cabin from the engine compartment.  My temperature gauge was at a normal level.  I pulled to the side of the river and dropped my anchor.  I also noticed the rug next to the engine compartment was wet... and there was black everywhere.  I called my son, Dean, who suggested it was the exhaust.  I then called our Towboat captain, John, from Southport.  I explained there was a hole in the muffler.  He gave me suggestions on how to patch it.  I was able to head downstream to a marina, about 16 miles further down river.  The closest repair facility was about 136 miles down river.  The duct tape and hose clamps kept the exhaust out of the cabin until I could make the repairs.

Hole in muffler, probably weakened when the engine overheated.
It was a Sunday night, and I thought about the different ways I could patch the muffler to get down the next 120 miles.  After a good night sleep though, I ordered a new muffler on Monday morning, to be delivered on Tuesday, at the marina.  I had my work cut out for me.  In addition to fixing the muffler, I also needed to replace my impeller, which can be damaged by overheating the engine.  Changing the impeller proved to be more difficult than the muffler.  I also had to clean out my air filter, as it was grimy with oily, black soot.  I was fortunate to have great help at the marina.  Bob, the owner of Tall Timbers marina, helped me pull out my impeller.  Ted, another boater, took me to the farm store to pick up bolts and cleaning supplies.  Steve, from Atla, showed up on time to help me get the muffler in place long enough to put on the clamps.  The weather has been brutally hot at over 90 degrees, with about 95% humidity.

Sometimes, we stay in places we don't expect and we meet awesome people along the way.  This is another one of those times.  Tall Timbers is one of my favorite stops on this loop. The little town, Havana, is within walking distance from the marina. I was able to ride my bike to the hardware store.  Bob wanted to be there when I left, so he could make sure my exhaust was working correctly.  I left Wednesday around lunchtime, after cleaning up my boat.  I had black smudges everywhere, from my engine work.  As I headed down the river, I checked the engine compartment a couple times, and everything appears to be working well.

Everyone talks about the Asian Carp.  I have been fortunate so far,not to have them flying into my boat.  I see them jump every once in a while.  There are also pontoon boats, who take people out to shoot the carp with spear-gun bows.  I have also heard they are "good eat'n".

The engines stir up the Asian Carp, which jump.  Then the guys on the back shoot at them.
Wednesday night, I anchored out at Big Blue Island, about 60 miles south of Havana.  Yesterday, I came to Alton.  I was able to meet up with Ted and his wife Christene again, who I met at Tall Timbers.  I plan to leave this morning after a run to the grocery store and keep heading down the Mississippi.  Per Steve, on Atla, the barges are bigger and throw large wakes.  In going down the Mississippi, I might not have much cell phone coverage.  There are not any services for 225 miles after fueling up at Hoppies, which will be later today.

The Mighty Mississippi

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chicago - halfway home.

The weather has been very difficult for boating.  Thunderstorms for this week have been more common than not.  We had storms through last weekend, it was clear on Monday, storms on Tuesday, clear until Wednesday night, then more storms for Thursday and Friday.  On Monday, I decided to head to Chicago, from Hammond, Indiana.  It was a two hour ride.  Approaching Chicago, I couldn't even see the city, until I got there because of the fog and smog.  My timing was good, arriving just as everything cleared up.  It was a beautiful afternoon, I was able to walk around and took one of the architectural boat tours.  The boat tour enabled me to scope out where I would be heading on Wednesday.

Approaching Chicago

Arriving at Du Sable marina, downtown Chicago.

Du Sable Marina

The size and number of skyscrapers can be overwhelming!

On my way back to my boat, I saw another Looper boat, Knot So Fast, which I had first seen in Saugatuck.  I stopped by and met Jeff and Lolly, who are from Alabama.  They are on the last leg of their Loop journey.  We decided to head to Navy Pier and Millenium Park Tuesday morning.  Despite rain in the early morning, we had a clear morning for walking around Chicago.  This was followed by a downpour around noon.  It cleared again in the afternoon for a few hours, then we had more rain that evening.   We ordered Chicago pizza from Lou Malnati's, and I get it... Chicago Pizza is the best!  I don't think I could have left Chicago without having pizza first.

