October 20 – 23, 2019 To the End of The Illinois and Beyond

On Sunday, we started on our last stretch of the Illinois River.  At Mile Marker 80, we passed BY the LaGrange Lock and Wicket Dam.  This was different from other locks we had ENTERED.  A Wicket dam is best explained as a wall that can fall back or be raised to control water flow.  Picture a door – laying on its long side — that can lay flat or be raised on the long side to resemble a wall.  At normal river levels, the wall is in the UP position and boats enter the lock next to it to be raised or lowered to the water level on the other side of the lock.  This is usually not a large difference – just a few feet.  When the river level is higher than usual, and higher than the top of the wall, then the wall is lowered DOWN flat and boat traffic rides over it, bypassing the lock.  The river levels have been high along our whole trip.  We actually traveled over several wicket dams along the way.

At 9:56 AM we passed under the Norfolk & Western Railroad Bridge.  This is the most western point of the Great Loop – another milestone! 

At mile 0.7 on the Illinois River, we got to Grafton Marina.  A few of the Two-pers were staying here and some went farther to another marina.   There seemed to be a party going on in the marina and a nearby bar – sunshine, music and beer! We got our slip assignment, and as we backed in to the slip, we got applause from people on the boat in the next slip.  Always makes us feel good when we can make it look easy!

We headed to the outdoor bar to check out the party.  It was warm, people were all over the outside area, and there was a band playing.  I don’t think we had heard beach music since we left the Carolinas.  They actually played a few beach songs and Ed and I just HAD to dance.  Then they started playing some other stuff that was just LOUD.  Time to move on.  Walked up and down the main street to see all the charming shops, restaurants and beer pubs.  Helped a lady put some things in her car – Ed (surprise, surprise) started up a conversation with her and turns out she’s the wife of the chief of police. She told him if he got into any trouble just mention her name.  Huh – don’t know if that would help or hurt!

The next day we rented a car and Patty and Todd (Alcyone) went with us to St. Charles, a small town west of St Louis.  It had such an ol’ timey charm with cobblestone streets, gaslights, and pretty storefronts that were all decorated for Halloween.  This was the home of Daniel Boone, the origin of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and Missouri’s first State Capitol.  We went to the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum and had an in-depth history lesson on the Expedition.  There were replicas of the boats used on the trip.  Something that never occurred to me was that the boats had to go UP river for a long distance.  They didn’t have motors, so people had to walk IN the river in order to PULL the boats.  It probably took them a week or more to go the distance we go in a day!  Spent the day there, had dinner and drove back.  The drive wouldn’t have been so long if one of the ferries had been in operation.  The high rivers were preventing the ferry from operating. We could have taken it RIGHT INTO Grafton.

The next day we went to see the St. Louis Arch (real name The Gateway Arch).  Again, we had an in-depth lesson on the Arch, which was built as a monument to the individuals who enabled the westward expansion of the US.  It was the first National Historic Site and it was to be managed by the National Park Service. A film, with actual footage of the construction, showed that it was a difficult construction project, as the individual “blocks” of the arch had to be fitted to put pressure upon one another in order to hold up the structure.  The last block was the top center one.  People from all over the city came out to view the placement of this last block.  Would it fit? It did, and the outer construction was completed.  INSIDE the Arch, a tram car system was constructed to take visitors to the top of the Arch, which is just what we did.  At the top are windows to look out all over the city.  The floor is actually curved, just as it would appear to be from the outside.

As we left the grounds of The Arch, we stopped at the Basilica of St. Louis, King, often called “The Old Cathedral,” one of the oldest remaining buildings in St. Louis. It is the fourth Catholic Church to be built at that site.  The first church was built in 1764.  This church was dedicated in 1834.  It is a beautiful church that was almost lost when the plan for The Arch was created.  Almost 40 blocks of St. Louis, much in decay, were torn down to make way for the creation of The Arch. The mayor, who presented the plan, had been married in this very church.  Perhaps that played a part in its survival.  Can you hear his wife saying, “You’re going to tear down WHAT?”

After the Arch, we went to the Old St. Louis County Courthouse.  It also survived the construction of the Arch and is also a beautiful building.  It is always interesting to see the detail in the grandeur of old buildings.  That kind of craftsmanship isn’t much evident in modern structures.  There were two cases of historical note that were heard in this courthouse. The first was in 1846 when Dred Scott sued the State for his freedom and that of his wife.  The Missouri Supreme Court eventually upheld the lower court decision, and the US Supreme Court also upheld the decision that the Scotts and all African Americans were not citizens, and therefore had no rights to sue.  The plaque on their statue reads that this was a “defining moment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The second case of note was that of Virginia Minor.  In 1872, she attempted to vote in a local election and was denied. This case also went to the US Supreme Court and the male-only eligible to vote law was upheld.

