Thursday, November 7, 2013

Texting with our Boat

It's been a week since we left Mara Beel snoozing in the increasingly chilly waters of the Mississippi south of here, bubbler in place. A couple of local boat owners are keeping an eye on her during the winter months. She may be out of our sight, but we still communicate with our boat via text messages. The wonders of technology!!

These two texts arrived in the middle of the night:


Whew! Must have been a blip in the power supply.

This is more typical:

05:49 MARABEEL Backup batt % : 100 ; 
Ext batt volt: 13.86
MARABEEL Current temp 50.0F, 
Highest recorded temp 102.2F, 
Lowest recorded temp 48.2F

Mara Beel also will tell us where she is by sending us a Google Map location-- sweet!

Mark installed 6 sections of a large, heavy screen on the starboard side of our slip to provide protection against wind, snow and ice.

So, we are as prepared for winter. as we know how to be. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Winterizing for dummies

How many YouTube videos does it take to feel confident about winterizing our boat? More than I can count!

Here we are back on board, getting Mara Beel ready for her hibernation. This will be a tough winter for MB, as she has spent previous winters snuggled comfortably in a nice warm building. This year she will be floating in the chilly Mississippi with a bubbler to keep the ice away. We assume that MB has never been truly winterized, so this is new for all of us.

Yesterday Mark changed the oil in both engines. I think he said 7 quarts per engine. He watched this being done in Sturgeon Bay last year, so he felt confident about doing it himself. He may never want to do this again!

Today Jeff is working for us. He is winterizing the fresh water and raw water systems, the generator, the heads and showers, to name a few things. He does this on 50 boats every Fall, so he's knowledgeable and efficient in draining and flushing with antifreeze.

I am not much help due to my stylish new footware.

The view from our slip

Friday, October 11, 2013

Last Day on the Water

We reached our winter home across the river from Louisiana, MO on the 8 th. Mara Beel will be hibernating in Two Rivers Marina-- probably her first winter outside of heated storage. We had a beautiful trip up from Port Charles. We had fog early but it quickly burned off and turned into a perfect day. 

The Wisconsin

Lots of interesting sights along the way.

Golden Eagle ferry

2 locks and 1 railroad bridge opened right on cue for us, as if they knew it was my birthday!

This guy hung around our slip for quite awhile checking us out with a malevolent stare. Maybe we were in his space. Then he or she brought reinforcements.

We will go back to the boat later this month to get her winterized. The end of the boating season is always bittersweet. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Adios to the Illinois

Friday was an incredibly long and grueling day. We left Havana shortly after 7 am and covered 100 miles during the next 10 hours. It was hot and windy. There are only a few small towns visible along this stretch of the river, and even fewer marinas.We knew we did not want to tie up to a barge in Beardstown, and we preferred to not anchor out. (we need to replace our anchor.) So we planned this long day to end up in Hardin, IL. We tied up at the dock that belongs to the Illinois Riverdock Restaurant, also known as Mel's. No power or water, but that was OK.

We ate supper at Mel's, and Mark appropriately ordered the River Rat burger.After eating, it was a losing battle to stay awake. We were asleep before 9 PM, which they say is the Loopers' midnight. So true! This is not a wide river, so I was awake each time a towboat passed by. Wish I had night vision binoculars!

We left early this morning to beat the rain to Grafton. Grafton Harbor is a welcome return to civilization. We are in a covered slip, and there is a winery and a small town here. We have cell and Internet service once again. Best of all, we are looking at the Mississippi River!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Peoria to Havana

Today we successfully dodged rain and plenty of barge traffic. We left Peoria around 10 along with the last raindrops of the morning. We breezed right through the Peoria lock with no waiting and continued down the river. The  tow boats were thick south of Peoria. I lost count of them, and everyone knows I love these boats!! Various sizes and barge lines that we don't see on the upper Mississippi were really a treat. Our AIS was invaluable in letting us know what boats were approaching us.  This part of the river winds around so much it is impossible to see around the bends. The forewarning was really helpful.

We arrived at Tall Timbers Marina in Havana around 3:45. The rain started a few minutes after we secured the boat and hooked up the shore power. Perfect timing! As we docked the dreaded Asian carp started jumping around our stern. One landed on the deck and tried to thrash himself to death, leaving blood and stink all over the dock until marina owner Bob kicked him off. Luckily none of the fish landed on the boat. We hear that is really messy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013



The morning fog burned off in time for us to start out at 8:00. Our trip was long and uneventful. We had only one lock today, at Starved Rock. We saw lots of herons, egrets, eagles and pelicans. Hundreds of pelicans. Thousands of pelicans!

