The Last Word

The Simple Facts

Our Home Away From Home: Aurora, a 1981 22’ Hunter sailboat.

Motor: 8 hp Yacht Twin (Evinrude) outboard. Named Boris – short for Aurora Borealis.

Number of Days, Home Port to Home Port: 400

Miles Traveled: 6,700 miles (officially) along Great Loop route and up and down the Mississippi River– probably more than 7,000 when all the miles traveled into and out of anchorages and detours off the route to get gas and find marinas are included.

Average Speed: 5.5 mph

Number of Countries: 2 – US and Canada

Number of States: 21 – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Michigan and Indiana. Kind of amazing.

Number of Locks: 194 – 102 locks in Canada alone.

Fastest Speed: 9.4 mph on Mississippi River below St. Louis, Mo. (We clocked 9.8 mph for less than a minute riding the current through Elliots Cut but we won’t count that).

Slowest Speed: Zero mph (according to GPS) bypassing Lock 53 on the Ohio River. It took us 20 palpitation inducing minutes to travel a couple football fields. Close Second: First 3 hours of trip up Hudson River out of 79th St. Boat Basin in New York City – we actually went backwards as we tried to get across the river out of wind. It took us 3 hours to travel 4.8 painfully slow miles.

Most Miles Traveled in One Day: We traveled 93 miles from sun up to midnight during our Gulf crossing from Carrabelle, Florida to Steinhatchee, Florida. We also traveled 83 “can’t-stop-now” miles from sun up to sun down from our anchorage near Cedar Creek, North Carolina to our anchorage at the south end of the Alligator River.

Total Amount Spent: $29,086 (not including “dirt house” expenses, airfare home, or health insurance) or $72.71 per day for food, fuel, marina fees, boat stuff, entertainment, etc.

Amount Spent on Human Fuel (Food): Groceries cost $8,170 (28%) and restaurants (and ice cream) added another $4,630 (16%) for a total of $12,800 or $32 per day for both of us.

Amount Spent on Aurora Fuel: We used a total of 1,040 gallons of gas in 400 days at an average cost of $4.12 per gallon or $4,281. Assuming Aurora traveled 7,000 miles, we averaged 6.73 miles per gallons – I used 7 miles per gallon to calculate our range each day

Homes Away From Home: We stayed at marinas over half the time – 216  days (54%) at paid docks and 22 days (6%) on a mooring ball. We also stayed at lock walls 16 times – mostly in Canada using our Canada Parks Pass. Anchorages and free docks were our homes for 85 and 61 days, respectively. We loved every minute of it.

Number of Pics: 18,023

Places We Stayed

Best Marina: Alton Marina in Alton, Illinois on the Mississippi River. It had almost everything – good internet, nice clean bathrooms (with lots of hot water), a hot tub and pool and some amazing AGLCA harbor hosts – Patty and Robert on Orinoco. ($3 margaritas didn’t have anything to do with the voting).

Worst Marina: Timberlake “Marina” near Grafton, Illinois. We expected the dock we were tied off on to float away in the middle of the night.

Most Social Marina: Green Turtle Bay Marina in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. It sometimes took more than 2 hours to make a trip down the dock to the restrooms and back.

Fanciest Marina: Barber Marina in Orange Beach, Alabama – landscaped grounds, unique sculpture gardens, beautiful concrete floating docks, natural cypress benches, an amazing collection of antique outboards, clean and fully functional courtesy cars and some of the cleanest and nicest bathrooms of the trip.

Most Expensive Marina:  Hoffman Marina, Manasquan, NY at $55 (they had a 30’ minimum).

Cheapest Marina: Killarney Mountain Lodge in Ontario, Canada. Boats under 25’ were free. Stayed two nights. Pool and game room included.

Longest Marina Stay: 2 months at Matanza’s Inn and Marina in Fort Myers Beach.

Favorite Anchorage: Blueberry Cove (actually Tie Island) North Channel, Lake Huron – the wild blueberries (and fresh made blueberry muffins) made it unique among dozens of beautiful anchorages.  Close Second: Free anchorage in New York City near Statue of Liberty.

Lumpiest Stay: 79th St. Boat Basin in New York City on a mooring ball. Ocean swells, waves from faraway ferry and ship traffic, severe tidal changes and wind driven chop made for a challenging stay (had to hang on to stay in bunk on occasion). Worth it, though, to stay 6 blocks from Central Park in Manhattan for less than $30/day.

Best Free Dock: Bill and Kate’s Resort and Spa in Hudson, Florida. Free dock, dinner, courtesy truck, Dark and Stormy’s, free kayaks, and great company.

