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.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

End of the Lake

We left Waukegan this morning and were treated to magnificent views of the Chicago skyline from 3 miles offshore. We decided not to go through downtown Chicago, since there is lots of construction happening on or around many bridges with barges full of equipment. In many cases boaters must give a one or two hour advance notice when requesting a bridge opening. No thank you!

This was our last day on Lake Michigan-- we will miss the easy cruising. Just set the auto pilot and watch out for those pesky sailboats when they are racing. There were a lot of them this morning. We will have to be much more vigilant on the rivers.

The Admiral on the bridge
We are docked in Hammond, IN, next to the entrance to the Cal-Sag Canal. There's a huge casino here, right on the water.

Horseshoe Casino
In preparation for the river system, we had to lower our radar mast. We are now right around 16 feet high, which will allow us to pass under the lowest fixed bridge on our route. 2 young men from the marina crew helped Mark lay down the mast. We had a pump-out and also filled our water tanks, so we are ready to go in the morning- no more waiting on an acceptable wave height.

Our mast is laying down on the stern.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Enjoying Illinois

We are still in Waukegan due to waves in southern Lake Michigan that are bigger than our comfort zone. This morning we walked to the nearby Metra station and took the train south to Evanston. Our son Nate went to college at Northwestern University, where we always enjoyed visiting. It is such a beautiful campus.

It's right on the lake and even has its own beach. We did a little shopping and ate lunch at one of old favorites, Le Peep

The Migas were sooo yummy!

Just when we thought we had seen almost everything.... 
A wedding took place on the boat docked next to us! They 
loaded up the booze and the wedding guests and cruised out
into the lake for a little while. They returned to the dock for the

Bob and Kathy went home the other day and then returned to 
spend the weekend on First Look. They graciously invited us to
join them for steaks grilled on the dock. It was another wonderful 
evening with them, as we said so long for now.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Weathered In

Today we played it safe- we stayed tied to the dock. The Chicago area had thunderstorms this morning with 3-5 foot waves and an occasional 8 footer predicted as the wind has switched around to the north.

We did some computer work and watched a couple movies. Later we went for a walk. 

A sailboat race was held out on the lake this evening so we watched the sailboats go out and come back in at dusk. It was almost like a parade. 

We will see what tomorrow brings.

Sunset in Waukegan. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Today we left the lovely waters of Wisconsin and entered Illinois. While this brings us closer to our destination we are sad about leaving the waters of northern Lake Michigan. We grew to love the scenery, ports and people we encountered there. Lake boating is amazing!

Today's cruise was fairly short- only about 3 hours. You might be wondering how we pass the time while we are up in the bridge with the auto pilot steering. Today we worked on tying knots. Knots are a necessity on a boat, and Mark knows them all thanks to his Boy Scout training. So while we traveled he taught me 3 different knots. 

The clove hitch, useful for tying a fender onto a stanchion. 

The 2 half hitch

The bowline, good for making a loop to toss over a pole- or for tying around your waist after you've fallen off a cliff and need to be rescued. I think I just earned a merit badge!

We are docked in Waukegan, the home port of our friends Kathy and Bob, who arrived here yesterday. They picked us up and took us to Big Ed's for lunch, and then to the grocery store. We helped them unload "stuff" from their 7-week voyage and haul it to their car. We hope to see them on the Mississippi one of these days. 

Always on the lookout for interesting boat names, we saw this one today:

You might need to enlarge the photo ( that right there is funny) to read the small print. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Racine- America's Kringle Capital

We left Port Washington fairly early this morning, just as the sun was rising. We cruised right past Milwaukee, and saw the city skyline in the distance.

We arrived at Reefpoint Marina in Racine around noon. It is the largest marina we have been in so far.

Racine is billed as America's Kringle Capital--who knew? An authentic Danish kringle has 32 layers of flaky dough and a variety of fillings and takes 3 days to make. I know because I read this in the tourist brochure we picked up. Apparently kringle is Wisconsin's official state pastry-- I am not making this up. You can take a look at one of the kringle bakeries here,

Racine is also home of the SC Johnson company's global headquarters. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Johnson company administration building and research tower. Even more exciting to us is the fact that the Twin Disc company is located here-- they make boat transmissions, including ours! Mark remembers Racine as the HQ of J. I. Case, the brand of farm machinery his dad used to sell at Mather Implement.

