After leaving Chicago and Lake Michigan the next sequence for the Great Loop is the inland rivers. We were not necessarily looking forward to this section of the Loop because we have been receiving many notices of lock delays and closures on the route. We had been hearing reports of Loopers having to wait a day or more to lock through due to repairs, dredging or the backlog of commercial traffic. It is necessary to traverse more locks on all of the inland rivers on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Locking by itself is not an issue, but due to the amount of commercial traffic i.e. tugs with barges it makes for a slow pace. Commercial vessels have priority in all of the locks on the rivers. Their barges are mostly filled with large bulk items such as coal or rock. River traffic sometimes reminds me of driving through traffic jams on I-95!
The route of the various rivers starts with the Illinois River, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and the Tenn-Tom Waterway. All of that finishes in Mobile, Al. Steve and I have done the Tenn-Tom to Chattanooga route, but had no idea what to expect with the upper rivers. We were not sure that we were going to enjoy this part of the journey. Read more →
As we have gone along on our Great Loop journey a defining moment seemed to be reaching Chicago. We would have completed the Lake Michigan phase our trip and Chicago was the gateway to the inland rivers. Chicago was beckoning us to explore and stay before we would begin the inland river route which we had really not even figured out. We had a long list of things that we wanted to do in Chicago. We docked right by Navy Pier at DuSable Marina. We were close to everything and decided that we needed to stay 6 days especially since the weather was going to be perfect – sunny and in the 70’s.
Naturally, lots of Looper boats were also there, but everyone was so busy sight seeing that we rarely saw anyone until the end of our stay. What we loved about the city is that people were out jogging, biking and walking – a positive energy. The dogs were fascinated by all the dogs and people. But, it was not a feeling of frenzy like New York City. Chicago just envelopes you in friendliness and a welcoming atmosphere.
We had food at the top of our list – Portillo’s Hot Dogs and Gino’s Pizza. We also had to get to Al’s Italian Beef before we left! I had been yearning for Gino’s Pizza, but we actually found another that we liked even better at Labriola the night we went to a Blues Club. We just stumbled on the place as we were walking. We wanted to experience the blues in Chicago and found a club called Blue Chicago. It was just what I pictured in my mind – small, intimate, no food, great band and everyone enjoying the vibe. My only disappointment is that we were pretty pooped from the day and couldn’t stay for a 2nd set.
Those of you that know me that I tend to cram as much into a day as possible and in Chicago I got my wish. Steve even kept up as he didn’t want to miss out on a thing. As we pulled into the marina another Looper gave us a good piece of advice to check out Groupon for tourist deals. They had also taken a Segway Tour with their Groupon and highly recommended it. They had never done it before and neither had we or One Eye Dog. So, the four of us were in for the adventure. It was the best experience!! Steve took his Go Pro and put together a cute video of us. We then “paid it forward” by suggesting this to other Loopers as they came in. They also loved it!!Read more →
We left Mackinac Island on August 18th and spent 25 days meandering the western coastline of Michigan. For boaters Michigan has created numerous harbors with really nice breakwalls and entrances that are every 20 – 30 miles. The state intentionally made these “Harbors of Refuge”. We decided that we would explore places and take our time so that we would not arrive in Chicago until after Labor Day.
The concern most Loopers have about Lake Michigan is the winds and the waves. Most of them are in smaller trawlers that roll back and forth going about 8 mph. The chop and the waves make for an unpleasant ride. We are still traveling with our Buddy Boat, One Eye Dog, a 52 foot Haterras that can power up. The four of us would all check our weather apps before venturing out on the Lake. Our plan was to arrive in the town by noon and spend the entire next day there enjoying the town and relaxing and leave the 3rd morning. There were only two times where we had to wait an extra day due to windy conditions. At this point in the season we were seeing more winds from the north which would be off of our stern. Wind off our stern was good for our boats and we cruised along about 10 mph. If the waves picked up we would increase our speed to smooth out the ride. Gypsies Palace rides really nice in most conditions and we avoided anything with waves over three feet on the Lake. We have been so happy with the smooth ride on this catamaran!
