June 30 – July 1, 2017

Fri, June 30, 2017: I don’t think that I gave Houghton/Hancock fair coverage on the first time through in August last year. I was anxious about getting out my blog as we approach the end of our trip but I will fill in a bit. The towns of Hancock (on the north) and Houghton (on the south) are about mid-way on the Keweenaw Waterway. The Keweenaw Peninsula juts out into Lake Superior. The Keweenaw Waterway cuts across the peninsula saving 100 miles and offering good protection from Lake Superior. In the mid-1800s, mining of one of the riches caches of copper in the world began on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Pure copper was originally chiseled by hand out of veins. About half way through the waterway lies the towns of Hancock and Houghton, major shipping ports for the copper. The remnants of the old Quincy Smelting Facilities are being preserved as a historic site. There is a restored stairway in line with the “Little Mac”, the large lift bridge, that goes up into the bluffs on the Hancock side – very nice, old houses.

So, today, we puttered around waiting for the fog to lift. When it became apparent that it wasn’t going to, we fueled up and headed out into the fog and mist. The water conditions were fine but the visibility was poor. Once again, our chart plotter and radar proved invaluable! When we approached the Ontonagon Channel six hours later, visibility was about 500 feet. The harbormaster helped us into a slip and hunkered down and read for a few hours while it softly rained. By 6pm, we were ready for a change, lifted our soggy bikes off the boat and biked across the bridge to town. Downtown was quiet and a bit rundown; however, we saw a sign for “Theater Tonight” and found a wonderful old theater. A couple of local musicians performed and it was quite enjoyable. A fishfry afterwards at Roxey’s finished off the night.

Sat, July 1: This is our final day of our adventure – God willing! I’m writing this en route because once we dock at Madeline Island, my blogging days will be quickly over. The forecast for today was for dense fog all day…as we sat in the marina and looked at the partly cloudy skies, we wondered if the conditions would change abruptly once we got onto Gitche Gumee (name for Lake Superior – loosely Huge Water in Ojibway). Thankfully, they didn’t. Water remained calm and skies bright and partly cloudy. I steamed shrimp for our last lunch and we enjoyed the beauty of Lake Superior.

The straight crossing from the Porcupine mountains to Madeline Island brought us home in the early afternoon. Greeted by friends and family, safely home after 10 ½ months on a terrific adventure! Thank you to all the people we met along the way who shared stories and advice, and thanks to our family and friends at home for their support and love. It truly was an amazing adventure!

Jean and Paul

Bob Tale

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June 27-29, 2017

Tue, June 27, 2017: You have to love Lake Superior and know she is boss…NOAA predicted 0-ft waves along the coast all day, but shortly after we rounded Whitefish Point, the waves were 1-2 feet, whitecaps and choppy. After a couple of hours, I fell asleep…thinking that it must be something about the rhythm of Lake Superior waves, it brought back my early thoughts about sleeping away most of this adventure! I think it was a combination of the rhythm and a little bug I’m fighting because, last I recall, motion sickness doesn’t give you achy joints! Anyway, what better thing to do than sleep while Paul diligently captains the boat?

Some of the pictures may start to look familiar such as Crisp Point Lighthouse and the entrance to Grand Marais Harbor. Instead of staying at Grand Marais, we topped of our fuel and kept going to the Munising area. This stretch of shoreline continues to be one of the most beautiful places we visited: the huge Au Sable sand dunes followed by the Pictured Rocks cliffs. This is one of the few places that we encountered other boaters in the manner of tour boats, pontoon boats and kayakers.  We anchored in Trout Bay on Grand Island just north of Munising. With south winds, it was well-protected with cliff sides and a sandy beach on the south side which actually is a Tombolo (depositional land-bridge) that connects the Thumb to Grand Island. A funny thing happened after we anchored at the southern-most spot; another boat that was anchored along the western side, pulled up their anchored and moved over near us. I guess they thought we knew what we were doing! It stayed calm all night so anchoring was fine anywhere in the bay.