Racine is also the home port of Beth and Dean, and their African Gray Parrot Ziggy, Gold Loopers. (gold meaning that they completed the Great Loop) Their boat, Kismet, is a sister ship to Mara Beel. Both are Ocean Alexanders built the same year. Theirs is a slightly different model than ours, but they look very similar. We were assigned a slip two boats away from them, and discovered that we have friends in common-- it IS a small world.

Dean and Beth

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Day to Relax

No cruising today- we are on an every-other-day travel schedule. We took in the sights of Port Washington- its a nice town with many interesting shops and restaurants. We checked out a bicycle store and then rode the bike path for a few miles. We are pretty much recovered from the 15 mile ride on Saturday.The trail led up the hill through shady woods -- very pleasant. We took a different way back and stopped at St. Mary's Light Station. It was closed today so we couldn't go inside.

Back at the harbor we saw a couple of guys cleaning their catch- mostly lake trout they said. 

We had a quiet afternoon. Mark took a long nap and I watched TV just because I could. Mark washed the outside of the boat while I cleaned inside. We topped off the water tanks so we will be ready for an early start tomorrow.

I fixed creamy herb chicken for dinner with Italian bread, pesto, local tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. 

Gorgeous full moon tonight. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Port Washington

This morning our friends Denise, Tom and Lauren picked us up and took us to breakfast at Perkins. We then said our farewells and headed south again. It was another perfect weather day, and we had an uneventful cruise. We caught up with our friends aboard First Look just south of Sheboygan. We slowed down to 7 mph to stay somewhat near the sailboat.

After a relaxing cruise of 7 hours we pulled into Port Washington Marina. We topped off our fuel tanks so that we will not need to buy diesel again until we reach Missouri. (prices are higher in Illinois.) We were invited on board First Look for cocktails and a spaghetti dinner, and of course story-telling.It was a fun evening, and we will definitely miss our friends as they sail back home tomorrow.

We plan to explore Port Washington tomorrow.

Glad Mr. Heron is not on our boat!

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Today we enjoyed a non-cruising day in Manitowoc. Mark spent an hour or so meeting and greeting new friends this morning while I had some much-appreciated alone time.

We rode our bikes a short distance to the farmers market where we stocked up on beautiful fresh produce, including blueberries and peaches. The rest of the morning was consumed by laundry here at the marina. It was a very warm sunny day, and everyone seemed to be taking  advantage of the perfect weather. 

After lunch we took an ambitious bike ride along the lakeside trail to Two Rivers.  Our friends Denise and Tom live there so it seemed logical destination even though  they would be picking us up later for dinner. It turned out to be a scenic but longer than expected 15-mile round trip ride. Here's the immediate result:

 Denise and Tom and their daughter Lauren took us to the Charcoal Grill for dinner and then to the grocery store. The Packers are playing tonight, but no need to miss the game- the grocery store had plenty of TV's tuned on to the game, and the checkers all wore Packer jerseys. People here love their Packers- over 100,000 are on the waiting list for season tickets! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Michigan Unsalted

We traveled 80 miles across Lake Michigan today, an 8-hour cruise from Frankfort, MI to Manitowoc, WI. The lake was very calm so it was a pleasant ride.

Our most traumatic event was the discovery that I accidentally purchased salt-free tortilla chips. Ugh! We like our lakes unsalted, but definitely NOT our chips!
This evening we shared a glass of wine with Carol and Dennis, fellow beginning loopers on Reunion, and Kathy and Bob, who we first met in Leland. 

Bob introduced us to this Scottish ditty:

Just a wee deoch an' doris,
Just a wee drap, that's a'.
Just a wee deoch an' doris,
Afore we gang awa'.
There's a wee wifey waiting,
And a wee but n ben.
If you can say "It's a braw, bricht,
Moonlicht nicht," 
Well you're a' richt, d'ye ken!

If only he had brought his bagpipes along....

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Heading South

 In the laundry room at the Leland Marina we met a couple from Chicago who are heading back there on their sailboat First Look. (In fact, they found the missing sock from our laundry). Yesterday the wind finally subsided, so we all cast off and headed south, back to Frankfort.We both spent the night in Jacobson Marina in Frankfort- a friendly marina with great facilities including a pool and hot tub.

We like this town a lot- it has just enough shops to be interesting without being a tourist trap. The beach and bike path are easily accessible and top notch. The nearby streets are lined with Victorian era houses that are well-maintained.

Mark and I rode our bikes a few block to the grocery store to pick up a few things since we had invited Bob and Kathy to our boat for dinner. We had a wonderful evening together sharing stories and experiences- wine might have been involved. We all plan to move on down to Manistee today and hopefully cross the Lake to Manitowoc, WI on Friday or Saturday.