Best Shower Facility: Hoffman Marina at Manasquan, New York. The new, tiled shower stall could have held 10 people comfortably and the large ceiling mounted showerhead felt like you were standing under a waterfall.

Best Courtesy Car: Green Turtle Bay, Grand Rivers, Kentucky.

Worst Courtesy Car: Demopolis, Alabama – no speedometer, no odometer, windows didn’t work, no AC. (Still thankful for any car – beggars can’t be choosers).

Most Expensive Laundry: St. Anne De Bellevue (in Quebec, of course) $5 per wash and 25¢ per minute to dry. Spent $22 for two loads.

Most Times Trying to Get Anchor to Hold: 5 tries at Salt Pond anchorage in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.


Most Frequent Visitor:  Our Minnesota (now Florida) friend Cliff Schmidt crossed paths with us six times on our trip – Prescott, Wisconsin, Tampa/Steinhatchee, , Fort Myers Beach x 2, Fort Myers and Tampa. (plus he called us once on the marine radio while driving over the river after seeing us on the Mississippi River).

Visitor Who Travelled the Farthest to Visit: Our daughter Jessica flew in from San Francisco, California to visit us in Fort Myers Beach and New York City.

First Boat Buddies on the Loop: Rob and Ann on Rumpshaker – Keokuk, Iowa to Orange Beach, Alabama.

Boat That Passed Us the Most Times: Roger and Dorothy on Slow Churn – we crossed paths at least 10 times.

Longest Time Traveling With A Buddy Boat: Kent and Jane (and Squirt) on Carina. First crossed paths in Carrabelle and traveled together for about 8 adventure filled weeks from the Richelieu Canal in Quebec to Grafton, Illinois at the intersection of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Loopers We Shared Ice Cream With the Most: Eddy and Linda on Spiritus – long walks and talks, happy hour on the fly bridge (every chance we could get), late night Quiddler and Doodle Dice tournaments, breakfast, lunch, dinner and docktails from Carrabelle, Florida to Alton, Missouri and, of course, ice cream, bacon and laughter everywhere in between.

Favorite Overnight Guests: Jess and Sarah stayed with us for a couple nights at Fort Myers Beach – yes, we had 4 people sleeping on our little boat at the same time. Richard, a 30 year old fellow adventurer from England biking diagonally across the US from Washington state to Miami, Florida also stayed overnight with us while we stayed at Green Turtle Bay Marina. We like to say we went to town to buy a T-shirt (in Grand Rivers, Kentucky) and came home with a kid.

Most emotional moment: It’s a tie. Seeing the Statue of Liberty as we motored up the Hudson River from the Atlantic Ocean was amazing. The enthusiastic greeting we got from our Looper friends when we entered the marina in Grafton, Illinois after we crossed our wake on the Great Loop will be something we remember forever.

Canadian Quiddler Champion: Mike on Aurora.

Our Inspiration: Bruce on Tango. Not only was Bruce doing the Loop on a small boat like us (not quite as small as Aurora), but he was doing it alone. We learned the hard way that it was a good idea to follow Bruce’s lead and be conservative about the weather. Many times you could hear us ask each other, “What would Bruce do?”. The smart answer was usually to stay put until a better forecast.

Most Generous Stranger We Never Met: Mo from Dead Lake Marina in Creola, Alabama. We stayed in her slip while waiting for Mobile Bay to settle down after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy passed by.


Best Caramel Rolls: Gateway Bakery and Restaurant in Killarney, Ontario. Bought two fresh-out-of-the-oven rolls each day for three days and one usually didn’t make it back to the boat.

Classiest Breakfast: Kelly’s Restaurant in Dunedin, Florida – the whip cream and white chocolate straws on top of Cindy’s hot chocolate was just the beginning.

Best Breakfast Value: $2.95 for 2 eggs, fried potatoes, bacon and toast at the Lani Kai’s 6th floor rooftop restaurant overlooking the beach and Gulf of Mexico. Close second – El Mambo in Fort Myers – 3 eggs, a pile of bacon, toast and coffee for $3.50.

Best Donuts: Bennet’s in Fort Myers, Florida.

Cheapest Ice Cream: McDonald’s ice cream cones for $1 plus fresh farmers market strawberries.

Best Ice Cream: Hershey Peanut Butter Carmel Cookie Dough at Parson’s General Store in Morehead City. Close second Peanut Butter Cup Gellato at Mariano’s in Chicago, Illinois.