We kayaked the short distance to shore but our walk was cut short when I decided it was time to sleep again…

Wed, June 28: The anchor came up perfectly clean in the sand and clear water. The water had only minor ripples. It was one of those days where you could get fooled into thinking Lake Superior is no problem for boating. We detoured a little way from shore to pass by Granite Island and a lovely lighthouse a little before noon. Instead of stopping at Marquette/Presque Isle, we continued to Big Bay Harbor of Refuge (trying to stay in a few different places on our way back).  We approached Big Bay a little after 1pm. There isn’t much to the harbor. It is similar to Grand Marais in that it’s a wall that you tie to – pick a spot and then call the park and they send someone down to collect payment and give you shower code. We biked the ½-mile to town and, at the recommendation of a fisherman, stopped at the Thunder Bay Inn which is famous for the filming of “Anatomy of a Murder”, a Jimmy Stewart movie based on a true murder here in 1951. We had a beer at the bar with homemade onion rings (remember, I did say this was not a weight-loss trip!) and picked up a copy of the book. Since I was feeling a bit better, we biked to the Big Bay Lighthouse B&B (for sale – tempting) and then back to Bob Tale for shrimp and pasta.

Thu, June 29: We could feel the rollers at the wall and after checking the forecasts, decided that 1-foot rollers would be fine – and they were; however, we had to wait a few hours for the fog to lift. When the Huron Island appeared through the mist, they were larger than we remembered. We weaved through the islands on a different route than our first time through and had a terrific view of West Huron Island Lighthouse, built in 1868. The water conditions improved as we neared the Keweenaw Peninsula but light rain continued. Thankfully, the channel into the waterway is well-marked. We were helped into a slip at the Houghton County Marina and settled down for the evening.

June 21-26, 2017

Wed, June 21-25, 2017: We arrived at Madeline Island via rental car mid-afternoon just in time to find most all the yardwork done! Our wedding guests joined together to get the place in tiptop shape. It was wonderful to see the families working closely and enjoying each other. The rest of the week flew by with a little work on our part and loads of planning on the other’s parts. Fun activities such as volleyball, catching a live performance at The Big Top Chautauqua, rehearsal dinner and just taking time to talk were sprinkled in. The wedding was a beautiful, joyous celebration – as it should be. Good friends, good times…

Mon, June 26: We returned to Bob Tale late last night. This morning, the marina manager kindly lent us his truck (again) so that we could return our rental car across the bridge in Canada. No cars were available last week on the American side so, with a little arranging, we picked one up across the International Bridge. We just had to remember to have the truck owner remove his ammo before we made the trip!

We departed George Kemp Marina in the rain and went through the Sault Ste Marie Lock (Canadian one this time) in the rain – so reminiscent of our first time through more than 10 months ago! Funny how it seems like such a short time ago that we were on this route. The one very nice difference was the 25‑mile crossing of Whitefish Bay was much calmer than the last time we crossed! So, we start our journey across Lake Superior to our home port on Madeline Island about 400 miles away.

Whitefish Point offers a pier protected by a breakwall but not much more. A few fishing vessels are docked but we haven’t seen much activity. This time, we walked the beach the couple miles to the point and came back on the road past the Shipwreck Museum. I couldn’t help myself – Lake Superior has some of the most beautiful rocks and, heck, we still have a little room left on the boat to fill so somehow a few rocks made it back to the boat!

June 18-20, 2017

Sun, June 18, 2017: Happy Father’s Day! We woke to a calm, steady rain so up and out of our anchorage early. Once we were back on the main channel, we quickly approached a low swing bridge in Little Current, ON. I called the bridge tender to request on opening on the hour…he called back on the hour all grumpy because we weren’t right at the bridge…he called and told us to quit dilly-dallying…we arrived at 2 minutes after the hour!

The terrain continues to be few islands with tall, rocky hillsides surrounding the North Channel. The rain and mist came and went all day. Blind River Marina had a 4-man crew to help us dock which was nice since the wind grabbed us as we entered the slip (I guess they expected this and were prepared!). Standard beer-thirty, checked in, changed Paul’s flat tire (again) and rode around town in a light rain. The marina said there was one nice restaurant in town and we found it: Pier 17. And, it was really nice with an amazing menu: The Lake trout and prime rib were both delicious. We were a little concerned about the lack of people eating at the restaurant until we realized we arrived at 4:40pm! By the time we left, the place was filling up.

