We’re starting this blog to facilitate sharing our latest adventure –the Attack of the Great Loop–with family, friends, and apparently strangers lurking on the internet (welcome, btw!). Out of the chute, it’s felt almost as nerve-wracking and strange as the locals must have felt as the Brits pressed in to their towns. But we’ll see how it goes and perhaps add other adventures on land too–hence the name of the blog! ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA. (Well, technically anything involved with water will be under the “By Sea” category.) So tip of the hat to Longfellow for coining the phrase that we’ve picked for more trivial and fun communications than rebelling against taxation without representation.
For the current adventure, here’s the general map; however, we aren’t starting close to the main Loop route. The prologue to The Loop for us is to approach it via the Ohio River (beginning at The Point in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Well, actually we started a few miles up river. (See Red Dot for starting point) Hope you check in often and enjoy the posts! xo
THE GREAT LOOP: Over 5000 miles long (depending on side-trips…did you say Cuba?….well, we DID say it ( as well as the Bahamas!)….but that will have to be another trip!)
MAP UPDATED:: SEPT 21,2017 !!!!!!
We started Sept 3, 2016, just North of Pittsburgh on the Red Dot with a 922 mile prelude/side trip down the Ohio River (all WHITE LINES ARE SIDE TRIPS! — ie NOT technically part of the Great Loop) to get to our official beginning start point on the Loop (Green Dot at Green Turtle Bay, Grand Rivers, Kentucky). The GREEN LINE represents our Loop trip. In addition to the Ohio River prelude/side trip, other side trips (WHITE) were: A small leg up and back the Tennessee River to Florence, Alabama; leg up and back the Black Warrior River in Alabama past Tuscaloosa (and nearly to Birmingham); up and back the Potomac to Washington DC; and up and back the Sassafras River (at the north end of Chesapeake Bay). All DOTS (except the pink one at Chicago) represent times we’ve flown home for 10-18 days (one dot for flight home is missing–right about where the “S” is in the word “Severn” in northern Canada). As of September 20, 2017 we have traveled 7,827 miles and are a stone’s throw down a section of the Mississippi River and a turn toward the east) from completing our Loop back at the green dot (Green Turtle Bay, Kentucky!) [Any route marks that are not GREEN or WHITE are simply the possible routes of “The Great Loop.”]
UPDATE (10-19-16) The Second Leg: We left Green Turtle Bay, Grand Rivers, Ky which is just east and south of Paducah on the map below (and marked w/ a big green oval dot on the map above). As of 10-19-16 we are at the top (north end) of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (in dark purple on the map) where it branches off of the Tennessee River (which flows downstream to Paducah/the Mississipii –hence we were going UPriver from Green Turtle Bay to the head of the Tenn-Tom Waterway…which will then be “DOWN-river”
UPDATE (9-19-16): THE OHIO RIVER: Which we have now completed as of Sept 15, 2016! 922.5 miles (We started just north of Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River and we did NOT go that tiny little end knob section to the Mississippi River but rather turned left (aka east) (towards Nashville up the Cumberland River)
UPDATE: (5-15-2017) Chesapeake Bay Area. By the way, Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the USA….followed by Puget Sound, Washington.
UPDATE: JUNE 8, 2017:
At my request, Nick revised Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere with a little artistic freedom to fit us:
LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear Of the great boat trip that started this year, On the fourth of September, in 2016; Nick and Barb got on the Loop Knowing not what to fear.
Nick said to Barb, “When running the river Let’s look out for barges and whatever might be Keeping red buoys to right while not missing greens, Failure to do so will leave props obscene And we’ll finish the trip by land not by sea.
Passing through locks with nary a shiver Slowly but surely we’re learning the river. Bollards are watched and lines always kept free Passing through locks with nary a shiver Slowly but surely we’re learning the river.
For the original see: http://poetry.eserver.org/paul-revere.html or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4hUMQG3MI8 for a live reading and cool old prints
Ok, so the spoiler-alert title is a bit ahead of the preamble, but for those who know me and accuse me of taking forever to get to the point of a story, I thought I might change tactics with this post. Read on for the details.
