Leg 1 Log

We Leave Pine Tree Island

We left Pine Tree Island at 0636 for the 105-mile run to Trenton, Ontario, where the local Honda dealer was waiting to service our engine for the long trip ahead.  The sun shone, the wind dropped, and the St. Lawrence and Ontario scenery kept entertaining us right through the Bay of Quinte. After finding the right place to “officially” enter Canada, it was just past noon when we returned to the Honda dealer, who informed us that the boat would probably be out of the water overnight. So, here we are, our first night out, at a nearby Travelodge.  At least it has internet access, enabling our first update of this site.  We hope to send another update on the Trent-Severn waterway, but once into the wilds of the Georgian Bay and Northern Passage, we’ll almost certainly be off-line for a week or two. Now to explore the pleasant town of Trenton and, we’re told, a wonderful Italian restaurant on the Trent River.

Trenton to Campbellford

A beautiful day on the Trent-Severn Waterway: pleasant scenery, efficient lock system, and good company.  The day started slowly, thanks to “technical problems” at the second lock. Vandals had entered the lock house overnight, and boats were backed up while the lock master repaired the electrical system. Five other boats (all Canadian) and we entered Lock 2 as flotilla, and most of us traveled together through Lock 12. As the locks filled with water, we often had to raft together, giving everyone a chance to swap boating stories.  When we arrived at Campbellford, Ontario, a lively bluegrass concert was in full swing in the park next to the dock.  So out came the folding chairs, rusty nails, and hors d’oeuvres. We sat with the locals, donated to the sponsoring Lions club, and chatted with the English/Canadian couple on a grand old Chris Craft in mint condition. Campbellford is a charming town. We’ll start the morning with a walking tour of historic homes.

Campbellford to the Dinner Islands 

The past two days have brought endless sunshine, broken only by a brief sprinkle. Once again we were welcomed to our dock with a concert -- this time,  in Peterborough, Ontario. A comedic singing group entertained a large crowd, their songs charged with social satire. As we went to sleep in the boat, fireworks glittered in the sky overhead.  Ontario is starting to spoil us!

Today the Cosmic C, a few other boats, and all the passengers were lifted high in the sky by the engineering marvel of Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock (Google it to get a description). Then, much elevated, we cruised through beautiful lakes similar to the Thousand Island region of the St. Lawrence. Tonight we are anchored in a protected cove behind Dinner Island in Lower Buckhorn Lake.  As the sun was setting, a friendly couple came by for an evening chat on their pontoon boat. They love Missouri and have good friends in the Ozarks, so we had much to talk about. This is our first anchoring experience, and even though the water is dead calm, it remains to be seen how much sleep we will get tonight!

We're Finally in Georgian Bay

Sunday’s highlight was undoubtedly the Big Chute marine railway. Instead of a lock, one enters into a railway lift in which the stern of the boat is supported in a sling, while the bow comes to rest on the bottom of the lift as it leaves the water and travels on rails down a steep decline to the water below. Apprehensive at first (good British understatement), Mary finally decided it was good fun, at least once we arrived safely at the bottom. 

We are now (Monday evening) experiencing our second anchoring of the trip, forced to take shelter early in the day by rough seas on Georgian Bay.  As the photo shows, we’re in a lovely, protected  cove, but shortly after it was taken the wind kicked up to 30 knots and the Cosmic C was really tugging at its anchor.  The rocky shore is quite close and, once again, we end the day concerned about a crashing sound in the middle of the night -- but this time with good reason.

We Reach Killarney

The sun shone but the wind continued to intensify on Tuesday, and we spent another day in the protected cove. Mary worked on the computer, Pat read, and in the evening we watched a movie on our small TV/DVD player.  We had put a second anchor out, but the main anchor never moved.  A very tame loon came to visit us on several occasions.

Wednesday dawned sunny and calm, and we left our cove and cruised into Parry Sound to get water, gas, and visit an internet cafe.  Heading northwest again, we cruised slowly through narrow channels between rocks and woods, and speedily across long stretches of open water, to arrive in Killarney by evening.  Here we enjoyed being moored next to sailboats and an enormous yacht at the Mountain Lodge, a rustic resort once owned by a trucking company and frequented by Jimmy Hoffa. Tomorrow brings us to the North Channel and more unforgettable scenery and picturesque small towns.