Mon, June 19: The winds howled overnight and only calmed slightly by morning. Leaving the marina was even harder than getting in: after inching the boat down toward the nose of the pier trying to get in a better position, two fellow boaters came over to help and by pivoting around the mid-ship line, Paul backed out and away from the docks. The winds and waves came head-on all day. With rather lousy weather, we kept going most of the day. When we approached the last marina before entering US waters, it was too exposed and windy to enter. Instead, we took a side channel to the north, got behind a peninsula and found calm water. We dropped anchor, the sun came out and I enjoyed my birthday evening just across the border in Canada.

Tue, June 20:  We departed the anchorage at a little before 8am, entered the shipping channel a short time later en route to Sault Ste Marie. At 10:23am, we CROSSED OUR WAKE! We approached the entrance to George Kemp Marina where we stayed almost 10 months ago on August 24, 2016! We have officially done The Loop, although we still have about 400 miles to traverse Lake Superior to Madeline Island.

With a wedding to attend on Saturday and not quite enough time to get there by boat, we left Bob Tale at Sault Ste Marie, picked up a rental car (ironically from across the bridge in Canadian Sault Ste Marie) and started driving west. Stayed at a little log-sided, Northwoods motel for the night and will arrive at Madeline Island mid-day tomorrow…

June 13-17, 2017

Tue, June 13, 2017: With the limited 10am-4pm weekday lock hours, it definitely makes for slow mornings. I’m generally a morning person, so it takes a bit of effort to “chill out” for a couple hours before getting underway. One cannot move through the Trent-Severn Waterway at a fast pace due to the number of narrow, no wake sections and the numerous locks. So, sit back and enjoy! The next lock, Lock 35, brought us to the highest elevation on the Trent-Severn. Balsam Lake is about 840 ft above sea level and is the highest point in the world that a boat can reach from the sea under its own power. There are some sections of canal through this area that are so narrow that two boats could hardly pass one another.  We would call on the radio and announce our entering. Lock 36 is a lift lock like Peterborough (balanced pans) but only a 49-foot change (making it the second highest lift lock in the world) and the start of going downhill! The subsequent lakes were really shallow, less the 5 ft deep in parts with grassy areas. We were monitoring the location of the local cruise ship, Kawartha Voyageur, because she takes up the entire lock and also takes up the entire channel in many places along this stretch. We passed between Locks 37 and 38 in a “wide” section.

We took as much advantage of the lock hours that we could and managed to get through 8 locks, being the last boat allowed through Lock 41 and a swing bridge just before 4pm. This allowed us onto Lake Simcoe which is the largest lake on the Trent-Severn Waterway at 20 miles by 16 miles. We crossed the lake and docked at nice, new (although a bit weedy) docks at Port of Orillia, ON.

Wed, June 14: With a couple of hours to kill in the morning, we walked around town and found a terrific bakery. We kept hearing about butter tarts so we bought a variety pack: the plain ones (taste like pecan pie filling in a thick crust) are the best! When we left Orillia, the water looked somewhat tropical – the water was clear with light-colored streaks on the bottom. These maybe bare, light-colored rock but not sure. Another lock, another swing bridge (that opens on three horn blasts) and onto another lake. Once again, every small, rocky island hosts a wonderful little cottage! Lock 43 was a fast-draining 47-foot hydraulic lock followed 8 miles later by The Big Chute, Lock 44. This is an amazing marine railway – so not technically a lock. You drive your boat into what looks like a partially submerged travel lift (that you would see at a marina). Slings are placed under your boat and tightened to secure the boat. Then, the entire lift moves up rails, up and out of the water, over a road and down a steep bank, 58 feet to the water below!! If you would like to see more about this, look up Big Chute Marine Railway. Quite the ride!

Once downstream of the Big Chute, the area is more developed but still nice. We tied off at the upper wall of Lock 45, Port Severn, which is the last lock on the waterway.