After a morning jaunt on shore and breakfast, we left the Little River Diversion anchorage muddy banks behind us and ‘chased’, at 7mph, the few other boats that had left at dawn.
About 10 miles before the first lock, we received a text from one of the group. With a warning that it would be the only opportunity for pleasure craft to pass through and that we had 20 minutes to get there, we hit the pedal to the metal (well, fiberglass)……and hoped that our good gas mileage and adherence to our gas/speed plan from the prior day would hold out with the extra push at a bit earlier and more than the 23 mph than we had authorized ourselves to do. We reached the group of boats in time….but, needless to say, still wondering about our gas situation.
We didn’t have any waiting at the first of three locks– which one could argue isn’t quite a lock yet: the partially-constructed Olmstead Lock system. It will eventually replace the next 2 locks (with the non-descript names of #53 and #52).
We tied up to a wall to wait an hour or so for the #53. Lockmaster was nice, friendly and encouraged a dog walk! Always a way to B’s heart!
Within a few short miles, the final lock of the day, # 52, loomed and was surrounded by waiting barges on all shores on the up and the down sides. We all tossed anchors off the downriver dam side; at least we saved gas by not having to circle and battle the current. The lockmaster told us to sit tight for a couple of hours. Sunset came and went.
We haven’t really boated in the dark other than at dusk for a mile or so and certainly not locked in the dark (nor floated with no tie ups on top of that) let alone in the oldest lock with THE WORST reputation in the entire country AND on top of that when: 1) we had NO idea whether we had enough gas to go the remaining 4 miles; 2) the charts don’t actually show where the dock we want is because it is so new (and, by the way, neither did google earth when we checked earlier in the day); 3) despite trying every light combination available, it was so dark we couldn’t see any channel markers (yet they loomed in abundance on the charts); and 4) likewise, we couldn’t see the infamous debris known to be lurking about.
This made for our longest boating hours in one day and latest arrival time ever! All of which was on the last full day of our entire Loop journey! (gee….what’s that final message supposed to tell us??) 11 hours and 5 minutes of boating and arrival to the Paducah dock at 9:10 pm—10 minutes past our bedtime!
Paducah, Kentucky dock just opened this week actually and now provides travelling boats a much needed fuel stop. We knew we needed to fuel…..but the pump was SO slow that we couldn’t stand our own impatience to fill it all the way up. So after 60 minutes of fueling, we left with just 60 added gallons knowing it was enough to get us to our next stop. SO….we had to wait for our final fuel calculation a few more hours. But obviously we did NOT run out of gas in the dark on the long stretch from Hoppies to Paducah!
With our late arrival last night and our hard-to-get marina slip reservation at Green Turtle Bay, we couldn’t stay an extra night in Paducah to enjoy the restaurants. So we just stretched our legs in the coolish air (aka 75 degrees at 8 am) and spent time looking at the cool big mural and repeating a few pix that we took last year at about this same time.
After a leisurely morning walking around and at the Paducah dock, we pushed off for our last (first?) loop day.
And here we are boating over our prior “wake prints”!!
Oddly, even after more than 8000 miles and only traveling by here once before, this stretch of the Cumberland River with it’s twists and turns and occasional industry interspersed in remoteness feels very familiar.
Our last (first?) loop lock!
We had that weird feeling you get when you drive past your old elementary school as we exited the Lock and headed into the familiar channel markers leading us to Green Turtle Bay. Familiar enough but yet definitely feeling a bit older, more sun-worn, and certainly impacted by the journey.
We did finish filling the gas tank and after some double checking and cross checking calculations, determined that we rolled into Paducah in the dark the prior night with only between 1.5 and 4 gallons of gas left in the tank. Hahaha…more than just fumes! Yay for excel spreadsheet calculations and living by them (mostly)!