On the 23rd, we moved the boat down to the end of the Illinois River and made a turn onto the Mississippi River.  This river had more current to it, and we would benefit from it for a few days. On this day, we only moved a short distance to Alton, about 16 miles away.  This actually got us a little closer to St. Louis, and that afternoon we had to go make one more visit to the city – to see the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is the world headquarters for the company. Again, the architecture of the buildings there is amazing to see and we very much enjoyed a tour – with free samples!  As they say in St. Louis – “This Bud’s for You!”

October Supplement AIS – NOW We See You and You See Us

AIS is an Automatic Identification System used in the marine environment, similar to the transponder system used in aviation.  We Loopers share the waterways with many other boaters, some are pleasure boaters, but along the major rivers, we share these waterways with commercial traffic.  This commercial traffic can be barges coupled with tugboats that can be over 1000 feet long. 

Since leaving Beaufort, South Carolina, we only had to deal with commercial traffic consisting of a few container ships in the upper Chesapeake Bay, and ferries and high-speed water taxis on the Hudson River near Manhattan.   We knew that heading south from Chicago we would be on some of the most commercially trafficked waterways in the country.  The safest way to travel would be to know where this commercial traffic is and how to safely pass them – and for them to see us approaching. Ed installed AIS on the boat while we were in Hammond, IN, waiting for the locks to reopen.

On Vitamin Sea, we view the AIS transceiver information on two iPads.  On one iPad, we have the AIS output show on a screen as boat name, position, and movement information such as course, speed, and heading. It’s presented in a “target” type screen which can be adjusted to look from 1 miles to 28 miles away from us.  Tapping on the icon for the boat will give us even more information.  This program will warn us by both color and audible alarm if another boat will be coming close to our intended path.

A second iPad, using the Navionics app, shows our navigation track with a ghost image (in green) of boats with AIS.  On the picture below, we all seem to be riding on top of one another, but that didn’t happen. The AIS transponder sends out a signal about every 10 seconds, so the boats are sending out signals at different times. It appears we are on top of each other because the signals haven’t caught up to real time.

A group of up to thirty barges and the boat that pushes them is referred to as a “tow.”  The tow, weighing thousands of tons, cannot stop or alter direction easily.  They are usually traveling at 4-6 mph, which is why we want to pass. We’re typically traveling at 10-12 mph. To overtake or pass a tow we call them by name, requesting information on which side and where to pass them.  We follow their directions to safely pass, sometimes being asked to wait for a better place or a straighter part of the river in order to safely pass.

While we were traveling with the Two-pers, usually the lead boat would contact a tow and inform them about our position and how many boats were approaching. On October 18, we made OUR first call to a tow captain – the tow boat was the Bernard G. We were a little nervous – tow captains seem to have their own lingo and their accents (Southern?) are sometimes difficult to understand over the radio. All went well – they really are SO helpful. They don’t want any accidents either, so they want the other boats to move by them as safely as possible. We have made an unofficial observation – we think they prefer to talk with “lady captains” more than just another “feller!”

Oct 15 – 19, 2019 Moving on the Illinois River

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam – was just a short distance (2 miles) from the Joliet Wall, but a call ahead told us not to hurry.  So we left about 9 AM.  It was a beautiful day for a boat ride!

We arrived at the lock, but there was a VERY large tow in the lock – or at least part of it was. A barge is an individual container that is pushed or pulled by a tugboat.  For river transport, several barges are connected together and then called “the tow.”  Some of these tows are so large that they don’t fit in the locks.  When that happens, some of the units need to be disconnected and the tugboat must push the first section thru the lock, and then secure it on the other side of the lock.  Then the tugboat must go back thru the lock and get the remaining section(s), and bring them thru the lock.  Once all the barges are thru the lock, they must be reconnected and then the tugboat can continue the journey.   In this case, we were waiting quite some time for all of this to happen.  Meanwhile, there wasn’t much to do but try to hold position in the large area outside of the lock.  I say “try to hold” because it’s hard to hold a boat in position in moving water.  

Got finally got thru the first lock at 1:00 and then headed towards the next lock – Dresden Island Lock and Dam – about 15 miles down the river.  It was after noon when we got out of the first lock.  15 miles was about an hour and a half trip.  At this time of the year, we were very conscious of the sundown time, which got earlier each day.  Today it would be about 6 PM.  When we got to the next lock, we found we were going to have a long wait.  

We finally got thru, but we had another 20 miles to go to get to Springbrook – our planned marina stop.  Not many marinas along this stretch, so we needed to get there.  The marina was called to inform them that we would be getting in after their 5 PM closing time. 

As we saw the sun setting, we knew that we weren’t going to be docking in daylight. Additionally, the winds started increasing – double whammy!  When we finally arrived, the first boat found that the entrance was shallow and boats would have to proceed carefully.  We decided to let each boat get in a slip before the next boat entered.  There wasn’t a lot of maneuvering room.  In just a few minutes, there was total darkness.