Best Strawberry Margarita: $3 Margaritas at Mel’s Diner in Fort Myers – cheap and good..

Best Boat Dinner: Fresh caught Spanish mackerel blackened on the grill, grilled red potatoes, fancy salads and champagne while anchored a few hundred feet off the white sand, sea shell strewn beach at Three Rook Bar near Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Most Expensive Ice: Anywhere in Quebec, Canada. Close Second: $3.29 for 5 lb bag in Burlington, Vermont (pretty close to Canada).

Cheapest Ice: $2 for 20 pound bags at the Ice Shack at Fort Myers.


Most Locks Traversed In One Day: 9 on the Richelieu Canal System

Tallest Lock:  Kentucky Lock at about 70+ feet.

Coolest Lock: The Big Chute Marine Railway on the Trent Severn Canal System. Close Second: The Peterborough and Kirkfield Lift Locks on the Trent Severn Canal System.

Most Bridges Passed Under In One Day: 67 (32 in the first hour) between Chicago and Jolliet, Illinois.

Longest Delay in “Schedule”: Three weeks waiting in Kingston, New York for the Erie Canal to open after major flooding.

Best Delay of the Trip: Three weeks waiting in Kingston, New York. We made lots of new friends, spent quality time with old friends, enjoyed innumerable docktails, brunches and BBQ’s and met some amazing volunteers.

Worst Boaters: Drunk idiots in Paduka, Kentucky racing back and forth right next to dock in cigarette boats. Close Second: Rude and inconsiderate boaters from Quebec on the Richelieu Canal taking advantage of their construction holiday.

Longest Detour: Our detour into Canada to avoid the closed Erie Canal added over 350 amazing miles to our Loop compared to the Erie Canal/Lake Ontario route.

Most Expensive Gasoline: All of Canada. Worst was $2.20/liter or $8.33/gallon at Ojibway Club near Pointe au Baril, Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Most Challenging Passage: Crossing the Gulf of Mexico. (Note to self – don’t do “doable”). You’ve never experienced true darkness until you have been out of sight of land on an overcast and windy night all by yourself – no stars, no moon, no boat lights and no horizon. (Can you see the waves?)


Coolest Museum: The US Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. The ship models – some over 300 years old was especially amazing.

Best Docktails: Kingston, NY daily for three weeks plus one amazing brunch and two memorable potlucks.

Best Happy Hour: 50¢ wings and 50¢ shrimp at the Lani Kai’s 6th floor open air rooftop restaurant in Fort Myers Beach (at sunset overlooking the Gulf of Mexico).

Biggest Aebleskiver Party: Brunch with 20+ fellow Loopers at the Hudson River Maritime Museum (and Marina) in Kingston, New York.

Best Beach for Shelling: Three Rook Bar just south of Tarpon Springs, Florida. The white sandy beaches were carpeted in cool and huge seashells of all kinds.

Best Surprise Docktail Party: 18 people in Killarney, Ontario – we knew 16 from our long stay in Kingston, NY.

Most Scenic Stretch: All of Georgian Bay.

Favorite Big City: Tough to choose – we loved our visits to Portsmouth, Virginia, Annapolis, Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, New York City, Ottawa, Ontario and Chicago, Illinois.

Favorite Laser Light Show: Parliament building in Ottawa, Ontario.


Biggest Storm: Thunderstorm with 50+ mph winds while anchored in cove near St. Catherine Lock on the St. Lawrence River. Bent the Windex wind indicators on Aurora and Carina (masts were stored horizontal on deck). Aurora weathered an even bigger storm all alone – winds 60 mph + tied to a mooring ball in Titusville while we were driving back to the boat from Tampa, Florida.

Wildest Storm: Quick moving squall with high winds and big waves while trapped up against the lock wall at St. Anne De Bellevue, Quebec. The closest we probably came to having real damage to Aurora (and Carina).

Most Rain: Torrential rains over two days while staying in New York City – more than 5 inches of rain fell over a large part of NY state. Same storm caused the flooding and damage to the Erie Canal System.

Number of Days Wearing Rain Gear While Traveling: 7 – pretty darn lucky when you consider we were gone for 400 days.

Hottest Day: 97˚F in July on the Chambly River near the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada. Close Second: 95˚ F on two days in Chicago, Illinois.

Coldest Night: 30˚ F with frost on the deck overnight twice somewhere on the Tom Bigbee River in late October.

Biggest Waves: 5-7’ waves on the Gulf of Mexico during our Gulf Crossing.