Those random, fun moments along with recently crossing paths with our first siting over a year ago of a looper, In Deep Ship’s Kelly and Terri; and texts and calls from our original buddy boat, Panacea’s Joan and Don, offering to help trailer the boat back to the west coast, are what, I believe is literally called ‘coming full circle’— it’s a LOOP! Altogether pretty weirdly amazing!
What’s next? Absorbing, pondering and planning for now! It’s weird to have a destination (or two), but with no “purpose.”
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned! We have to live up to the title of the blog with some “Land” posts, right?
Here are our Loop raw stats:
387 days “on the Loop” (minus 68 days at home)
184 travel days underway
8,118 miles total traveled (including the approach down the Ohio and side-trips up the Black Warrior River and the Potomac)
5,748 gallons of gas
587 engine hours
176 locks (including a rail chute)
13.8 mph average speed over the entire trip
2 countries; 2 provinces; and 20 states; uncountable bodies of water
OK, so we went off scope again! Can’t really come up with a good excuse, but it’s tough to do these blogs and when you delay a few days everything becomes jumbled making it even harder so you decide to put it off and the jumble compounds! C’est la vie. Lots of pics on this post. We’re about 7,800 miles into our journey now and startin’ to smell the barn. There’s still about 300 miles to go including that long stretch without fuel to conquer, but we can count the number of locks remaining to transit on one hand. We left the tiny Tall Timbers marina and continued down the Illinois to its confluence with the mighty Mississippi at Grafton, Illinois.
As big as all these rivers are, they’re still subject to surprisingly large fluctuations in water levels. Indeed, on the Mississippi we were told to be careful to allow for a 2’ variation overnight when considering anchorages, but I get ahead of myself. As it is, low water on the Illinois has backed up river traffic with multiple days-worth of barges parked on the river banks waiting for more water. The problems were compounded by one barge having run aground and effectively closing the river to commercial traffic. Honestly, that was good news for us because we there was no waiting to enter the LaGrange Lock after which we zipped past the blocking barge on the downriver side.
Many Loopers passed us during our fuel economy experiment yesterday. While it was great (and necessary!) to confirm our fuel burn at slower speeds, we were delighted to power up and get back to our regular 25mph cruise speed (life’s too short to worry about MPG unless you really have to). We had about 150 miles to travel and N spent the AM figuring out where we might catch up to everyone that passed us the previous day…… “if two boats are going in the same direction, but starting different places and travelling different speeds, where will they meet?”. Amazingly, he was accurate to about a mile after well over 5 hours of travel…. ok, ok, it wasn’t cold fusion.
We made it all the way to the self-described “Key West of the Midwest” otherwise known as Grafton, Illinois at the mouth of the Mississippi. The marina was nice, but Key West?! Uhmm, an oyster bar, a winery and few biker spots doesn’t really equate to Key West. We did go for $1 taco night at a local bar despite being told the “best pizza” around was served at the local BP station.
You get the idea! Next day we made the short jump to Alton, Illinois to stage ourselves for the big run past St Louis, but also to stop and look at a boat that was there for sale.
We liked the boat, but didn’t break out the checkbook just yet as we still need to reconcile getting down to a sub 20mph cruise speed.
Although a lot of people characterize river boating as variations on a common theme of travelling in a ditch, we enjoy the journey. Beautifully calm water, no compass headings, interesting scenery and not much traffic. Overall, it’s pretty relaxing.
We’re working our way down the Illinois River which, fortunately, is unexpectedly scenic and undeveloped. The Illinois River is an old meandering twisty 273 mile river that connects (via the 336 mile preamble of the Illinois Waterway) Chicago to the Mississippi River at Grafton, Illinois (just a bit north of St Louis). In the early 1900’s, the river was second only to the Columbia River in fresh water fishing harvests; not so anymore, thanks to over-fishing and to pollution in general and specifically industry and sewage out of Chicago.
Despite being in ‘middle’ America, we’ve passed through some very international sounding locales: nights in Ottawa and Havana and a drive-by of Peru! Here’s a collection of a few pix of our river life as we make our way south. (Speaking of which, the geese and ducks in Georgian Bay, Canada were winging, honking and quacking southward over our heads when we were there in mid-August. Now we are starting to see them here again after minimal sightings along Lake Michigan.)
