Day By Day

Day 391: Monday, September 30, 2013

Port to Port: Little Soup Bone Island to Dubuque, Iowa

Underway: 6:53 am      Motor Off: 1:58 pm      Miles Traveled: 38      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Saw our fist gigantic preying mantis – it was huge.

Mile 542 to Mile 580: Another chilly start today but, again, the temps rose into the low 70’s making for shorts and t-shirt weather by late morning. The sun is still intense at this time of year especially when you are out in it all day.

We made steady, wind-assisted progress mostly north again today. We were actually cruising at or just below 6 mph upstream for short bursts today. Thankfully there wasn’t significant fog this morning so we could get an early start. Traffic was light again with only a few fishing boats, the Twilight and one tow passing us during the day. The scenery is beautiful with just barely turning trees, high bluffs and lots of small islands. It’s hard to believe that in a month or two all the leaves will be gone and the ground could be white in places.

We arrived at the Dubuque Municipal Marina early in the afternoon giving us time to get some boat projects done and have time to wander around town. This is a high quality marina – they spent more on the aluminum ramps down to the docks than most marinas spend on there entire system of docks. We stayed here last fall for free because they had not opened yet (they missed the whole season). We didn’t mind. This time it cost us $1/foot but everything was open and working. What was surprising was that there were only two boats in the entire marina – a couple less than last fall. It is late in the season but most of the marinas we have been to still have had most of their boats in the water. Downtown Dubuque is not a huge boating destination but hopefully they will figure out a way to attract some business. It is one of the nicest facilities we have been in all year.

We wandered around exploring and ended up splurging on the buffet at the nearby casino. It always sounds better than it is but we enjoyed it and won’t have to eat for a day or two (but we will anyways, I’m sure). We are within spitting distance of the southern Wisconsin border – we should pass it 10 minutes after leaving the marina tomorrow morning. Now we just have to get to the Minnesota border. But we can’t get home before Wednesday of next week. Sarah has a business trip on Monday and Tuesday so we will have to suffer and slow down and enjoy the scenery an extra day or two. Rough life.

It’s All Downhill

Day 390: Sunday, September 29, 2013

Port to Port: Le Claire to Little Soup Bone Island

Underway: 6:48 am      Motor Off: 4:24 pm      Miles Traveled: 45      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 497 to Mile 542: It was cold last night. The temperature was 50˚ in the cockpit when we got up. The sky was clear and a light wispy fog added a nice accent to the early morning scene. After getting ice and some warm drinks at the gas station, we bundled up in the cool air, started Boris and cast off our lines. What a beautiful and surreal sunrise over the river. We never get tired of the view from the water.

The current must have been light because we were making over 5.5 mph upstream at our normal motor setting. The water was calm. The fog gradually thickened as we moved north – you could see it flow down a shallow valley ahead and spread out over the river. We slowed a little and hugged the west shore where we knew there weren’t any wing dams and the water was deep. It took almost an hour for the fog to completely burn off but we were able to keep moving slowly north. We only saw a couple fishing boats on the water – also moving slowly – and never had to pass a tow, thankfully.

Another gorgeous travel day. We just cruised on a calm and mostly empty river. A couple hours after leaving Le Claire, the Twilight cruise boat passed us going north. They docked just a few hundred feet down from us in Le Claire. The Twilight looks like an old passenger boat from 100 years ago. It takes tourists on two-day excursions up to the casinos and hotels in Dubuque and then back home. That and a few bass fishermen was all the traffic for this Sunday morning. We soon came to our first and only lock – Lock 13 – for the day. We only waited about 20 minutes while they flushed a bunch of weeds out of the lock chamber and we were soon on our way again.

The afternoon was pretty much like the morning. We wound our way upstream with a nice gentle sail assist until we got to Sabula, Iowa where a convenient courtesy dock and gas station were ideally positioned just off the channel for a quick refueling stop. We only needed one can filled but when it is this convenient, it is wise to stop and refill. We passed the halfway point home on our Mississippi River journey at Mile 531 at about 1:36 pm in the afternoon. Our next milestone will be the Wisconsin state line near Dubuque and then the Minnesota state line later this week.

We passed our first tow late in the afternoon, on a sharp corner with a huge dredging operation in the way. It looked worse than it was and we passed each other on the one-whistle (port to port) with lots of room to spare. We passed by the anchorage where we stayed last fall to get a few more miles in on such a nice day and ended up at Little Soup Bone Island (right near Big Soup Bone Island) at MM 542. A good choice. Nice depths. Beautiful scenery. No train tracks nearby. And quiet.

We quickly checked off items on our to do list – clean rust stains from locks off hull, clean decks, scrub bottom, bucket bath, plot route – and made one of our favorite dinners, meat loaf with red potatoes and beans. We can’t make a loaf-type meat loaf so we mix the meat just like we do normally and make small patties out of it to fry in a pan just like a hamburger. It works perfect and we even have leftovers for meat loaf sandwiches the next day. What a treat.

As soon as the sun went down behind the hills, the temps started dropping and we quickly finished cleaning up before heading inside to relax and read until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. This seems to take less and less time each day. We’ll be turning the lights out by 8 pm by the time we get to Minnesota at the rate we are going. This Looping thing is hard work I quess.