A typical day for us would be to leave the dock around 8:00 and arrive somewhere around noon. Once we got the boat secured and got checked in, the four of us would walk around the town to see what was there. We would select a restaurant for dinner in this process. Sometimes we would luck out and they would have a Farmer’s Market. We would purchase local produce, baked goods (especially if the husbands were along) and other goodies. My buddy, April and I never passed up a Farmer’s Market, Fish Store or grocery store in these towns. You never know what you may find! Read more →
We are now on the Northern Michigan adventure of the Great Loop. We left Canada to head straight to Mackinac Island. We were able to check back into the states using a video phone at the docks in the marina. It was a simple process for us. We had a Frequent Boater Card and BR Number from our previous trips to the Bahamas. This worked for us on their check in process. We were now in Northern Michigan, more specifically Mackinac Island, a prime tourist destination.
Growing up in Michigan you would have thought that I had been to Mackinac Island, but this was my first time and I was excited. Our stay was close to our 26th Wedding Anniversary so we planned for a special dinner at the Grand Hotel. They can seat over 1,000 people for dinner, but the quality of the food and service is above average. We got to tour the grounds and inside and tried to imagine what it must have been like years ago with people arriving with steamer trunks for the summer. When you are on the Loop you look for these special moments and this was one of them. Also, Mackinac is a special place when you are from Port Huron and I was delighted to see this picture on the wall at the Pink Pony.
However, must of our memories involve fudge and ferries. Anyone who has been to Mackinac knows that fudge is everywhere. We got ours! But, mostly it was the memories of the ferries in conjunction with bad weather and wind. All day long numerous ferry boats arrive with tourists and they dock within the marina. Their wake slams all of the boats against the pilings and the docks. We were constantly adjusting our fenders and our lines and we were not alone. All of the boats were rocking, including one trawler where they actually got seasick from the wave action. We were there three days and it was a relief to be away from that turbulence. Read more →
Ever since we began the Great Loop we heard that cruising the North Channel would be the highlight of our Loop. Boaters from both Canada and Michigan rave about this area. Was it going to be something that was built up with so much anticipation that it would be anticlimactic? Not a chance!!
Gypsies Palace left Tobermory to head straight across Georgian Bay to make our way to the North Channel. We knew that there was some great cruising in Georgian Bay and we not going to be able to back track to see it all. We decided that we would find an great anchorage in the Bustard Islands. Read more →
We had two stops to make before reaching Georgian Bay – Kincardine and Tobermory, Ontario. Yay, butter tarts, for sure! Our plan was to only spend 1 night in each place since we were anxious to find beautiful anchorages in Georgian Bay and North Channel.
We decided to do the “go fast” pace i.e. 17 mph on Lake Huron to both destinations. Each time the lake started out really smooth and each time we were in 3-4 seas from a variety of directions. This was the first time that Jazzy had ever been seasick. Poor thing – it really lasted 2 days. That first night he got us up for several hours until he finally decided to use that green mat on the front of the boat. The good thing is that I know now that he knows what it is for. He just chooses not to use it! But, when he is sick it is looking pretty darn good. This picture was the seas were great and he was feeling good as you can tell. Read more →
Leaving Ohio we were in our first area of the country where we had not been before by boat. Steve and I had done boat deliveries from Florida through the Erie Canal through the Welland Canal to Port Clinton, Ohio. We have also done deliveries to Lake Champlain from Port Clinton and from Florida to Kemah, Texas. Additionally, we have been as far up the Tenn-Tom Waterway as Chattanooga, Tennessee. Heading into Michigan would be entirely new to us.
Michigan has more registered boats than any other state. People love to boat here whether it be on the Great Lakes or all of the numerous inland lakes and waterways. We are now experiencing fresh water and it is really nice even though I love the smell of salt air. The boat is cleaner which is great. However, we have come to know many of the little spiders that now want to make their home on Gypsies Palace. What a little black mess they make on the deck! We now are stocked up on spider spray.
We passed under the Ambassador Bridge by downtown Detroit and proceeded into Lake St. Clair. The weather was good and did not encounter many freighters. When we hit the St. Clair River it was so blue that I knew that I was getting close to home. Growing up in Port Huron is synonymous with Blue Water, including the Blue Water Bridge to Canada. I was so excited as we passed Algonac, St. Clair, Marysville and we finally got to the Black River, the entrance to downtown Port Huron.
Growing up there I was probably like most people that do not fully appreciate their hometown. It was a great place to grow up that was safe, friendly and had great access to beautiful water and beaches on Lake Huron. I finally got to experience Port Huron as other boaters would. A bonus is that we were arriving during Rack Week. This is the big sailboat race from Port Huron to Mackinac. Another race takes place from Chicago to Mackinac. There were over 200 boats registered for the event of all sizes and classes. Read more →