We left with a pack of six other Loopers from the Joliet wall and had one of our longest and latest days yet. And all that without the reward of big mileage: 10 hours and 10 minutes and only 44 miles. Three locks (each with increasing wait times of up to 3 and half hours) turned a short trip into a very long day .
The bottom line is the commercial barge traffic has priority over pleasure craft; but that is compounded by the barges’ snail’s pace to enter, exit and get tied on/off and the locks trying to beat each other’s safety records. By the time one clears out, another one is radioing in with its approach. No one seems to take note that a mile away for the barge at 1 mph could practically lock through a whole gaggle of pleasure craft!
Although I’m pretty sure Ziggy didn’t agree with the change in the routine!
Speaking of Ziggy:
A stop at Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY), just north of Peoria, for gas and the night after a relatively easy 74 miles over a 5 hour day on the water.
Refreshing, short leg stretch out to the marina entrance.
In anticipation of our long 205 mile run down the Mississippi between gas-ups, we bit the bullet, got up early again, skipped breakfast and did a SLOW day to see if we could eke out better mileage and make the run without asking fellow Loopers to loan us their dinghy gas along the way. Good news: we increased our mpg by 113% and can make it! Bad news: it is now confirmed–we hate going 7mph!! But we’ll do it for those 2 days (maybe with a few fast sections once we feel good about the river current, etc)
Just a sampling of at least a dozen channel markers washed WAY off the mark! (Remember the rule? “Red right return”– so when going DOWN a river (away from its head), then green is on the right…supposedly! Keeps us alert!
Aside from Peru Proof, here’s a shot of a rare road along the waterway and an even rarer small town. Basically it has been a tree-lined waterway!
Yes, we made it all the way to Havana (by way of Ottawa and Peru!!)
We were Lock Lucky on our final 120 mile approach to Grafton. Only one lock to get through and it was straight in and out due to the low river–barges grounded and lined up on the shore waiting for “water” and/or dredging in some bad spots. All their bad luck resulted in no traffic and minimal clearance for everyone except small pleasure craft (like us!) We zoomed through our 120 miles (and whipped past a bunch of Loopers who had left us in the spray yesterday when we were doing our slow-mph-test)…much to N’s joy today!
We now sit at Grafton Marina where the Illinois meets the Mississippi River! That’s Mile Marker 0 on the Illinois and Mile Marker 981 on the Mississippi. Just one more small (relatively) leg and we’ll complete our loop and cross our wake. Yikes………weird feelings looming! Time for Taco Tuesday!
We left Hammond Harbor Marina on our final real push west before making the BIG LEFT and heading south and the completion of our loop.
Still many hundreds of miles to go, but left into the river means we’re on the home stretch. In the meantime, we had to get our “city on” with a stop in Chicago.
We stopped in DuSable Harbor right downtown next to Navy Pier and the Chicago River. Normal hotel cost down there? At least $300/night. Bayliner luxury? Oh, about $80! And we’re right in the loop! Wow, a double entendre… downtown Chicago’s “Loop” and our own larger “Loop” trail.
We’d visited Chicago not too long ago on another trip so this stop was all about “saying we did it” and meeting up with one of N’s original work chums from N’s very first ever job out of college. B is not a real “urban scene” fan so although the city has done a great job creating beautiful walking parks along the lakeshore, it just wasn’t the same as some of the quieter places we’ve been. Of course, N complained of exhaustion just watching all the joggers go dashing by each morning.
Could have been a great shot except for Z not paying attention
In the meantime, we went out to dinner with Dennis and Nancy (B had to suffer through “remember that time…….?” conversations, but it wasn’t too bad(!) according to N), walked around town and went to a Cubs game.
N also played golf on one of the first golf courses he ever played all those years ago. It was Chicago where he bought his first set of golf clubs way back when.
