More of the Same: Inland Rivers and Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage at Pickwick

Since we knew we would not be able to travel much while David was on his all-day quarterly planning meetings, we decided to stay on the hook for several days, moving ~10 miles every couple days before morning meetings started to slowly make southerly progress. The anchorages were peaceful and we were surrounded by the amazing colors of the trees around us everywhere we went.

After some long weeks and a lot of marinas, it was nice to spend a few un-interrupted days on the hook. Thursday was Veterans Day which I had off from work, so we decided to use this as a travel day with me driving while David was on his calls. We stopped for fuel at Pickwick, which had extremely slow pumps. Even with two hoses filling each tank concurrently, we still spent about 3 hours on the dock filling up. This, combined with the early sunsets of winter meant that there was not much light left in the day. As a result, we determined that we would head to AquaYacht Marina, which was still another 8nm away and essentially marked the beginning of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. We pulled into the marina just as the sun was setting and found a large group of other Loopers on the dock. They invited us to join them for dinner, so we had our first Looper dinner in a long time.

We had an early morning wake up on Friday in order to move pre-meetings. We went through one lock and set up anchor in Bay Springs Lake. There are tons of anchorages here on the many fingers that offshoot from the lake, so we picked a random one and dropped the anchor.

At sunset we both signed off from work and opened a bottle of bubbly on the balcony to mark the beginning of the weekend, and the end of David’s long planning week. Golden hour here on the inland waterways in the fall is truly glorious – it really is quite breathtaking as the light hits the trees and you can see the soft glow of all the many shades of the leaves.

We had decided that our new goal was to get to Mobile on Wednesday before Thanksgiving so that we could rent a car and spend the holiday weekend in New Orleans. With that in mind, we knew we had a ways to go on the weekend. We are currently only about 200miles as the crow files from Mobile, but on the winding river, we are more like 4oonm. Our day started out with an 84 foot drop in a lock – the largest change in height we’ve done on the trip so far! It just kept on dropping.

We ended up doing 7 locks this day, and an endless amount of planing in narrow canal sections. These are pretty with the changing leaves, but otherwise 100s of miles of the same views. Just as the sun set, we pulled into Columbus Marina, with a very sketchy entrance marked by 4 sticks marking a “chute”, and just over a foot under both our hulls as we entered. We borrowed their courtesy car and went into town to do some much-needed grocery shopping, then ensconced ourselves on the boat for the night as temperatures dropped. Just as we got back from the grocery trip, one last boat had pulled in (well after dark) to the marina, and we coordinated doing the lock (that was just outside the marina) at 7am with them.

Sunday morning, we woke up to extensive frost/ice on the docks and decks (crunch crunch) and carefully made our way out of the slip. We called the lock right at 7am and they said “we have a boat in here about ready to drop, get on over here”, but the other boat said they weren’t ready to leave yet and we should just go on without them. They traveled at 26kts, we figured we’d see them later in the day.

We only had 3 locks to do today, and they were well-spread-out, allowing easy timing of reaching them, so we had no waits for any locks. Just as we pulled into the third lock and they closed the doors, we hear out on the radio “boat turning the corner north of us, you coming to the lock?” and the doors opened back up. Lo and behold, our buddy boat from Columbus Marina had caught up, ~60nm into the day, so we chatted with them a bit while the lock dropped us. After the doors opened, the other boat took off ahead of us, and we continued at our lesser but brisk pace.

While the vast majority of this section has been pretty identical scenery, we drove past the White Cliffs of Epes, about a mile-long stretch of cliffs along the river. These were actually deposited around the same time as the White Cliffs of Dover. Unfortunately when we passed by, the sun was mostly directly over the cliffs casting most of them into shadow, though there were a few small sections in direct light reflecting the brilliant white of the walls. It was still neat and pretty.