Rainiest Travel Day: Dodged numerous thunderstorms and downpours traveling from Kaskaskia Lock to anchorage near Cape Giardeau, Missouri.

Biggest Boosh (Cindy’s Word) Over Bow: Hudson River traveling upriver with the current against a stiff headwind in choppy seas. First time we had a wave break over the bow and send water across the deck (lucky the main hatch was closed). This surprisingly (and thankfully) only happened once the entire trip.

Longest Wait for Good Weather Window: 7+days waiting (with our friends Roger and Dorothy on Slow Churn) in Portsmouth, Virginia waiting to start up Chesapeake Bay.

Wild Things Plus

Most Elusive Animal: Alligators – we didn’t see alligators for the first time until Richard and Sally on Boomerang drove us to a park in the Everglades. We first saw alligators from the boat while traveling the rim route near Lake Okeechobee.

Biggest Fish Caught (Using Fishing Pole):  4 pound Spanish mackerel caught near Hudson, Florida in Gulf of Mexico (thanks to Bill in Hudson, Florida).

Biggest Fish “Caught”: 12+ pound Asian carp (one of three) that flew into cockpit while on Illinois River.

The “Est” of It

Deepest Water: 416 foot deep on Lake Champlain in New York. Believe it or not but the Gulf of Mexico was usually less than 50’ deep and often less than 20’ deep.

Largest Neighboring Vessel: The 170’ yacht Battered Bull while docked along the wall at Hudson Maritime Museum Marina in Kingston, NY.

Shortest Passage: 5 minutes from anchorage outside Dunedin, Florida into Municipal Marina.

Highest Sales Tax: 15% in Quebec, Canada. Close Second: 11.3% in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Cheapest Marina Gas: RE Mayo Co $3.89/gallon at shrimp dock in North Carolina.

Scariest 15 Minutes of Trip: Surfing up to Lock 5 on the Mississippi River after running out of gas about 500 feet from lock with 2-3’ rollers and wind driving us toward the concrete wall.

Best Pure Sailing: Fort Myers Beach to Sanibel Island with Jess and Sarah.

Coolest Event: Attending the spring homecoming show for the Blue Angeles in Pensacola, Florida.

Best Additions to Aurora During Trip: Solar panel added in Baltimore, Maryland and steadying sail made from old jib added in Georgian Bay with help from Kent on Carina.

Worst Injuries: Stubbed (probably broken) toe after tripping over a cleat in Charleston, South Carolina (Mike) and miscellaneous minor bonks and dings.

Best Beach: Fort Myers Beach (especially at sunset).

Biggest Repairs to Boris (Our Trusty Outboard): Changed sparkplugs 3 times, installed new thermostat half way through trip and cleaned the carburetor once. Mounting bracket also had to be repaired at Morehead City after a Towboat US boat hit us (while we were docked in a slip) and twisted the bracket.

Craziest Things We Saw: A 10+ foot alligator eating a 4+ foot alligator in 2 bites.

Thanks to everyone – family, friends and fellow Loopers – for making this the most amazing experience we could ever hope for. Fair winds and following seas. Mike and Cindy.


Day 1: Thursday, October 10, 2013

Port to Port: Watergate Marina to Home

Underway: 7:01 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 185      Stayed At: Home

Mile to Mile: We traveled farther today (by car) than we normally traveled in 5 days on the trip – most of it at 60 mph with thousands of cars whizzing by. We are definitely back in the real world. And just yesterday, we were worried about passing one or two tows a day (at 5 mph).

Sarah met us at the marina with our car and we drove her 30 miles west to her morning meeting with a client before going further west to pick up a van and the trailer. Cindy turned around and headed back to pick up Sarah and drop her off at work while I drove the trailer to the marina and started unloading hundreds of pounds of stuff off of Aurora. It’s amazing how much junk is hidden away in all her storage compartments. After packing everything we could fit into plastic bins and trash bags, we motored Aurora to the boat landing and unloaded as much as we could to lighten the load. Thankfully, we had a wonderful, sunny and cool day to work. We pulled Aurora out without incident and soon had everything tied down and secure for the long trip back home.

Less than an hour after leaving the marina, we pulled up the driveway to Aurora’s winter home and had her parked till next spring. Her topsides look great but her bottom needs a good power washing and some new bottom paint. Her centerboard has some stories to tell and will need a little epoxy to fill in the dings and chips from her untimely meetings with wing dams and other unseen obstacles. But, all in all, she is still beautiful.