FYI – Things I would do different: Aurora and Boris have performed amazingly well on this trip. There aren’t too many things I would do different but a few things come to mind. A simple, light, collapsible companionway cover would be nice to keep the weather out but still allow us to stand up in a small area in the cabin. If I did the trip again I would add an autopilot so we didn’t have to hand steer for 6,000 plus miles. We thought about adding a tiller pilot this trip but they were expensive, added weight, and were another power draw that we didn’t need. A smaller, lighter dinghy would have been nice because we have had the dinghy on deck for much of the trip taking up space and subtracting from our waterline. Bikes would be wonderful but they were too heavy and bulky for Aurora. New cushions with denser foam and divided into three sections instead of two would have made sleeping more comfy and allowed easier access to the many storage bins on the boat.  A wind meter would be fun to have for entertainment. Better phone service – the best for the Great Loop is either Verizon or ATT – would be a must-add even with the added expense. A custom 10+ gallon gas tank would have saved me a lot of time refilling – sometimes at difficult times – and would have allowed us to carry one fewer auxiliary tanks. I tried to find a bigger one before we left but didn’t have time to get one custom made for our fuel locker.

R and R and R and R and R….

Day 389: Saturday, September 28, 2013

Port to Port: Le Claire, Iowa

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 0      Stayed At: City Dock

First Things First: First free ice cream social.

Mile 497 to Mile 497: It was a day for rest, relaxation, reading, restaurants, rah, rah rah, rock and roll and rescue. Wait, what? Rescue? Thankfully, not us, but the universe gave us another reminder to be cautious out there.

We decided to be good little sailors and stay securely tied up for the day even though a nice south breeze was forecast for the day. A little too nice. By late morning the winds were expected to be 15 mph out of the south with gusts to almost 30. Not a fun day to be on the river going north no matter how big a boost we would get. Rain was also forecast for the late afternoon and we needed a little break from the daily grind. So we stayed and were really glad we did.

The morning was beautiful, of course, with light winds and sunshine testing our resolve. We walked a couple miles to have breakfast at McDonald’s (none of the restaurants in our part of town were open for breakfast) and get a little exercise. What a nice day so far. We stopped at a grocery store on the way back and briefly veered up someone’s driveway to look at a small motorhome – cheap but too small and too old – before returning to the boat. Cindy read while I did some internet research and ordered something online. I happened to look out the companionway and noticed a police boat in the channel and then another one and a white triangular thing sticking up out of the water and then some flashing lights at the boat landing near us. Huh. By this time, we were rockin’ and rollin’ pretty good with a strong south wind and waves rolling north up the river against the current. Not a good day to be on the water. It turns out three guys were out fishing in a small, open bow runabout just upstream from us trying to make headway in the waves when the transom section where the outboard was mounted started pulling away allowing water to flood into the little boat unimpeded. It sank almost immediately. All that remained above water was about 3 feet of the bow. By the time we noticed the commotion the three guys had already made it to shore – probably picked up by a passing fishing boat – soaking wet but okay. They must not have yelled or we would have heard them.

They spent the next couple hours towing the boat to shore and dragging it upside down up the boat ramp. The story even made the local TV news on WQAD in the Quad Cities. We were parked right where they set up the TV camera to film the boat floating mostly underwater right by the dock. This is the second sunken boat we have witnessed – the other was in Delaware City, again in nasty weather conditions but that boat hit an underwater dike. These are good reminders to be conservative sailors and not take anything for granted no matter how “experienced” you think you are.

After all the excitement, we decided to wander down to a free ice cream social a couple blocks down and enjoy some treats before the rain started. Well, we enjoyed the treats but the rain started a little early. It didn’t last long, though, and we were able to get back to the boat without getting wet. Off and on mist and sprinkles kept us inside for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, the wind started dying a little in the late afternoon making conditions less lumpy. We were able to find the Iowa – Minnesota football game on our EyeTV device and watched until it became too painful and switched to watching a couple of movies on Netflix  – we found a random internet signal that was decent and the movies streamed without a hiccup – better than most marina internet we have paid for. Tomorrow we head north again – we should pass the halfway point home. A nice milestone to look forward too.

Eagles In The Sunrise

Day 388: Friday, September 27, 2013

Port to Port: Muscatine to Le Claire, Iowa

Underway: 6:26 am      Motor Off: 3:01 pm      Miles Traveled: 42       Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: First time getting to lock through an auxiliary lock.

Mile 455 to Mile 497: I love traveling in the early morning (Cindy tolerates it) – the air is cool, the sunrise ever changing and the river is calm (usually). We were up especially early today. I was walking up to the gas station to fill our last container and get a coffee by 6 am – it was still dark out. Our first lock is only a mile away and we want to get through it first thing if we can so we called them on phone to see what was happening. It turned out that our timing was perfect. A tow was just getting done coming down and as soon as they were clear, we could sneak right in. We cast off and boogied down there just as the tow was leaving and we were ready to go up in minutes. It was especially nice of the lockmaster to call us back on the phone as we got closer to tell us to move over to the green side to allow the tow to pass easily – that was above and beyond the call (especially because it was still a little dark out).

