Thursday, September 27, 2012

Loopers In Port

So what do loopers do while they are in port?

As of this writing, Thursday September 27, we have now been here one week and we have both been working on our extensive todo lists. Lisa's has pretty much been all about taking care of our personal finances and 'business-y' kind of things with a few exceptions. My tasks have been mostly about the boat from maintenance issues to some paperwork. We're still dealing with getting the boat registered in the State of Missouri having had several back and forth exchanges with the Missouri Department of Revenue. The most recent exchange with them is that we are lacking the title abstract from the Coast Guard so I trying to get hold of them to get one of those. We both have had doctors appointments. Nothing to be concerned about...sort of routine maintenance for us. One pain in the neck challenge has been that my trusty old Ford Focus won't start. We also got the full inventory of filters and such for me to do a full routine maintenance procedure.

One very good thing is that I have switched phone vendors. As you may remember I have been very vocal about my dissatisfaction with T-Mobile. Well, even arriving back in St. Louis, a major metropolitan area, the coverage still stunk. It actually has regressed from when we were here back in the winter. So enough was enough. Even while paying a cancellation penalty I have switched over to Verizon. And when selecting my new smartphone I totally nerded out. I now have a LG Intuition pad phone. It is so cool it makes me vibrate.

This coming Saturday if the weather holds we will be taking Bryan and Kevin on a day cruise. My plans are to head back up the Illinois River to Mel's Illinois Riverdock Restaurant in Hardin.That'll be fun.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Rest of the Way to Home

(Due to my ongoing struggles with T-mobile hotspot bandwidth issues neither the photo album nor the map is updated. For crying out loud, I'm having trouble getting a good signal even in the heart of St. Louis. Fortunately my challenges with T-mobile will shortly be over.) 

Heritage Harbor at Ottawa, Illinois

Talk about an oasis in the desert! That’s Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottawa, Illinois. It is a first class marina with great shore side facilities and a very friendly and helpful staff. As mentioned above five boats of the flotilla did not reach the marina until a bit after 5:00 pm on Friday 9/14/2012 but as we kept the marina informed as to our position on the river they were fully ready with some staff, along with harbor hosts and other helpful boaters to get us into our positions and tied up safe and sound. The two sailboats ended up anchoring somewhere up river and Katmandu pulled into a marina in the town of Seneca, also up river.

It had been a long day with the three locks and all and we were glad to get in to someplace comfy. After taking a short rest Lisa and I went up to the office to pay our bill and to get acclimated to the place. Heritage Harbor is actually a condo and home development that due to the nation’s economic slowdown has not taken off. The marina is the centerpiece of the project. A new harbor was dug out of a basin that the river charts still show as a closed in and probably shallow series of pools. But now it is very open with adequate depths. The docks are very new, solid and with plenty of room. The whole vibe is to provide a very high level of customer service and satisfaction. One indication of this was a large sign at the entrance of the harbor that read, “Loopers and Transients Welcome!” Ross and Laura joined Lisa and me for dinner at The Bowhead restaurant on site for a fun and relaxing evening.

On Saturday Ross and Laura had scheduled to use the marina’s courtesy van and Lisa and I bummed a ride into town with them. We had breakfast at a local downtown diner and ran to Walmart for a few supplies. Ross and Laura dropped of some laundry at a local Laundromat which posted a sign that Laura exclaims is her favorite thing to see in a town: “Drop off wash and fold”.

Sunday September 16 – A long day to Peoria

Our next stop along the Illinois River was Peoria and it was a long leg to get there - Eighty-two miles to be exact. Along with The Zone we pulled away from our dock at 6:30 am. There was a mist rising from the water as the dawn lit up everything from its low eastern angle. It was very pretty. Laura got this great picture of us turning into the river.



We had a lock to pass through about ten miles into the cruise call Starved Rock Lock. Try saying that ten times real fast. The lock master was quite a character with a heavy redneck accent. BEFORE YOU START SENDING ME AN EMAIL ABOUT USING THE TERM “REDNECK” I don’t mean that derogatorily but I can’t think of any other way of saying it. He was a very nice guy but he talked with a mountain drawl as thick as motor oil and very out of place for Illinois. The Zone and us arrived first but we had to wait about 30 minutes for Bama Belle to catch up to us as they pulled out of Heritage Harbor Marina a bit after us. The winds were calm and all was well.

