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.

Looper Parade

Day 375: Saturday, September 14, 2013

Port to Port: Ottawa to Henry Harbor Marina

Underway: 6:16 am      Motor Off: 4:50 pm      Miles Traveled: 44      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time tying off to a random barge along the river; first time having an asian carp fly into the side of our boat.

Mile 240 to Mile 196: Sun Gypsy, Bucket List, Journey, Down Time, Harmony, Tour De Loop and Shell Seaker – we could have had our own private Looper Rendevous at the Starved Rock Lock and Dam.

We got an early start but we should have slept in longer. There was a light fog over the river but the sun was starting to light up the sky so we headed out and down river. We only made it a couple miles before the fog got too thick to see oncoming tows so we pulled over and tied off to a barge parked along the river to wait for the sun to burn the fog off. To pass the time, we decided to untangle all our lines and cables and restep our mast. This went very smoothly – it’s great to be a sailboat again and not have all that junk in the way. We headed out again down river but another bank of fog reformed over the river and we decided to turn around and go back to our safe harbor and tie up to the barge again. This time we made cinnamon rolls to pass the time – they turned out perfect.

The fog finally burned off and we headed downriver toward the first and only lock for the day. Not long after we got started, a large tow snuck up behind us honking his fog horn so we decided to turn off and let him go by and lead the way through the continuing light fog. He was going really slow so as soon as we passed a narrow pinch point, we slowly motored by him and turned the corner only to find the lock just a couple miles away.  Bummers, this is going to be a long day.

It was a really long day but the lock worked out better than we thought. The lockmaster (who really seems to like his job – he was hilarious) told us to hang out by the wall near the dam for a little while so they could bring the first half of a tow up through the lock (they pull the first half out with a tow cable) and then he would take us down before the second half went in. Woohoo! With two large tows waiting, we could have been here for 4 or more hours – we could cook a turkey dinner in that amount of time if we had one. As we waited by the wall, we saw a flotilla of large power boats heading down towards the locks – what are the odds we know them. Pretty good I would say. We knew everyone except the four little speedboats that came in last. Now we have three categories of Looper boats – hares, turtles and snails. At the moment, we are not the snails.

It was fun to see and chat with everyone for a little while on the radio. Our lock down went smoothly and everyone headed downstream for our next rendevous on the Illinois River. After the lock, our day was just long and boring. The scenery was nice – if somewhat industrial in parts – but the sky was a deep blue, the temperatures perfect and the water calm. What more could we ask for (other than about 2 more knots of favorable current).

We had wanted to go farther but we were tired and we needed gas so we pulled in to Henry Harbor Marina and decided to tie up with Tour De Loop and Shell Seaker on the wall of the first lock on the Illinois (now abandoned) built in the mid 1800’s. Not pretty but cheap and historic.

We joined our friends for drinks at the bar/restaurant and decided the prices on the menu were so good we would stay for dinner (leftovers or a good hamburger…leftovers or a good hamburger and no dishes or cooking involved – which would you choose). We had a blast.

Half Days

Day 374: Friday, September 13, 2013

Port to Port: Joliet to Ottawa, Illinois

Underway: 6:28 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 48      Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: Saw our first asian carp on the Illinois; locked through with a tug/tow for the first (and last) time; listened to our first high school football game just across the river from our dock.

Mile to Mile: After only 12 hours of adventures (a half day) and 48 miles, we finally pulled up to the free dock in Ottawa for a much deserved drink and rest. We had a long and exciting day.

We started “early, early, early” today just as the sun was giving us a nice glow on the horizon. Our first lock was only a couple miles downstream and we waited for a tow to pass our dock (after coming up through the lock) and headed down and through the lock without issue. We were joined by Tahoma – a Looper boater who docked after dark last night and that we haven’t had the chance to meet yet. One down, two more to go. Will the lock gods be with us?

No, they won’t. We had the same challenges as the other Loopers before us – long delays waiting for tows to go through the locks. Yesterday, a bunch of Loopers had to wallow above one of the locks while a large tow locked through in two pieces and reassembled itself before they could enter – it took almost 4 hours. We had a similar experience with the Dresden Lock. A huge tow had priority even though we got to lock well before them. They unhooked and loaded half their load, backed out, let out the water, towed the barges out with a huge winch system, brought the water back up and loaded the last half with tug for another ride down. We luckily spent all this time chatting with a Looper boat we had not met yet – Jim and Margaret on Tahoma – and the time flew by. They are doing the Loop in one month/year increments on a 27’ boat. They are from the Portland area in Washington.