We were rewarded for our early morning start with one of the best sunrises we have seen this entire trip. As we came around the corner, past a point of land outside the lock, a huge red/orange fireball surrounded by wispy purple and blue grey clouds greeted us. I took 20 or more pictures trying to capture the moment but they can’t do it justice. We were even treated to the sight of a bald eagle swooping across the sun heading off to find breakfast somewhere along the river. Another one of many Great Loop moments to remember.

Our weather luck held out again with warm sunshine and a favorable breeze. Except for the three locks we went through, we were able to motorsail on a beam reach most of the day. Amazing. We also lucked out with the locks. We thought for sure it would be a two or three hour wait at the second lock because there was a part of a tow sitting at the lock and another one was coming up a little way behind us. We were pleasantly surprised when the lockmaster said he would take us through the auxiliary lock – a first. The third lock was also ready for us when we got there. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

We arrived mid-afternoon in LeClaire, Iowa – home of Antique Archeology and the TV show American Pickers. This is a clean, vibrant touristy town. We didn’t have much time to visit when we stopped last fall – it was one of the few really rainy days of our trip. The weather may be a little boisterous tomorrow so we might stay an extra day to shop and explore.

After securing the boat and getting gas, we wandered down to the Antique Archeology Store to look around – they are building a nice new building right next door so they must be doing pretty well. We were too lazy to cook so we found some amazing hamburgers (why is it so hard to get a good hamburger) at Sneaky Pete’s. We could even see Aurora at the town dock from our table.

Although we are traveling alone on the river, we are not lonely. We are trading texts with our friends traveling south and hearing fun stories about their travels and have been able to email and call home regularly. It makes the river a little less remote and home a little closer. We will pass the halfway mark up river on our next travel day. Wish us luck.

Hot Stuff

Day 387: Thursday, September 26, 2013

Port to Port: Oquawka to Muscatine, Iowa

Underway: 6:53 am      Motor Off: 3:09 pm      Miles Traveled: 40      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time using our newly gifted 12v fan in the cockpit while underway (thanks Kent and Jane).

Mile 415 to Mile 455: It’s HOT! Who would have guessed in late September we would be traveling in shorts and t-shirts and still sweating in the afternoon. It was 86˚ in the cockpit today and it felt a lot hotter when we got to the marina. (We are not complaining, though, just pleasantly surprised).

I forgot to write about a memorable experience we had yesterday late in the day. It was a reminder that no matter how quiet it seems on the river, you still have to be alert and cautious. We were a couple miles above the lock heading for Oquawka and I could see a couple of tugboats off in the distance – one right behind the other. Not to worry as we were off on the red side of the channel and they should pass us easily on our port side – no barges to worry about. As they got closer I adjusted my course even farther over to the red side as they seemed to be cutting the corner kind of tight. Tugboats without barges to push go a lot faster so we were closing quicker than usual. Every time I turned a little more right, the tugboat kept aiming right at us. I finally took off at a right angle to get out of the way but it was a close call. It was especially disconcerting to look into the bridge windows of the lead tug and not see any people. It turned out a smaller tug was pushing a bigger tug downriver and I don’t think the “captain” even saw us until we passed by his port side. I was not a happy camper. I’m sure we showed up on his radar but you have to look at the radar to see anything. It was a definite wake up call to take nothing for granted on the water.

Today was a lot like yesterday – hot, light breeze and lots of sunshine. We left our perfect anchorage at sunrise and headed north again. Even though we “only” had 40 miles to travel today and one lock, for some reason we were exhausted when we got to Muscatine. Thankfully we got in early enough to get our boat projects done and still have time to explore and go out to eat. After getting gas and putting everything away, we wandered up to a combination Mexican deli/grocery store that popped up on Google Maps. The store was a little sketchy looking but we liked the guy who greeted us when we walked in and decided to stay and have some authentic Mexican food for dinner – it’s too hot to cook. We enjoyed the food and service – a lot more interesting experience than eating at a chain store.

Even though the sun was getting low in the sky, the days heat was still radiating from the brick walls of the buildings. Lots of people and kids were outside on their steps or hanging out on the sidewalks. This is definitely a working class town just trying to scratch out a living on the edge of the Mississippi River. We found a Hyvee Pharmacy nearby and went inside to waste some time and found a full service grocery store inside including a meat counter and fresh fruits and vegetables. A welcome discovery since we needed a few things and the closest grocery on Google Maps was several miles away. We stocked up on a few essentials and walked back to the boat sweating all the way. We shared a pint of cheap cookie dough ice cream (we’re thinking of you Eddy and Linda) and relaxed and read before calling it another amazing day on the Mississippi River.

FYI – Cooking: We have a pretty slick system for cooking. We are using the same cook kit I made for our trip in 2002. I mounted a standard Coleman camping stove on the removable top to a medium size cooler. There is a small air gap under the stove and I put a piece of fireproof cloth (used by plumbers) under there to provide a little insulation from the heat. We store all our pans, dishes, silverware and cups in the cooler. I just lift the top off and set in on the cockpit seat, attach the propane tank and we are ready to cook. There is a place for everything and everything in its place. We can even bake muffins, cupcakes, rolls and pizza in a camper oven that we have with too. Cleanup is easy. We just heat some water, add soap and wash the dishes in the cockpit. Everything goes right back into the cooler. We have been lucky to have nice weather most days when we need to cook – we have been forced to have cereal or crackers and cheese, inside the salon, only a couple of times in the past year because of wind or rain.