The route on down to Peoria was at times very boring. The winds picked up a tad along the way and with the bright sunshine it was a very comfortable day to travel. Our target was a pair of free municipal docks in the heart of downtown Peoria. A few days earlier I had spoken to the harbor master at a neighboring marina and he told us where we could park our boats at those docks. When we got there we found Bill and Joyce on Carried Away (We met them in Charlevoix.) already on the down river dock with room behind them just big enough for us to fit. The Zone moored at the upriver dock. Carried Away had been there since Friday. Unfortunately for them one of their engines gave way and they had to sit out the weekend until a technician could come on board on Monday.

Havanna, IL

Our next leg was suppose to be Beardstown, IL but that was going to be another very long day and none of us relished the idea. We decided that a better approach would be to make it a short day of only thirty-one miles to the town of Havanna, IL and the Tall Timbers Marina. Ross made the phone calls to the marina and we waited until about 9:00 to pull away from the Peoria docks as there was a very heavy fog. But leave at 9:00am we did and we headed to our first obstacle, a very low railroad bridge. The Zone made it under and we would have too…if not for our main antennae which I had raised back up the day before. It smacked into the bridge and whipped underneath each steel girder smashing into the next. It broke like a toothpick between your fingers. That sucked. Fortunately if there is a bright side of this is that the antennae is a two part affair with a threaded joint in the middle so I was able to just screw the broken part off. Oh well. Other than that it was an uneventful day with the exception of having to pass through one lock. That is until we arrived at the marina.

Tall Timbers is a full service marina on the Illinois River tucked away in a tiny inlet on the riverfront of Havanna, IL. The entrance channel looked very small and when we both cruised past it I became concerned that the marina operator told us to come there just because he was desperate for our business and not really capable of handling boats our size. The Zone went first and it certainly looked like a tight squeeze in the channel. I could hear Ross using his bow thruster a few times but he was able to slip in. We could see that he pulled into some kind of slip on the left side of the inlet. We soon entered the channel and saw that even though it was a small harbor there was just enough turning room and some nice size facing docks down at the far end. That’s where we both were settled.

All’s well that ends well.

Beardstown and an Unusual Mooring

The cruise on the 18th was a short one. It would be only thirty-one miles to our next destination, the Logston Tug Boat Company tow boat yard. They are a harbor towboat service that allows transient boaters to tie up along their barges and towboats for a small fee. There are no services and the town is a big fat nothing but it was an interesting place to tie up. We came in first and tied up alongside the good ship Clyde, a towboat. The Zone tied up alongside an empty river barge. Jeff, one of the towboat captains for the firm helped us both. After a short while coming back down onto the barges after paying at the office Jeff took us on a guided tour of their newest towboat. Well it wasn’t exactly new, a 1982 boat, but they were just completing a major overhaul with all new engines, a fresh paint job and onboard facilities. It was quite impressive. A little later we all took a walk into Beardstown and there was very little to see. It was a very quiet town with hardly anyone on the streets as everything closed at 3:00 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays.  

For us the night at the towboat harbor was very quiet. For The Zone..not so much. Lisa and I fell asleep at 9:00pm. Ross and Laura were up watching TV about 10:00 when their cabin was filled with very bright lights from the outside. They were first concerned that it was a towboat coming to fetch the barge they were tied to.  (We were told this was a remote possibility meaning they would have to launch and re-dock somewhere else in the harbor…at night.) Fortunately it was two fully laden tows coming around the bend into the river area of the town with all their lights a blazing. We totally missed it. Ross and Laura didn’t but probably wished they did.

Hardin

Wednesday morning rolled around and we both peeled off of our moorings at 6:30am. It was to be another long day: sixty-six miles to a dock at the town of Hardin, IL.  It was a sunny and crisp morning with the wind blowing directly up the river from the south. Since there was lock coming up in a few miles Lisa and I were up on the fly bridge which is completely exposed to the elements. Going through the lock was quick and easy and down the river we went. Up to this point our general direction on the Illinois River was southwest. About midway through the day we passed under a bridge and made a turn more to the south. According to our chart book it was here that we were at the western most point in the Great Loop. From then on we would be heading South, at least until we get to the Ohio River when we will be heading northeast for a short while, then back south again into the Tennessee and Tombigbee waterways.

The wind picked up throughout the day to the point that it created a fetch with waves of two feet or so going straight up the river like a washboard. But we kept plowing through. About 3:00 pm we approached a long facing dock in the town of Hardin, Illinois, the last stopover just twenty miles until the Illinois dumps into the Mississippi River. The docks are owned by a riverside restaurant at that point and even though there are no boater services available because of its strategic location and the awesome restaurant there it is a 5-star marina in my humble opinion. Lisa and I docked first. We then helped Ross and Laura get tied up. At 6:00 pm we all met on the dock and walked a short distance to Mels Illinois Riverdock Restaurant. We had heard about this restaurant for some time now and it always got rave reviews. As it turns out the reviews are all justified. The food was unbelievably good! This place is most definitely in the top three of eateries of the entire trip.