We arrived in Peoria, IL, around 4:30 PM and are docked at the IVY (Illinois Valley Yacht) Club. We met John and Linda on Easy, a 37' Great Harbor. John helped us with our dock lines and we had dinner with them at the Club. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Another day at Heritage Harbor

Two new things today. We made crockpot bread! Who knew this was even possible?? Thanks to Hy-Vee for the recipe.

We used regular bread flour instead of whole wheat, so our loaf looked a little different. Okay, maybe a lot different. But it tasted good.

The other more exciting thing is that we had a Siren Marine Sprite Monitoring system installed. Installation by a trained expert took about 5 hours. I'm glad Mark did not attempt to do this on his own! The Siren monitors many things on the boat for us-- shore power, battery level, longitude and latitude, bilge pump activation, temperature, and how many bottles of wine are in the fridge. (I'm joking about one of those.) if something is amiss, up to 4 people receive a text message immediately. It is odd to receive a text from Mara Beel!


Tomorrow we will untie the lines and head to Peoria, about 75 miles down river.

It's not much to look at, but it sent both of us 27 texts during the set up and testing process.

Monday, September 30, 2013

On board and definitely not bored

We arrived back on  Mara Beel yesterday afternoon. Thanks to our good friends Mark and Lynne for driving us to Ottawa! We started with fog and temp in the 40's this morning and ended with 80 and beautiful skies- ideal weather.

We are waiting on the arrival of a Siren Marine monitoring system for our boat. It should be installed tomorrow. When we are away from our boat, this system will text us if there are any problems- low batteries, activated bilge pumps, unusual temperatures in the boat, etc. We discovered that there is a dealer/installer right here in Ottawa, so it is worth delaying our departure until Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back in Ottawa

We returned to the Mara Beel for the weekend- we hate being away from our boat! This time we brought Mara, our almost 4 year-old granddaughter, with us. Mara is convinced the boat is named after her, which it is and isn't. She loved everything about the boat. We woke up at 6:30 Saturday morning to find her sitting in the salon patiently waiting for us to wake up! She progressed in her "swimming" in the pool and announced she wants to be a scuba diver when she grows up. She will have to master the art of keeping her mouth closed (i.e.- not talking) to succeed in that career path!

Mara and Grandpa

On Saturday Mara's parents (I forgot to take their picture) and younger brother James Nathan came to visit. We cruised for a couple hours. No one enjoyed the heat, but JN (11 months) seemed to like driving the boat!

 James Nathan at the helm

WAY too hot!

Earlier on Saturday Mark helped  Dennis install a new antenna on Reunion after a bridge ate the original. (Those darn trolls!)The 15 minute job turned into a couple of hours or so, but they guys had fun. Carol and Dennis treated us to dinner at Tracy's Boathouse, the restaurant at Heritage Harbor, and an after-dinner night cap. They headed south the next morning- we will miss them! We saw two other Loopers pull in Saturday evening, but we didn't have a chance to get acquainted before they left early Sunday.

Dennis and Carol

Our younger son Brandon and his wife Caroline came to visit on Sunday. Caroline is a born boater, and was happy, happy, happy as soon as she set foot on the Mara Beel. Somewhere down the line they will cruise with us for awhile. Now all of our kids have been on the boat, since daughter Caitie stayed on board with us in Sturgeon Bay last summer. We appreciate that they are interested in something that is so important to us. At least they are humoring us!
Caroline and Brandon
Now we are back on land for a short while.... Can't wait for the next leg of our journey.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day Weekend

We have moved to a different body of water and different boat this week- at our place on the Mississippi with our pontoon boat. Its good to be back in familiar territory for a little while.

Golf carts are a major form of entertainment and transportation in our island neighborhood, so it's only natural that we have a golf cart parade Labor Day weekend. This year's event was exceptionally fun! The golf cart "floats" showed great creativity with close to 30 entries in the parade.! My personal favorite was the "fiesta" cart with the 5 gallon cooler of margaritas strapped to the back. Why mess around with tossing out candy when you can pour free margaritas for spectators! We wisely positioned our "Pirates of the Mississippi" entry just behind the margarita mobile for easy access and used our plastic swords to steal candy from kids. Very few of them took us seriously when we demanded their booty- although several women shook their booties at us .For obvious reasons, the parade took 1 1/2 hours to cover about 5 miles. We're already planning for next year's event! If you have a clever idea for a theme, let me know.

Swans on parade
Love this one!

Caitie and Jing as pirates

Margarita mobile!
Fred and Wilma

The end and the beginning meet

The float that won 1st prize- free moonshine!

While we were out cruising on the pontoon, we encountered a kayaker traveling from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, to New Orleans. The sail was moving him right along today. He camps out along the way. Guess he's doing a straight "loop!"