After two long days of cruising, we finally pulled in to Kingfisher Bay Marina in Demopolis, where at least 12 other Loopers were staying for the night. We joined them for a happy hour gathering where those who were leaving in the morning were coordinating to go through the lock just south of here. We decided to pull out our scooters for a very cold ride to a nearby restaurant recommended by one of the dock workers at the marina. At the restaurant, we ran into a group of Loopers who were using the courtesy van from the Marina as we were gearing up with our scarves, gloves and helmets. They invited us to sit with them and they would give us a ride back to the marina! There was six of them, so we all piled into the van, plus our scooters and David in the boot :).

Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of marinas or anchorages on the next leg of the journey to Mobile, which makes it hard for us to do our usual 15-20 miles pre-meetings (especially in the Central timezone, where we have lost an hour of the morning on our work schedules), so we have decided to spend the week here in Demopolis and make our way to Mobile next weekend, and we’ll use the week to get some much-needed packages forwarded along to us.

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A Weekend in Nashville

We’re in Nashville!

While in the car on the way to Nashville, Dad had managed to make us reservations at Etch. It was late when we arrived, so after putting our stuff in the AirBnB, we immidiately hopped in a Lyft and headed downtown. The dinner was absolutely delicious! After dinner, we walked through Broadway, which is the main party street in Nashville. It was incredible. There were live bands (sometimes multiple!) in every bar and huge lines of people (no masks) outside to get in. The cacophony on the street was unbelievable. Party busses, party tractors, and party barges were driving around filled with people dancing. Also, since it was Halloween weekend, people were wearing costumes too! We did not stop anywhere here – our plan was to catch some more relaxed, sit-down-while-you-listen music on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, we ate a huge and delicious breakfast at Tenn before taking a sight-seeing tour of the city on a golf cart. We saw quite a bit of the city and learned that the main things to do here are eat, drink, and enjoy music! We drove through Centennial park and our driver explained out the different areas of the park symbolize East, Middle, and West Tennessee. Our driver recommended that we go to Printer’s Alley to check out some music.

After the tour, we headed to Printer’s Alley and went into Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie where we caught the end of one show and most of the next. It was early afternoon, so the venue was reasonably empty. The music was excellent and the bands were really fun.

We stayed until it started getting packed as evening crept in and then headed off to find some dinner. We hadn’t made any reservations anywhere, so we picked a random eatery that still had space and had a mediocre dinner of tacos with Hot Chicken and other meats. After dinner, we found a whiskey bar called Gertie’s and enjoyed some fantastic cocktails.

Cocktails at Gertie’s

On Sunday, Dad had arranged a Whiskey Tasting Tour. We were picked up at our AirBnB, and then taken to Nelson’s Green Briar first. We learned about the history of this distillery – that started before the prohibition, grew to be one of the largest distributors of Whiskey in the nation before completely shutting down during prohibition. Several years ago, through some amazing luck, the great-great grandsons of the founders discovered this piece of family history including the original recipes and decided to resurrect the business.

This distillery was in a revitalized industrial block called Marathon, named after the primary original occupants, Marathon Motor Works. They were a small volume custom car company in the early 1900s, and there was a small museum for its glory years. The rest of the museum had wine and whiskey tasting rooms, where we ended up buying some port and whiskey from the locals.

Marathon Motor Works museum — they’d found a few of the original vehicles and restored them!

Throughout the day actually we learned a lot about the impact of prohibition on the Tennessee Whiskey business (it killed it for generations). Most of the distilleries are quite young and it was only recently that distillers other than Jack Daniels were even allowed to begin in Tennessee! We also visited H Clark which was started by the lawyer who helped pass laws allowing Whiskey to be distilled and sold in counties other than the one where Jack Daniels is located. Our last stop was Leiper’s Fork. Throughout the trip, we drove through the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee and got to see some absolutely beautiful fall foliage also.