Mackinac Island

Even after a big breakfast in Killarney on Thursday morning, we had to follow Killarney tradition and sample the fish and chips at the renowned Herbert’s converted school bus. Side trips to the Baie Fine, a long, fjord-like inlet, and to Kagawong, billed as Ontario’s prettiest village, highlighted today’s cruise. Kagawong seems a sad little place, well past its industrial heyday of producing paper for Sears Roebuck catalogs. However, it has a charming small church in which the bow of a wooden boat serves as the pulpit, and the nearby Bridal Veil Falls are well worth the short hike.  We ended the day at anchor in almost flat calm protected waters with three sailboats.

Friday was mostly overcast but calm, so we headed across open waters for Mackinac Island. Fortunately, the sun came out, the efficient  harbormaster found us a slip in the busy, state-run marina, and we moored here for two nights. That gave us a good opportunity to cycle around the island, visit the fort and early homes, learn about the early days of John Jacob Astor and the fur trade, and enjoy carriage rides to the Grand Hotel’s two fine restaurants: The Woods (in the woods) and The Main Dining Room in the hotel. 

Charlevoix, MI

Starting our long passage down Lake Michigan, we stopped first at Petosky to see its Victorian architecture and then went on to to Charlevoix.  The last few miles were pretty rough, and all kinds objects (us, excluded) were tossed to the floor. Having promised Mary to stay moored whenever the waves were greater than about 2 ft, Pat suggested returning to Petosky for the night, but Mary wanted to press on even though we were quartering into 3-5 ft waves.  Today was even rougher, and so we stayed Charlevoix, giving us a chance to enjoy the town’s excellent fish restaurant and whimsical “Mushroom Houses” designed by Earl Young.

Charlevoix to Chicago

After a day’s delay (high winds) in Charlevoix, we cruised down the east coast to Ludington, stopping at Historic Fishtown in Leland and the Victorian town of Manistee. On Wednesday morning the weather forecast was great for the next two days, so we decided to try to make Chicago by Thursday by taking the shorter route across the lake to Milwaukee and down the west coast. The lake was calm at first, but then, despite the forecast, gave us a rough time as we reached the middle, thirty miles offshore.  We thought we had made a mistake, but then the waves calmed again and all was well.

Highlights of Milwaukee were the Art Museum, where we spent a wonderful two hours while a thunderstorm raged outside (a portent of things to come!), and dining at Karl Ratch’s, an old German restaurant.  Thursday dawned calm and we headed south, only to run for shelter in Racine as the thunderstorms flared up again, one of them perhaps the longest and most violent we’ve ever experienced.  So, instead of Chicago on Thursday, it was 24 hours at the Racine Sea Scout’s dock.  The seas did not calm until Friday afternoon, and we managed to reach Chicago despite more thunderstorms in the area. We kept our eye on the weather radar and made a quick decision whether to continue at each port along the way.

Here in Chicago we are fortunate to be staying at the Columbia Yacht Club, thanks to a reciprocal agreement with our own Chippewa Bay Yacht Club in the Thousand Islands. A retired ocean liner serves as the club house and offers fantastic views of Chicago and its inner harbor.  We’re even more fortunate to have an excellent tour guide -- our niece Anne Elizabeth, who is surely one of Chicago’s keenest fans. Yesterday, we took the architectural cruise through the city, visited Millennium Park, and were introduced to her delightful neighbor-hood of Lincoln Square. Today, if we can get through the triathalon crowd, she’s taking us to Oak Park, where we’ll visit Frank Lloyd Wright houses and studio. 

Chicago to Peoria

High winds and heavy rain foiled our plans to leave Chicago Monday morning. Even the inner harbor was surprisingly rough, persuading us to move the boat twice to slips that offered better protection from the swells.  By Tuesday morning, the winds had subsided and we were on our way. It was exciting to cruise through downtown Chicago as trains rumbled overhead and Chicagoans rushed to work. It was especially interesting now that we know the history of many of the city’s buildings.

Once into the Des Plain and Illinois rivers, we began encountering the huge barge tows (why are they called tows when the tug is actually pushing from the back?). Tows are often two barges wide and four barges long, and they have absolute priority at the locks. On a couple of occasions, we had to wait several hours as massive tows locked through ahead of us.  It takes up to three hours for the tug to disassemble the tow, fit all its barges into the lock, and reassemble the tow on the other side. It is amazing to watch how skillfully the tug captains maneuver and position long strings of barges in the confined space of the lock.

We were shown around Peoria and entertained to a wonderful dinner by relatives Danny and Nicole Peterson and their new son Davis.  Many thanks for your hospitality! And in Peoria the sun finally came out again.