We spent the next several hours unloading bins from the van and bags full of stuff from the boat. It was really weird being home again. Our house was super clean since we were trying to sell her before we left and everything was in “show” condition. Except for some overgrown weeds in the garden areas, she is just as we left her 400 days ago. We were greeted by a nice surprise too. My brother Gary (who has been kindly taking care of the yard and house while we were gone) had left a wonderful note congratulating us on our Great Loop and stocked the fridge with a take-and-bake pizza, some beer and fresh fish for dinner. What a great homecoming. (Thank you for everything Gary).

We dropped off the van, picked up a second car and returned to St. Paul (again) to pick Sarah up at work and go out to dinner with her and Jake. We were exhausted after a long and busy day but had a great time visiting before heading home for the last time. Even though we won’t be rocked to sleep or serenaded by the gentle slap of water on the hull, we will probably sleep like babies again.

The End

Day 400: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Port to Port: Fort Snelling Park to Watergate Marina

Underway: 8:23 am      Motor Off: 12:51 pm      Miles Traveled: 17      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time finishing a really Great Loop.

Mile 844 to Mile 845: After 6,714 miles, 170+ locks (we lost count), two countries, innumerable docktails, lots of new friends and an amazing number of sunsets and sunrises, we arrived back at our starting point at Watergate Marina in St. Paul, Minnesota. It will take a long time for this past year to sink in. It doesn’t’ seem real. When I go back and read a blog post from just a few days ago it seems like a dream. Did we really do that? But we had the time of our lives.

Even our last day on the water was a nice mini-adventure. We have always wanted to boat the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Paul but never took the trouble to trailer our boat to the river. We motored a short way down the Minnesota River and up past the marina all the way to downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota campus. We have spent a lot of time around this part of the river – both Cindy and I and both our daughters went to college at the U and Cindy worked there for 30+ years. The river didn’t disappoint. The fall colors were outstanding along this short stretch – the best of the whole trip – and, even though you are traveling through the center of a major metropolitan area, all you see are trees, cliffs and bridges for most of the journey. We also went through Lock #1 on the Mississippi. Now we can say we passed through every lock on the Mississippi between Minneapolis and the Ohio River.

Our personal Great Loop ended (way too soon) when we slowly motored into Watergate Marina 400 days after we started last fall. Lots of emotions were traveling through our brains – elation, relief, happiness, sadness, uncertainty, joy…- but we didn’t really have time to dwell on our feelings just yet. There was work to be done. We were having a little party with a few family and friends later in the evening and we are going to pull the boat out tomorrow so we had boat projects to get done. After kissing Boris for a job well done and getting checked in, we cleared the decks of unused dinghy’s, fenders and empty gas cans and starting scrubbing Aurora for the party (and to keep our minds busy). It was good therapy. After a couple hours of elbow grease and sweat (and some helpful chemicals), it was amazing, after living aboard her for 400 days, how pretty she looked in the bright fall sunshine. How can 32 year old fiberglass look so good? Aurora was ready to turn around and head south again. Hmmm?

We finished our projects in time to get ourselves cleaned up and relax for a few minutes before people started arriving. After hanging out at the boat until sunset, we moved the party up to the marina lounge – Todd, the manager, kindly kept it open for us way past closing time (he happened to have lived for many years just a couple miles past us in Mound) – and enjoyed pizza, beer and champagne with family and friends – our last official docktails. A nice ending to an amazing adventure.

We said our goodbyes and thank you’s and returned to the boat for our last night aboard. We slept like babies. Tomorrow, we start a whole new set of “to do lists” the first item of which will probably be, “now what to we do with the rest of our lives”?

Last Call…Almost

Day 399: Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Port to Port: Hastings to Fort Snelling Park

Underway: 8:11 am      Motor Off: 2:32 pm      Miles Traveled: 33       Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First time cruising and anchoring on the Minnesota River.

Mile 814 to Mile 844: Of course our last official lock made us wait while a two part tow made it’s way through and downstream. Que sera, sera. I used the time constructively by walking 20 minutes to the nearest gas station to get coffee/hot chocolate and some ice. It was chilly but the sunrise was stunning under the new Hastings Bridge. After an almost 2 hour wait, the tow finally started moving and we headed up to be ready to go in as soon as it was safe. All I could think of was, “okay, don’t hit the wall this time after 170+ locks. Make it look good”. And it was a perfect lock-thru. We may end up going up and through Lock Number 1 just for the fun of it but Lock 2 is our last official lock on our personal Loop. Woohoo!