Thu, June 15: Paul did boat maintenance while we waiting for the lock to start operating. Lock 45 is smaller than the rest of the Trent-Severn locks. At about 23’ by 83’, only one boat our size can fit in at a time. I imagine this gets quite backed-up in mid-summer. Enter Georgian Bay of Lake Huron: bay of many, many islands (30,000 or so!).  Weaving among the islands, one could easily get lost without good charts! And what a great place to explore…definitely on the list of places to return. We made contact with parents of a friend of ours who live on Fryingpan Island. They graciously invited us to their home, took us touring their island neighborhood, had wine with their friends (and watched a large fox snake sunning itself), fed us and gave us a rare night’s sleep in a land-based bed! Best of all were the wonderful conversations – both retired chemists, both really interesting.

Fri, June 16: Left after a full breakfast and continued northwest. Fog settled in reducing visibility to less than 50 yards in areas. This is when radar comes in handy. Only saw a couple of small boats going in opposite direction. By noon, visibility increased as we went inland a bit. There was a nice lighthouse at Pointe Au Baril followed by a tortuous channel winding through the rocks. We ducked into Byng Inlet in the mid-afternoon and the skies were clear as soon as we got off the lake. Wright’s Marina in Britt made a good fuel stop and overnight stay. On the next dock over, there was a couple from Toronto who came to the marina in 2014 and never left! She is an actor and he a director/playwright. They periodically sell their services but seem to spend most of their time embracing life in this beautiful area!

Sat, June 17: More weaving channels until we departed the immediate shoreline and made a beeline for Bustard Islands. Another great place to explore further…We went about 40 miles which took us to Killarney at the west end of Georgian Bay. Here we tied up at the docks outside the Sportsman Inn and enjoyed lunch. While Paul caught up on work (consulting for his company), I picked up a few groceries and chatted with the lone Looper at the marina. This delightful woman has been on the loop for two months and hoping to be done and back to her husband by November…That will be quite a feat but she is really well-organized and determined. We wish her luck!

The terrain changed significantly when leaving Killarney and entering the North Channel of Lake Huron. The topography increased and the number of islands dropped way off. We embarked on a side trip, veering off to the north and east to go to Baie Fine. This is one of the few fjords in North America.  It was an 8-mile cruise down the fjord to The Pool at the end. This is a beautiful, secluded (at least at this time of year – we were the only ones) spot where we anchored in 10-foot water.

June 8-12, 2017

Thu, June 8: Started on the Trent-Severn Waterway! This series of canals, rivers, lakes and locks connects Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay, part of Lake Huron. The waterway is 241 miles in length (with many side-trip options) and includes 44 locks and 39 swing bridges. Building of the waterway began in 1833. The full waterway wasn’t completed until 1920. The locks are mostly 120’ by 32’. In comparison, the Erie and Oswego locks are 328’x45’, the Tombigbee locks are 600’x110’ and the American Sault Ste. Marie Locks are 1,200’x110’!  Many of the locks are operated by hand – literally!  You’ve probably seen the old movies with oxen going in a circle to grind the flour, etc. Well, once you’re in the lock, the lockmasters push a bar in a circle to close the lock, open the fill pipes (often also cranked by hand) and then go to the far end to push a bar in a circle to open the lock door to exit! Hasn’t changed in 100+ years!!

I must say that the Canadians have been unbelievably friendly and helpful. At the first lock, I had a boat hook and a short piece of line like what we used on the Erie and Oswego Canals. The lockmaster gently said that that wouldn’t work…a 15-20’ length of line is what I needed. So, grabbed my good line and got set. Now, lock cables can be somewhat slimy and not so nice to lines, so by the second lock I was set with an older line that had seen better days!   At each lock, there is time to chat while the lock is filling and the lockmasters generally go to each boat to check if everything’s alright and stay for a chat. It’s also way relaxed as far as people getting off and on the lock walls – completely acceptable. Heck, drop the gang off before you enter the chamber and then have them rejoin you at the top once the water has gone up!

One of the other things that was unexpected was the presence of weeds! We first encountered weeds at the Trent Port Marina (not too bad but surprised us). We went through six locks today and some of the weed masses were impressive – almost little islands! I asked about this in one of my chats with a lockmaster and he said it improves as the number of boats pass through and chop up the masses. I guess this is why this area is a prolific fish spawning area with many shallow, weedy little bays off to the sides. Periodically, we would stop and reverse our propellers to shed the weed mass wrapped around.