The tour took most of the day and we decided to have our driver drop us off at a place for barbecue for dinner. Although David and I had planned to spend one more night in Nashville, we decided that it made more sense to drive home on Sunday evening so that we would be back on the boat for Monday, so after dinner we headed back to the AirBnB to pack and say goodbye. We had a great week on the boat cruising the Mississippi and Ohio rivers with Mum and Dad, plus a fantastic weekend in Nashville to cap it all off!

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Mississippi and Ohio Rivers with Crew!

Highwind passing the St. Lous Arch

We needed to make good time with Mum and Dad aboard as our plan was to get to Nashville for the weekend where they would fly out early next week. This meant we had some 200 miles to go on the Mississippi River before we would then turn upstream into the Ohio River and travel upstream against the current until we could join the Tennessee River. Our first leg from Alton would include two locks. The locks on the inland rivers are primarily for commercial traffic, and give precedence to the HUGE barges that travel up and down the rivers each day. Some of the barges are so big that they have to be separated and sent up/down in pieces before being re-connected at the top/bottom. This means that as pleasure craft boats, we may get extremely lucky and sail right through the lock, or we may end up stuck waiting for 3 or more hours before a gap where pleasure cruisers are let through. We woke up before dawn to call the lock and find out the situation. He told us he was just finishing up bringing up a barge, so we quickly untied and started making our way to the lock (1nm from the marina). We had a short wait for some accompanying loopers in the Marina to join us and then we were on our way.

The next lock is apparently the busiest lock in the entire United States at Chain of Rocks. As you are cruising along the river, you come to a fork, and there is a gigantic arrow pointing you towards the left. Jeremy made sure to warn us to turn left! If you do not go left, you end up in rapids that are so dangerous, a sailboat who missed those directions about a week ago got stuck on the rocks, and after two failed extraction missions eventually sunk.

There were a couple of barges in the queue at the locks, so we dropped anchor to wait our turn. The current was extremely weird here and we had to re-set our anchor multiple times. We eventually got through, and then after a little bit longer, we cruised past down town St. Louis. We went outside for a quick selfie, and David tried to fly the drone to get a shot of the boat with the arch, but unfortunately there was an issue with its calibration and it tried to fly itself into the water, so we gave up on that!

We pulled in to Hoppies, which is a well known marina and the only place to stay for a long stretch of the Mississippi. It is a collection of 3 barges tied together that you tie up to. David and I set up for working and Mum and Dad headed into the nearby village to do some exploring. Since I had a short gap in my schedule, I joined Mum and Dad for a quick afternoon dessert break!

The next morning, we again woke up at dawn with the aim to get as far as we could before David and I needed to get working. However, Mum and Dad volunteered to keep driving the boat while we worked. It’s very useful to have boat-owners as crew!! We arrived at the next safe anchor spot right around sunset and dropped the hook. It was a pretty narrow spot and we were the only boat there.

The next day, we again had an early wake up, and a long cruise completed by Mum and Dad and we arrived in the late afternoon at Paducah on Thursday. When we arrived at the dock, we were greeted with the most amazing complete rainbow across the river.

Amazing Rainbow at Paducah

We decided that we would not be able to make it by boat any closer to Nashville so instead we would extend our stay through the weekend and rent a car to drive to Nashville. On Friday, Mum and Dad explored Paducah – they visited the National Quilt Museum, which sounded amazing, and the wall of murals that depict the town’s history. David and I spent the day working on the boat :). After I was finished working, I went to pick up the rental car and we planned to head out after David’s afternoon meetings were complete. We were all very excited as none of us had visited Nashville before!

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A Week in Prague

Panorama of Prague

One of the reasons we wanted to stop in Alton was because loopers get a discount for staying 5+ days in the marina. David’s company was sending him to Prague to meet and work with the team there, so we needed somewhere to park the boat for ~9 days, and I decided to tag along on the trip instead of hanging out in Alton. Having worked on with several different teams in Prague, David has actually visited the city quite a bit, but this would be only my second time (the last time also tagging along on a work trip!).