We didn’t know it right away, but there were a couple of dock people who had stayed late to help get us all in.  That helped, but we all struggled to get docked.  Some of us were using flashlights to direct people to open spots.  Others were on the radios helping to give direction.  At some point there was probably TOO much info being given to incoming boats. Oh well, eventually everyone made it.  Hooking to electricity on the dock provided some additional problems, but at last we were all in and the juice was flowing.  Every single one of us was exhausted from a long day and a stressful evening. 

Winds were high the next day, so we had a “day off” to recuperate from the last evening’s docking challenges.  We piddled with boat chores, took a walk, then found out there was a large room at the marina where we could gather for a pizza dinner.  Had a fun evening of food and games.

We headed out again on a beautiful Thursday morning.  Our next lock was the Marseilles Lock and Dam.  We were going to have another wait here.  This time we asked the lockmaster if we could tie to a cell to wait.  A “mooring cell” is a large, round steel cylinder, that is usually filled with rocks.  The barges often tie to the cells to get aligned before entering the locks.  We got the go ahead, so one boat approached and got tied.  It’s tricky because you have to tie a straight side of a boat to a metal ring that is attached to a round structure that is about 25 feet in diameter.  SO, when one boat finally got tied and secured, several others rafted to that boat rather than trying to tie another boat. It was a long wait – 4 hours.

The day proceded well – no problems on the water.  We continued to pass tows of various sizes.  It wasn’t so scary anymore.  We got thru the second lock of the day — Starved Rock Lock and Dam.  Then we traveled for about another 25 miles.  At this point, people were making different plans.  Some were going to a small marina, some anchoring. Three of us (Alcyone, Curti-Sea, Vitamin Sea) decided to tie to the Hennepin Island Wall (hey, it was free), adjacent to a very small town – maybe “town” is exaggerating.  As we approached the “wall,” we had second thoughts of what we were doing.  We saw before us a concrete wall with a roadside guardrail at the top of it.  Definitely a “no frills” stop for the night.   It was no easy feat to tie to the guardrail.  Robin on Curti-Sea took a hard hit to her rib cage when their boat rocked as she reached across the boat railing to get a line around the guardrail.  She later found out she had cracked a couple of ribs. 

A golf cart approached us – we wondered if this was the Welcoming Committee or someone telling us to move on!  Turned out to just be a “local” come down to talk.  He mentioned that there was a restaurant at the top of the hill that had a great Prime Rib Special.  After traveling – and waiting – for a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes, that sounded SO good!  We headed to the top of the hill and found the restaurant (wasn’t hard) and walked in.  The bartender gave us the bad news that there was a wedding rehearsal dinner party that night and the restaurant was closed to other customers, but the bar was open. No other restaurants in walking distance.  Nothing to do but have a drink!  We had some interesting conversations with some of the locals – many of who had not heard of The Great Loop.  

So what about dinner? We had some BBQ on our boat, so we invited the others over and had beer and BBQ.  Not Prime Rib, but the company was outstanding!

The next day we continued on the Illinois River another 40 miles – no locks on this day.  The Two-pers regrouped at the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY– to those in the know).  The club was very welcoming and had a great price on fuel, but a tight space to get to the fuel dock.  Our dock slip had us positioned to get fuel first thing in the morning, but boats that were on the outer slips had to wait quite awhile before they could get in to get fuel after us.

The delay in the locks re-opening had caused me one great regret.  My high school was having a 45thyear reunion this weekend.  I had originally planned to fly out of St. Louis, but that was not meant to be.  I’m sorry that I was not able to attend.  For those of you from my class that might be reading this, I hope that there will be a 50th– better attended — reunion.

On the 19th, we went thru the Peoria Lock and Dam and then had our most unusual nighttime tie up.   Flooding had destroyed some of the marinas on this stretch of the river, but there was a creative alternative.  Logsdon Tug Service had positioned a couple of barges along the shore for boats to tie to overnight.  Now, these are working barges, with all kinds of equipment on them.  Somehow, we didn’t think this was OSHA approved, but we were all accommodated by rafting together. That means the people on the rafted boats had to walk across the inner boats if they wanted to get off.  Good thing we’re all so friendly.

October 14, 2019 The River Armada

Loopers leaving Chicago have a choice of two routes.  The first is to go thru downtown Chicago on the Chicago River and then meet up with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  There is a fixed bridge of 17’ on this route.  If your boat can’t get under it, you must go to the alternate route of taking the Calumet River to the Cal-Sag Channel (Calumet-Saganashkee) and then meet up with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Eight of the 10 Two-per boats were taking the alternate route.  The other two boats went thru Chicago and joined the group when we got into the Ship Canal.  We left early morning and it looked like a floating armada as we left Hammond Marina.  

Our route took us thru a commercial area.  There were parked barges and boats on either side of the waterway we were traveling.  This presented a rather interesting ride – something like a flume ride at an amusement park. As the first boat went thru, their wake didn’t have to travel far before it hit the parked barges on either side of us. That wake hit the boats and bounced back, hitting the second boat.  This multiplied as each boat’s wake bounced back.  This stretch of waterway is commonly referred to a “12 Miles of Hell.” We were boat four, and we bounced around like a toy boat in a choppy bathtub.  We were just glad not to be boat number ten!