Click Here: Mississippi River Journey

As soon as we made it a short way upstream we put up the sail and motorsailed on a mostly beam reach/run with a strong breeze from the south. As we got closer to civilization, we had to keep a sharp lookout for tows, tugboats and bridges that needed opening. Not a leisurely cruise but fun to see the St. Paul skyline for the first time since last fall when we left. It seems like a lifetime ago.

We were planning to go through Lock 1 and anchor upstream near the University of Minnesota but the winds were forecast to be 10-35 mph from the south and the channel above the lock is oriented N/S. We decided to head up the Minnesota River to anchor along the bank where we had better protection from the wind, less potential tow traffic and only a few miles from the Watergate Marina where we started our adventure. We are in the middle of the Twin Cities but we can’t see any buildings or bridges from where we anchored. Pretty cool.

We are excited to almost be home but have no idea what we are going to do next. We are trying hard to avoid reality as long as we can but, especially as we are trying to sleep, to do lists start invading our brains. We are going to work hard to enjoy the last few hours of this amazing adventure – reality can wait at least until Monday when property taxes are due.

Eagle Alley

Day 398: Monday, October 7, 2013

Port to Port: Red Wing to Hastings, Minnesota

Underway: 8:15 am      Motor Off: 12:53 pm      Miles Traveled: 23      Stayed At: Free Dock

Mile 791 to Mile 814: We had a short day planned today so we weren’t in a big rush to get moving. We at least waited until the sun was up and we had time to hit the “best bakery in Minnesota” for donuts and get something hot to drink. Boris must be ready to get home to rest too since, even though the wake up temperature was 47˚, he started on the second pull.

We meandered north on a beautiful fall Monday enjoying the almost fall colors and the dozens of bald eagles hunting the river for breakfast. What a treat. We easily transited Lock 3 before coming to Prescott, Wisconsin. We had originally thought about staying there again, like last fall, but decided to avoid hassling with the two bridges in the way and continued a few miles on to Hasting. We didn’t stop in Hastings on our way down so we had a new little town to explore.

Hastings is a cute little river town – noisy right now with bridge construction and bridge demolition projects going on but fun to explore. We found a Chinese restaurant to have a late lunch and came back to the boat to relax and get ready for our last couple legs. Tomorrow we plan to anchor somewhere upstream and then get to Watergate Marina early on Wednesday.

Total Miles:  6,667


Day 397: Sunday, October 6, 2013

Port to Port: Wabasha to Red Wing, Minnesota

Underway: 6:54 am      Motor Off: 12:05 pm      Miles Traveled: 31      Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: First time using a marina restroom in a converted train caboose.

Mile 760 to Mile 791: As expected, it was cold in the morning. And overcast. At least we had a favorable if chilly wind. Unlike on our way down last fall, we were able to motorsail all morning. We were excited to be regularly hitting 6 mph on a beam reach all the way across Lake Pepin. We made really good time and turned the corner for Red Wing before noon.

We had planned to tie up to the 300’ long wharf wall downtown but there was a rather large boat in the way – the American Queen was calling on Red Wing. We didn’t know how long they were going to be there so we pulled in to the Red Wing Marina and used their free day dock while we figured out what to do.

We were excited to be in Red Wing. Not only is it a nice town to explore and close to home, but Sarah, Jake and Snooter were planning to drive down to visit and go to lunch. They arrived early afternoon and, after playing with Snooter for a little while, we went to a late lunch and had fun exploring. Snooter is so cute! It really does feel like we are almost home.

We had a really fun visit but were soon alone again after saying our (temporary) goodbyes. We noticed on our walk that the American Queen had left the wharf so, after Sarah and Jake were gone, we moved Aurora over along the wall for the night. We took a walk around town and stopped at a grocery store for the last time this trip before buttoning up the boat and watching some Big Bang Theory reruns for the first time this trip. A nice way to relax and keep our minds off of all the things we need to do when we get home. One day at a time, right?


Day 396: Saturday, October 5, 2013

Port to Port: Winona to Wabasha, Minnesota

Underway: 8:38 am      Motor Off: 5:15 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: Congratulation Kent and Jane (and Squirt)/Carina on an amazing accomplishment – Gold Loopers. Thank you for traveling with us for so long and making our trip through Canada and the Great Lakes, great!

Mile 725 to Mile 760: After a wild and crazy night, we were still a little tired when first light appeared. We had the most amazing show of lightning last night – mostly cloud to cloud – that we have seen this entire trip. It rained buckets and got a little lumpy on the breakwall but not “I want off this boat” bad. Some places in southern Minnesota got 13 inches of rain overnight. Luckily, the red and orange splotches on radar slid a little to the south of us or we may have needed help getting up river. There were even mudslides in the area covering roads and making travel a challenge. Funny how we can travel for over a year and not have a storm like this until we almost get home.