Wednesday morning, I took Lolly with me, to head through Chicago. I dropped her off at a marina/condo complex, a couple miles from the marina.  We took the same route as the architectural tour.  We left the dock at 6:15, entered the Chicago lock around 6:30ish, and it was a peaceful morning, without much traffic on the waterway.  We saw a few water taxis, but the tour boats had not started yet.

This is where I dropped off Lolly, as I headed out of Chicago

This was the start of my very lucky day!  Every day should be as good as yesterday.  Of course, it could have been partly due to poor planning as well.  Heading south from Chicago, on the Illinois river, is an electric fish barrier.  The barrier is meant to kill or deter Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.  It is a mile or two long, and the voltage is high enough to kill a person if they fall overboard.  There are warning signs and rules about going through the barrier, which really isn't a big deal, and only takes a few minutes.  However, they are doing maintenance, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m until 4 p.m.  I had forgotten to call and check on the electric barrier.  When I arrived around 11:15, I was told I needed to tie up to a wall upstream until they finished at 4 p.m.  The wall was not exactly easy to tie up to!  The rocks on the side of the wall crumbled, so I had to tie to shrubs along the wall.  As I was getting settled to read, I heard the discussion between the security checkpoints that the divers were out of the water and taking a break, so they could let boats through.  I radioed to the security checkpoint and they let me through at 12:05.

Tied up to a crumbling wall north of the Electric Carp Barrier
Just south of the electric barrier is the Lockport Lock, which drops 39 feet.  The lock had been closed on Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. for maintenance.  I had called on Monday and they were backed up with barges needing to go through.  On Wednesday though, there was no traffic going through.  I entered the lock by myself, tied up, and took the gentle ride down, which took about a half hour.   These locks are huge, and can hold a tow with 9 barges attached.  Some of the barges have to be split to go through the locks.  Commercial traffic takes precedence over recreational traffic, so there can be major delays in getting through the locks.  The third lock of the day, Brandon Road lock, went just as smoothly, dropping 34 feet.

Just south of Brandon Road Lock,  I stopped at Big Basin Marina.  The waters are fairly shallow here, but work fine for my boat.  The dockage fees are inexpensive at 75 cents a foot, but the woman running the place decided to let me have the night for free.  I am not sure if she was impressed with me being here by myself, or it was the end of a long day and she didn't feel like running my credit card.  I am sure she will run it today, because it is raining on and off all day, and I will be staying here another night, waiting for the weather to improve.

Here are some pics from Chicago.

The amphitheater at Millenium Park

At Navy Pier they have a stained glass exhibit.  I took this because there is another looper, whose name is King Cole.  The stained glass exhibit was my favorite part of Navy Pier.

"The Bean" in Millenium Park

The Civic Opera Building, which my sister and mother would appreciate.

Taking a picture while looking up into the middle of "The Bean"

The water used to flow from Chicago into Lake Michigan, but they changed the flow of water due to pollution.  Every hour, this fountain shoots from one side of the waterway to the other depicting the strength of the current and the water having changed directions.

The face does change... this is in Millenium Park.

On the tour boat, heading under the many bridges of Chicago.

Sculpture in Millenium Park by Jaume Piensa

Heading through Chicago on  tour boat.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chicago? Almost.

My goal this week was to make it to Chicago.  I didn't make it there, but I am close, in Hammond, Indiana.  I spent four days in Saugatuck, which was a great little town to spend a few days in.  I had planned to stay there, while waiting for a storm front to move through.  I was bad about taking pictures.  The marina was a ten minute walk from town, but having my bicycle made it very easy to get around.  The weather was unusually cold.  Even the dockmaster made a comment that it felt like October weather.  The news was reporting that it was September weather.  After a couple days of rain and gray skies, the weather cleared up, but there were still high seas in Lake Michigan.  NOAA reported 6 ft seas, the dockmaster heard it was closer to ten foot.  So, there was another day for waiting.

I noticed that the waves and winds were tending to die down at night, so I planned for my next leg to St. Joseph in the middle of the night.  My hope was to get further, weather and waves permitting.  I was up before 1 a.m, and I undocked and left Saugatuck at 2 a.m.  By 7:45, I arrived at St. Joseph. I had following seas from the north, which were very uncomfortable, but better than heading into them.  Other people that came into St. Joseph, later that day, said they were miserable out there on the lake.  My decision to leave in the middle of the night, is probably the only reason I was able to make any distance at all.