The excitement started when the lockmaster asked us if we wanted to lock through with the tow. Even though we had been warned by Spiritus that they would never do this again we had to learn the hard way why. All went well getting tied up and going down. It was actually an interesting experience up to this point. The learning curve started ramping up when the tug started slowly moving forward to reconnect the first load. The current swirling around in this small space at the back of the lock was wild. This was manageable but tiring and went on for at least 15 minutes when he really hit the throttle to push the load downstream. Keep in mind, we are both hanging onto two long ropes 20+ feet down in the lock basically at the whims of the current. It was not for the faint of heart. One strong eddy caught us both and our bows swung out so far and hard that both bow lines had to be dropped. That is not good. I dropped the stern line and luckily Boris started on the first pull and I kept Aurora planted straight back in the prop wash behind the tug. I was able to slowly crab sideways back to the wall where we miraculously picked up the guidelines again and held on till the tow was out of the lock and we were safe to leave. Tohoma sat sideways against the back wall with only one line until an eddy swung their bow back around and they were okay again. We just keep learning every day. Moral of the story: Listen to your elders!

After our adventures the rest of the day went smoothly. We locked through the last lock with Sun Gypsy and Bucket List (somehow they were behind us again), and we continued on a little less than an hour to the free dock in Ottawa. We enjoyed a nice spaghetti dinner before doing a couple boat projects (get gas and clean up a little) and planning our day for tomorrow. Only one lock tomorrow – will we get lucky this time?

What A Day

Day 373: Thursday, September 12, 2013

Port to Port: Chicago to Joliet, Illinois

Underway: 6:19 am      Motor Off: 2:22 pm      Miles Traveled: 40      Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: First time seeing a NASCAR semi-truck parade.

Mile 328 to Mile 288: Lakeshore Drive, Columbus Drive, Michigan Avenue, Wabash Avenue, State Street…one lock, 31 bridges and one hour later, we were past downtown Chicago and on our way south again. What an amazing experience to pass through a city like this on our own boat. The waterway was surprisingly quiet at 6:30 am in the morning – we only saw two water taxis moving in the first several hours of travel. Being down on the river, with all the tall building towering above you just as the sun is starting to light them up is indescribable. We didn’t want it to end. But we were soon away from the city and passing through some industrial areas and tree covered shoreline on our way down the Illinois River.

After a total of 2 locks and 67 bridges (we fit under all of them thankfully), we tied up to the free wall near downtown Joliet and were glad to be done early for the day. I walked a mile and a half to the nearest gas station to fill one of our cans. I had planned to walk about 3 miles to the main post office but the package we were expecting was awol and I spent an hour on the phone trying to find someone who could find it and forward it down the river farther. We will see what happens tomorrow. One of life’s little inconveniences that Loopers don’t get to avoid.

A short time after we docked we were surprised to see several shiny new semis going over the lift bridge near us and then several more and them several more – we had our own private NASCAR Sprint Cup Hauler Parade going by our stern. It turns out (according to Google), that there is a race at the Chicagoland Speedway nearby this weekend and this is their way to get the fans excited for the race. (Lucky a barge didn’t show up needing the bridge opened up). I found out later, when I walked downtown (and saw the parade go by again), that there was a street fair in town tonight with old cars and race cars on display, fair food, beer and free music. Believe it or not, but I didn’t buy a corndog (although, as I am writing this, I wish I had).

After our parades and projects, we heated up some leftover pizza (not as interesting as the fair food but a lot cheaper), relaxed, planned the day tomorrow and should sleep like babies with the finally cooler temperatures riding in with the north wind this afternoon. Just 288 miles and counting till we find our wake again. A drop in the bucket don’t you think. What an amazing day.

Leaving Is Hard To Do

Day 372: Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Port to Port: Chicago, Illinois

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

Mile 327 to Mile 327: We are almost alone again. Many of our Looper friends have moved on south on the Illinois River including Spiritus, Carina, Free At Last, Tour De Loop and others. Given how far we have traveled, we wanted to spend as much time as possible in Chicago.

We didn’t have any specific agenda today – just to wander, enjoy the parks, see the “bean” and do a little grocery shopping. We did all that and more in our second day of 20,000 plus steps. We started the day sitting in a park by a manmade stream soaking our feet and blogging – the internet in the parks is free and fast. I didn’t want to leave. We stopped at the bean and people watched for a while, sat on a bench by two tall rectangular glass block art features watching kids play in the water flowing off the tops and down the sides, stopped at Target and Walmart to get a few groceries, ate lunch in a different park on a picnic table in the shade, dropped off the groceries at the boat, took the mast down and secured it (again), rested and relaxed, stopped by to say hi to Freya and stayed to chat and help fix a couple computer issues, wandered over to our secret grocery store and bought more treats and essentials (and some more gelato) and finally returned to the boat for good.

