Northern Michigan – Fudge, Ferries & Friendly Ports

Grand Hotel Mackinac Island
Grand Hotel from the water

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.  Grand Hotel dinnerOur 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.  Mackinac Race

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

North Channel, Simply the Best

Bustards AnchorageEver 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

The Lone Piper of Kincardine

Jazzy on Gypsies PalaceWe 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

Blue Water, Boat Races and Back Home

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.Port Huron Black River

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

Rocking and Rolling on Lake Erie

Lake Erie can be a curse. It is shallow and the waves can come from all directions causing an unpleasant and nasty ride. When we completed the Welland Canal we docked in Port Colborne at a nice marina with good friends of ours that are the Harbor Hosts. The winds were howling and blowing like crazy when we docked after finishing the canal and continued to blow the next day.  Of course, we were still in Canada!

It wasn’t an entire lost day because we are friends with the Harbor Host of Port Colborne. A Harbor Host is a member of the Looper’s Association that volunteers to help other Loopers with things like transportation to stores or recommendations for services in their area. Our Harbor Host actually helped Steve install our transmission. When we met them after finishing the canal we were whipped.   They invited us to join their local boater friends for a cookout. It was just what we needed after that long day.   The next morning we sat at the dock, but we became entertainment for the local boaters.   They had not seen a power catamaran before and many came by our boat for a look. It was great fun.

ClevelandIt pays to wait. The next day was much better.   Seas built to 3 feet, but Gypsies Palace can still have a smooth ride when other boats are smacking along.   We just “skip” along the waves although we were getting hit from the side so there was a certain amount of “roll” on the lake. Our destination was Cleveland and the Rock and Dock Marina. We wanted to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and having the docks right there was an attractive way to get there.Rock and Dock

That Rock and Dock Marina is a jewel. Docks are like new and it was easy to dock. We came mid-week and there was only one other boat there – a Looper boat of all things!   There is a Mexican restaurant right at the marina and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is steps away. We went the next morning and spent 3 hours there. You could easily spend a couple of more hours enjoying their exhibits. It is well organized and we loved learning more about the history of different types of music and places. We especially likes the special exhibit for the Summer of Love ’67. Steve is from California and they featured the Monterey Pop Festival, which he attended!   We even learned more about the part that Cleveland played in the history of Rock and Roll. Long Live RockRock and Roll Hall of Fame

Read more

Back on the Loop – Tranny Update and the Welland Canal Big Chill

It has been awhile (again) since I have updated the blog.   So, I should start with a Tranny update. When we first got to St. Catherines the marine repair facility ordered a new transmission from Kentucky and they expected to receive it in 3 – 4 days. Well, we waited and waited and then after 3 weeks we were told that it went to Vancouver and was sitting to clear customs.   That was over 2,200 miles away. We were kicking ourselves for not driving to Kentucky to pick it up.   We were not getting any responses so Steve wrote Investor Relations at Volvo and then things started kicking in.   That was on a Friday and on Monday it was shipped to clear customs near us on Tuesday.   Tranny ArrivalWe received the Tranny on Wednesday.   It was our feeling that it was never shipped in the first place and there was only one available in the entire country. Sigh, what can you do at this point?

Thursday was our big day of installation and the sea trial. We were never sure that we had not damaged the shaft.   When we fired up the engines my stomach was in a big nervous knot.   Little by little Steve gave the boat several tests and we were confident that everything was once again working fine.   What a relief!! No other damage.

Our plan was to depart on early Friday morning to traverse the Welland Canal.   This route is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway and connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie via a series of locks. It is heavily used by freighters transporting goods. Most of the Loopers do not go this way, but we were too wide or too tall to take the other waterways so this was our route. It is 26.8 miles long and consists of only 8 locks.   Each lock raises the boat approximately 46.5 feet for a total rise of 326 feet. This is the “by-pass” around Niagara Falls. A freighter will take 11 hours to complete all 8 locks and they definitely fill an entire lock.   Pleasure boats have to wait until all of the commercial traffic is cleared before they are allowed to start locking through.   There is no stopping like on the Erie Canal.   The entire locks must be completed which takes typically 6.5 hours to 10 hours.   Additionally, a pleasure boat must have 3 people onboard when locking up to Lake Erie to assist with the long lines to secure the boat.

