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 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!
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!
Have you ever wondered why the Great Lakes are called the Great Lakes? Maybe you thought it was because they’re big, but that’s not it. It’s because they are HUGE! We are skipping down the west coast of Michigan and there is nothing to see on our starboard side. It’s no different that running down the west coast of the US. We need to be very careful to watch wind speed and direction because we are in a small boat for the types of seas that can kick up.
With all that in mind we checked the weather in Mackinac and decided to head south before the Labor Day crowd. People at the marina lazily gazed at our little Bayliner from the bridges of their parked 40 and 50 footers with nary a thought of venturing out. Hmmm… what did these locals know? In this league, I guess it’s go big and stay at home (or at the marina in this case). Off we went into the Mackinac Straight and on to the little town of Petoskey. Go Bayliner, go Bayliner…. (to the tune of “Speed Racer”)
The trip to Petoskey wasn’t too bad. Who knows what those big boys were worried about. We’ve finally just said “that’s enough” on this engine break in stuff and cranked back up to our regular cruise speed and held it there. Motor sounds good and it’s nice to get up on top of the waves. Bye bye 8 knot trawlers!
We have a general plan for getting to Chicago, but only planning one day at a time and playing it by ear.
Big water notwithstanding, we’ve been astounded by how great the boating is in this part of the world. Seems like every 30 to 40 miles along the coast there is a little town with a great municipal marina, restaurants, breweries and lots else to go visit. The lake itself is crystal clear although it’s a lot colder than it was up North! That seems weird, but it’s probably because the lake is significantly bigger and there aren’t the same rock formations going into the water.
From Petoskey, we went to Leland Harbor.
Now we’ve made it Frankfort. Along the way we’ve passed Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and rocked through 6 to 8-foot seas.
Yeah, the latter was sort of a mistake! We’re going to be a bit more vigilant in future.
OK, it’s Saturday night and need to sign off here to allow time to get into town and look for a place where N can better understand B’s whole perspective on Petoskey Stones!
With much trepidation we pulled out of Killarney with our 30 hours old motor and second new (re-built) outdrive. It took thousands of miles to become confident with our original set-up and that was in an environment where if something went wrong we were a stone’s throw from help (not to mention having functioning internet!). This leg of our journey really has us in the outback heading north and west before taking the big left down to Michigan. Blowing the clutch on the first new outdrive did not inspire confidence. If something goes wrong here we are literally up a creek (in a lake actually) without a paddle. Well, we do have a paddle, but we can’t really use it! Anyway, you get the idea.
After five days in Killarney N was going crazy. Three days were due to waiting for our new parts, but the other two were down to weather. At one point N took the dinghy into the bay to judge “just how bad” the water really was.
Although there are lots of islands up here, there is still tons of huge open water and 20 mph winds can really whip up some waves (the winds caused one 50’ cruiser at the marina to break loose with the finger dock it was tied to!). After much prevaricating, the RioMarLago crew negotiated a settlement to get the “heck outta Dodge” on Wednesday afternoon. We only went three miles, but our destination was a great anchorage called Covered Portage. A small step, but progress and movement was good for the sake of the order.
The stretch beyond Killarney takes us to the northernmost point of our journey on Lake Huron before we take the big turn south to Michigan. Cruising in this stretch is more and more remote with plenty of anchoring as we travel through the North Channel up to near where Lake Huron meets with Lake Superior. From Covered Portage we went to Baie Fine where we anchored then hiked up a trail to Topaz Lake (pic in header) before having lunch and a swim then heading to Little Current.
The latter is the last stop to get any kind of serious kind of provisioning done before getting to the US so we loaded up for the big push to the border.
Anchoring out has been great. It’s amazing to think people will be out ice fishing in these areas in a few months when right now the water temp is perfect for a daily morning swim…. ok “swim” might suggest a level of energy we’re not necessarily achieving, but still, it’s fun to jump in. No need for those marina showers.
After enjoying our great anchorage in the Benjamin’s we headed out for points west.
I think our last days in Canada will be here at Blind River waiting for weather….oh wait, there’s a golf course! Maybe we’ll stay an extra day.
OK…that’s it for now. We are totally looking forward to first world internet in the coming days! RioMarLago, out.
Holy smokes, how long has it been?! If you’re going to break something mechanical, there’s no point going for half measures. Turns out in addition to the propellers, we damaged the outdrive and blew the motor. So, we basically had to get brand new everything to continue the journey…. you go Bayliner! The good news is that N finally allowed himself to file an insurance claim for something (that’s why it’s called accident insurance) and the better news was that it was 100% covered! That’s right, one brand new drivetrain coming up.
We left the boat for repairs at a little marina off the Trent Severn Waterway in Orillia, Canada, and headed home. B was perfectly delighted to get her grandma time in early and for longer than planned (we’d always intended to go home in late July for two weeks so with this damage we got an extra week)
while N got to get his annual moto trip around WA in and play a lot of golf.
The weather back home was absolutely amazing with sunshine and blue skies every day unlike Canada where the summer has been unseasonably rainy and cool. Oh well!