Back in the STL

Our final day on the Illinois River was as uneventful as a cruise can be, except for the part of reaching the Mississippi River, which is a big deal to me. Ross and Laura, the good crew of The Zone, pulled of into the marina at Grafton, Illinois. We floated past that a short distance then making  a sharp turn to starboard up the Mississippi for four miles, cutting between two islands and into our home for the next month or so, Port Charles Harbor Marina. David and Joanne Berg, AGLCA harbor hosts and members of the marina secured a choice location for us there.

We stayed on the boat two more nights as we had to wait for my sons, Bryan and Kevin, to come and pick us up to take us to our home in Brentwood, a suburb of St. Louis. Both evenings we met David and Joanne over at their boat for docktails with them and some of the locals and then to dinner including over at a boat club restaurant next door called the Duck Club. Very nice.

Bryan and Kevin showed up on Saturday morning. It was the first time that they have seen the boat and I was excited to show it to them. And of course it was great to see them again. If all goes well we are going to take a day cruise next Saturday and show them what Why Knot can do out on the water. I think we are going to go up to Hardin and have some of that great food at Mel’s. That will be fun.

Sunday the 23rd of September was a particularly fun day. Ross and Laura were our guests for a whirlwind tour of St. Louis. It’s a bit of a drive to the marina from our house and then back into the heart of the city once again. And it was a bit cramped for us all as our slightly larger car, my Ford Focus station wagon, would not start. Our other car, a Mazda RX-8, smaller and cramped, did start however and was pressed into service. We all squeezed in all right and the tour got underway. We started by driving just south of Alton, IL to the Mel Price lock and dam. Wow, it is big. They have a very nice museum there but we wanted to see the locks. Pleasure boats use the auxiliary lock which is similar to the locks on the Illinois River. But the main lock is a whole n’other thing. It is 1200 feet long and a whole bunch of feet wide – massive. We then made the long trek all the way to the riverfront under the Arch in downtown St. Louis. Unfortunately there is not much of a direct route there except to go through a very rough industrial area known as Hall Street. I am sure that would not be a positive point on the tour, plus I was concerned the road conditions would take a toll on the low chassis of the Mazda. Our route actually swung out west a bit, then straight south and then back east through the heart of St. Louis. We got down underneath the Arch and down to the river front. Wow, the river was very low. So low in fact that there were surfaces and constructs exposed that I am sure haven’t seen the light of day for generations. We then went back west to have lunch at Blueberry Hill a very cool restaurant in a very cool area of town called The Loop in University City. Our tour concluded with a pilgrimage to Ted Drewe’s, an iconic St. Louis frozen custard stand on the historic Route 66 in south St. Louis. Everyone reading this has a favorite ice creamery somewhere and other locales may claim to have some shop that says it reigns supreme in the ice cream universe, but I’m sorry. Ted Drewe’s rules. Period. End of debate. It is the best. St. Louis gets smacked around a bit as being a tired has-been town. But we know how to eat with great restaurants of every flavor. And for those of you with a sweet tooth, you will find nirvana here in the Gateway City. Ted Drewe’s is awesome. (Oh, and while you’re here sometime in the future get your lips around our other local sugary delicacy, Gooey Butter Cake. Sublime.)

And so we are home for a bit over a month. Our todo list is a mile long with plenty of marine and lubber items to keep us busy every day. Lisa will have to make a jaunt out to Denver for some tasks and I’ll be attending the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous solo. We have covered just over 3,700 statute miles in six and a half months. It’s good to be home but I have to admit that Why Knot and the water tugs on me. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hammond, IN and on into Illinois


Hammond was a good stop for us. We had a great dock position with as easy an in and out as our little boat could want. We did go to the adjoining casino and looked around. I had a whole one dollar in quarters burning a hole in my pocket and I wanted to make a sizable fortune on some slot machine. Alas it was not to be. Casinos nor gambling have never been a big draw to me and I am hopelessly out of touch with the whole scene. You can’t just walk up to a machine and drop a coin into it. You have to buy a card with a money value on it and slip that into the thing. And of course the minimum to buy a card is $5. So much for that. We did go to the mega buffet and for a cool $38 for two we got some yummy chicken fried steaks that were made of rubber, inedible salmon and something that resembled meatballs. (I think they were made of some wood pulp product.) So for the same price of two movie tickets and a couple of sandwiches at Panera Bread we had our shore entertainment to last us a while.