Friends on the WellandFortunately for us I had a high school friend that wanted to come with us for the Adventure.   He and his wife arrived on Wednesday so that they would be ready when we were ready to go. Friday we left the dock at 6:30.   For the first time we awoke in a big fog bank. Crap!! Fogged inWe tried to inch our way to the inlet for the canal, but even with radar we couldn’t see the entrance to make it in safely. We were worried about the freighters exiting the canal as we were trying to enter.   We sat at anchor until finally Steve decided to follow a freighter in, but we couldn’t see him.   That worked, but by now it was 9:30 by the time we made it to the wall where we contact the lock to ask when we can proceed. We were told that if we could have gotten in at 7:00 we would have been able to start right away.   Crap again!! Now the commercial traffic was all ahead of us and our delay would be hours.

We settled back to wait and relax.   Around 2:00 Steve checked back in, but they still had too much traffic so we watched a movie. Another boat showed up on the wall, but they were going to wait until morning.   We had dinner and checked back in around 7:30.   At this point we were told it would be after midnight so we decided to make the run in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

Lock entrance
Lock entrance
Double Locks
2 way locks
Lock Waterfall
Waterfall Wall

On Saturday we started our locking at 7:30 and we completed the process at 5:00 – about 36 hours from when we got to the wall.   Happily for us we had no issues with any of the locks even though they are huge when compared to the Erie Canal and the rush of water is greater.   We were prepared for it and it definitely helped having someone at both ends of the boat.   Plus, they put us first in the locks where we were not getting hit with the large turbulence.   However, you are exhausted when it is over because there is tension to keep the boat close to the wall by pulling in the slack.   We had 2 boats behind us that were told to raft together and we watched them struggle.   We were just glad that it was over!

Glad to be moving on the Loop again!

Breathe in, Breathe Out, Move On…….Jimmy Buffett


When It All Falls Down………Set Backs for Gypsies Palace

Last you heard we had left the Erie Canal and were on Lake Ontario. Our route is to head west on Lake Ontario, dock and traverse the Welland Canal to Lake Erie.   That was the PLAN, but…………………………Gypsies Palace had other ideas.

The day started picture perfect.   Lake Ontario was like glass. We were going to stop in Rochester, but it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of the flat seas and push on to Port Dalhousie (St. Catherines) Ontario, Canada. Everything went according to plan and we came into the marina in windy conditions. We had no one to grab our lines so Steve needed to make a couple of passes at the dock to check wind and current.

About 10 feet from the dock, disaster struck. We heard to big clunk and the next thing Steve knew, he did not have use of the Starboard propulsion! The Engine was working fine but he couldn’t put the transmission in gear. We later found out that with the water levels so high on Lake Ontario there is stuff floating everywhere, most right under the surface and our prop grabbed a submerged line Submerged Lineand it wrapped around the shaft so tightly that it pulled (broke) our transmission off of the engine! We later heard that someone had hit a refrigerator floating just below the surface not far from the marina. So, a lot of crap is out there under the water.

We weren’t out of the woods yet. Steve only had one engine to control the boat and it was the wrong one with the winds and current. Everything was pushing us into the rocks and breakwater.   Gypsies Palace could not make the dock on one engine with the wind pushing us away from the dock. Steve managed to get us out of the marina and we anchored in the Lake just outside the Breakwater. What we needed was a tow to the docks.   We sat on the boat and tried to contact SeaTow or TowBoat US, but they had no one nearby.   So, what were we going to do? Read more

Canal Days!

Erie Canal CelebrationHow lucky are we that we are traveling during the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal! It took 8 years to build and it took us 8 days to traverse. There are 2 routes and due to our height we had to take the eastern route which would put us in Lake Ontario. The other route comes out around Buffalo on Lake Erie. What this means to all boaters on the Erie Canal this year is that all costs are free so we saved close to $200 in fees. Additionally, many towns are planning Canal Days celebrations.