We landed late on Saturday and after checking into the hotel, we learned that is difficult to find food in the city late at night! After being turned away about about 7 different places (kitchen is closed!), we managed to find a restaurant, Divinis that hesitatingly agreed to seat us, but we could only order one course! We had an inkling that we’d stumbled upon a fancy restaurant when we saw that there was a tasting menu option. Ooops, we were still in our worn-for-24-hours airplane clothes! Both our meals were absolutely delicious, and we learned later after talking to some of David’s colleagues that the restaurant is Michelin rated.

On Sunday, we passed by the astronomical clock in Old Town Square, which on our last visit was covered by scaffolding, but now was visible. We were headed for the Klementinum for a tour of the astronomical tower (not to be confused by the astronomical clock) and an amazingly beautiful library, which we couldn’t actually go into. At the top of the tower was a great view of the city.

Next, we climbed the gothic tower at the beginning of Charles Bridge – something David had wanted to do, but never had a chance to on his previous trips. At the base of the tower was an exhibit of items from various time periods that had been fished out of the river around the bridge, and a video of the myths surrounding the building of the bridge. There was another great view of the city from the top. We met up with some of David’s colleagues for a lovely lunch, and then to pass the time in the afternoon (so we didn’t fall asleep from jet lag), we decided to do a boat trip on the river.

Starting on Monday, David had full days in the office and then work dinners in the evenings scheduled for the rest of the week. This meant that I was on my own.

I started out the week with a free guided tour of the Old Town, New Town and Jewish Quarter. My guide, Sarah, was an American with Czech family who had been living in Prague for 10 years. She was a fantastic story teller and I learned a lot about the city throughout various different periods from the early 1400s to the Velvet Revolution. In the afternoon, I re-traced the steps of the tour, and walked further up Wenceslas Square towards the National Museum while snacking on a Trdelnik, which you can find all over Prague, but actually originates from Belgium. Nonetheless delicious! In the evening, I had a lovely pasta dinner with a glass of wine and a good book.

The next morning, I spent in the Jewish Quarter, walking through all the museums. There are about 7 historically preserved parts of this neighborhood, and for me the most incredible/intense/thought-provoking is the Pinkas Synagogue, where almost every inch of the wall space is filled with names of Czech victims of the Holocaust. I was visiting this museum about a day after reading about the Texas law requiring schools to teach multiple sides of every subject, including the Holocaust. On the previous day’s tour, I had also learned about the Old Jewish Cemetery. Unlike in Christian tradition, it is apparently not tradition to have graveyards close to places of worship. Due to the fact that the Jews were restricted to the small area of the Jewish Quarter, the cemetery’s proximity to several surrounding synagogues is actually not by intention. In addition, when the land was full, they were denied new land for a new cemetery, so they had to keep building up. I believe there are something like 12 layers before the last person was buried in the cemetery, so it sits much higher than street level (which has already been raised over the years due to flooding). The cemetery packed with tombstones (each was removed and replaced after the new layer of dirt was added). I did not take many photos, wanting to respect the places that I was visiting.

In the evening, I attended a classical music concert (getting an extremely good deal on last-minute VIP tickets) that was in one of the churches of the Klementinum, which had a 6 piece string orchestra, a soprano, and sometimes the organ as well. It was a digest of well-known classical pieces including some Mozart, Dvorak, and Vivaldi, but the acoustics were amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Over the next few days, I explored more of the City including walking over the Charles Bridge, visiting the Museum of Communism, and the Mucha Museum.