On the positive side of things we did make contact with Ross and Laura of The Zone and they were still in Chicago anticipating hitting the river on Thursday. In an email exchange with Laura she stated as such and asked when we were going. I replied, “I think we’re leaving….mmmmmmm……THURSDAY ALSO!”  They’re good boating buddies.

Half the trick of a successful cruising is planning. According to some other loopers I have corresponded with it is basically a five day trip. Day one’s destination is a free wall in Joliet, IL. Day two it’s Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottawa, IL. Day three is a free wall in Peoria. Day four is some kind of tie-up-to-a-barge thing in Beardstown, then to a restaurant dock that will take an over-nighter in Hardin and on the last day we will high tail it to Port St. Charles in St. Charles, MO on the Mississippi. (It is at the point we will take a three week or so shore leave.) I had a lot of questions about cruising the Illinois River. I guess my biggest concern is the locks. There are only six of them on the river, most up north, but I am concerned about how to interact with the locks themselves and their accommodating pleasure craft in a very heavy commercial waterway. We can do the locks as we have already done 70+ of them so far. But the waterways that we have been in so far have been almost 100% pleasure craft waterways.

9/14/2012 The First Day on the Illinois Waterways

We pulled off of our dock in Hammond and headed north a very short distance to the protected harbor inlet into the Calumet SAG Canal, the first leg of the Illinois Waterway. (I am going to refer to all the waters of the system as “IW” from this point on. Quite frankly I don’t know when one river/canal starts or ends.) The Zone was meeting us there to share the experience with us and we were glad to see them again.
The Zone meeting us in the SAG harbor entrance.

And into the SAG we go.

This northern leg is very industrialized with many different bulk depots that use barge transportation extensively. Mounds of sand, grain, coal, rock, scrap iron and petroleum tanks lined the waterway on each side. There were several drawbridges that had to be raised to let us pass but I was surprised that the traffic on the waterway was almost nil. Oh, there was plenty of activity on the banks of barges being loaded and unloaded but it was all shoreside: nothing out on the water. (The heavy traffic was further down.)

One tug that we passed was called the Ronnie O. Selving. For some reason that name struck a chord with me. I knew I had heard that name before. Finally it came to me. About a month ago while we were in a marina with good wifi we were doodling around on the website for the History Channel. There was a single episode of a show about Lake Michigan towboat operators…“Lake Warriors” or something like that. I guess the network figured that this kind of show would be similar to the shows they have about ice road truckers and crab fishermen. We watched it and while you could tell that the dramatic elements were being enhanced in small ways, because of us being boaters on Lake Michigan we were entertained. The “star” of the show (if you can call him that) was a crusty old salt owner of a towboat company and his name is…wait for it…Ronnie O. Selving. I radioed the boat and Ronnie himself was at the helm and while of course exhibiting characteristic crustiness we had a brief conversation saying that we had seen the episode, enjoyed it and asked if any more episodes were in the works. He said that he wasn’t sure about that, but he thanked me for the props and we went on our ways, him upbound, us down.

Seven miles down we came to our first lock of the river called the O’Brien Lock. These IW river locks are much bigger than any lock that we have hence traversed. They are 600 feet long and 110 feet wide. The Zone and us entered on the upside and made ready for the huge drop of almost ONE WHOLE FOOT! I’m not kidding – 12 inches. Whew!

The next lock was 35.5 miles further on so we headed on down on what definitely looked like a river rather than a canal. There were pockets of humanity here and there on the river but we could hear the distinct sounds of civilization all around in the Chicago metroplex. Frankly, it was noisy. Mile after boring mile we cruised to the point that we started taking pictures of each other’s boats just for something to do. We actually got some good shots.
Us

Them

them

us

After a while we did meet up with the Chicago River, the iconic river that runs straight through the heart of downtown Chicago and eventually to this juncture. Turning south it narrowed a lot and there was now more moving barge traffic. Down near the end of the first straight leg we were coming up to the chief obstacle of all boaters, commercial and recreational. There is a broken down railroad lift bridge that is stuck at a vertical clearance of 19.1 feet. If you can’t clear that you can’t go any further and your Great Loop adventure was over. We were fine with our height of 18.5 feet but The Zone was concerned being at about a foot over that. Their ability to pass that bridge depended on the river pool depth would be low due to the Midwest drought and all of the pools (formed by the locks) would be drawn down to keep things going. Fortunately that was the case and he cleared the bridge with a foot to spare. The other challenge right at that moment was a tow boat was tied up to a line of barges on the right descending bank under throttle to keep the barges pinned against the bank. This created a ton of turbulence right in the exact spot under the short bridge. Two de-masted sail boats were leading the way and each of them were spun on their keels at almost ninety degree angles smack dab in the middle of this narrow channel. The Zone, which was third in line unfortunately was at idle speed to make a slow pass under the trestle and he got spun. We were last in line and kind of held back a touch and seeing what was happening the other three boats and knowing that we could make under the bridge and gave it some throttle and made it through with some spin but not as much as The Zone and the others.
19.1 feet clearance and The Zone had room to spare. That towboat on the right caused by problems.