We are going to miss Chicago. I wish we could stay longer but we have a lot of miles left to go before we are home. Tomorrow we start our last official leg of our Loop – the Illinois River. Wish us luck.

Old Home Week

Day 371: Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Port to Port: Chicago, llinois

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

Mile to Mile: 20,000 steps and counting – today was a busy day. With only two full days planned in Chicago, we have to make the most of every minute of daylight. We were up and moving a little after 6 am to hop on a train for an hour ride out to Palantine – one of many towns and suburbs surrounding Chicago – to meet Sarah’s boyfriend Jake’s parents, Barry and Karen at a hole-in-the-wall bar restaurant for breakfast, It looked a little sketchy at first – there were actually customers drinking at the bar – but the breakfast turned out great and we had a nice two hour visit. They are newly retired and are in the process of moving their household to a new home in Wisconsin. This early morning visit worked out perfect for both of us.

We said our goodbyes and hopped back on the train back to Chicago to do some power exploring. We headed up to the Navy Pier to do the touristy thing and had another random surprise. There are millions of people who live and work in downtown Chicago and we don’t know very many of them but as we were walking along the sidewalk near the Navy Pier who do we run into but Bob and Debbie from In My Element – they are staying at the marina just down from us. We of course chatted for a while before Surprise Number Two when we see two people biking up the path on folding bikes (clue number 1) and they rolled up and said, “We know you” and we said., “We know you too”.  Dennis and Karen on Shell Seaker were riding up from their marina down the lakeshore about 4 miles and just randomly crossed paths with us – what are the odds. It never ceases to amaze me.

Did I mention it was hot today. We were melting. We wandered around the shops at Navy Pier, had a couple ice cream cones and took in the sights before heading back to the boat. We relaxed in the shade under the sun cover, savored a couple strawberry margaritas (actually strawberry smoothies from the nearby snack stand spiked with a little tequila) and cleaned up before heading over to finally meet up with Eddy and Linda on Spiritus. Of course, while we were waiting for them, we saw Bob and met Calypso again.

Remember when I wrote about the risks of this boating life? Well, Eddy found out the hard way. A few days ago he was getting on the boat from the dock early in the morning and there was dew on the piece of wood he stepped on and he slipped and fell hard bruising his ribs, knee and calf. It looked painful although he says it feels a lot better – he has not slowed down at all. You’re in Chicago – you can’t stop now. After a nice reunion chat we went down to a different dock and introduced them to Freya and In My Element and we met Radiance too. We also saw Free At Last and Sun Gypsy also down on that end of the marina. It’s like old home week in Chicago.

We chatted for a while, laughed a lot and finally headed off for our dinner date. We ended up having checking out this cool grocery store hidden downtown by a park and enjoyed sandwiches and salads, a bottle of “The Loop” wine (thanks Linda) topped off with some gelato to finish out a perfect day. Spiritus is leaving tomorrow but we don’t plan to say our “real” good byes until Grafton Illinois after we cross our wake.

Made In Chicago

Day 370: Monday, September 9, 2013

Port to Port:  Michigan City to Chicago, Illinois

Underway: 7:02 am      Motor Off: 2:12 pm      Miles Traveled: 44      Stayed At: Marina

Mile to Mile: Our dash across Lake Michigan was amazing. We had perfect winds out of the east and south east which allowed us to put up the sails as soon as we cleared the breakwater and motorsail at about 6.5 mph or better for most of the journey. And best of all – no swells from any direction. Just a light ripple on the water and hazy sunshine all morning. The wind died off the last couple of hours but we still made it in to the marina early afternoon. Our last big water done. Yaaaa!

Carina peeled off about 10 miles from Chicago to go down the Calumet River to Crowle’ys Marina to get their mast de-stepped (again) tomorrow for the trip down the Illinois and Mississippi. We didn’t really say goodbye – we are planning to meet up again on the Illinois in a few days.

We love Chicago – the architecture, the parks, the restaurants and the water. It has always been a dream of ours to come here in our own boat and here we are. Cool. Surprisingly, this has been one of the hottest days of the year so far for us – 96˚ and humid. I can’t remember the last time we had sweat pouring down our faces like this. It helped to put up the sun shade and, later in the afternoon, a nice breeze helped make it more comfortable – especially sitting out in the cockpit. We finally saw the unmistakable skyline of Chicago peak through the haze as about 12:14 pm and we relaxed a little even though we were still more than 10 miles away.