Our Chicago stay was nice, but we were itching to get into the Chicago River and have the experience of boating right through downtown, so after two nights we were off! You can tour the river on a river cruise boat, but very cool to pass through that steel and glass canyon on your own little vessel. Even B had to admit it was pretty cool, urban landscape and all. We took way too many pictures!
Once through downtown, it was back to river life. No more worries about big waves and winds.
First stop out of Chicago was Joliet, Illinois where we spent the night on a wall along the river with many other Loopers (pic in header). As you might imagine, this passage off Lake Michigan and into the river is like a giant funnel. After months of passing time across the expanse of the Great Lakes and Canadian points north, ALL Loopers head back to the river heading for points south. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of Looping boats; catching up with (and passing!) boats we’ve seen somewhere over the last 12 months and meeting up with people just getting started (we feel like such old salts around the newbies). Despite our speed, we’re currently at the same marina with the very FIRST boat we ever saw on this journey 7,500 miles ago and way up the Ohio River! Obviously, we had some mechanical issues and went home a few times and they haven’t traveled the same extended route, but it’s still interesting a 25mph and a 6mph boat find themselves together after all that time with no planning.
After spending months passing through “cute” little Canadian locks whose raison d’etre is servicing recreational boaters, we’re back to the grim reality of traversing HUGE locks which are focused on commercial traffic. ANY pleasure craft (let alone a 29’ Bayliner) is basically treated like whale dung (No, there aren’t whales in rivers, but you get the point) and left to hang in the channel waiting for a break in the tow traffic…. and those tows aren’t fast!
We spent over 3 hours waiting for passage through one lock and we were lucky! A group we passed ended up waiting over 6 hours to get through another lock we snuck into earlier after waiting over an hour. In total, it took us 10 hours to travel about 40 miles…. And we were going 25mph whenever we could!
OK, the waiting is a pain in the rear, but there are worse things we could be doing than floating on the river on a sunny weekday afternoon. Of course, some crew members use the VHF radio to monitor what’s going on in the locks and occasionally remind the lockmasters we’re still freaking here! UUuuhhhmmmmmm!
It’s an interesting transition back as we are now beginning to see scenery like that when we started and hear the same sorts of bug noises one comes to associate with cornfields and countryside in the Midwest. Let’s not get to poetic though as there is still plenty of hulking industry, locks, and the Mighty Mississippi ahead of us to navigate around and through. Not to mention our upcoming 225-mile passage without a fuel stop on our 150-mile cruise range boat (we’ve lost range with these smaller props). Should be interesting…..cruise On!
South Haven should be renamed: Wave Haven. It seems the usual entry system to all these great little harbors that are sprinkled every 15-30 miles along the east side of Lake Michigan (west coast of Michigan State) is to set up two long protecting jetties and cut an entry in which probably expanded what was originally a little creek or river mouth that then opens up to either a large lake or wider river. Some of the cuts even zig and zag with doglegs so the crashing storms and unrelenting winds are subdued. Very nice system!
We ventured out up the dead calm Black River in the dinghy for a little tour:
After about a mile and a half, the docks, marinas and boat slips suddenly thinned out and ultimately only nature (well, a bridge or two did remind us we weren’t too far out).
We had fun over dinner (and some port back on board) with N’s old work chum, Denny, from Arthur Anderson days and his wife Nancy. It took some back tracking but we finally pieced together when we last saw them: 2012 …wow- time flies! And of course, we forgot to take a pic! But looks like we’ll see them again in Chicago…so hopefully we stop talking long enough to get a shot.
We snuck out onto The Lake on a great day:
En route, we slowed down to take a closer look at the big Silver Lake Sand Dunes.
A 60 mile jump got us to a nice night in New Buffalo where we enjoyed golf, yoga, grocery replenishing, frustration with Seahawk performance and some nice walks!
Here’s one of those “what-is-it?” shots.
A short 40 mile hop midday, got us to a new state! Indiana! We are definitely out of the country-side and into “civilization.” In Hammond, Indiana with industrial smoke stacks of Gary, Indiana to our east and the towering skyline of Chicago to our west.