The next feature was the electronic fish barrier that was constructed in the channel to keep the dreaded Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes. It is an electrified zone that is basically a barrier that deters all aquatic life from venturing north towards the lakes. And if they are not so deterred they get cooked by the electricity that is pouring into the water. 

Our first dockage was at a free wall in Joliet. The wall was in kind iffy condition but there was free electricity and all was secure. What was also great is that with us and other arriving boaters there was now a flotilla of eight looper crews. There was us, The Zone, Seabatical, Attitude Changer, Bama Belle, two sailboats, (Forget Me Knot and another boat, the name I do not remember) and Katmandu. We had a docktail party and got to know everyone well.

The next morning, Friday, we all peeled away from the wall at 8:30 am to go to the next draw bridge and the first of three locks for the day. (Katmandu stayed at Joliet for a bit and lagged behind the rest of us for the entire day.) So we had seven boats in what we called the Sooper Looper Flotilla. It was fun. 






Ross, Lisa and Darrell. Rafted together in a lock.


Seabatical ran point for the group as he had AIS on his radio and chartplotter and could identify tows coming at us before we could see them. Very handy. Going through the locks was fairly challenging as they are constructed for commercial barge traffic and all of their accommodations for pleasure craft was pretty much made up on the fly. Sometimes they had lines that they dropped for everyone to hang onto, sometimes there were floating bollards, and sometimes we had to raft on to each other. But we made it through.There were some pretty lengthy delays at each of the locks and it was 5:00 pm before we finally pulled into Heritage Harbor Marina at Ottawa IL for two nights. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Making the Run to Chicago – Holland and St. Joseph / Benton Harbor to Hammond, IN


For the ride from White Lake to Holland the NWS predicted eastern winds of ten to twenty knots and seas of around one foot and that is pretty much what we got. It was a mostly sunny day, pleasant temperatures with the seas being at what could best be called a rough chop, certainly doable. There were never any real waves that were in an organized fashion so the ride was a bit bouncy but that’s all. No problem.

By the time we pulled into Lake Macatawa, which is the harbor for Holland, it was a beautiful sunny but windy day and there were a ton a boats on the water. When we came in to the inlet there were enough boats that it looked like a busy street with cars that were two abreast in each direction. Our marina, the Anchorage Marina Yacht Club was on the north side and with a little help of a dock mate we got tied up and secured for a two night stay. It was Labor Day weekend and we thought that staying in on Labor Day would be a good idea.
The Holland Turnpike, as it was called by a fellow boater in Holland.

The marina was very nice and it really is a club that offers transient dockage if they have the room. The club house was very nice with a swimming pool, restaurant and even a small game room with a foosball table. YAY! One of my unpublicized past accomplishments is that during my college days I was a badass foosball player. Not to sound less than humble but I’m really not kidding. Along with a fraternity brother of mine named Mark Merritt we were the dominant foosball team at the entire university (Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY) as well as in fraternity competitions in the northeastern US.  Lisa, who was the one to find the table, very kindly stepped up and let herself be a sucker for awhile as I pummeled her in some one on one play. (I am usually a mild mannered guy. But when it comes to foosball I am RUTHLESS!!!!!)
Lake Macatawa from the yacht club restaurant.



We arrived on Sunday the 2nd of September and the yacht club as well as the entire Holland lake area was in full last-weekend-of-the-boating-season mode. It was crazy-busy. Add to that the weather was sunny and warm so it was time to party. Everybody was having a great time. We did a bit of maintenance (Nothing too strenuous. It was Labor Day after all.) and then went for a swim. It felt great.

One of the interesting sights was to watch the mayhem at the nearby public boat ramp. Starting about 4:30 on Labor Day dozens of boats all came cruising in to get shoved back onto their trailers to be lugged home for the winter. 
Boaters waiting to get to the ramps.


Our getaway day was Tuesday the 4th and the forecast predicted an ideal day to go to Benton Harbor, MI, our next stop. We pulled out of our slip in a light fog after a short rain. It was grey and overcast and the water was not only flat as a pancake but disserted as well. The Labor Day weekend was over. Everybody went home. All the kiddies were starting school. The summer boating season was over. Now would begin the arduous task of the marinas pulling all of the boats out of the water, winterizing them and putting them up until next year. Kind of sad really. But we aren’t anywhere close to being done, so off we went.