Paddling Along With Huck Finn

Day 386: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Port to Port: Keokuk to Oquawka, Iowa

Underway: 6:52 am      Motor Off: 4:54 pm      Miles Traveled: 50      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 365 to Mile 415: We have been so incredibly lucky so far on the Mississippi – the weather has been phenomenal, the traffic light and Aurora and Boris keep chugging along. Today was no different – bright sunshine, wispy clouds, borderline hot by the afternoon and light winds. The piece of wood trim we keep knocking on is starting to get a dent worn in it.

We left early as usual just behind Randy on Timeless. He was soon way ahead and out of sight – he planned to go 90 miles today so we probably won’t see him again. We started noticing our first fall colors today. They are faint but some trees are definitely starting to change adding some variations in the green we see all over the hills and cliffs. The Mississippi is a gem that not many people get to enjoy. It is a bit of a challenge to navigate but, as long as you stay in the channel and use caution and a little local knowledge when you can find it, it is fun to explore.

We thought of stopping in Burlington but we didn’t need anything and we were making good progress. At least they had some nice courtesy docks to use, unlike many towns along the river. Our first anchor spot – the same one we used last fall – would have allowed us to avoid going through any locks today but we arrived there by 2 pm – way too early to stop on an ideal travel day. Plus a nice bridge operator at the Burlington swing bridge told us the lock wasn’t expecting any tows soon so we kept traveling 5 miles to the lock and were glad we did. We didn’t even have to slow down – we just motored right on in and we were out the other end in about 15 minutes. Well worth the hour travel. Our only challenge now was finding a new spot to stay for the night. There are a lot on wing dams, shallow water and stump fields surrounding the islands in this part of the river. We first spent time checking for any docks in Oquawka but they were too shallow (even for us) so we backtracked and slowly motored in behind a U-shaped wing dam in front of a small island. Thankfully, the wing dams are 4-5 feet above the water so they are easy to see and there weren’t any stumps in our chosen area. In fact, it was one of the best anchorages we have had so far on the Mississippi.

We enjoyed one of our favorite dinners – beef tips with rice – al fresco sitting in the cockpit watching the sunset get more and more stunning. We were serenaded by the ubiquitous cicadas on the islands surrounding us. Tomorrow we stop in Muscatine IA. And, instead of a 50 mile day, we have whittled that down to only 40 miles by “working” a little harder today. Rough life we live.

In Passing:  Nauvoo, Devil’s Island, Fort Madison, Lead Island Chute, Turkey Island, Goose Pond, Dollar Island, Two Mile Island (not the radioactive one), Willow Bar, Honey Creek Bar, Baby Rush Island, Burlington.

Only One State To Go

Day 385: Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Port to Port: Quincy to Keokuk, Iowa

Underway: 6:48 am      Motor Off: 4:10 pm      Miles Traveled: 38      Stayed At: Yacht Club

Mile 327 to Mile 365: After a surprisingly quiet night tied up at the small dock by the boat landing in Keokuk (we just couldn’t bring ourselves to pay $22 to stay at the Yacht Club dock like last time and not have any services like bathrooms and showers) we left at first light again. It was another ideal travel day – sunshine, moderate temps and a following breeze. As soon as we passed under the bridge (twice) to get heading north again, we put the main up and left it up until we came to our first lock. It was way better than we could hope for.

We lucked out on our first lock too – no tows in sight – but we had to wait a little while for them to finish some maintenance on the upstream gates before they lowered it for us and we went on our way. We weren’t so lucky at Lock 19 at Keokuk, though. A large tow was just entering the lock when we arrived and we expected a 2+ hour wait – you would be amazed at how slow these tows go in and out of the locks. Luckily, this lock was able to swallow the whole tow in one bite so the process was much quicker than expected. We were able to tie up to the outside wall while we waited, too.

As we were approaching the lock, Randy, the delivery captain we first met in Quincy caught up to us. We were surprised to see him because the boat he is piloting was having problems and he thought he would be stuck in Quincy for a day or two. Two bolts on the prop struts had failed and fallen out allowing water to pour into the boat. The bilge pumps kept up with the inflow but just barely. He was able to plug the leaks temporarily but he needed some special long bolts that were getting express mailed (and we know how well that works sometimes). Then he needed a diver to go down and install the bolts from below. Amazingly, his parts came in first thing and the diver had the bolts in and tight soon after. Everything else was okay so off he went by mid morning. Lucky (and expensive)!

We all locked through smoothly – this is a very deep lock but, thankfully, it has floating bollards which are much easier to use than the lines dropped down from the top. Cindy was a happy girl. Keokuk Yacht Club was only a couple miles from the lock and we both pulled in to stop for the night. They have a nice bar right on the water and we even chatted with one of the guys we met over a year ago here – I think he was sitting on the same bar stool as last time. After our boat projects were done, Randy called a taxi and we joined him on a short road trip to an Italian restaurant in downtown. We had a nice meal and listened to some fun boat delivery stories before heading back to the marina for showers and relaxation. I was able to get a hold of Gary and Pauline who we met last time also – he loaned us his truck to go to Walmart. It was too late to get together but we chatted for a while about our trip – he even offered to leave a car at the Yacht Club if we ever plan to come through again. Amazing! We just may have to come back some day…and stay a few days.

