Thursday, September 21, 2017

Scenes from the North

Our cruise on the beautiful Upper Mississippi took us to Stillwater, MN, on the St. Croix River. Along they way we connected with Gold Loopers Ken and Pat on 20 Buck$ in Wabasha. They introduced us to 2 really good restaurants- Stacy's Kitchen for breakfast and Olde Triangle Irish Pub. We cruised through Lake Pepin and on to Red Wing, their home port. We can recommend the pizza at Red Wing Brewery!

We said good-bye to Ken and Pat and continued upriver after breakfast at Bev's Cafe. After transiting Lock 3 we turned up the St. Croix River, which here becomes the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, and continued about 24 miles upriver to Stillwater, the first capital of Minnesota. We spent a night on the free municipal dock with our Gold Looper friends Clay and Sally and their guest Caroline on SasSea Sally. Mark's cousin Janet and her husband Ralph drove over from their home in Roseville to have dinner with us at the Dock restaurant.

We were in Stillwater just one night, but we had plenty of time to check out the local shops. The River Market was closeby and is much like the Pioneer Food Co-op we know in Iowa City- lots of local, organic produce and meat, a bakery and deli, etc.

We then moved just 5 miles or so to Bayport to enjoy a relaxing "down" day to to laundry and relax. What a beautiful marina!

Next stop, Red Wing again. SasSea Sally caught up with us and we shared dock tails and dinner at Kelly's Tap and Grill. Their claim to fame is their location on highway 61 and the 61 beers they have on tap. 

Mara Beel is now in Wabasha. We were so impressed by the National Eagle Center here that we became members today. This facility does an amazing job of treating injured eagles and housing those that are unable to live in the wild, and educating visitors about these majestic birds. We caught the 3 pm feeding for 2 of the birds- lovely dead rats! Good thing we ate lunch first! We really like Wabasha. It has shops and restaurants within easy walking distance of the marina, the eagle center, and lovely bike and walking paths,

Stillwater- Can you spot our tiny boat? Hint: we have a dark blue hull. Our friends are in the white trawler next to  us.

The famous boat houses of Red Wing

There's light up ahead.

It's Septoberfest in Wabasha, MN

These folks are scattered around downtown Wabasha.
The National Eagle Center at Wabasha

Columbia, hit by a car while feeding on a dead deer. 
Donald, a Golden Eagle from California, whose wing was broken when he was hit by a car.
Things we didn't know:
  • Eagles can see a rabbit 3 miles away
  • Their eyes are so large they can't move them- they must move their heads
  • Eagles have 7,000 feathers
  • It is illegal to own an eagle feather

Chief Wapasha

Mark and Friar Tree
The good friar's expression is a bit wooden

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cruising on "Our" River

We are re-enacting a cruise we took on our 24-foot Sea Ray in 1987. At that time our boys were 6 and 7 1/2 and were super excited to be exploring the Upper Mississippi on the boat we had owned for a month or two. It was a memory making trip for sure! This time it's just the two of us on our Ranger Tug- only our second cruise on this boat. We are still getting used to the feel and sounds of her.

We left from Guttenberg on September 14 and are headed to Stillwater, MN,  on the St. Croix River.
The trees are already showing some color!
Jonathan Erickson near McGregor, IA

Our first day of travel included 2 locks and about 82 miles, to La Crosse, WI. We stayed at the Pettibone Boat Club and enjoyed dinner at their excellent restaurant. We even met some Gold Loopers on their way south.

Near Marquette, Iowa

Saw LOTS of these.
The bluffs along the Upper Mississippi - the Driftless Region- are as spectacular as we remembered.

This Nativity scene is perched high on a Wisconsin bluff.

Day 2 took us from La Crosse to Winona, MN. We seemed to play tag with a group of towboats along the way and waited an hour or more at both Lock 7 and Lock 6. That's the way it goes on the river.  Fortunately the locks alternate recreational vessels with tows so we never have to wait for more than one towboat, even though several may be waiting to lock through.

Waiting for Lock 7 with Brooke McKenzie near La Crescent, MN

Waiting for Lock 6 at Trempealeau, WI.
We arrived in Winona in time to visit the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, which is currently exhibiting the Mississippi River Photo Shootout Juried exhibition. Since I won 2nd prize in this event last year, Mark insisted we go take a look. The marina guy assured us the museum was an easy 1-mile walk. Apparently they measure distance differently in Minnesota. After walking a mile Mark's GPS said we still had 1.5 miles to go in the 91 degree heat. We stopped in a hardware store to make sure we were on the right track, which we were. But the final leg of the walk was along a busy highway with a narrow shoulder. I was not excited about getting hit by a car to see a photograph that hangs in my family room, so we went back to the hardware store to call a taxi. At that point, a gentleman working in the store offered to drive us to the museum- an offer we gladly accepted.