Out in Lake Michigan the skies soon opened up to sunshine with high altitude clouds and the seas were almost flat. There was a gentle north breeze with lightly rolling waves to the south that pushed us along at brisk speeds of 8.6 to 9.1 knots. This was a great cruising day. Pulling into the St. Joseph West Basin Marina was a snap. Our slip was almost directly in front of the harbor office. (Awesome wifi! Yay Netflix!)

Now the only thing that I have ever known about Benton Harbor was that the name of the town was used as the alias for the white winged crusader Chickenman, for the 60s era radio comedy series. (Here is a Youtube link for the uninitiated   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcQfy1SavdQ ) It is an industrial town and a bit run down. Our marina location is in St. Joseph which is less industrial and run down. The marina is very newish with a friendly harbor master named Brian. He is very accommodating and gives us rides to stores and whatnot. This is also a scheduled maintenance stop. I am going to do a full routine maintenance regimen so I won’t have to worry about it while we are in the rivers. The windlass also needed a bit of attention.

When we get out of here is kind of a dilemma. The next major destination is most likely Hammond, IN near the mouth of the Calumet River (Or the Chicago Sanitary Canal, whatever you want to call it.) We could shoot straight across the southern tip of Lake Michigan to get there. It’s a distance of about 52 miles. That is doable but there is an alternate float plan to break that up into two days stopping off at Michigan City, IN. Each leg would be about thirty miles. So here’s the dilemma. The weather forecast for the next several days kind of sucks. Here is direct copy of the marina forecast from the NWS for a near-shore location outside of Michigan City as of Sept. 6, about 6:00 am.
Today (ed. 9/6/2011): WNW wind 5 to 10 kt becoming NNE in the afternoon. Sunny. Waves around 1 ft. Tonight: Variable winds 5 kt or less. Mostly clear. Waves 1 ft or less.
Friday: S wind 5 to 10 kt becoming WNW in the afternoon. Showers and thunderstorms likely, mainly after 1pm. Waves 1 ft or less.
Friday Night: N wind around 20 kt. Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 1am, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1am. Waves 2 ft building to 7 ft.
Saturday: NNW wind 15 to 20 kt. A chance of showers. Waves 7 to 8 ft.
Saturday Night: NW wind around 10 kt. A slight chance of showers. Waves 4 to 6 ft.
Sunday: NW wind around 10 kt. Mostly sunny. Waves 3 to 4 ft.
Sunday Night: N wind 5 to 10 kt. Mostly clear. Waves 2 to 3 ft.
Monday: Variable winds 5 kt or less. Sunny. Waves 1 ft or less.

SEVEN TO EIGHT FEET WAVES ON SATURDAY?! Are they kidding? And that’s the near shore forecast.

So what do we do? Do we do our maintenance today and head out to Michigan City tomorrow (Friday)? We can’t go straight to Hammond (52 nm, about seven hours cruise time.) because how I’m reading the forecast is that the storm front is moving into the area in the early afternoon. We don’t want to be out in big water then. Do we go to Michigan City on Friday? We could, but I am not terribly convinced that the marina in Michigan City is such a hot place to be during a very, very stormy couple of days. (One complication is that there are absolutely no reviews of the marina in Michigan City on any of the usual website resources that loopers use such as ActiveCaptain, the AGLCA website forums nor Marina Life. When viewing satellite pictures of the marina I am not convinced that it’s a great location during a big blow.) Also if a big storm is coming through that very well could mean that after it passes there very likely could be a period of good conditions for a few days which opens up the opportunity to go directly to Hammond. Well the crew has voted and we are going to sacrifice a fair to decent day on Friday and stay here in St. Joseph. We are not in so great a hurry to get anywhere that we have to take a big chance during a period of unsettled conditions.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

We’ve been here in St. Joseph now for five nights and we have one night to go. The marine forecast for Monday the 10th of September is a favorable one. So much so we are skipping stopping over in Michigan City and going straight to Hammond Marina in Hammond, IN. which is a short distance to the mouth of the Calumet River and the Chicago Sanitary Canal. It will be a fifty-five mile leg. But as I said the conditions are good for the crossing. That being said the stay here in St. Joseph has been interesting. The main point of interest here has been the weather. A major storm system passed through here overnight on Friday into Saturday and as predicted (see above) the conditions were terrible for boating but great to stay in a marina.