FYI – Refrigeration: We obviously don’t have a refrigerator or freezer on our little boat. Not enough power to run one. We do have a large cooler that we used on our trip in 2002. It fits perfectly, out of the way, in a space under the companionway stairs. I redesigned it for that trip and only added a 2” piece of insulation to the top for this much longer trip. I added three clear, deep, rectangular bins inside which fit perfectly side by side and reach to within 3/4” of the bottom. The two end bins are for food storage and they both have drain holes in the bottom. The center bin is for ice storage – we put the ice in heavy zip-locks to catch the cold filtered water for drinking and any water or condensation is captured in the bottom of the bin. We almost never have to pull the cooler to empty water out of the bottom, we have cold water everyday and our food doesn’t get soggy. We only need to add ice every couple of days.  It works pretty darn good.

Rollin’ On The River

Day 384: Monday, September 23, 2013

Port to Port: Gilbert Island to Quincy, Illinois

Underway: 6:42 am      Motor Off: 5:04 pm      Miles Traveled: 33      Stayed At: Free Dock

Mile 294 to Mile 327: After enjoying a quiet and gorgeous evening at anchor near Gilbert Island – the moonrise was particularly memorable glinting off the dark surface of the still water – we slept soundly and woke early with first light. Not only was there no fog to be seen but the sky was clear and the wind calm. And no tows in sight. What more could you ask for?

We were off quickly and made good time northward. We were able to put up the sail and get a good assist until we took it down for the first lock. We lucked out on our third lock – we were able to go right in and lock up without waiting. Third times the charm.

We made it to our first stop in Hannibal well before lunch. I walked to the post office to get a package we have been chasing since we left Chicago and I made a second trip to a gas station about 10 blocks away to fill one tank and get ice. We are set for a couple days now (or more).

The afternoon winds were a little stiffer than the morning – luckily straight from the south so they gave us a significant boost toward Quincy. We cruised, sometimes a little overpowered, upriver at 5.7+ mph until we saw a tow in the distance and decided to slow down. It was the David Griggs again. We keep meeting up with him. He was waiting along the side of the river for his turn in Lock 21 so we knew we were going to be waiting for a couple of hours again.

We didn’t let this “downtime” go to waste, though. We anchored by the shore, outside the channel and got to work. We had lunch, we took chilly but much needed bucket baths in the cockpit, filled the primary gas can, cleaned up the cockpit floor, worked on the blog and worked on a few other minor projects. By getting them done at anchor, we had more time to wander around Quincy.

Before we knew it, the Griggs was through the lock and we were on our way to Quincy. We stopped at the Yacht Club dock like last time. We met Randy, a delivery captain, bringing an older Hatteras yacht up the river to Moline, Illinois for the owner. He was having some problems with water infiltration (the boat was sinking for a while) and he was waiting for parts. We wandered into town – a long walk uphill away from the river bottom – to try to find a place to eat out. Little did we know that almost all the restaurants in town (not too many to choose from, actually) had chosen Monday as their day off and were closed. So we finally gave up and found some frozen gourmet White Castle hamburgers that we could heat up quickly in the camper oven and returned to the boat just as the sun was setting. We moved the boat over to the municipal dock at the boat landing – we didn’t feel like paying $22 for no services – and chatted with a local couple – Lynn and Kevin – walking their rather large dog Maggie (who lucked out and got some left over treats we had onboard for Squirt on Carina). Dinner turned out surprisingly tasty and we quickly ate and retired below before the bugs came out. Another interesting and productive day on the Great Loop.

Final Exam Time

Day 383: Sunday, September 22, 2013

Port to Port: Timberlake to Gilbert Island Anchorage

Underway: 8:41 am      Motor Off: 6:57 pm      Miles Traveled: 36      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 258 to Mile 294: Today was a test – a test of whether we have changed our perspective on life after a year on the Great Loop or not. It is still a struggle not to be in a rush to get somewhere but we are learning.

We got up with the first light (easy to do when you are sleeping by 9 pm) and couldn’t see the nearest shoreline only 50 feet away. It was white everywhere. The thickest fog we have seen so far this trip. We decided to use the time productively by making a hot breakfast and some hot water for coffee and hot chocolate. It took over 2 hours for the fog to burn off enough for us to weigh anchor and motor upstream. Our progress was interrupted by a wall of stubborn fog on the main river which took another half hour to dissipate. Patience is a virtue, grasshopper….

We made steady progress toward our next obstacle – Lock 24. We knew this was going to be another test since we followed a long tow all the way to the lock. It didn’t pay to try to go around it at 5.5 mph since we wouldn’t be far enough ahead for them to let us lock up before they arrived. So we patiently played follow the leader and ended up waiting 2.5 hours before we were totally through the lock. We actually lucked out because another tow pulled up while we were waiting and could have requested passage before us but thankfully didn’t. We again used the time wisely – instead of wallowing for all that time, we anchored below the dam, had lunch and spent time reading. See, we are learning.