The museum itself is impressive! Their focus is on art inspired by water. In addition to the traveling Mississippi River exhibit, their permanent collection includes works by Renoir, Picasso, Manet, Monet, Degas, Whistler, and many other well-known artists. My photograph, however, was not in the same gallery as those! It was fun to see it hanging in a museum. We perused the entire facility and then decided to call a taxi or Uber. As luck would have it, both are non-existent here. Another couple was leaving at the same time, and after hearing us brace ourselves for the long, hot walk back to the marina, they loaded us into their open Jeep and drove us back to our boat! After all the kindness we encountered here, I guess I will have to stop telling Minnesota jokes!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ranger Tug Rendezvous

We trailered Mara Beel II to Charlevoix, MI, for the Ranger Tug/Cutwater Rendezvous last week. We chose to head up the Upper Peninsula instead of hauling our boat through Chicago, since the traffic was lighter and the 600 mile distance close to the same. In fact, in northern Michigan every other vehicle is either a motorhome or is trailering a boat, camper, or something!

The gathering was both fun and entertaining. We met plenty of other Ranger Tug and Cutwater owners, making new friends and trading ideas and tips. Charlevoix is called "The Beautiful" for good reason. The harbor is situated on Round Lake, between Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan. The water is almost turquoise, and flowers grow everywhere. The marina is right downtown and close to great restaurants and fun shops.

Photos of the Rendezvous here.

Lake Michigan shoreline

Charlevoix's location on the western edge of the Eastern time zone meant we could sleep in and still see the sunrise.

The Emerald Isle ferry entering Round Lake from Lake Michigan

Pretty blue bridge that matches the water color.

The Thatch House, the most famous of the Mushroom Houses

Our group was treated to a tour of John and Zita Winn's incredible boathouse.  John and his 3 brothers founded Four Winns Boat company and subsequently sold the business.
Video tour of the home and boat house.

John and Zita talk about their boathouse

We had planned to spend a few more days here cruising the area, but the weather forecast called for several days of wind, waves, and rain, so we pulled out our boat and returned home. We are excited to implement the tips and ideas we learned!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shakedown Cruise

Mark got the green light on resuming our cruising life- no back surgery needed! With the back surgeon's blessing we planned our very first cruise on Mara Beel II- our new to us Ranger Tug R27. We splashed our little boat in the Guttenberg marina with a helping hand from our friend Ken and headed south on our beloved Mississippi River. Dubuque is about 40 miles downriver- a fairly short trip since our tug can travel twice as fast as our Ocean Alexander. Getting used to a different boat is an interesting, ongoing experience. We love the enhanced features of our tug- we can steer with a remote and use our bow and stern thrusters to maneuver in close quarters. There are different gauges and sounds that had us puzzled until we (quickly) figured out what is what.

Using the auto pilot and remote control.
The river in NE Iowa is lined with limestone bluffs- there are very few river towns between Guttenberg and Dubuque.

One of the numerous bluffs along the river

Interesting older house

There is just one lock between downtown Guttenberg and Dubuque, and we waited a little more than an hour for a tow to lock through. We pulled into the Port of Dubuque marina in Ice Harbor and were met by friends Marc and Michelle. Jerry and Earlene. New friends Linda and Rick, and Krickett and Wayne completed the group.

We took advantage of several activities within walking distance of the marina- dinners at Tony Roma's and the Woodfire Grille, strolls along Dubuque's lovely riverfront, and the farmers' market on Saturday morning.
Julien Dubuque bridge

The Shot Tower, where molten lead was dropped from the top  story to form lead shot


The old Star Brewery and newer Park Farm Winery bar

Farmers' Market was busy! Loved the breakfast burritos and Finzel's sweet corn!

The cruise home on Sunday was uneventful except for an engine coolant light. It was not an issue- just a heads up that we needed to check/add coolant. Lock 11 was open and waiting for us- awesome! We passed several towboats heading upriver. I think we could have sold tickets to people wanting to take a look at our tiny tug- she seems to draw attention wherever she goes. I guess Ranger Tugs are not common in the midwest.
Mara Beel back home in Guttenberg, with Lock 10 in the background.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Loop Interrupted

We had very intention of completing our Loop this summer- from the top of the Chesapeake to the top of Lake Michigan. We were excited about the Hudson, Lake Champlain, and the Canadian waterways. But we will pursue that dream next summer. Mark injured his back on June 10 while we were at a family reunion in Washington D.C. We returned to Mara Beel in Georgetown, MD, and then moved to a hotel room in Chestertown. Mark was treated by a chiropractor 6 times, (even on a Sunday evening!) and was examined by an MD who prescribed pain relievers, steroids, muscle relaxants, and an X-ray. He did not improve, so he then had an MRI which showed protruding discs. Pain made it almost impossible for him to sleep or even stand upright or walk. Everyone we met in Chestertown treated us with concern and kindness- we will carry fond memories of this place. We flew back to Iowa on the 18th. It should have been a relatively easy trip with wheel chairs in the airports, but a 5-hour delay made it miserable indeed.

Yesterday Mark received an epidural steroid injection and another Rx. We will be seeing a spine surgeon soon to evaluate whether or not surgery is needed.