Saturday was very rough. There was some rain but not too much. The big features were the winds and waves. We took a short walk to see what was happening on the lake and we were shocked how turbulent and violent the surf was. The waves were easily six to eight feet coming onto the shore and we could only imagine what it was like a bit further out. There was a charter fishing boat (above)  trying to make its way out through the protected jettied channel where the waves were rolling in at about a six foot level. We watched with an attitude of something like, “What the hell is he thinking.” He was pitching up and down very pronouncedly until his smarts finally kicked in when he turned his boat around and went back in. Our stay in the marina was totally without incident as it is very well protected. We didn’t feel a thing.

Lisa, the Zamboni Queen!
Monday the 10th of September came and we pulled out of the marina in St. Joseph right at daybreak. It was a long day for us, 55 miles, and we wanted to get a head start on it. I did set a course that did go to Michigan City and then to Hammond rather than straight across Lake Michigan because I wasn’t sure the forecast was all that hot to cross over to Hammond mid-lake. That turned out to be a good decision as the seas were following with two to three feet swells rather than the one foot waves predicted. Fortunately, they were gentle swells with a bit of duration to them so the ride was more of a never ending undulation rather than anything more abrupt. (Lisa says, “It was like a mild “Tilt-a-Whirl” ride.)
Chicago in the distance while underway to Hammond.

We can see Chicago from our marina. That's cool!

A couple of adjustments are in order on our part. First, we have entered the Central Time Zone which, like the change from daylight savings time to standard time there is always a glitch in one’s internal clock. The other is that we are going to be transitioning to a different kind of boating once again. Hammond marks the end of our big lake boating experience which we both liked a lot. The entrance of the Calumet SAG river is just three miles away. Once we enter we will pretty much be exclusively in rivers for the next gazillion miles all the way down to Mobile, Alabama.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Making the Run to Chicago – Holland and St. Joseph / Benton Harbor (part one)


For the ride from White Lake to Holland the NWS predicted eastern winds of ten to twenty knots and seas of around one foot and that is pretty much what we got. It was a mostly sunny day, pleasant temperatures with the seas being at what could best be called a rough chop, certainly doable. There were never any real waves that were in an organized fashion so the ride was a bit bouncy but that’s all. No problem.

By the time we pulled into Lake Macatawa, which is the harbor for Holland, it was a beautiful sunny but windy day and there were a ton a boats on the water. When we came in to the inlet there were enough boats that it looked like a busy street with cars that were two abreast in each direction. Our marina, the Anchorage Marina Yacht Club was on the north side and with a little help of a dock mate we got tied up and secured for a two night stay. It was Labor Day weekend and we thought that staying in on Labor Day would be a good idea.
Busy, busy, busy!

Looking out from the restaurant at Anchorage Marina Yacht Club


The marina was very nice and it really is a club that offers transient dockage if they have the room. The club house was very nice with a swimming pool, restaurant and even a small game room with a foosball table. YAY! One of my unpublicized past accomplishments is that during my college days I was a badass foosball player. Not to sound less than humble but I’m really not kidding. Along with a fraternity brother of mine named Mark Merritt we were the dominant foosball team at the entire university (Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY) as well as in fraternity competitions in the northeastern US.  Lisa, who was the one to find the table, very kindly stepped up and let herself be a sucker for awhile as I pummeled her in some one on one play.

We arrived on Sunday the 2nd of September and the yacht club as well as the entire Holland lake area was in full last-weekend-of-the-boating-season mode. It was crazy-busy. Add to that the weather was sunny and warm so it was time to party. Everybody was having a great time. We did a bit of maintenance (Nothing too strenuous. It was Labor Day after all.) and then went for a swim. It felt great.

One of the interesting sights was to watch the mayhem at the nearby public boat ramp. Starting about 4:30 on Labor Day dozens of boats all came cruising in to get shoved back onto their trailers to be lugged home for the winter. 
Time to get the boats out of the water.


Our getaway day was Tuesday the 4th and the forecast predicted an ideal day to go to Benton Harbor, MI, our next stop. We pulled out of our slip in a light fog after a short rain. It was grey and overcast and the water was not only flat as a pancake but disserted as well. The Labor Day weekend was over. Everybody went home. All the kiddies were starting school. The summer boating season was over. Now would begin the arduous task of the marinas pulling all of the boats out of the water, winterizing them and putting them up until next year. Kind of sad really. But we aren’t anywhere close to being done, so off we went.
A hazy departure from Holland.
Darrell loves his nappies!

Out in Lake Michigan the skies soon opened up to sunshine with high altitude clouds and the seas were almost flat. There was a gentle north breeze with lightly rolling waves to the south that pushed us along at brisk speeds of 8.6 to 9.1 knots. This was a great cruising day. Pulling into the St. Joseph West Basin Marina was a snap. Our slip was almost directly in front of the harbor office (Awesome wifi! Yay Netflix!)