On Saturday, David and I were finally able to spend the day together, so we had arranged a private tour with my guide from Monday. We met her at a farmer’s market on the river and walked through Old Town, New Town, over the river and up to Letna Park, and through the Prague Castle. In New Town, we learned about Operation Anthropoid, a mission carried out by Czech paratroopers with the goal of assassinating Reinhart Heidrich, Hitler’s #2. The story is fascinating and there is a memorial at Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius to the paratroopers, all of whom lost their lives in the mission. Around the city there are also memorials on various houses where former residents hid the paratroopers as part of the mission (I saw some on my Monday tour). We also stopped at the public library that has an amazing chimney of books in the lobby. Apparently this was known only to locals until a year or so ago when some pictures of it went viral on instagram and now it is always busy with tourists!

In the Prague Castle, we learned about the history of the cathedral that was actually only completed in recent times. Inside we saw the amazing stained glass windows, where you can see that they were funded by such modern institutions as a bank and an insurance agency. The latter in particular is hilarious as it depicts various natural disasters like storms and flooding.

We finished off our trip with a return to Divinis to sample their full menu – again delicious. After another long day of travel, we arrived back to the boat in Alton along with my parents who flew in from Seattle to join us for a week on the inland rivers.

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Cruising the Illinois River

View of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers

Our plan on leaving the Harborside Marina was to do the next night on anchor, but on a whim we decided to follow the couple we’d been cruising with to the Heritage Harbor marina. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision as one of the marina staff – Jeremy – would be giving a presentation for Loopers about the next section of the cruise – down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. After wrapping up work, we headed over for the presentation where about 20 other loopers were already gathered! The presentation was extremely informational and apparently Jeremy gives one essentially every night during the season at which loopers are passing through this part of the journey, customizing the talk based on current weather/river conditions and local knowledge from his contacts downstream.

The next morning, we set off for one of the anchorages recommended by Jeremy. As I get off a work call, I go upstairs to see David starting to turn the boat around the south side of an island to head in to the anchoring spot. Remembering something Jeremy said, I checked my notes – yes, we were supposed to drive past the second red buoy and then turn around up the river. David was turning before the second buoy! I politely told him perhaps we should go further, but he said that he’d remembered Jeremy saying it would be safe 200ft south of the island and we were 500+ft past the island, and the chart showed it to be clear. In the next 30 seconds, the depth alarm sounded, David tried to quickly throw the boat in reverse, but no, we were completely stuck on a sand bar. Ooops. We tried a few times to put the boat in full reverse, but we just weren’t moving.

We called BoatUS to request a rescue. David had an idea to try doing some weight re-distribution on the boat, so we opened all the taps on the boat and basically emptied the fresh water tank. We pumped all the diesel from the up river tank into the down river tank. We dropped the dingy into the water (so it’s weight was not on the swimstep) and moved all the heavy equipment in the front lazarettes into the dingy. We tried reversing again, but no dice – we were still stuck. Then, David saw on AIS a tug boat coming up river towards us. He asked over the radio if they could come close to us and wake us – hoping that the rocking of the boat would help loosen us enough to back off the sand bar. The tug pulled right up to us, and as he was passing, revved his engines. The water swell was just enough for us to get free! What a fun 2 hour adventure. 10 minutes later, we were set up on anchor in a lovely spot on the river.

At this point, we had almost no fresh water — maybe 4 gallons or so — and it was either go back upriver ~15 miles to grab water from the nearest marina, or continue ~200 miles to the next source of water. We decided that showers are overrated and to just bomb south as fast as possible. So, we woke up Saturday and made 115nm on the river in one day, pulling into an awkward anchorage just on the side of the channel, just upriver from a bridge, right before sundown.

On Sunday we woke up early for the next leg to Grafton. Knowing that we would only have the one weekend day, we decided to arrive early, so that we could enjoy some activities in Grafton.

This flag marks the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and is the largest American flag on the Mississippi River

First up, we stopped in the Marina Office that was also a wine tasting room. Unfortunately the wine here was not good. Next, we rode a ski lift to a winery at the top of a hill. While very fun, the chairlift was extremely slow! However, at the top, we had a fantastic view of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi River that was surprisingly gorgeous. We had lunch and sampled some of the wine from the winery, which also wasn’t good.