While we are disappointed about not completing the Loop this summer, we are happy to be home and near our kids and grandkids. This delay will give us a chance to get to know our Ranger Tug- we have not driven her or changed her registration numbers. Mara Beel II is still in Maryland and we are working on having her trailered to Iowa, where we have a place for her.

It's wonderful to be back on the Mississippi!

Friday, June 2, 2017

We Have a New Boat!!

Big news from the crew of Mara Beel- On May 16 in Deltaville, VA, we sold our well-loved trawler, a 42 foot Ocean Alexander. It happened a lot faster than we expected- we were thinking August would be a reasonable time to part with our large trawler and downsize to a trailerable trawler to explore new waterways. As luck would have it, however, Mara Beel’s new owners appeared within days of listing her back in February. The deal took some time to close, which gave us time to formulate our plans.

Saying good-bye to Mara Beel I- photo by John Short

On May 25 we took possession of Mara Beel II, a 2014 Ranger Tug R27, in Georgetown, MD. We decided to keep the same name for the sake of continuity. In order to keep our Loop intact, we traveled with our AGLCA burgee on Short Vacation with our great friends Pam and John, from Deltaville to Georgetown.

Mara Beel II- a Ranger Tug R27

It's compact!

The cockpit has a full enclosure.

With Mark painting the big picture, I formulated a 15-step plan to make this huge transition work. It is not easy to move from a 42x15 boat to a 27x8.5 boat! We rented a storage unit for the shifting of things form one boat to the other. We hauled a van load of belongings home in February when we went back for the birth of our fifth grandchild. On May 27 we again loaded our mini-van, plus a rented mini-van with more excess belongings. We drove both vans back to Iowa on May 28-29 with Mark also pulling the now empty trailer. The trip was nearly 1,000 miles and took around 17 hours. At least we could both choose our own radio stations!

We have unloaded, cleaned/washed and sorted our boat things and will soon head back to our new to us tug. We have about ¼ the space on the new boat, so we will be taking the bare minimum of stuff. We will then head north through New Jersey and New York, the Hudson River and Lake Champlain into Canada. We intend to finish our Loop in Leland, MI, in August after attending the Lake Michigan Rendezvous for Ranger Tugs. We have plenty of ideas for cruising all over the country since we will be able to trailer this boat on the highway and then cruise. The Pacific NW is on our bucket list. So stay tuned for the further adventures of Mara Beel!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tangier Island- a place like no other

From Onancock we rode the ferry Joyce Marie II to Tangier Island, a trip of approximately 75 minutes. Joyce Marie II is a traditional style Chesapeake Bay deadrise fiberglass boat 36' long. It is the type of boat used by local watermen who make their living from the Bay's crabs, oysters and fish, depending on the season. Mark Crockett is the captain and a native of Tangier. The ferry departed Onancock at 10:00 am and left Tangier at 3:30 pm on the return trip.

Freshly caught soft shells.
Most watermen's boats carry female names. When I asked Captain Mark the reason for this he said, "You'd BETTER name for boat after your wife!"

Typical waterman's boat

Coletta and Pam on the ferry
Captain John Smith stopped on Tangier in 1608 and Cornishman John Crockett first settled here in 1686. The Crocketts, Pruitts and Parks are still the leading families here. The island is about 1x3 miles in area, and at most 4 feet above sea level, The population is around 700. There are a handful of cars on the island's one street- most folks use golf carts and bikes to get around. Most keep cars on the mainland. The island has a unique style of speech thought to be directly descended from early Elizabethan-era settlers. When one islander talks to another, it's difficult to understand the conversation. "Time" sounds like "toime" and "mind" sounds like "moind."  You can listen here.

Arriving at Tangier

Crab shanties- soft shells are held hereunto they molt. Then they are packaged, refrigerated and taken to the mainland for distribution.

Crab traps stacked up on the dock

The main street on Tangier

Tom, Mr. Parks of Parks Marina, and Mark

Tangier traffic

A typical street- just wide enough for 2 golf carts.
This sign explains why front yards are often filled with graves. Land on Tangier is at a premium.

Many graves are capped with cement to prevent the caskets from popping up when the water table rises.

The fresh grave of a well-known local waterman who drowned the previous week when his boat sank.

Crab trap floats decorating a fence.
We had the best crab cakes and crab bisque ever here at Fisherman's Corner.

A video crew recording footage for a tourism commercial.
Swain Memorial Methodist church has gorgeous windows, including some with a nautical flair. Since a huge revival  IN 1995, 1/3 of the population are born again Christians.


Our final view of Tangier- another great adventure!

John, Mark, Capt. Mark Crockett, and Tom
The combined school educates about 70 students in grades K-12 and has the highest graduation rate in Virginia. Last year all 6 graduates went on to college. Many of the young people then return to the island to resume their beloved lifestyle.

Erosion is a major problem for Tangier, steadily stealing away the soil. In 2013 nearly 40 feet of land was washed away from the north side of the island, In 2015 heavy ice cut off access to the island. The National Guard brought in supplies until an ice cutter cleared a path to the frozen island.