Much of the scenery on the early part of this trip is very industrial, but even some of the “industrial” aspects were “pretty” to see.  There are some water run off units that looked like waterfalls. 

At mile 297, there are warning signs for an Electric Fish Barrier.   Designed to keep the Asian Carp from getting into the Great Lakes, this electrified barrier is approximately 1 mile in length. Fish entering the barrier are exposed to an electric shock, which keeps them from swimming thru.  Boats have to be careful going thru this area as the electric “shock” can also fry boat electronics.  We turned off all the electrical equipment that we possibly could and still keep the boat running.  Then we held our breath and kept our fingers crossed. Whew – made it thru without incident! 

On the other side of the barrier, we started looking for the Carp.  From what we had been told, the fish are frightened by boats and they jump high out of the  water, sometimes jumping into boats.  Ed, joking, told our fellow boaters that he had the grill lid off and the grill hot – hoping that those fish would jump right onto the grill! Well, guess it was too cold for the fish to be out.  Other than a few splashes on the surface of the water, we didn’t see much! 

We continued our ride towards the first lock – Lockport Lock and Dam. We arrived a little after noon, but had to wait for the two boats that had come thru Chicago.  The Lock Master wouldn’t let anyone in until all boats were in sight.  It didn’t take long.  This was our first river lock.  It was BIG.  The inside of it is 110 feet wide by 600 feet long.  There weren’t enough bollards (what boats tie to) for each of us, so we had to raft boats together. After we were all tied, only the people on the boats against the wall had any work to do.  Everyone else got to walk around their boats and enjoy the ride!

Shortly after exiting the lock, we encountered our first moving barge.  Over the radio, we heard our “leader” radio the barge captain. He told the captain that there were ten boats approaching.  The captain told him that we should pass on his One.  River captains use the “lingo” of passing on the One or the Two.  Picture a clock. The 1 is on the right side of the center 12.  The 11 – or what looks like a Roman Numeral 2 – is on the left side of the center 12.  So, when a captain says pass on the 1, we pass on the right.  If the captain says pass on the 2, we pass on the left.  This dates back to the river boat days when the only communication was by whistle.  They used one whistle or two whistles.  During the days when we were at AGLCA meetings and people were talking about passing barges, some that were over 1000 feet long – I thought to myself….we will NEVER pass anything that big.  Well, here we were.  Perhaps it was best that we were with the group.  We just followed the boats ahead of us and before we knew it, we were past that big barge!

We continued that day to Joliet, IL.  That wonderful city had a free wall, WITH electricity where we were all able to find a spot to spend the night.  A few of us walked across the bridge to explore town.  Later in the evening we gathered in an adjacent park to enjoy cocktails and recount the experience of the day.  Day One on the River for the Two-pers:  A Success!

October 8 -13, 2019 Hammond Marina

October 8th was “a good day for a boat ride,” so we left Michigan City, IN and headed towards Hammond – also in Indiana – which was a few miles south of Chicago. The “Looper Line” had been buzzing that the locks south of Chicago were to open on Oct 13 – a week later than originally scheduled.  We had received some communication from the AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association) that there were 70+ Looper boats positioned north of the locks.  In an attempt to facilitate all of us getting quickly thru the locks – in addition to the commercial traffic and other non-Looper boats – the Association was asking us to divide into 4 groups.  1- Those who wanted to get thru the first day, 2- Those who were wanting to wait a day or two to let the initial “flood” of traffic get on their way, 3- Those who wanted to wait about a week to let LOTS of boats go by, and 4 – Those who wanted to do their own thing.  The advantage of the first three groups was that the Executive Director of the Association – Kim – has a good working relationship with the Corps of Engineers and she could help coordinate with them (the Corps operates the locks) to get us through the locks in as timely a manner as possible. Doing it on your own meant that you were at the mercy of the Lock Masters, and a single boat could be waiting awhile.  We were headed to Hammond to join many other boats getting into position to go thru the locks. We had chosen to join Group 2 – we wanted out, but not in the initial crush of commercial traffic that had been backed up for three weeks!

Arriving in Hammond, we again met up with many of the boats we had traveled with down the coast of Michigan.  Great to see familiar faces!  Some were going into Chicago the next day (via Uber) and we were happy to go back to the big city. We went with Dave and Denise from Adagio, and decided to try the Aquarium again. WOW- NO lines.  It was on a Wednesday and a great day to be there.  No crowds at the exhibits and wonderful seats for the dolphin show.  We ended up spending all day there – such fun.  