My plan for Friday, was to head across Lake Michigan to Chicago, 50 miles away.  I called on Thursday to reserve a slip, but there were no slips available throughout the weekend.  An Air Show was scheduled right over the waters, and I imagine the Du Sable marina was the prime location to be.  However, this was the one day that I had to cross.  Instead of heading to Chicago, I went with my secondary plan of Hammond, IN, which is 10 to 15 miles from the Chicago marina.  Another storm front was moving in for the weekend, with thunderstorms.  My crossing of Lake Michigan was uneventful.  The waves got higher towards the center of the Lake, but had died down to nothing by the time I got to the western shore.

Waiting on good weather days seems to be a theme for me on this trip.  When the weather is good and the lake conditions are calm, I run with it.  On the Chesapeake, I remember having a very calm day, and while most of my friends stopped at Soloman's Island, I headed north to Annapolis.  I feel like I am doing the same thing here.  I have a small boat that doesn't go very fast, so I can't bump up the speed to get through quicker and I can't take the larger waves that my friend's boats can take.  It makes it difficult to plan much of anything or being anywhere.

My friend Jane remarked that "looping" is different than "cruising", in that we have to keep moving forward.  We don't always have the time to stop or spend the time where we want to. I think we just have to enjoy seeing what we see, wherever it is, and continue to take this journey a day at a time.

Seeing Chicago from the distance.

Despite my lack of pictures, I really enjoyed Saugatuck.  They have a river boat for tourists, as well as a chain ferry running across the Kalamazoo river.  They also have an inter-urban bus system, which will take you from your door to where you want to go for a dollar in either Saugatuck or Douglas. It was a great place to spend 4 days, even if it was cold and rainy.

Saugatuck Chain Ferry- operated by a young man, who cranks the chain to take passengers across the river.  The chain is attached at both sides of the river.
Star of Saugatuck Boat Cruise - they passed my boat a few times each day.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Heading down the western coast of Michigan

The day I left Mackinaw Island, it was very foggy.  The fog stayed with us until about noon.  The marina is fairly strict, and they expect the boats to be gone from the slips by 1:00, as there are usually boats waiting in the harbor for their reserved slips.  At noon, there was an exodus from the marina.  I waited for most of the boats to leave and headed out to Mackinaw City, just a few miles away.  By the time I left, I felt it was pushing too hard to get to Harbor Springs.  I stayed at Straits State harbor, where I enjoyed meeting up with a few of my "looper" friends, who I hadn't seen for a while. Wye Tug, Summerland, Fruitcakes and DeDe were there.  They all planned to take the ferry to Mackinaw Island for the day, and I planned to head to Harbor Springs.

The fast ferries around Mackinac City and Mackinac Island throw big rooster tails of water and large wakes.  They are intimidating. 

Mackinac Bridge, where Lake Huron meets Lake Michigan

Heading towards Harbor Springs, I cut in front of this old, abandoned lighthouse.  The shipping channel is much further out, but with my shallow draft, this made for a good shortcut.

I liked Harbor Springs and decided it was a perfect place to spend a few days and order things from Amazon.  Meg and Jim, from Sanctuary had just finished their Loop, and they invited a few of us over for dinner.  I also was given the opportunity for a hot bath... something, I relish and could never turn down.  She took a couple of us to the local grocery store and butcher shop.  We stocked up on needed supplies. I had been hesitant getting groceries during my last few days in Canada, worried I might have to throw things out.  Even my leftover potatoes had found their way to the bottom of Lake Huron.  As it was, I never was boarded or asked about any groceries. 

I cleaned my boat and I relaxed.  Meg, from Sanctuary, had told me about a Gurney’s, a liquor store with a bakery in the back.  Gurney’s was the first place she stopped when she got home.  Gurney’s is known more for their sandwiches with their freshly baked bread, than anything else.  They stop selling sandwiches when they run out of bread.  There is a line winding through the liquor store, to the back, where the sandwiches are made.  They don’t generally sell the bread, but I asked if I could buy a loaf.  They offered to make an extra loaf for me the following day.  I showed up early and was only charged $2.50 for the loaf of pumpernickel bread.  Behind Gurney’s and across the street is Tom’s Mom’s cookies.  They have a wide variety of chocolate chip cookies.  Again, there was a line, with people paying the $18 per dozen or $1.80 per cookie.  There was really no sense in buying just one!