  On the way up river we stopped at Louisiana, Missouri just like we did last fall. Only this time the nice dock we stopped at last time was gone – probably a victim of the flooding this summer – - and instead tied up to a tiny dock next to the boat ramp. I wandered a few blocks to the gas station and passed by Isola’s Place on the way back – she survived the floods and her restaurant looks good. It was closed so late in the day but it was nice to see she recovered and is still in business.

The journey up river kept getting more beautiful. We were alone on the water. No tows in front or behind us (at least that we could see). The sunset was perfect. The skies were deep blue. And our anchorage was so quiet it is hard to get used to (after listening to Boris’ deep drone all day). Hopefully we are done with the testing and tomorrow will be a field trip day.

Frosting On the Cake

Day 382: Monday, September 21, 2013

Port to Port: Grafton to Timberlake Anchorage

Underway: 6:47 am      Motor Off: 3:57 pm      Miles Traveled: 40      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First time going up the Mississippi.

Mile 218 to Mile 258: Most of the goodbyes have been said and only a few Looper boats are still at the marina. It is an interesting position to be in where we know what lies ahead for our friends going south and we know what to expect up ahead on the Mississippi. One thing we didn’t know is how slow this trip was going to be. I was optimistic (and hopeful) that we could eke out 5 mph against the current. Coming down the river, we were able to go in the high 5’s towing the dinghy (before we figured out how much drag that produces). Well, we were pleasantly surprised when we hit the Mississippi a few minutes after leaving the marina and we were going 5.6-5.8 mph upstream. This was our biggest unknown for our long trip home. We were even able to add several tenths to our speed, for part of the day, by putting up the main and motorsailing during stretches of the river where the surprisingly stiff wind cooperated.

Our other challenge of this last “bonus” leg of the trip will be the locks. We lucked out big time coming down with most locks able to lock us through right away and without waiting for barge traffic. We were the only boat in the first 19 locks before we had to share with someone else. We weren’t quite so lucky at our only lock today – Lock 25. Not only did we have to share with one other powerboat, there happened to be the first half of a double tow coming downstream already loaded into the lock. This process is painfully slow and it was one hour and forty-five minutes later when we finally got in and through the lock – not bad but tedious.

It was kind of nice to be by our selves for the first time in a long time. We have enjoyed our time with all the other Loopers but it does add new stresses to the trip. We only have to worry about ourselves right now and that makes life a little simpler. If all goes well, we are planning to do our journey down the river in reverse and stop in or near the same places as last time. We should be home, barring any weather delays or other issues, by early October. We just need to take it one day at a time.

By the time we anchored across from the sketchiest marina of the trip last fall, we had flipped through almost 8 pages of the chart book. We are making progress in the right direction.

Last Hurrah

Day 381: Friday, September 20, 2013

Port to Port: Grafton, Illinois

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 0      Stayed At: Marina

Mile 0 to Mile 0: Our Looper group has dwindled down to just a handful of boats now. It’s really quiet here right now. Cindy and I did a few boat projects so we would be ready to leave tomorrow morning and I worked on catching up on the blog. Since this is Bucket List’s home port, they have access to a vehicle – a very practical and handy minivan. They asked if we wanted to do a run to Walmart and the Farm Store and we decided to join them and Barefoot’n mainly just to spend a little more time with them. The girls hopped out at Walmart and we made stops at a Dollar Store (for some Awesome), a farm store (for 20 gallons of oil so Barefoot’n can change their oil – yikes) and a “we sell everything you can imagine including guns and ammo” store just to look around. By the time we got back to Walmart, the girls were ready to go. We could have gone down to Alton again to go out to lunch with them but we decided we needed to wander around town a little before we left.

One of the things we remember from the last time we stopped in Grafton was a small shop selling fresh fruit and veggies just across from the boat landing. We were so happy last time to get a large bag of honeycrisp apples without having to get jobs to pay for them. We did the same thing this time – they were the best we have had this year and only $1.69/lb. We have enough to almost get us home.

Grafton is a pretty typical river tourist town – a handful of restauraunt/bars touting their riverfront decks, too many antique shops, a gas station, an odd mix of gift shops and more than a few empty shops for sale or lease. One unique draw is several nearby winerys offering tours, wine tasting, zip lines and whatever else they think people will spend money on. From what we hear, the town is busy on the weekends, especially between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

It is surprising how resilient these river towns are in the face of bad weather, difficult economic conditions, floods and drought. This year, someone was telling us that the river boating season didn’t really start until early August after the flood waters finally receded from the major flooding this summer. Now that is a short season.

Larry and Cindy from Bucket List invited us, Shell Seaker and Barefoot’n along on a little sightseeing expedition up the hill behind Grafton to an overlook by the Aeries Winery where you can get a bird’s eye view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers with Missouri across the rivers in the distance. What an amazing view! The clouds that were around all day started clearing just in time and the sunset was one of those that keep getting better and better until it finally gets dark. It almost made me want to pay $60 to try out the zipline course running through the winery and between the hills overlooking the river valley. Next time I guess since tomorrow we leave, first by traveling a little farther south on the Mississippi River until it finally swings around and takes us mostly north towards home. What a strange thought – home.