So, back at Hammond Marina, what to do?  Remember, this was the place that the others had been told not to wander too far because of gangs?  Well, we found out there was a bike path – how many gangs hang out on bike paths?  We again went out with Dave and Denise and headed south along the shoreline towards the next town called Whiting.  It was a beautiful ride and what a surprise at the end of the trail. Mascot Hall of Fame!  Who knew??  This is where “mascots” can go to learn to be the best of the best. It’s not just about putting on a costume – there is so much more!  Now you know. 

We biked thru the rest of Whiting, specifically going to a drug store for Dave to pick up a prescription.  So how do Loopers get their “fix” of drugs on the Loop?  It’s easiest to have prescriptions sent to a national chain such as Walgreens or CVS.  By doing that, any store in the chain can pull up the prescription on their computer system and fill it.  It’s worked pretty well.  People just need to remember to get a long term supply before going to Canada.  On the other hand, I’ve talked with Canadians who have had to get an entire year’s supply before leaving home. Anyway, while we were at CVS, we remembered to get our flu shots.  Didn’t want to take the chance of getting sick en route.

The next day was still lovely – temp around 70.  Did some boat chores and laundry. Ed installed AIS on the boat (more about that on a later blog). Then a not so funny thing happened on the 12th.   The high temp was only 55 and a low of 36 – and future days didn’t look to be going back to 70.  When you are sitting in a boat surrounded by water, cold temps are not comfortable.  Sure, we have heaters on board, but we have to go outside of the boat periodically.  Get those locks open!

On Sunday morning – on a COOL Sunday morning – we rode our bikes back to Whiting to go to church. What had been a very pleasant ride on Thursday, was now a bitterly cold ride with winds coming at us from the lake.  Brrrr.  Late that afternoon, we gathered for docktails on one of the boats and discussed plans for our exit.  Steve from Valentine had been elected as leader of Group Two – hereafter known as the “Two-pers.” (Somebody came up with that after too many cocktails!)  Group 1 had already started thru today, and Kim had indicated that we could get started on the next day.  WooHoo!  

We were all ready to be moving again, but at the same time, many of us had a little trepidation about how it would be on the rivers.  We had heard about barges – very LARGE barges – and there would be a good bit of current on the water, especially the Mississippi.  It was comforting to know we would be traveling with a group. Some of the boaters had already traveled the lower rivers when they started their Loops.  ANY experience is better than none! For all the miles we had already traveled, we somehow knew this was going to be a little different.

October 4 – 6, 2019 Chicago–The Second City

We boarded a train in Michigan City and headed to Chicago, also known as The Second City. This name came from the fact that most of Chicago was burned to the ground in the fire of 1871 and had to be rebuilt.  

Headed first to “The Bean,” properly known as Cloud Gate.  It’s a reflective sculpture in Millennium Park — a “must see” on a Chicago Trip.  Checked in to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, then headed to lunch. What to have?  Chicago pizza, or course.  Went to a Giordano’s around the corner from our hotel. The meal did NOT disappoint.

Next stop was Navy Pier.  There were pumpkin displays for Halloween, a ferris wheel, and a view of another lighthouse. During the summer this place must be a hub of activity.

Met up with Patty and Todd from Alcyone.  We went back to Millennium Park and took some time to see more of what was in the park.  Such a beautiful area. Found the Pritzker Music Pavilion, beautiful flowers and lots of people just enjoying a cool, but sunny day.

The Chicago Cultural Center, originally the central library building, was converted in 1977 to an arts and culture center.  The building details on the inside are incredible.  It’s so beautiful, that weddings are held there. Since it was a Saturday, we saw more than one “soon to be married” couple getting their pictures taken in various locations in the building.  What a gem in the middle of the city!

We attempted to go to the Aquarium, but discovered that Saturday was NOT a good day to do that. The line was way out the building and down the stairs.  So we opted for the more scientific Field Museum.  WOW- I thought it would be kind of boring, but not at all. We got to see an exhibit on Bugs, another on Water and one of the main exhibits: Sue – the T. Rex – in her very own gallery.  

Dinner that night was in a wonderful Italian place called Volare.  There could not have been more tables put in this restaurant. We were back to back with tables all around us.  How the waiters get around is a mystery.  The food was fabulous and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal with Patty and Todd from Alcyone.  After dinner, we hopped on the Red Line to go up to one of the theaters and enjoyed the play “Holy Ghost Bingo.”  If you are familiar with “Midnight Confessions,” this play was in the same format.  It’s a one woman play with LOTS of audience participation in an intimate setting.  Lots of laughs.

We got to Church on Sunday morning and then we meeting up with several other Loopers for an Architectural Tour–on a boat–in downtown Chicago.  Unfortunately, there was a mix up of times and we couldn’t get on the same boat as others, so along with Patty and Todd, we had our own “group.” Oh WOW – can’t say enough about this tour.  There was a very knowledgeable guide on board who gave us SO much info about many of the downtown buildings.  Since the city was almost entirely rebuilt after the fire, it became a magnet for architects. There are examples of so many styles of architecture and so much creativity.  We only regretted that we didn’t take a second tour at night, which would have looked so different with all of the building lights.