We were going to cast off but a long single-wide tanker tow was going by so we were going to have to wait at the lock. We thought it would be a better idea to wait in town so we wandered over to the Farmers Market and bought the smallest pumpkin we could find to get into the Halloween spirit. This almost was a very expensive pumpkin time-wise. When we got back to leave, another tow –this time a 3×5 – was coming up river. Oh-oh! This means at least an 1.5 hour delay at the next lock…and the next lock…and the next lock. This was not a happy thought. After he passed we motored up to the lock to anchor and wait. Better to be in line than not. We finally go through and spent the next hour plus trying to catch and pass him but he was not slowing down and we only inched past him even at full throttle. We only passed him a couple miles from the second lock when he slowed down to park and wait for a down bound tow coming through the lock. We thought for sure we were going to have a 2+ hour wait but the lock master said he would sneak us through after the down bound got out. What luck -15 minutes vs another 4+ hours of waiting at this and the next lock. We thanked him and the tow we passed for letting us through.

The day started out humid, overcast and warmish. By late afternoon, the cold front finally started spilling in some colder air and we could tell tonight was going to be an extra blanket night. The wakeup temp is supposedly going to be 39˚ – brrrr.

We had the whole river to ourselves, except for a few inconveniently placed tows. The scenery was muted but, all in all, another good travel day. We didn’t have the rain that was expected and the winds were calm. A couple days ago the winds were forecast to be 15-30 mph – not good travel weather. We will be less than 100 miles from our starting point at the end of today. Quite amazing. It seems like a dream.

Mountains In The Mist

Day 395: Friday, October 4, 2013

Port to Port: Lacrosse to Winona, Minnesota

Underway: 9:13 am      Motor Off: 2:45 pm      Miles Traveled: 28      Stayed At: Free Dock

Mile 697 to Mile 725: We are back in Minnesota again, on Aurora, since last fall. We are less than a week from our starting point in St. Paul, Minnesota. According to Sarah, we can’t get back before Wednesday (she has a business trip) so we won’t which means we will have to dawdle for a day or so. Hopefully the weather will cooperate so we can have a little pizza party on the dock like when we started. Should be another fun docktails.

Today didn’t look promising yesterday. The forecast was for rain and wind all day which is not enjoyable so why do it. We have been incredibly lucky with the weather so far so one ugly day is not an unexpected hardship. Luckily, it was overcast with low clouds all day but the rain and thunder headed farther south so it was actually a wonderful travel day sans sunshine. The low clouds made the hills and cliffs even more beautiful covering the hilltops and valleys in wispy white blankets. The locks were a breeze and it never rained or thundered.

We anchored last fall just north of Winona but decided, with the weather forecast, that being at a dock was a good idea. Plus, we were bummed last time when we stopped in Winona to get gas in the morning when we found out they have a nice park/wharf where you can stay overnight right downtown. So that’s what we did. We explored downtown, got gas, went out to eat and were back at the boat before dark. Tomorrow we are aiming for Wabasha before the long trek up Lake Pepin that is around 20+ miles long. Only a handful of hops left. After living life to the fullest for the last year+, what are we going to do next?

We’ll Sleep Good Tonight

Day 394: Thursday, October 3, 2013

Port to Port: MM 662 to Lacrosse, Wisconsin

Underway: 7:13 am      Motor Off: 1:52 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Congratulations Eddy and Linda/Spiritus – the world’s newest Gold Loopers – wish we could be there to celebrate. First time seeing a sign marking the state border – Minnesota of course.

Mile 662 to Mile 697: Another beautiful day on the Mighty Mississippi. I wish we had a bigger boat so we could have friends join us for a day to experience the river at 5 mph. We were able to leave on time because the fog decided to wait for another day. As we were heading north, we noticed a large dredging operation and tugboat basically angled all the way across the channel. Since there are wing dams around, we radioed the tug for instructions and he told us to just follow the red line by the buoys. Well, we couldn’t see the next red – it was behind the tug. As we go closer, though, the tug slid sideways closer to shore to give us more room to get by. They have to do that every time a boat goes by.

We made steady progress and were soon in Lacrosse where we decided to stay at the Municipal Marina. They don’t get many transients but had one empty slip where a houseboat had been but was gone at the moment. It wasn’t a 5 star place but the price was right – $16 – and the showers were hot. We were docked early enough to wander around town. We were tempted to go to Octoberfest but it looked like rain and we weren’t really excited about paying $10 each for the privelage to pay more money for some fair food. That would be an expensive corn dog.