Lock hours are short during the weekdays (10am-4pm) so we only made it through Lock 6, all of 7.3 miles of the 241-mile waterway. Two boats tied to each wall and it was a nice stopping point. Since Canada is celebrating 150 years of canal operation, most wall docking fees are waived. The wall above Lock 6 conveniently offers electrical hook-up so we happily paid the $9.80 CAN (about $7 US) for electric. We biked the couple blocks to Frankfort, stumbled upon a rails-to-trails bike path and biked 7 miles up to Lock 7 and back. Not much in town but a nice grocery store. There were picnic tables and grills on the lock walls so we grilled beef medallions – yum! Great day.

Fri, June 9:  As we headed up through Locks 7, 8, 9, 10, 11/12, the landscape became rolling hills sprinkled with big, old graying barns and a few fields.  Lock 11/12 is a flight lock meaning that the locks are joined: you enter one chamber (Lock 11), it gets filled and you move directly to the next chamber (Lock 12) and it gets filled and you move out upriver. Since these locks are quite narrow, the vertical difference feels huge! We tied up on the wall above Lock 12 took a short walk to suspension walking bridge overlooking Ranney Falls and connecting to Ferris Provincial Park. Quite the bridge.

We continued on with five more locks in quick succession. Lock 13, 14, 15 and then flight locks 16/17 which are 27 feet each! We tied up at the wall above Lock 17, Healey Falls. We were the only boat. It was a short bike ride across the bridge to Healey Dam and Falls, largest dam on the Trent River. Once again, Canadians are much more relaxed about restrictions and access is unlimited to walk the dam. Pretty cool, actually.

Then began the battle with mosquitos…not too many but annoying and we have been blissfully (mostly) bug-free until now!  Left windows open; we should have known better.

Sat, June 10: So, we have made it 36 miles in 2 days…this waterway may take longer than expected. It was another beautiful day. It’s spring in Canada: fish are visibly spawning in the shallows, a beaver swims across the river, pollen coats the boat, etc. The day starts out with the waters being waterski-calm. We pass through Lock 18 and a large, shallow lake named Rice Lake named the wild rice harvested by Native Americans. By mid-day, boat traffic has picked up (it is Sat and beautiful weather). We go through Lock 19 (only two locks today) and pull into Peterborough Marina mid-afternoon and it is party city! There is live music at the marina, boat races nearby, a beerfest scheduled for the evening…First order of business is installing our refrigerator. The new one arrived weeks ago with the wrong frame set. We had the correct frame set shipped to Peterborough. Several hours later and a few choice swearwords about boat designers (one can barely fit two hands into the access panel to connect the wiring let alone see what you’re doing) and our fridge is up and going and we are gone to the beerfest! I must say that we have been spoiled by a top-grade craft beer maker (Ben) and a master barbeque competitor (Patrick) because, although good, the beer and smoked ribs wouldn’t make me come running back!

Sun, June 11: We were the first Looper to arrive (and depart) the Peterborough Marina. I expect that once the Erie and Oswego Canals are reopened, more will be right behind us. We fueled up because from this point on, diesel is far and few between. Lock 20 is considered the forgotten lock because everyone focusses on Lock 21: the Peterborough Lift Lock. This lock is an engineering marvel; opened in 1904, it is the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock! There are two pans which alternate going up and down 65 feet like a balance beam scale. Boats enter both pans. One extra foot of water is added to the upper pan (equivalent of 130 tons) which causes it to “sink” (speed controlled by a valved piston) while the other pan is raised up. Then, the process is reversed. The raising/lowering is quick – about 2 minutes!