Rather than riding down the chairlift, we chose to walk down the hill, since it would be much faster. David managed to secure us a reservation for a zipline adventure. We had a great time zipping through the hillside, with occasional views of the river!

Ziplining in Grafton

We rounded at the day with a final wine tasting (another really bad set of wines) and then headed back to the boat for dinner. Looking ahead, we only had one more cruise to Alton, where we would leave the boat for 10 days while we flew to Prague for a work trip for David. We decided to spend a few days in Grafton and head to Alton later in the week. One of David’s friends from autocross was solo road tripping around the east coast for vacation and met up with us to hang out and spend the night.

On Thursday, we made the short hop down to Alton. For our first night there, the night before we flew out, we headed to a local brewery, where I found wall decor that accurately summarized our personalities, and had a decent meal with good beer.

David even got to do a “beer pairing” with Halloween candy.

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Chicago and the Chicago Sanitation Waterway

Chicago at Night

As we left Grand Haven, we quickly determined that the keyway issue with the prop was not, in fact, the cause of the vibration we were getting. We had suspected this, but were hoping against hope that this obvious running gear problem would have some effect on our situation. It really didn’t. But at least we had all the leaking through hulls replaced.

We tried to contact all of the Yanmar shops within hundreds of miles, again, with our new information that we really needed someone to plug in the Yanmar computer and verify that our problem was, indeed, the injection pump. At this time, the best quote we had for the injection pump was around 12,100$, and it also still required finding a Yanmar tech with the old computer to “link” it with the engine computer. So, even if we did just blindly pray and buy the part, we still needed to find a tech, which we had so far been completely unable to do. After hours on the phone and lots of messages, phone tag, and callbacks, we exhaustively demonstrated that virtually no one actually had that Yanmar computer, and of the couple shops that did, neither was willing to look at us until November 15th, which would have meant committing to getting the boat hauled for the winter and winterized, living in Chicago for the winter. So, after much frustration, and more calling Yanmar folks around the country, we decided that our best bet is likely to just head south to the gulf, limp along, and hope we make it down to the land of actual Yanmar service centers.

We’d spent a full week in Grand Haven, due to the horrible weather, and no other loopers had moved an inch in that week either. But it meant that we were starting on a Tuesday morning, with ~150 miles to go to Chicago. We did some guesstimates on likely morning hops and decided that we should be able to get to Chicago on Friday morning. We finally remembered that we can use our Seattle Yacht Club membership for reciprocal moorage, and made a reservation at the Chicago Yacht Club for a few days.

We headed south to St. Joseph, which actually had a perfectly adequate free wall to tie up to, just inside the breakwater to the lake, though it had no power. While maneuvering for final approach to the wall, something weird happened where it felt like the starboard motor didn’t shift into forward and we ended up lightly bumping the swim platform into a notch on the wall. It appeared to just be a small scratch, but it didn’t fill me with confidence. It seemed to shift fine after that, so I didn’t know what to think. We ended up getting way too much ice cream at a local shop here, and got a pile of pizza for takeout and a couple meals of leftovers.

The next morning, we headed down to Michigan City. Pulling out, the shifter didn’t work one time of a few attempts, so we verified it had started being flaky. We’d been looking at diesel prices for a while, and saw that this was our cheapest diesel for quite a while, so we planned to fill up. When we arrived, we pulled into the diesel dock and … didn’t fit. It was probably about 17 feet wide between the finger pier and the piling. Also, as I was pulling in to check width, the starboard motor wouldn’t go into forward again, and the dock area was very tight. So we just stayed wedged into the piling, just close enough to get the diesel hose to both of our fill spots. Hannah filled up the tanks while I went down and cleaned up the contacts on the shift solenoids, which then let us actually shift reliably again. Then, going from the diesel dock into our assigned slip, the port motor wouldn’t go into reverse at a crucial moment, and we lightly tagged the pier there too, with no damage. So, then I got to take apart the port shift solenoids and clean them. Kind of freaky that both sides independently started being flaky 24 hours apart from each other, but it’s definitely time to replace those.