We stopped at a coop to get a few groceries to last us until we get home, took showers, filled the water bottles and were tucked in and exhausted after a tough day motorsailing up the Mississippi. We have had no trouble sleeping this entire trip.

Steady As She Goes

Day 393: Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Port to Port: MM 627 to MM 662

Underway: 7:51 am      Motor Off: 4:15 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 627 to Mile 662: Cut and paste yesterday’s blog into this space.

The only difference between yesterday and today was that we didn’t get a ride to the gas station from a fisherman – I had to walk two blocks – and we had fog in the morning. Otherwise, the days were pretty much carbon copies. The scenery in this part of the river is amazing. High tree covered bluffs dot the landscape like something out of the 3D version of Avatar. When they are shrouded in a little fog it makes us feel like we are on a different world.

We made steady progress all day and, after trying one spot that was too shallow, we anchored behind an island just downstream from Lancing, Iowa. Our perfect weather is going to start changing with rain forecast overnight and tomorrow. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Click Here: Close Encounters

In Passing: Schmidt Island (Hi Cliff and Caroline), Island No. 172, Snake Island, Pikes Peak State Park, Fish Lake, Hanging Rock Light, Ryan Island (Hi Ryan), Japan Slough, Harpers Ferry, Butter Lake, Crooked Slough, Lynxville, Atchafalaya Bluff Light.

Total Miles: 6,515

Land of the Train

Land of the Train

Day 392: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Port to Port: Dubuque to MM 627

Underway: 6:46 am      Motor Off: 5:39 pm      Miles Traveled: 47      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 580 to Mile 627: We left our slip at the loneliest marina of our trip and headed north again at first light. We had to wait for a truck to move off the railroad bridge and made it through the lock a couple miles later without delay. Two barriers down and only one more to go later this afternoon.

It’s becoming a broken record but we again had wonderful travel conditions. The nice steady west wind would have been perfect but we spent most of the day going generally west, right into the wind. We are in a section of the river which takes a big bend east and then bends back west before heading north again. We sailed some in the morning but couldn’t pinch the sail enough to make it worth it in the afternoon.

Our only stop today was in the little town of Cassville to fill up a gas container. A nice old guy who just pulled his well used jon boat from a morning fishing offered me a ride to and from the gas station about 4 blocks away. An always welcome gesture. It won’t be long now that I can stop worrying about keeping all the cans full, just in case, because the towns get closer together and bigger as we get closer to Minnesota.

We are reminded that we are in the land of the train along the Mississippi River. One is going by not to far to the east as I am writing this. Between the time we anchored and finished dinner we counted 5 trains going by. You better love trains if you live in any of these river towns. They blast their horns day and night.

It took us a few tries to find a deep enough spot to anchor. Coves or channels that look good on the chart often are filled with trees and logs or are too shallow to get into. We found a perfect spot on our third try and enjoyed steaks on the grill with fried red potatoes and salad for dinner as the sun disappeared behind the tree covered hills to the west. We are excited about getting home but thoroughly enjoying our bonus trip up the Mississippi River.

 FYI – The Boat:  Aurora is a 22’ Hunter sailboat built in 1981. She has a draft of 2.5 feet with the centerboard up and 5 feet with it down. Her beam is 7’11”. She has a displacement of 2,200 pounds (without all our junk) and has 1,300 pounds of lead ballast (I should have removed a couple hundred pounds before we left). She was built in a time when they built these small boats to look like mini-cruisers. A nice teak bulkhead separates a surprisingly spacious V-berth (I can sleep their fully stretched out at 6’ 5” and still have a few inches to spare). Decorative teak slats run horizontally along the backs of the port and starboard settee’s. A fold up teak table sits in the middle of the salon on top of the centerboard trunk. Two long quarter berths provide lots of storage for extra food bins on the starboard side and a comfortable sleeping berth for me on the port side. There are 13 large storage compartments under the V-berth, settee’s and in the cockpit. For our 2002 trip, I added a SS arch on the stern to mount the BBQ grill and to attach and tow the dinghy from. I also added a small teak swim platform on the port stern side. Lots of plastic bins and storage containers mounted on the teak slats provide a place for everything we use regularly. We power everything off two 12v deep cycle batteries charged by an alternator in Boris and our handy little solar panel. Our little home away for home is small we I can’t say we have “suffered” living in our cozy home the past year.