It was a busy locking day: moved onto Locks 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26. Above Lock 26 and 27, the water was much clearer and there were a couple of beaches. Above Lock 27, the scenery became spectacular! It’s the Canadian shield area where there are numerous rocky islands, many, many with small cottages, twisting channels – can’t say enough. The Stoney Lake area is some of the prettiest scenery we have seen on our trip! Lock 28 is combined with old Lock 29 and offers a quick, hydraulic lift of 24 feet and then just a couple more miles to Lovesick Lock 30. Lovesick Lake is named for an Indian boy spurned by a red-headed Irish girl. It is a unique lock because it is an island amid a dam and four spillways, only accessible via boat. We tied up above Lock 30 for a quiet evening alone at the lock wall.

Mon, June 12: We woke up early because somehow a few mosquitos managed to find us and it was a losing battle. We’re back to short lock hours (10-4) so we slowly went the 6 miles up to the next lock, tied up at the blue line below the lock (the blue line indicates that you want to go through the lock as opposed to just hanging out at the lock wall). We walked around the small town of Buckhorn (not much to see) and returned to the boat well ahead of the 10 am opening for Lock 31. Just before Lock 32, the waterway became a narrow, low cliff-walled channel lined with beautifully-kept houses. Then, it was another large, 15-mile lake crossing and into the channel for Lock 33, Fenolon Falls. We tied up above the falls in mid-afternoon. This is the last lock wall with power in the waterway. We will have to find a marina in a day or so.

Fenolon Falls is a nice little town (yeah, probably shouldn’t have stopped at the antique store…a little less storage room on the boat…) but the best part was dinner at The Perch Restaurant. It is literally perched alongside the falls and offer the best dining view I have ever experienced! The food was alright but view was memorable. It is hot and sticky here and rather than going back to the boat for an early evening, we took the advice from the woman at the Chamber of Commerce and biked the lake-side rails-to-trails path to the north. Good advice.

June 5-7, 2017

Mon, June 5, 2017: I’m taking advantage of free wifi at a lovely marina in Canada but, I need to go back to Monday…We woke up to rain so Paul did maintenance checks while I moved stuff off of our bed and filled up the v-berth again! By mid-morning, there was a break in the weather so we took off for the last lock we would be doing on the Erie Canal: Lock 23. Shortly thereafter, we turned due north onto the Oswego Canal. We flew through locks 1,2,3,(no lock 4, combined with 5?), 5,6,7 and then tied up to a nice wall between Lock 7 and the last Oswego lock, Lock 8. We were in the heart of Oswego and nearly poised to make our crossing of Lake Ontario. It was raining again so it was another quiet night (perhaps we’re still catching after having the kids with us!).

Tues, June 6: Rain, rain, rain…We were considering staying put on the wall between Locks 7 and 8; however, our inverter (used to charge our electronics including the hand-held radio) registered a low power reading and failed to work. So, we went on a hunt to check out the Oswego marinas. With the unusually high water level in Lake Ontario, many docks and marinas were flooded. After walking to the east-side marina (not looking good), walking around Fort Ontario in the pouring rain, crossing to the west-side marina (better) and securing a slip, we sloshed back to Bob Tale, called the Lock 8 Lockmaster and requested northward passage. He informed us that only one side of downstream lock gate was functioning. Could we fit through 22-foot opening? Sure, so off we went. No problems and arrived at Oswego International Marina where we greatly appreciated being able to run our heater and take hot showers. [I understand that temperatures were hot and sticky in Wisconsin but we were cold, damp and chilled].

Wed, June 7: We woke to clear, sunny skies and a terrific weather forecast for crossing Lake Ontario so we were off early. Little did we know how lucky our timing was…Shortly after we left, a marine notification was broadcast saying that the Erie and Oswego Canals were shutdown due to high flows! They expect to open in 3-4 days!! Ironically, the Trent-Severn Waterway (where we are heading) opened three weeks late (just opened yesterday) due to high water.

We had a long day today – 11 hours on the water! It started out a bit bouncy on Lake Ontario with 1- to 2-foot waves at short periods. We originally planned on crossing to Upper Gap (about 50 miles) and then going another 20 miles to the first marina. Once we started going and the conditions kept improving, we kept on until reaching Trenton at a highly-rated marina.  Everything is new and really nice; wide, floating, secure docks, spotless restrooms, free laundry, TV room with view of bay, etc. It’s a great spot to stop before taking off up the Trent-Severn Waterway.