Harbor Springs.  I stayed at Walstrom Marina, but many people stay at the municipal marina or in the mooring fields.

Harbor Springs

Sunrise as I head out of Harbor Springs

There is a reason there are great artists in Harbor Springs, it is just beautiful!

Now, I am traveling down the Michigan coast.  The weather has been perfect, the winds calm, the seas calm, at times it feels like I am gliding across water as smooth as glass.  After Harbor Springs, my plan was to head to Charlevoix.  I arrived just after 9:00 a.m., and there was a waiting list for the municipal marina.  The bridge was 11 feet, much lower than the published height of 16 ft, too low for my boat to go through.  I was going to have to wait 20 minutes for an opening.  The lake was so smooth, so I decided to make the most of the day and head further south.  I called Leland municipal marina, and they were also full.  I decided to head out to South Manitou Island and anchor.  It was a long day, but the island was peaceful and relaxing.

The smooth waters, which entice me to keep heading south!

N. Manitou Island lighthouse

Leaving S. Manitou Island at sunrise.  Sunrise is getting later, until I hit a time zone change.

S. Manitou Island lighthouse.

The following day, I headed further south to Arcadia, where I saw John and Kathy, from Serenity, who I had first met at Mackinaw Island and I had also seen in Harbor Springs.  They have plans to take a leisurely trip down the Michigan Coast and have reservations at the end of August in Chicago.  I explained how I feel I need to take advantage of the weather with the Michigan Lake being so calm.  John, Kathy and I took our bikes and rode around the town.  Arcadia is a very small town, with a couple small marinas.  The ice cream parlor is attached to the gift shop, which also has marine supplies.  This combination store is next to the gas station/convenience store, all of which are owned by the same family.  The public beach is narrow and steep.  The water was very, very, cold.  I only put my feet in.

There are lots of fishing boats.

Leaving Arcadia at sunrise.

I left Arcadia early in the morning, and headed to Pentwater.  In Pentwater, one can’t just make a reservation by phone, the dockmaster expects the reservation to be made through the Michigan State system, which has a $10 reservation fee.  The dockage for the municipal marina is $1 per foot plus $10, making my dockage $35 for the night.  If I added another $10 for the on-line reservation, it would make the municipal marina more expensive than the private marina, Snug Harbor.  As it was, I only saved a couple dollars.  The municipal marina is in the middle of downtown, with shops and restaurants lining the streets.  Snug Harbor is at the end of the main street.  By leaving early in the morning, I managed to arrive in the early afternoon, giving me plenty of time to walk around town.

The beach heading into Pentwater.

This sailboat reminds me of Carolina Girl, my sailboat, which I sold in December.

At the Pentwater Municipal marina, my boat was docked with the fishing boats.  For the first time, Annabelle was the biggest boat on the dock!

This morning, I am heading to Grand Haven, about 50 nautical miles further south.  Sunday, I am heading to Saugatuck, a peaceful, artsy town to wait out the storms.
For me, Chicago marks the halfway point in this Loop.  It is also marks the end of the Great Lakes, and the start of the Rivers.  There will be new challenges.  There will be bigger locks, which operate differently than the ones I have been on.  There will be barge traffic, current, and fewer places to stop along the way.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mackinac Island (pronounced as Mackinaw)

I am happily back in the States!  The last week while I was up in the Northern Channel, I was feeling very homesick. I couldn't use my cell phone, but I did manage to call a few people on Skype.  Although, I am continuously running into many wonderful, kind people, it isn't the same.  Maybe the few days I spent "weathered in" at Kagawong affected me as well. I am not sure.