We Love You More Than…

Day 380: Thursday, September 19, 2013

Port to Port: Grafton, Illinois

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 0      Stayed At: Marina

Mile 0 to Mile 0: Our trip is not over yet – we still have to get us and Aurora home to Minnesota so today was our day to reflect a little and work a lot to get ready to go up the Mississippi towards home. So we started the day going out to breakfast the our newest Looper friends – Bucket List, Barefoot’n and Sea Glide. Cindy wandered around town shopping with the girl’s – at least she called it shopping. All I remember hearing about is the stops for wine tasting at the nearby winery and some beer tasting at the microbrewery. At least she didn’t buy anything (not drinkable). It was fun to spend a little time with them and hear some of their Loop stories.

After we returned to the marina it was time to start checking things off our to-do list. First on the list is catching up on the blog while we have good internet. It is weird to be writing about finishing the Great Loop. That seemed so far in the future even just a few weeks ago as we were beginning our journey down Lake Michigan. Our list for today isn’t too long since, even with all the celebrating yesterday, we were able to get gas, do our laundry, make a Walmart run and clean the boat all before docktails.

Cindy did finally make it home about the time I was finishing up the blog. We had just enough time to get ready for another docktails – this time down at Alton Marina about 15 miles south in Alton, Illinois. We were able to borrow the 15 passenger van to haul us, Tour De Loop and Shell Seaker down to visit some Looper friends down there we missed including Journey, Harmony, Down Time and, of course, Spiritus. Carina, Free At Last, Let’s Drift and Sun Gypsy had also moved down there this morning and you would think we hadn’t seen them in a month.

So we had another Gold Looper party/docktails (I bet you couldn’t have guessed that would happen). What a special party. All was right with the world now. We were especially bummed that we had missed connecting up with Spiritus one last time. We had a blast. We had one more toast (we had a little bit of “The Loop” wine left) and were especially touched when Eddy and Linda serenaded us with an original song (to the Richie Valens’ tune “Donna”). It was another one of many fond memories we will cherish for a lifetime.

Click Here: Auroras Great Loop, The Song


After another amazing party, 12 of us piled into the van and went to Mac’s for a wonderful dinner and more together time before we had to say our final goodbyes. We didn’t have time to decide who was the US Quiddler Champion – that will have to wait till we meet again sometime in the future. But now we have something to look forward too.

Going Full Circle

Day 379: Monday, September 18, 2013

Port to Port: Willow Island to The End (Grafton, Illinois)

Underway: 6:40 am      Motor Off: 11:26 pm      Miles Traveled: A Long Way       Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time finishing the Great Loop.

Mile 30 to Mile 0: Mile 28.9…Mile 22.8…go under Hardin Highway Lift Bridge…Mile 21.6…pass by north bound tow on the one whistle…Mile 18.6…new Looper we haven’t met yet – Sea Glide – passes us and we chat on the radio…Mile 16.5…little sun shower passes by…Mile 14.5…pass another northbound tow…10.3…pass another northbound tow (this river is busy)…90 minutes left…hit some invisible log in the channel that kicks up the rudder – everything okay (except the nerves)…Shell Seaker passes us and waves…flocks of pelican’s fly overhead on their way somewhere…Tour De Loop and Carina trying to catch up…we see the Mississippi River…the Light House at the launch ramp in Grafton, Illinois where we stopped on Thursday, September 20, 2012 to get gas and honeycrisp apples pops into view…we pass by the Grafton Harbor Marina…we cross our wake at 11:26 am after a little less than a year traveling the Great Loop. What an amazing year it has been.

  After crossing our wake, we stopped at the little dock we stopped at last year to spend a few private moments together to reflect on our accomplishment (before I walked up to the nearby gas station to get gas, just like last year) before we headed into the marina. We knew a few Loopers were going to be at the marina but little did we know we would get a 6 horn salute from our fellow Loopers as we (carefully – don’t want to screw up now) came into our slip and got tied up. It was quite amazing to see so many friends (and Loopers we hadn’t met yet) greet us at the dock. We will remember that experience for the rest of our lives.

After a few minutes of congratulations, I brought out our special bottle of “The Loop” wine (it was a good year) that we bought in Chicago and Rick (Sun Gypsy) got some small cups and we shared a little toast (thanks Eddy and Linda) with our friends on Tour De Loop, Sun Gypsy, Free At Last, Carina, Let’s Drift, Sea Glide and Shell Seaker (and all our other friends who are here with us in spirit),

There are good ships and wood ships,

And ships that sail the seas,

But the best ships are friendships,

And may they always be…

And this is no more true than on the Great Loop. It is the people we have met, commiserated with, traveled alongside and enjoyed innumerable docktails with that make the Great Loop, “Great”. We can’t thank everyone enough for making this trip a successful one for us and leaving us with amazing stories and memories that will last a lifetime. We would do it again in a heartbeat and hope to Loop again someday, sooner rather than later.

Believe it or not, on our last day of the Loop, we met four new Looper couples that we hadn’t really met before – Jeff and Grace on Sea Glide, Chris and Lynn on Let’s Drift, Vicki and Randy on Barefoot’n and Larry and Cindy on Bucket List, Even more amazing, Bucket List was also finishing their Loop at Grafton, which is their home port. They came in late in the afternoon and we had a double Gold Looper party (way better than a single Gold Looper party). We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to our Loop except for maybe having even more friends and family to share it with. We will miss everyone and hope to cross paths on the water (or on the land) sometime in the (near) future.