Our Labor Day meal was not a traditional cookout. Instead we had sushi and stuffed Hatch peppers. Great food!
The sushi/pepper crew

Stuffed Hatch peppers

The 97 degree days of last week have been replaced by an overnight low of 48- a refreshing change.

The view 2 days ago

This morning's view

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kicking Back

We enjoyed a relaxing day after yesterday's grueling 13.5 hour marathon. We did a few boat chores, then took advantage of the marina facilities. Heritage Harbor is a great place to be docked.

Boathouse Restaurant

The pool
Mara Beel

The Illinois waterway

What a day! 95 miles, 13.5 hours, 5 locks, 67 bridges, of which 6 had to open to let us through, an electronic fish barrier, and dozens of crazy, unsafe pleasure boaters swarming around us. We traveled from Hammond, IN on Lake Michigan to Ottawa, IL. We left Hammond at 6 AM. Our route included the Calumet River, the Cal-Sag, the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, the Des Plaines River, and finally the Illinois River. 

We couldn't use our radar today, since our mast is down to allow us to pass under as many bridges as possible. Our AIS- Automatic Information System- has been wonderful! It identifies large commercial vessels and any other boats like us that have it, by name, heading, speed, destination, etc., and transmits the same information about us. We can see what's up ahead (on our chart plotter screen), radio towboats by name, and ask how they want us to pass- when meeting another vessel, a 1 whistle pass is port to port, meaning our left side to the other boat's left side. A 2 whistle pass is starboard (right side) to starboard. Usually they will say something like, "Pass me on the 2's, Captain." So we know we should stay on their right side. When overtaking another boat, its different, but I won't get into that now.

We got up very early- the casino was still busy at 4 AM.

Lake Michigan is behind us as we enter Calumet Harbor.
This part of the Illinois Waterway is very much an industrial canal-- a total opposite of the beautiful shores of northern Lake Michigan.The water is very narrow and lined on both sides with chemical, oil, coal, grain, you name it facilities. And bridges- bridges everywhere!

The first bridge- a railroad bridge in the raised position.

We felt like we were threading our way through a maze.
We had to be extremely vigilant the entire day to stay in the narrow channel, and avoid all kinds of things.

Asian Carp are making their way to the Great Lakes. This invasive species crowds out native fish. They are large, and frequently jump out of the water and onto boats, and have injured people in doing so. An electric barrier has been put in place to try to keep these fish out of the Great Lakes.

We turned off all of our electronic instruments so as not to damage them. Haven't encountered any Asian Carp so far, thankfully.

Saw several of these man-made waterfalls

We locked through 5 locks- Thomas O'Brien, Lockport, Brandon Road, Dresden, and Marseilles. Almost all of these use floating bollards to tie on to, which we had not seen. The bollard moves with the water level. The biggest drop was about 40 feet.

Floating bollard
In Joliet 6 bridges had to open for us. The bridge tenders were very friendly, and each bridge opened as we approached. Good thing we passed through here on a Sunday! We had planned to stay in Joliet overnight, tied to a wall in the city park. However, our friends on Help Me Rhonda stayed here 2 days earlier and told us someone boarded their boat at 1:30 AM! Rhonda yelled, and the person ran off. They did call the police, who went after a possible suspect. We decided to keep moving rather than stay here.

From here to Marseilles, we dodged reckless, unsafe boaters constantly. At first we slowed down, mindful of our wake, but smaller boats were putting out more wake than we were. Jetskiers were everywhere, and of course they love to cut behind us and jump our wake. Boats towed skiers and tubers right in front of us- we saw tubers without life jackets. It was like being in a swarm of bees for several hours. And it was HOT. The hottest day we have had.

Plan B was to stay overnight at Springbrook Marina. However, those people were less than friendly/helpful, if not rude on the phone. So we went to Plan C. It sounded OK- another lock and 10 more miles. So far we had gotten through 4 locks pretty quickly, and we can cover 9 miles in an hour, so we decided to go for it at 5 PM.

The Marseilles lock workers were almost surly. They made us wait 45 minutes even though we radioed ahead and they said we could get right through. It was even hotter now, and we were tired and hungry as well. Grrrr. 

We talked to the folks at Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, and they were extremely helpful and courteous. They even offered to wait for us after their closing time to help land the boat. We already had a reservation here for the entire month of September, and had expected to arrive here on Tuesday. We arrived at 7:30 PM, and our friends from Help Me Rhonda  grabbed our lines as we docked. Added bonus- a pool and a restaurant at this marina! Lifesavers!

So we are here until the next leg of our voyage, October 1st. We are very pleased with Heritage Marina, and highly recommend it.