We were delighted monitoring the marina from afar as they hit every milestone, communicated regularly, and got the work done on-time and at budget. We returned to Canada August 6th to find our RioMarLago peacefully floating at the dock with a beautifully clean bilge filled with a brand new shiny motor. There was some concern about the motor’s performance with our custom 22” props as the boat felt slow to get onto plane and the marina guys simply could not believe she could be that underpowered. Uhmmm…. you go Bayliner price point strategy! Mechanics convinced N to swap to smaller prop to save engine…. more on that later.
After a careful briefing in which N was told our new motor requires special care during its 20-hour break-in period including no time above 70% throttle and no more than 10 minutes at one constant rpm, we were off. It was good to be underway once more, but OMG…. this engine break-in stuff is tedious.
At least we had the Big Chute and last of the locks to look forward to before finally entering Georgian Bay. We made it from Orillia to the Big Chute in one day, but decided to stay up river and watch how this “lock” operated before simply jumping in. We’re glad we did!
Now we’re in Georgian Bay which is at the top of Lake Huron. This is major “cottage” (Canadian for beach house) country with all sorts of homes scattered across what are seemingly thousands of little rocky islands and inlets.
The boating is great, BUT you gotta watch the markers because there’s no sand to hit here, only rocks!
We ended up getting invited to a Canadian cruising rendezvous (Canadians are amazingly friendly!) so we took some time out to join their trip (see pic in header).
It was just as well since it afforded N an opportunity to get fully frustrated with the smaller pitch props and conclude we need to go big or go home (or break…again!). The smaller pitch props don’t get the boat going as fast as the 22’s at the same rpms so we burn more gas and go slower…. who does that? Anyway, we’re going to switch back to our 22’ props and fortunately we’re close to a place affiliated with the place we had the initial work done so we’ll swap out. We’ve lost count of how many haul outs we’ve had… you go Bayliner!
Speaking of traveling in Canada, we’re learning all sorts of things. For example, when we see a sign that says NO WAKE ZONE, we assume it means slow down and leave no wake, but apparently here in Canada it’s different. Seems there was a universal typo where ALL the signs were meant to read NO, WAKE ZONE! See the comma? So, you’re supposed to leave a HUGE wake whenever you see the sign like as you pass marinas, cottages, etc.…. who would have known!? Also, if someone asked you if you needed “hydro”, whaddya think? Water maybe? Nope, it’s power! Of course, electricians are electricians, but they work on hydro!
OK, time to get this post posted and pass the baton. RioMarLago out!
Well, we’ve had another technology driven blog hiatus despite which we’ve continued along the Trent-Severn Canal enjoying random adventures along the way.
We’re into the thick of the Canadian boating season and traffic is building. Not only are we seeing more “looper” boats, but many little towns along the canal plan weekend events to attract people.
That’s cool, but it makes it more challenging to find space each evening. So far, we’ve done OK.
Speaking of events, we stayed in Peterborough on Friday and had a chance to enjoy the annual “Rib Fest” together with seeing two tribute bands; “We Ain’t Petty” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and “Hot Rocks” (The Rolling Stones).
They were awesome! The good thing about tribute bands versus the real thing is the former ONLY play huge hits rather than forcing you to sit through their latest creative effort. OK, so we’re not big music aficionados…. we just want the hits!
OK, after a night of rock ‘n roll we were off up the canal.
With all the June rains the currents are strong in the canal making for always interesting marina entrances and exits. Leaving Peterborough, we came close to a big 48’ Sab recraft. NO WAY were we going to hit it, but the guy was out watching, paranoid that we would. No problemo! In fairness, another guy did bash another boat exiting.
Two locks up we came across the largest hydraulic lock in the world. Amazing. It’s like one giant railway bridge suspended on a hydraulic pole. One comes down while the other goes up at near elevator speed.
We’re getting into a bit nicer scenery now as we go further north and west. This is lake cottage country with tons of little cottage all over including on individual sized islands. Amazing boating even if there are still a lot of 10kpmh speed restrictions!
Faithful readers will remember we’re using our spare props while we wait for repairs on the other. We’ve been spoiled by the other props and “WE” are getting frustrated by the seemingly poorer performance of the others. At least we have nice scenery and places to stop overnight (even if they don’t have internet)!
Turns out the old props can’t be repaired so N bit the bullet and decided to cough up the 30% plus premium to buy replacements versus waiting until we get to the US. That price included a MAJOR discount since the prop guy had been unable to sell the set for the last three years!
The prop story is actually pretty complicated involving multiple prop shops, friends picking up and dropping off props, etc… but I’m working on the blog from a Tim Horton’s restaurant so trying to save time.
Even with our new props we’re not confident we’re back to normal performance, but there is a lot of current were constantly battling. Besides, now we have a new issue….. something’s weird with the steering. We’ve called ahead and hope to get someone to look at it. Hopefully it’s something really easy like bleeding a hydraulic line, but you never know; that’s boating! OK, maybe that’s Bayliner boating, but even so. In the meantime, we continue to shuffle along the canal. We’re down to our last 10 locks or so and then we have a few months of open water. We’re looking forward to that!