We had several choices (always choices) for mooring. We could stay on a mooring ball for $1/foot (no min) but have to dinghy to shore or us the water taxis at $4.50 per trip (ouch); stay at the wall along the waterfront for $1.50 per foot (25’ min) and not have great security; or stay at the marina in a slip for $2.35/foot (30’ min) plus $10/day for electricity. Decisions, decisions. We finally decided to go for the wall and got a good deal so it all worked out perfect. We are only a couple blocks from our friends at the marina and the money we save will pay for all our food and entertainment. What a deal.

We finally got inspired to take a walk up Michigan Ave to the Walking Company Store. We have been looking for one for months close enough to the boat to get to. Cindy bought some expensive walking shoes there in Florida and within a month they started squeaking – on tile, asphalt, the grass and even the sand. Something in side failed and I could hear her walking 5 aisles away at Walmart. It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so annoying. But she kept wearing them because she felt they were helping her heal pain. Well, long story short, she brought them in and they exchanged them for new ones with out a problem. Hope they fixed the problem on these new ones.

We relaxed for a while and arranged to meet our friend Bill (from Hudson Florida where we stayed last fall) for dinner. What a blast. Bill has a plan – he and Kate are future Loopers and are in the fun planning stage – finding the perfect boat, learning about the route, talking and learning from other Loopers and just dreaming about the adventure. You could see the excitement in his eyes. We shared a lot of Looper stories – most of which he had already memorized from reading our blog. We were bummed that Kate had to fly back home on Sunday but we will meet again someday, no doubt.

T Minus One (And Counting)

Day 369: Monday, September 8, 2013

Port to Port: St. Joseph to Michigan City, Indiana

Underway: 7:29 am      Motor Off: 1:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 38/36      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time in Indiana.

Mile 311 to Mile 347: We are almost there. Today was almost a carbon copy of a couple days ago – good sailing winds, large long swells and sunshine. We made good time and were tied up with lots of time to explore. We even gained an hour after crossing back into the central time zone. We lose an hour of light at night but gain an hour in the morning. (Easier to leave early now – sorry Cindy).

We are going to have some hot weather coming up in the next few days – mid 90’s in Chicago – hopefully a breeze off the lake will keep things a little cooler. We are planning to stay in Chicago for three days and then head down the Illinois starting Thursday. One last major leg to finish before we cross our wake.

We are always amazed at how nice people are in some of these towns. A lady on a sailboat on a different dock saw us cruise in and assumed we were transients and walked a long way to get over to our boat to see if we needed a ride to West Marine or the grocery store. We ended up taking a long walk with Jane instead to get some exersize and ended up at West Marine about 3 miles away and a guy checking out in the store found out we were at the marina and offered us a ride back (which we happily accepted).

  We have a 38 mile run across the end of Lake Michigan tomorrow to get to the marina in downtown Chicago and, so far, the weather looks good – light south breeze and sunshine. Hopefully these northerly swells are gone making for much more comfortable travel conditions.

T Minus 2 and Counting (We Hope)

Day 368: Saturday, September 7, 2013

Port to Port: St. Joseph, Michigan

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

Mile to Mile: Kind of a lazy day. We could have traveled today but the wind would have been on our nose and there was a chance of thunderstorms. Two more hops and we will be done with the big water. Sounds like a good reason to celebrate with ice cream (save us some Linda).

It’s always amazing how easy it is to fill the time each day with projects and activities. Today is a good example. I got up, borrowed the courtesy bike at the marina, biked to the gas station to get gas, brought the computer up to the lounge and caught up on the blog and did some internet research, plotted our course for tomorrow, chatted with Dennis, had a coffee or two, ate breakfast that Cindy brought up, built a temporary mast support for when we lower the mast for the bridges in Chicago, went for a walk downtown, strolled the beach, sat in some rocking chairs while we ate popcorn and watched the merry-go-round go round, snacked, helped with the laundry (free x 3), power cleaned the dinghy and looked for leaks, put away my clothes, blogged, made and ate dinner, fixed a leak in the dinghy, took a shower, chatted with friends on Shell Seaker and slept like a baby. No naps again.

We are really looking forward to spending a few days in Chicago wandering around and sightseeing. We also should catch up to some of our Looper friends including Spiritus (and future Loopers Bill and Kate). We can’t wait.