After 4 nights at Kagawong, the wind finally died down a little, and the water was flat. Saturday night, the winds were terrible, even in the safety of the marina.  Sunday, the dockmaster and his wife offered to let me stay at their home, they worried I wouldn't sleep if the winds persisted another night.  At 7:40 that evening, the winds died down.  I had explained to the dockmaster that I would be gone before he returned at 8 the next morning, if the water was calm.  It was... and I left the dock around 6:30 on Monday morning.  The waters did not stay calm for long.  Once I was out in the open, the seas came up and it was reminiscent of being in the Abermarle Sound.  There were a couple differences though.  One difference was that I was out there in the big open waters alone for most of the day.  I also knew that the distance I had to travel was much farther than I had in the Abermarle.  At one point, six "go-fast" boats flew by me.  Then, it was just me out there again, wondering what happens in the winter, when all the water in this massive area is solid ice.  The biggest difference, was the rough seas didn't particularly bother me, I felt safe and comfortable in my boat, and didn't really worry about anything.

I had plans to stay in an anchorage on the Canadian side of the border, on the southwestern corner of Cockburn Island (pronounced Co-burn).  The anchorage was very exposed, so I headed into U.S. waters, and anchored in a small inlet in the southeastern shore of Drummond Island.  At this point, I had no cell service.  Occasionally, a text would go through.  From my anchorage, it was about 6 hours to Mackinac Island, five of them in fog.  It was a long journey!

Mackinac Island is a very, very busy place, and boaters have to make reservations well in advance through the Michigan State Park system.  I had a schedule to keep, which is less than ideal when boating.  I had been told that clearing customs here, was much easier in Mackinac Island than clearing in Drummond Island (northwest corner).  Most of the boaters I know, had their boats searched coming through Drummond, and I simply made a video phonecall, as part of the OARS program.  There were no lines.  However, I did have my moment of panic.  As I was coming through the fog, I started thinking about how I should be blowing my horn, especially as I approached civilization.  My radar was working well, and I hadn't seen anyone out there.  I decided I should get the blowing of the horn right, so I was looking it up in my book.  While doing this, I stumbled upon the Customs section of the cruising guidebook, only to read about calling into the 800 number for customs immediately upon entering U.S. waters, and to even anchor, was considered being in the U.S., and one could incur a $5,000 fine.  In the midst of reading this, the fog cleared, and I could see Mackinac Island, about 30 to 45 minutes away.  I quickly called customs, got transferred a couple times, and was told not to worry, just check into the OARS phone when I arrived.  Everything went smoothly.  I had tossed the last of my fresh produce out into Lake Huron in the fog, not that anyone asked.

When I arrived in Mackinac Island, Steve and his wife, Wendy, from Atla were there.  As we were having lunch, I saw No Compromises coming in.  Later, when visiting Tom and Vera, on No Compromises, I also saw Jim and Meg, from Sanctuary.  Estrellita was also here, along with a couple other Looper boats.  Meg and Jim left yesterday to head to their home port in Harbor Springs.  Once the fog lifts this morning, I will head to Harbor Springs as well, along with Stel and Burke from Estrellita.

Mackinac Island is a very touristy area.  The only means of transportation on the island include walking, riding a bike, or horses.  The streets are lined with tourist shops, mostly selling their famous fudge.  Horse-led carriages have the right of way.  The bicyclists are on the street, and everyone else stays to the sides.  There is an 8 mile paved trail around the island.  Stel, Burke and I bicycled around the island.  The waters around us were crystal clear.  The windward or western side of the island had waves crashing, and the leeward side or eastern shore, had calm, flat waters.  We will be heading west, and hopefully, the waters will be calmer today.  After the bike ride, I headed up the hill to the Grand Hotel, which is quite famous. At the Grand Hotel, I bought some fresh flowers for my boat.

In Kagawong, I met Earl and Karen at the marina, who have a summer home there. They ame by the marina the day before I left and offered to take me into Gore Bay with them, where they took me out for breakfast.  We walked around Gore Bay and went to the grocery store.  I didn't buy any groceries, knowing I would be heading through customs in a couple days.  Earl and Karen live in Florida for most of the year, so hopefully, when I head through their hometown in Florida, I will see them again.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures. It is 10 a.m., and we are all waiting for the fog to lift.

Meg and Jim, leaving Mackinac Island on Sanctuary, their last day of the Great Loop.

Across the street from my boat are the horse drawn carriages waiting for passengers, with the fort in the background.

Heading up the hill to the Grand Hotel

The chandelier in the Cupula, the bar at the top of the Grand Hotel.
Heading towards Mackinac Island... this is what I saw when the fog finally cleared.

So close to Mackinac Island... almost there!

Another beautiful sunset, at anchor.