We did get together with the other Loopers for an early dinner.  Had a lot of fun catching up with what everyone was doing. Then we headed back to our respective marinas and boats.

Chicago was a fabulous place to see.  It would have been nice to take our own boat thru downtown, but there is a 17’ fixed bridge in town that might have presented a problem.  We considered taking down the radar dome and antennas, but we still weren’t sure we would make it.  So we were content in taking the architectural tour on the river and letting someone else do the driving for us!

Michigan City — It’s NOT in Michigan! Sept 30–Oct 7, 2019

Our next stop was Michigan City – which we found out was NOT in Michigan.  Do cities purposely try to confuse visitors?  Michigan City is in Indiana, a corner of which touches Lake Michigan.  We pulled into the Washington Park Marina which was a very nice location, but because it was NOT part of the Michigan Park Marinas, it was not half price.  Oh well, nothing lasts forever!  Our entourage of boats didn’t last forever either.  Many of them cut across the lake to Hammond Marina, just south of Chicago, anticipating the opening of the locks on Oct 5.  We were down to us and Alcyone, and got an addition of Pegasus.  As it turned out, Barbara on Pegasus was celebrating a birthday, so we all went out to eat and celebrate with her!

Soon after, Pegasus left as did Alcyone.  Alcyone went to Chicago on a day that didn’t look so good to us.  Turned out that it was a very unpleasant ride for them. Sometimes it’s better to be a little chicken hearted.  We were planning to go to Hammond Marina, but a little voice inside told me to call one of the boats already there.  When the little voice speaks, it’s a good idea to listen.  I called one of our buddies there and she told me that the marina was fine, but they had been warned to not leave the property due to gangs in the local area.  The security people would drive them to WalMart, and there was a casino next door, but other than that, nothing to do.  OK – maybe we’ll wait a bit.  Then the news came through that we didn’t want to hear – the opening of the locks was to be delayed another week.  We immediately thought of the places we didn’t stop to see because we had wanted to be on time for the lock opening.  

Time to explore Michigan City, INDIANA.  There was a nearby beach where we walked, and the area was bike friendly, too.  AND, it had an outlet mall! Hadn’t seen one of those on our trip.  Went to browse the shops, but didn’t buy much – not a lot of extra room on a boat.  Ed found an electric buffer at one of the local shops, so he started some boat cleaning.  There was lighthouse museum in town.  One of the stories told there was about the SS Eastland.  The boat used to travel between Chicago and Michigan City bringing passengers to the beach and large amusement park.  On July 24, 1915, the boat was still tied to the dock, loaded with passengers when it rolled over on its side, filling with water.  844 passengers and crew were killed. It was the largest loss of life from a single incident on the Great Lakes.  There were theories as to why the accident occurred, but no conclusive evidence.

So what else to see in Michigan City?  We saw signs for a zoo, but never made it there.  However, we did see a metal sculpture of some bears. There were several art sculptures throughout the town as well as an art museum.  One evening we were walking out on the beach and looked across the water.  We looked, and then looked again.  We could actually SEE Chicago from where we were standing.  WOW – it was over 30 miles to Chicago – couldn’t believe we could see it from where we stood.

While talking to one of the other boat owners on our dock, he happened to mention a train that went to Chicago.  Train?  What train?  Sure enough, the South Shore Line could take us to the Big City. WooHoo!  We made some hotel reservations, packed our bags and headed to Chicago.  SO much to do there. We will do a separate blog entry for Chicago to follow this one.  SO many pictures of Chicago, I’m afraid we might overload the posting!

September 24 – 29, 2019 More of Lake Michigan

On Sept 24, we traveled 47 miles from Ludington to White Lake, MI.  It was still a bit windy, but manageable when staying close to shore.  We had hoped to get to Grand Haven, but the winds were too strong by afternoon.  A benefit to stopping at White Hall Marina was that Loopers Dan and Jenny Lynn from Melody in Sea were there to greet us.  They had completed their Loop and we were all so glad to see each other again.  We all had dinner out that night at the local pizza place.

Winds kept us here, so what to do?  There were some great bike paths here, so we put the feet to the pedals and started exploring on the bikes.  There was one bike path that went quite a distance to the library.  There were all kinds of art work in the woods along the way – that made for a really enjoyable ride.  The library was awesome.  It had a great reading room with huge windows that looked out towards the woods.  There were also several interesting displays.  The subject of one display dealt with books that “the public” had tried to ban from schools and public libraries.  Quite interesting to see that many of the books are what we now regard as “classics.”  Thank goodness for libraries that can expose us to so many different books.

Jenny Lynn and Dan were so kind to invite us all to dinner at the party room at their marina next door.  Such a treat!  

After four days of wind, we made a long day of 73 miles to South Haven.  What a great stop this was.  The marina docks were a little shaky on the electricity, but there was a great community room – where we had yet another Looper Pot Luck dinner.  Town was just a short walk away and had lots of places of interest.  And as an extra treat,  The Downton Abbey movie was playing at the local theater!  I had seen it advertised, but never thought we’d find a place to see it.  Life is good!