Getting Close

Day 378: Monday, September 17, 2013

Port to Port: Le Grange Lock to Willow Island

Underway: 6:40 am      Motor Off: 2:20 pm      Miles Traveled: 50      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 80 to Mile 30: After a quiet and peaceful night – we were both asleep by 9 pm (Looper midnight) – lulled by the sound of the water flowing over the dam and the ripple of water flowing slowly past our hull, we were up early at first light ready for our second to last day on the official Loop. If all goes well, we should complete our Great Loop tomorrow in a little less than a year (not including our trip down the upper Mississippi).

People ask us what is the hardest part of the trip and I haven’t had a good answer but two things come to mind – leaving is hard because of all the things you think you are giving up back home and finishing is hard because of all the things you are giving up on the trip. It’s a challenge in either case – right now we are looking forward to home in a few weeks but we also love this life on the water and are not ready to have a “normal” life.

Today was much like yesterday – a couple of  bridges to have opened, a few tows to navigate around, fish jumping but not in our boat and another 50 miles done. We left a little before Carina but they soon caught up and passed us and led the way downstream to our chosen anchorage behind Willow Island. The time passed quickly – the shoreline changed gradually from tree covered bottom land to higher cliffs and plateau’s all covered with green – the colors haven’t started changing yet although there seem to be some browns and yellows trying to get out on the tree tops. The trip upstream should be beautiful as we get closer to Minnesota.

We had a nice current boost and made it to our anchorage by early afternoon where we rafted up to Carina for a little while to chat and share some more stories probably for the last time. We are going to miss our boat buddy. It has been a long and interesting journey.

Last Call: Last time we are going to raft up with Carina :(

Welcome Reunion

Day 377: Monday, September 16, 2013

Port to Port: Duck Island to Le Grange Lock

Underway: 6:30 am      Motor Off: 3:58 pm      Miles Traveled: 55      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 135 to Mile 80: As I am writing this the sun is setting over the river as we sit calmly at anchor with the cicadas screaming loudly along the shoreline and the low rumble of the water falling over the dam adding some white noise to make sleep easy and quick (as if we need help). We are a day and a half from crossing our wake. We hit 6,000 miles at 12:08 pm – pretty amazing.

Today was another perfect travel day. The sun was shining but muted with some high clouds, we finally had a north breeze pushing us southward toward Grafton and the Mississippi River and we only caught one fish today. Cindy survived this one in much better shape than the last two. We are in “river mode” where we travel as far as we can when the conditions allow it. The scenery is repetitive and the towns small and far apart. Not too many destination stops on this stretch of the river.

We passed by Sun Gypsy who was tied up to an old barge near Beardstown and one other large powerboat we have never seen passed us in a hurry to get some where. Otherwise the river was quiet and calm. We were planning to anchor behind another island (hopefully with some water behind it) but Kent called us on the phone and suggested going farther down to anchor on the bottom side of the Le Grange Lock in the pool below the dam. Sounded like a great idea to us, so we motorsailed another 5 miles south to a nice reunion and a great anchorage.

After chatting awhile we made pizza on the grill (recipe from Carina) and relaxed on a beautiful evening thinking about the end and beginning coming up in a couple of days. We will be saying goodbye to some of our Looper friends and setting off on the last leg of our trip up the Mississippi (if the current isn’t too bad) to get the boat and us home before the leaves fall off the trees. Wish us luck.

Last Call: Last lock on the Great Loop – Le Grange Lock and Dam.

Fishing Without a License

Day 376: Sunday, September 15, 2013

Port to Port: Henry Harbor Marina to Duck Island

Underway: 6:28 am      Motor Off: 4:15 pm      Miles Traveled: 61      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time seeing guys in a small boat using crossbows to shoot asian carp.

Mile 196 to Mile 135: After a quiet night tied up to an ancient, crumbling lock, we got up early to overcast sky’s and no fog. We have over 30 miles to our first lock so we should be able to make some serious mileage.

The river was very quiet for a weekend morning. We pretty much had the river to ourselves. Our friends on Tour De Loop caught up to us after a few hours and were soon out of sight. We did have a new adventure on an otherwise uneventful day. Have you heard of asian carp? Did you know they can fly? Well, they can. Cindy was driving and carp were occasionally jumping around us. Well two of them decided to try sailing and ended up in the cockpit flopping around sliming up everything. Cindy does not like uninvited critters. I had luckily warned her earlier that it could happen and to be mentally prepared for the possibility. She did not steer us into the shoreline or jump overboard. After I flipped them back into the water, I took the tiller and Cindy went below to recompose herself. We all survived and definitely have a story to tell (we are not hoping to catch up to Spiritus’ record of 11 carp so far).

Except for some intermittent mist and a little wind on the nose, today was a great travel day. It was overcast and cool. The river was quiet. We found our chosen anchorage and, except for the fact that the island we were going to anchor behind didn’t have any water behind it anymore (the river is low), we were still able to anchor in a quiet, safe spot out of the channel. The forecast rain didn’t really start until we were done with dinner and relaxing down in the cabin. Only 135 miles left till we cross our wake. Amazing.