Now the only thing that I have ever known about Benton Harbor was that the name of the town was used as the alias for the white winged crusader Chickenman, for the 60s era radio comedy series. (Here is a Youtube link for the uninitiated   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcQfy1SavdQ ) It is an industrial town and a bit run down. Our marina location is in St. Joseph which is less industrial and run down. The marina is very newish with a friendly harbor master named Brian. He is very accommodating and gives us rides to stores and whatnot. This is also a scheduled maintenance stop. I am going to do a full routine maintenance regimen so I won’t have to worry about it while we are in the rivers. The windlass also needs a bit of attention.
A beautiful sunset in St. Joseph

When we get out of here is kind of a dilemma. The next major destination is most likely Hammond, IN near the mouth of the Calumet River (Or the Chicago Sanitary Canal, whatever you want to call it.) We could shoot straight across the southern tip of Lake Michigan to get there. It’s a distance of about 52 miles. That is doable but there is an alternate float plan to break that up into two days stopping off at Michigan City, IN. Each leg would be about thirty miles. So here’s the dilemma. The weather forecast for the next several days kind of sucks. Here is direct copy of the marine forecast from the NWS for a near-shore location outside of Michigan City as of Sept. 6, about 6:00 am.
Today (ed. 9/6/2011): WNW wind 5 to 10 kt becoming NNE in the afternoon. Sunny. Waves around 1 ft.
Tonight: Variable winds 5 kt or less. Mostly clear. Waves 1 ft or less.
Friday: S wind 5 to 10 kt becoming WNW in the afternoon. Showers and thunderstorms likely, mainly after 1pm. Waves 1 ft or less.
Friday Night: N wind around 20 kt. Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 1am, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1am. Waves 2 ft building to 7 ft.
Saturday: NNW wind 15 to 20 kt. A chance of showers. Waves 7 to 8 ft.
Saturday Night: NW wind around 10 kt. A slight chance of showers. Waves 4 to 6 ft.
Sunday: NW wind around 10 kt. Mostly sunny. Waves 3 to 4 ft.
Sunday Night: N wind 5 to 10 kt. Mostly clear. Waves 2 to 3 ft.
Monday: Variable winds 5 kt or less. Sunny. Waves 1 ft or less.

SEVEN TO EIGHT FEET WAVES ON SATURDAY?! Are they kidding? And that’s the near shore forecast.

So what do we do? Do we do our maintenance today and head out to Michigan City tomorrow (Friday)? We can’t go straight to Hammond (52 nm, about seven hours cruise time.) because how I’m reading the forecast is that the storm front is moving into the area in the early afternoon. We don’t want to be out in big water then. Do we go to Michigan City on Friday? We could, but I am not convinced that the marina in Michigan City is such a hot place to be during a very, very stormy couple of days. (One complication is that there are absolutely no reviews of the marina in Michigan City on any of the usual website resources that loopers use such as ActiveCaptain, the AGLCA website forums nor Marina Life. When viewing satellite pictures of the marina I am not convinced that it’s a great location during a big blow.) Also if a big storm is coming through that very well could mean that after it passes there likely could be a period of good conditions for a few days which opens up the opportunity to go directly to Hammond. Well the crew has voted and we are going to sacrifice a fair to decent day on Friday and stay here in St. Joseph. We are not in so great a hurry to get anywhere that we have to take a big chance during a period of unsettled conditions.

More later.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Making the Run to Chicago – Ludington and White Lake


We pulled into the Ludington Municipal Marina. We saw that SS Badger ferry boat come in and out. We walked to downtown Ludington and bought a few things in the small grocery store and Wesco gas convenience store. I wish I had some cool stuff to tell you about Ludington…but that’s about it.
SS Badger heading out of Ludington to Wisconsin

We then headed down to White Lake Municipal Marina. We walked to downtown White Lake and bought a gallon of milk. I wish there was something else to tell you that was interesting…but there ain’t.
Swans in White Lake

Swans in White Lake

Swans in White Lake

Swans in White Lake

Swans in White Lake

Not every destination is a winner. Sometimes the reason to get to someplace is to get past it on to some other place. That is the case of Ludington and White Lake. Not there was anything wrong with them: far from it. But after our great experiences in our previous stops these were let downs. Ludington was the better of the two and it did have the redeeming features of being bigger than White Lake, there was a lot of people around to talk to and seeing the Badger come in and out was cool. But these two stops were convenient dockages on the way to other places.

Next stops are Holland, MI and Benton Harbor, MI.

I know it’s a short report. Sorry.