We also got to visit the Michigan Maritime Museum.  So interesting.  We were able to go aboard the tall ship Friends Good Will, a replica of the original ship.  Some of the early Coast Guard rescue boats were displayed as well as an exhibit on the shipwrecks in the Great Lakes (maybe not the best thing to see when we are cruising).  There was also an actual fish tug that fished on Lake Michigan, which we were able to walk aboard.  Another exhibit was about the movie Finest Hours which is about a rescue on the Lake.  A sister ship of the original rescue boat was located in Michigan and was used in the movie.  So much to learn – so little time!

September 16 – 23, 2019 Exploring Lake Michigan

On Monday, the winds were low and we headed out to LeLand, MI, also known as “Fishtown.”  In the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s, LeLand established itself as a large commercial fishing area.  Still present are the old wooden buildings where fish was brought in to port, right off the boats.  There is still some commercial fishing there, but the town is now more of a tourist attraction.  

WOW, we got two days in a row of low winds, so we moved again on Tuesday to Frankfort, MI. Along the way we started noticing many sandy beach areas.  We had no idea that so much of the coast of Michigan was sand.  We passed Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park – more about that later.  Several Looper boats were traveling together, making our way towards Chicago.

Winds were pretty high for the next few days, so we looked to see what we could do in Frankfort. Couldn’t find any public transportation to take us anywhere and no Uber.  We really wanted to see Sleeping Bear Dunes, but it was several miles away – biking wasn’t a good option.  Going out to dinner that evening with friends Patty and Todd, I decided that we would try to see if any of the wait staff at the restaurant might drive us over tomorrow.  Well, we sat down at a table and before our waiter could even introduce himself, Patty said “Do you have a car?”  Looking a little stunned, he said “yes.”  Then she said “What are you doing tomorrow?”  I’m thinking that he has thoughts of “Mrs. Robinson” in his head!  We explained that we wanted to go to the park.  As it turned out, he had just given up his next day’s shift to someone who needed the work hours.  He was free and would be happy to take us.  We agreed on a price and time for pick up.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

GREAT day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.  The weather was sunny and comfortable, so we hiked the dunes.  Some of the dunes are over 450 ft high. Beautiful sand and fabulous views of the Lake are the rewards at the top of the dunes.  

Our driver, Lowell, had dropped us off and said he would return in a couple of hours.  When he came back, he asked if we wanted to go anywhere else.  Sure, let’s go to the Visitor’s Center.  So we went there and got some education about the area.   We tried to get in to one of the lighthouses, but it was closed that day. Then – since he was willing – we went to Glen Arbor, the next small town south of us.  We treated Lowell to some ice cream at the Cherry Republic Store, which is a fun place to visit.  Anything “cherry” that you can think of to eat or drink is available at a Cherry Republic Store.   All those Michigan cherries are delicious.  We walked around the town, then headed back to Frankfort. We paid Lowell and tipped him. We were happy, and he probably made more money driving us around than he would have made at work that day. We suggested that he could set up a side business during the summer and offer his driving services to Loopers.

While at Frankfort, we also did some beach walking, had an outdoor Looper Pot Luck Dinner, did some biking and even found a farmer’s market.  The sun was out, the temps were great — just the wind held us back from traveling, but it was a fun time there.  One note about the market – there was a man there who sold various kinds of mushrooms.  We got quite an education talking with him.  We tried some of the mushrooms he had available – quite delicious.

One of the benefits of traveling late in the season, is that many of the Michigan marinas are half price after Labor Day.  We were glad to have some compensation for having to stay so long at each place because of the September winds.  Unfortunately, we had to skip over many places we would have liked to visit because there were only so many days we could still be cruising, and many of those days were too windy to move.  Something that we haven’t previously mentioned – the locks south of Chicago were to be closed Sept 21 – Oct 5.  Earlier in the trip we had to make a decision.  Would we rush thru Georgian Bay and North Channel to get thru the locks BEFORE they closed, or take our time and plan to go thru after they reopened?  Waiting for the reopening put us late in the season, but we didn’t want to rush thru some great places and miss out.  The downside is that the winds were curtailing where and when we could cruise.  I guess that’s the Ying and Yang of life!

On the 20thwe were able to move to Ludington.  This is home to the SS Badger, the last remaining large coal-burning steamship in the US.  It cruises between Wisconsin and Michigan, connecting the eastern and western segments of US 10, and has officially been designated as part of US 10.  It was originally a rail car ferry, but now only transports passengers, autos, busses, and trucks. It makes two trips in each direction, each day, and rarely misses a sailing due to inclement weather. The departure and arrival of the ship is somewhat of an event each day in Ludington, and we were able to see it come and go several times.  Some of the Loopers took the trip over to Wisconsin and returned later in the day.  The ship is a registered historical site.