We Reach the Mississippi

After a pleasant stop at Peoria, we meandered down the Illinois towards the Mississippi, reaching the last Illinois lock at 4:30 p.m. When we asked how long before we could enter, the reply was a garbled transmission with only “4 to 5” audible. The gates started opening immediately and we thought “Ah, 4 to 5 minutes. Great!” But the traffic light remained red, and after 20 minutes or so we realized that the 15-barge tow we had passed at anchor a mile earlier was now moving toward the lock, with another one close behind. The lock keeper had probably meant 4 to 5 HOURS.  So we turned around, found a tiny channel leading from the river to a small lake, and settled in for a beautiful evening on the hook.

The next day, after stopping for a catfish lunch at the old Reubel Hotel in Grafton, we arrived at the Alton Marina just above St Louis. Wayne Roberts, another looper at the marina who had just been reading one of our posts on the web as we cruised in, joined us on board for drinks and story swaps. We were also soon joined by Susan Blaine (Mary’s MU friend) and Bill Hayes before heading for dinner in lively Alton. The next day Susan and Bill took us to the airport for a quick (24-hour) trip to Kansas City to visit Mary’s family in Platte City, especially her 94-year-old mother, Jerry Swaney, and the newest addition, 2 month-old Lincoln Stueve.  Back in St Louis, Susan and Bill took us to see the Arch, the old Court House, their under-renovation creek house, and their lovely condo in Clayton, where we also dined. Thanks so much for all your help and hospitality!

Last night (Monday) we stopped at a lock wall on the Kaskasia river just off the Mississippi, and enjoyed talking with fellow loopers Della and Floyd, who live on their delightful home-made boat “Freddy Freddy” and are now headed for Texas.

End of the First Leg 

After a beautifully calm evening at anchor behind Angelo Towhead Island at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, we turned up the Ohio and found tow after tow nosed into the bank, waiting to proceed.  The cause soon became apparent: the larger of the two chambers at Lock 52 on the Ohio was closed for maintenance, and the resultant reduction in capacity was causing huge delays in the commercial traffic.  Luckily, after three hours, the lock master squeezed us through, “squeezed” being the operative word.  The huge tow waiting to enter the lock had nosed right up to the gates, and leaving us only inches to spare as we squeezed our way out into the channel.

We then turned into the Cumberland River, stopping for the night at the Green Turtle Bay Marina and dining at Patti’s. (Yes, we ordered her famous marinated pork chops, which were good for another two meals on the boat.) In the morning we used the marina’s courtesy van to visit Paducah. It was early, but we enjoyed eating breakfast with the locals and poking around the town. The center of town is well preserved, and  the sea wall along the river is graced with murals depicting the history of Paducah and the surrounding area.  Back on the boat, we crossed the sparkling waters of Barkley and Kentucky Lakes, where we encountered the Mississippi Queen sternwheeler, and then followed the Tennessee River south between limestone cliffs and wooded banks.  After anchoring for another night, we stopped early in Clifton, Tennessee, lured by local radio advertisements for the 24th Annual Horseshoe River Bend Music Festival.  We swayed to the Kentucky Headhunters and other bands, downed fried catfish and hushpuppies, watched a wrestling bout (talk about theater!), and wandered through stalls selling all sorts of Southern memorabilia.

The next day we headed for the Midway Marina on the Tenn-Tom Waterway near Fulton, MS, where we will be leaving the Cosmic C until we return in November to continue the Great Loop.  Thanks to remarkably good luck with the locks, we arrived in the early evening to a very friendly Midway reception.  We enjoyed meeting Eileen and Sophal Thai, who have been living and cruising on their Jefferson 37 for the past five years, and Dennis Henderson, who has cruised 20,000 miles, including the Great Loop and up the East Coast to Nova Scotia. After seeing Dennis’s little Boston Whaler (only 17 feet and totally open), our 25-foot C-Dory no longer seems small for long-range cruising!

On the Way Home

On Monday, Eileen and Sophal very kindly drove us to the Tupelo airport so that we could pick up a rental car to drive to Memphis.  On the way, we stopped at two historical sites: Shiloh National Military Park, where we learned about the ebb and flow of the two-day Civil War Battle of Shiloh, and the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah, with its displays of Mississippi Mound Builders and presentations on the role of the river in travel, commerce, and war since early times. 

After checking in at the airport hotel, we celebrated the final evening of this first leg of the Great Loop by eating barbecue and listening to great blues at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street in Memphis. The Eric Hughes band was playing, and we delighted in their funky blues style! At 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday we were on our way home, already looking forward to returning in November to start the second leg of our cruise, when we head for Florida’s West Coast.

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