Kathy and Bob

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lots of Sand

Today our friend Don drove us to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore. 

It's hard to tell from the photos just how steep this 450 foot sand dune is! Many intrepid souls make their way down to the water rather quickly and literally crawl back up on hands and knees. We were quite content to stay up top and watch. 

The view of the Manitou Passage and Manitou Islands is amazing!

We were happy to spend today ashore and avoid the 10 foot waves out on the Lake. Hopefully the strong winds will subside tomorrow. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Loving Leland

This morning we left Frankfort at daybreak, which comes a bit later on the Michigan side of the lake. We headed north to Leland, a 45 mile cruise of 4.5 hours. Once again we were treated to a dramatic sunrise.

Leland is a busy little harbor on the Leelanau Peninsula- they wouldn't discuss whether they had a slip for us until we were inside the harbor walls. Leland is a designated Port of Refuge, which means they cannot turn away any boat seeking to stay here. Sometimes it is so crowded that boats are tied together, end to end or side to side-- this is called rafting. We saw a few rafted boats this evening. We had a heavy but brief downpour and sustained 34 mph north winds. We planned to be here for two days knowing the weather forecast called for high winds.

Lake Michigan is turquoise-colored here.

At noon friends from Muscatine picked us up. Don and Janet Barko have a lake house here and had invited us to get together. We had lunch at the Bluebird Restaurant on the bank of the Leland River- a beautiful setting. They took us to their house on Lower Leelanau Lake- a beautiful spot. There is so much natural beauty in this part of the world that I am running out of adjectives to describe it all! The Barkos gave us a comprehensive tour of the area including a stop at the Chateau Chantal Winery. There are many wineries here, but this one is perched on Old Mission Peninsula between Little Traverse and Grand Traverse Bay. The wine is excellent and the scenery breath-taking. Who needs Napa!

Don, Janet and Heidi

Chateau Chantal

We continued on to Traverse City and ate dinner. We stopped at Fustini's to buy their delicious 18 year-old balsamic vinegar and extra yummy infused olive oil. Mark and I discovered Fustini olive oils and vinegars 2 years ago when we were boat shopping in this area - I was excited to return!

And yes, there is a fish on sticks in Leland!

And this is for my sweet granddaughter who often insists on wearing mis-matched socks:

I have been heard to say that life is too short for bad coffee and cheap wine, but the socks thing is a new one!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday in Frankfort

The day started with a problem! We had planned to leave for Leland today, but on a routine check of the engine room Mark discovered diesel in the bilge. I had smelled it earlier- it smells like old-time floor wax to me. Shoot! After a careful examination of all possibilities, he determined there was a small leak in the vent hose for the starboard fuel tank. We remembered that the fuel dock people filled the tank to the brim back in Sturgeon Bay-- there is no automatic shut-off on these fuel pumps, so we all watch carefully. Apparently some excess fuel exited through the vent hose on our trip across the Lake yesterday- as it should. The hose, however, is not supposed to leak. Of course that particular hose is not easy to get at- it never is, right? After a lot of wiggling and scrunching, Mark used Rescue Tape to patch the tiny hole. Problem solved for now.

Then there was the issue of diesel fuel in the bilge. Fortunately (I guess) we had a similar leak last summer, so we knew what to do. We also knew that a few ounces of diesel floating on top of water can look like many gallons. It's sort of like the fat on top of gravy. (Remember when we used to love gravy??) Anyway, Mark was able to skim the diesel off the top of the bilge water and properly dispose of it. Then he squirted Dawn dish washing liquid into the bilge, and the shop vac-- that stuff really DOES absorb grease. Problem solved- in a mere 3 hours. I was the gopher in all of this, my favorite (not) role, But Mark was a champ, sweating down there in the nether regions of Mara Beel fixing the leak and cleaning up the mess. We ran the engines for awhile and did not see any further leakage. Whew!

Looking down into the engine room through the floor.
Thanks to the time difference, we finished up in time to watch our own Calvary Church worship service. With a Lightning connector and HDMI cable, we can connect our iPhones to our smart TV and stream from the Internet. It's almost like being there!

Worship has been held in a tent since a tornado damaged our church 7 weeks ago.

This afternoon we went for a bike ride on the Betsie Valley Trail. It was a beautiful ride, and our odd-looking folding bikes attracted several admirers.

When we returned to the boat, we found an extremely bold swan nosing around, probably looking for a handout, and posing for pictures.