Hammond Marina shares the floating dock with a mega-casino….talk about un-civilized civilization! See Chicago in the background?
After spending many weeks complaining about Canadian internet, I’m not sure what’s worse… getting stuck by weather in a marina with whip fast internet, or moving from one marina to another with inferior internet at each one! Honestly, I’ll take the former. At least we can stream video, watch games, and follow the news. Also, we were in a town with a reasonable main street including a brewery, a few bars, restaurants, and a grocery store. That was all good because we were stuck in the town for 6 (SIX!!) nights.
This Lake Michigan is a beast! N was going crazy (had to keep repeating the mantra…. it’s not a race, it’s not a race….), but there was just no way to get out of port and on our way. We’ve had a week of sustained winds above 15 knots and waves of at least 5’. B and Z went to the breakwater each morning to assess the situation. Waves breaking over the wall meant no go!
Obviously, there’s not a lot to write about when you’ve been sitting in the same spot since the last time you posted! We’ve been up and down the main street at least 30 times, spent time in the library, talked to guys cleaning fish (it’s amazing how many fish get caught including large king salmon although the latter look nowhere near as good as our PNW variety), jaw boned about the weather with guys on the dock and did a lot of thumb twiddling!
“We” (i.e. N and a reluctant crew did try to leave yesterday…. only to be turned around by 6 footers! At least we tried. The good news is that as of this writing we’re off the dock and heading down the coast.
We’re going to go for a bit longer each day to get off this lake post haste, but also because while the little towns along the Michigan shore are nice,
there’s only so many t-shirt shops and cutsie art places you can look at before they all sort of run together! Not to mention it’s getting cold and we aren’t psychologically ready for that yet!
That NOAA website misrepresentation of wave height (discussed in last post) that resulted in a very, not good wave day has us second guessing our every decision to venture out again into Lake Michigan–well, it has B vetoing while N yells “damn the torpedos; full speed ahead.” That, coupled with actual major winds forecast (and occurring) have us hunkered down in Frankfort, Michigan for at least 3 nights. You really get to know a small town when you are there that long with nothing to do but walk a dog! It’s a very nice place with plenty of t-shirt stops, craft beer spots and, unfortunately, a beautiful sandy beach that is going un-appreciated in this weather.
But N did find a diversion to get to his diversion before the bad weather hit:
We did, however, unceremoniously celebrate our one year anniversary since starting the Loop though! Luckily we happened to go for a brunch with another Looper couple so that counted as our acknowledgment of the day. I could get all “retrospectivey-philosophicky” here…but since we are about to close the entire loop circle in a month or so more….I’ll hold off. You’re spared…for a bit!
Speaking of night shots:
It is shocking how many mega fishing-equipped small boats there are here on Lake Michigan. These guys are going out and just circling the little harbor and beyond at all hours–day and night. Look at that collection of lures in lower left window!
One of the prize catches are king salmon. “Wait!” you ask!?! “From a fresh water lake?” Yes, about 150 years ago they introduced kings and cohos here for sport. They survive and they keep stocking the lakes too. We even saw them trying to spawn up a stream that was damned/blocked off. Kinda weird/unnatural if you ask me!
No, this is NOT another artistic shot of a pretty stone that B has stumbled upon!
Well, when you’re stuck in port and the internet is perfect, the readership gets a quick back-to-back posting—albeit just a snippet of life at the docks in a small lakeside town. We actually may push off late this afternoon (so it might not be 3 nights at the same port…but not going back up to edit that earlier paragraph!) If so, we’ll make a quick run to the next port to keep working our way down and get off this GREAT lake as soon as possible before the really bad weather sets in. Of course, that departure is weather dependent and subject to B’s veto! Oh and speaking of weather….
The Tale of Two Cities! Here’s a juxtapostion of realities: so much for skipping out on the NW typical bumbershoot, non-picnic weather at home! That water shot is NOT through the window! Look at the size of those rain drops! Accompanied by big thunder and lightening too…. stay tuned for more.