We also did some lighthouse visits in Ludington.  The North Breakwater Lighthouse (yes, same name as the one in Frankfort) is at the entrance to the channel to the marina, so we saw it when we entered Ludington, and we walked out to it while on a bike ride.  The waves crash against the stone breakwater, splashing water up into the air. 

The Big Sable Lighthouse is located in Ludington State Park.  That visit required a much longer bike ride.  We were able to go inside this lighthouse and the views from the top were fabulous.  

We had another Looper Pot Luck Dinner in Ludington – 10 Looper Boat crews in attendance. Lots of chatter and laughs. Games followed dinner.  Not such a bad way to spend windy days in port.

September 8 – 15, 2019 Yea!! Company from Home

Many years ago we had spent some time on Mackinac Island and it was enchanting.  No motor vehicles except some emergency and service vehicles.  Lots of horses and bikes, and beautiful scenery.  So for this visit – Stay on the island, or stay on the mainland?  Which would be best?  The weather is always the determining factor. There were some strong winds coming in from the south, just where the island marina is.  We had already been warned that docked boats get tossed a good bit by ferries coming to the island.  Winds would add to the rocking.  Mainland it was.   Friends from home – Kathy and Steve – were coming up to visit. SO glad to finally see someone from Augusta.  We have been gone since the end of March – a long time away from familiar faces.  

Some people were kind enough to help us get docked.  One gentleman was a native of Mackinaw City.  He and Ed got into quite a lengthy conversation.  Shortly after we arrived, Kathy and Steve also got to the marina.  Hugs all around.  Ed was still talking.  Before I knew it, we had all been invited to ride over to Mackinac Island the next morning with Ed’s new friend in his boat.  

The next morning, we got on their boat and were met with muffins, hot coffee and juice. I’ll say it again – Boaters are the Best!  The boat we boarded was an old Chris Craft.  She was a beauty and was well used and enjoyed by Bill and Marilyn (Crane) and their family members.  We had quite a ride over to the island.  The plan was to breakfast at The Pink Pony – a local favorite. Brunch was delightful and we were entertained by more stories of growing up around the island.  

We parted company with our new friends after brunch and then we headed off with Kathy and Steve to do some island exploring. A horse and buggy ride is a delightful way to see the island, so that is what we did, and we got a tour of the highlights of the island.

Our last stop was at the former military fort on the high top of the hillside.  The tour of the fort gave us some history of the island and then we walked to The Grand Hotel. 

 What an appropriate name!  She really is GRAND.  Sitting on the verandah, you can look out to the water and the lovely grounds of the hotel.  

Inside The Grand Hotel, it’s a treat to see the old craftsmanship and unique decorating style of the hotel.  The designer certainly didn’t go for neutral colors.  It’s lively and colorful and definitely makes a statement!  We walked throughout the hotel and ended up in the Cupola Bar which had a fabulous view of – Everything!  Great spot for drinks in the afternoon.  

The next day we walked around Mackinaw City (on the mainland) and also toured the US Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw WAGB-83.  It is now retired and set up as a museum.  It was built during WWII to ensure that war materials could continue to be transported during the winter months.  Got a treat during the tour.  One of the docents actually served on the boat, so we got some personal insight into the operation of the boat.   Later in the day we drove over the Mackinac Bridge – the third longest suspension bridge in the US – to St. Ignace.  We walked around that town and tried a local food item – a pastie – rhymes with nasty.  We tried it – won’t be looking for them anymore!

On the 11th, Kathy and Steve got to cruise with us to Charlevoix, MI.  We drove underthe Mackinac Bridge and started heading south.  Wish I could say we found warmer temperatures, but we still needed coats.  Charlevoix is REALLY charming and we docked right in front of the city and did a walk through the town.  

Next morning, Kathy and Steve retrieved their car and returned. Later that day we drove to Traverse City. We went to the old Traverse City State Hospital which is being renovated for use as stores, restaurants and even a farmers market. It’s a huge area of buildings with lots of potential. While in Traverse City, we also got to visit with more friends from Augusta – Dennis and Marita – who were doing a bike tour in Michigan.

On the 13th, we said goodbye to Kathy and Steve. It was SO wonderful to have someone from home come and visit. As much as we are enjoying this journey, there are still the moments of missing home. If others are so inclined, we’d love the company.

Later in the day we headed out to see more of Charlevoix.  This is home to what are affectionately called the Mushroom Houses.  Over a period of 56 years (starting in 1919), Earl Young designed many residential properties and even some commercial buildings that have a whimsical look to them, some resembling mushrooms.  They are enchanting.  If you’re interested, these homes are rented out to vacationers.

On the 15th, our Augusta friends Dennis and Marita rode their bicycles into Charlevoix.  They were moving more miles on bikes than we were in a boat.  Oh, have I mentioned the high winds – again.  Anyway, they came to see the boat and checked out Ed’s “man cave” in the basement.  Tomorrow is a good travel day.  We’re making tracks tomorrow for LeLand.