Travel on the Erie Canal is slow due to speed limits and the amount of locks. We did 30 locks and a typical day was comprised of about 6 locks. This is “small town America”, for sure. There are no big marinas and the appeal is really having “no plan” and just stopping when you feel like it. Each town around the locks have walls with the ability to tie up your boat.   Some of the walls have electric and water and others have none. Loopers love this part of the trip because not only are we not burning much fuel, we are not incurring marina charges. Some towns will have a payment system that could be something like $30 to cover the electric. Not only is it an enjoyable trip it is less costly!

What we enjoyed about the Erie Canal is that wherever we stopped we had instant friends because other Loopers were either already on the wall or they arrived after we got there.   One day we were around Lock 14 and the town of Canajoharie (where?) and we tied up at the last place along the wall. Before we knew it other boats also were stopping there so we double rafted everyone up. A funny thing that happened is that the Lock Master for Lock 14 actually walked down to all of us to ask why no one was coming through his lock. Our answer was “We’re done for the day!”. Additionally, the local people commented that they had never seen so many boats there at one time and wanted to know what was going on. It was just “Docktails, of course”! Read more

Slowing Down the Pace on the Hudson

It is not as if we are traveling at a fast pace, but we do move along nearly every day to a new location. It is mostly about the timing to hit Canada and northern Michigan in the summer when the weather is the nicest. We realized that we had not been able to anchor out since Georgia and we really thought that we would have done this more. We are somewhat restricted on anchoring because we have not been able to train Jazzy to go on the bow of the boat and we would need to dinghy to shore. That means two things that we would be concerned with: Is the weather nice to get us in the dinghy and, is there an actual place to get the dinghy into?  We were dying to slow down the pace with some nights “on hook” and the Hudson would be the perfect place.

From my previous blogs you might gather that a lot of the month of May was chilly, windy and rainy.   Who wants to get in a dingy in those conditions? It is much easier to dock somewhere. But, once we left New York City we finally found Summer! We also did some sightseeing and other fun things.

Gypsies Palace on the HudsonGypsies Palace Hudson AncshoringWe anchored out along the Hudson River and explored with our dinghy. This was great fun and so peaceful. We used Active Captain to locate some good areas along with the Waterway Guide. One time we anchored off of a state park which gave us some good dog walking with Jazzy. The second time we saw fireworks and a beautiful moonrise, but when we went ashore there was mostly brush and not good dog walking.   We really enjoyed this time with the warm weather.  Golfing on Gypsies Palace Steve had been dying to hit golf balls from the bow of the boat so he got out the “doggie artificial turf” and had a blast!

Leaving that area we met up with 18 other Loopers at a place called Shady Harbor for 3 days.   They hosted a pig roast with entertainment to show their appreciation. The weather was beautiful and everyone took advantage of it to clean their boats! Read more

New York City Must Be a State of Mind

It was our desire to take in some of the City so we planned to stay in the area for 3 days. I say, “in the area” because no one docks in New York City. Many stay over in New Jersey at Liberty Landing, which we have done before, but it was not on “our nickel”. Marina dockage is expensive. A big perk of being part of the Looper’s Association is that we get discounts at marinas and fuel. Many choose to stay at Great Kills on Staten Island. There are anchorages there, but then the problem can be transportation with their dinghy.

Great Kills Harbor  I took this picture of the harbor one morning the fog that turned out pretty cool. We were able to dock at Great Kills Yacht Club due to our Harbor Host establishing the relationship. Their members were so welcoming to all of us that pass through there. We walked to restaurants, a bagel shop and an Italian Market.

Once again it continued to be highs in the 50’s and rainy, but we were definitely going to spend 2 days in the City.   We knew that we could take the Staten Island Ferry over and that was free and there was also a free train to take to the Ferry.   That involved a one mile walk. The other option was an Express Bus.  The advantage there was that it was less walking and dropped us off where we wanted to go. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it probably was a two hour trip before we got anywhere that we wanted to go and we also used the Hop On/ Hop Off Bus and the Subway.   So much easier to get around by boat! Read more