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Completing The Loop!

Aft Shot PMThis installment finds the intrepid Loopers relating adventures on the Great Lakes and down the rivers. The Great Lakes need to be considered and treated as inland seas. With shores in both the United States and Canada we had to be very cautious in navigating and observing national boundaries. We had our passports with us but made the choice not to go into Canada. However, TELUS, the Canadian phone system, took over our cell phone on numerous occasions, and we were charged with international roaming even inside the US . . . a caution to travelers.

2FlagsLakeErieBorder

US/Canadian Border on Lake Erie

After departing the Erie Canal, bypassing the Niagara River through the Black Rock Lock, and skirting Buffalo NY, we launched our Great Lakes experience. Actually cruising three of the Great Lakes – Erie, Huron and Michigan, it required us to negotiate connecting bodies of water including the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River, and the Straits of Mackinaw.  Lake Erie being the shallowest of the Great Lakes was characteristically “bumpy”. Lake Huron was uncharacteristically “smooth as glass” and by far the kindest to these mariners. Lake Michigan was characteristically “rude” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! By far the worst water of the entire trip. The one day we had calm water on Lake Michigan, we were “socked” in by fog and had to navigate for six hours under radar. While cruising the Great Lakes , we were in seven states, but spent the greatest t amount of time in the state of Michigan as it has shoreline on five of the six lakes. There was a great deal of our time out of sight of land and there were many occasions I found myself announcing “Land Ho!” While on the Great Lakes, we were immersed in the history, sights and sounds of the War of 1812. In addition to the many small towns and villages we enjoyed along the shorelines, we visited Erie PA , Mackinaw City MI, and Mackinac Island MI (transportation by horse or bicycle only and $8 pieces of fudge!). One of the highlights for Jim was his tour of the most decorated surviving WWII submarine “Silversides” in Muskegon MI. This sub once located at Navy Pier in Chicago is maintained as “ operational” on the navy registry and is regularly certified by the Coast Guard. All in all, our month on the Great Lakes was beautiful, exciting and SCARY, but one we would not have missed.

Approaching Chi Lock

Approaching Chicago Locks

Chi Rear View

Chicago in the rear view mirror

And then there was CHICAGO the skyline of which was a most welcome relief to Lake Michigan.   Chicago offered time off the boat with great old friends and new. My longtime friend from childhood in New Mexico who has friends in Chicago flew up to meet us. We took in the architecture, museums, “The Bean” AKA “The Cloud”, Wrigley Field, Chicago pizza, and more. To sum it up and to quote the Captain – “For a city, I like Chicago !”  And that is saying a lot !! The day we left Chicago, our friends spread themselves along the river through the city taking photos and videos and giving us the best sendoff ever! Must admit I had tears in my eyes . . .  A point of interest – as part of the Great Lakes Restoration plan, the US Corp of Engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River carrying water away from Lake Michigan toward the Illinois River through the sanitary canal. The entrance into Chicago is far more glamorous than the exit.

Anniversary

Celebrating an anniversary

Once we departed Chicago, we felt like we were on a fast track home. With strong river currents on our stern, we made excellent time and great fuel economy. The river progression was as follows – Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, and Tombigbee Waterway. Some facts about cruising the river system include marinas and therefore fuel supply are not as plentiful as on other parts of the loop; there are more than 30 locks in the river system as water drops in elevation on its way to the Gulf or to the Atlantic Ocean; heavy commercial traffic on the Illinois, Mississippi and the Ohio make pleasure boating more precarious; recent floods had washed a lot of debris into the system; characteristics of the towns and villages along the river are quite rural; and access to the cities along the rivers is quite limited. For example, we passed within 200 yards of the Arch in St. Louis, but there is not one location for a pleasure boat to stop and access the city. However, we saw far more wildlife along the rivers than elsewhere and the cruising was more leisurely not being affected by wind, waves, or expansive water.

Counting last days

Counting the final days

CROSSING PROUD MARY’S WAKE: On September 1, 2015 the crew of the Proud Mary crossed it’s wake in Demopolis, Alabama where they started on April 16, 2015 . . . 141 days away from home, 77 actual cruising days, 5306 miles, 18 states, 70 locks, and 1675 gallons of fuel . . . . WE OFFICIALLY BECAME PROUD GOLD LOOPERS !

Lonely in Amsterdam NY

Lonely in Amsterdam, NY

SPEAKING OF PROUD MARY: She is a 26 foot long, 8 foot beam wooden vessel that Cpt. Jim built and launched in 2006. Since, she has proudly and safely carried us through the Inside Passage of Alaska three times, salmon fished five years in British Columbia, cruised Lake Powell and plied the Louisiana Intracoastal Waterway before embarking on the Great American Loop. She may well be the most photographed boat on the Loop as she is definitely one of a kind and attracts a lot of attention.   While being compact for the three of us, she made an excellent boat for the Loop. She got us into locations larger vessels could not, and made much better time with better fuel economy. She was our home, our transportation and our guardian for these five months. We are promoting her as a “Looper Boat” and hope some worthy mariner will proudly take her on this voyage again.

Walter Lifejacket

Sir Walter, Intrepid Cairn Terrier and First Mate on the Proud Mary

Capt Walter

First Mate, Sir Walter

SIR WALTER ON THE LOOP: As you know, Sir Walter Ward was the intrepid first mate on Proud Mary’s cruise of the Great Loop. When we cruised southeast Alaska, we had a cat on board. We must admit, a cat is much easier for boaters. Throw a litter box in the back, give them a “hidy hole” and they are good to go. While a Cairn Terrier is a pretty compact breed for cruising, dogs have more expansive needs nor do they want to be left on board alone. But all in all, he was a bright star along the way making both two- and four-legged friends in most every port. We get emails addressed to Walter. My friend, Carol, said “Walter is just like another person at the table”. Very accurate. We thank Walter for his enduring companionship, bringing pride to the ship, and reminding us frequently that we were merely his shipmate and hardly his superiors !

 Mary and Walter

REFLECTIONS ON THE LOOP:

  • The Loop is NOT a destination vacation, but an experience testing endurance, knowledge and skills, personal and physical strength, and pushing one’s boundaries !
  • What a beautiful and glorious nation in which we live !
  • We met fantastic people and made so many new friends along the way !
  • We had a fantastic following and support of friends and family back home (no matter how crazy they thought we were !  
On the Way Home Demopolis Ala

Proud Mary Going Home!

WHY DO THE GREAT AMERICAN LOOP ?  

To paraphrase John Fitzgerald Kennedy “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. “I ask ‘Why’ . . . ‘Why not?’”

 MANY THANKS TO LIVING BEN!

CircleBen-02_100x115Ben loved sailing and the sea.  He crossed the Atlantic eight times in his life – his first trip at age 18 and his final voyage at age 79.  During his final trip he named and charted the Gulf Stream – current NASA maps differ little from his original draft.  He loved sailing and swimming, often taking a swim along side the ship during the Atlantic crossings.

The French christened a ship in Ben’s honor, the Bonne Homme Richard, and John Paul Jones and his Nantucket men served bravely on the ship. In 1815, the USS Franklin was christened, and she served as the flagship of both the Mediterranean Squadron and the Pacific Squadron for almost 40 years.  In 1854, she was decommissioned, razed and broken up in Portsmouth, NH.

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About the Author:

I am an observer of our interesting world , sharing my passions and my outrages, and thinking of Incredible Ben, his amazing blending of a social and civic life with superb common sense.

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