Michigan City was otherwise uneventful. The next morning, we took an early leg to get the rest of the way to the Chicago Yacht Club. This was a fabulous location – the night skyline photo at the header of this post is taken from our dock! We arrived in the middle of the week, so had a few hard days of work, but we did manage to make same-day reservations at Porto, a Portuguese and Spanish restaurant. We sat at the chef’s table and got to watch our meal prepared and chat with the chef. Dinner was so delicious, you basically had to roll us out!

Our traditional Michelin star restaurant sign selfie

We met up with Dan and Alana for dinner at the yacht club on Friday night. We also have a friend who is a recent graduate of the Chicago Institute of Art, Amay, so we met up with and we met up with to see the museum. In particular, he wanted to see the Barbara Kruger special exhibit. It was not a very subtle exhibit.

I was sad to have walked by and missed all the historical sections of the museum, but I did get to see American Gothic on the way and then we spend some time in the modern wing where we saw Rothkos and Pollocks, which I know mum and Auntie Helen would have appreciated, but were probably wasted on David and I. We’ll have to come back again so that I can see the impressionists :).

View from the top of the Art Institute

The weather at the beginning of the week was looking pretty bad, and both David and I had extremely busy mornings scheduled, meaning it would be very hard to make it for the next stretch which would be at least 50 miles, since we did not want to stay on the free wall at Joliet, where Loopers for several days in a row had been reporting that locals were coming by and cutting their lines in the middle of the night.

On our last night in Chicago, we walked home from dinner through the park by the marina, which turned out to be the location of the famous Bean! It was actually quite moving (for me) to see the sky scrapers reflected in its surface, with the greenery of the park behind us.

The next morning, we woke up extremely early, along with our neigbours from the Yacht Club with whom we coordinated for this leg of the trip. We had no trouble going through the main lock, and then enjoyed a great morning cruising through downtown Chicago. We apparently made it on the news as the weather live-cam cut right to the moment that we were entering the city!

We passed the Joliet wall and noticed with irony that directly across the river from the free+crime wall is a police station!

While we had originally planned to anchor, we decided in the last minute to pull into a Harborside Marina along with our companions from Chicago, and another Looper boat that we met in the lock. We all met up in the bar for dinner that night. Now that we are safely in the Illinois River, we can breathe easy about not getting stuck on the frozen Lake Michigan for the winter.

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On the Hard in Grand Haven

Highwind at the end of the rainbow

[Leland] The packages finally arrived and David was able to put the belts on the Port engine. After our unexpected week in Charlevoix, we were ready to get moving – albeit with the loose prop on the other engine still. At this point we were starting to get nervous about the approaching end of the season – we really don’t want to be stuck on Lake Michigan when everything freezes for the winter. With us finally being back on the move, we started calling places again to figure out where we could get hauled out. Since we are quite heavy and wide, the number of places with a travel lift large enough to safely haul is is quite limited. Add that to the fact that most places on Lake Michigan at this time of year are fully booked with hauling out boats for permanent winter storage, we were beginning to panic! We luckily managed to find a shop in Grand Haven that agreed to haul us out. This just meant that we needed to get 100 miles south on the one engine!

We made it to Leland the next day, which is famous for its “Fishtown” a still-working historic fishing village. This turned out to be one street/dock, which was unfortunately closed while we were there! We had a great meal at a restaurant right by the marina for our first night. The next day strong winds were expected, so we stayed for another night. Since we worked and I made dinner on the boat, we didn’t do any further exploring.

Sunset at Leland

The next day, we headed towards Luddington and tied up on the wall at their marina. Our friends from Mackinac Island caught up with us and our schedules finally coordinated for us to eat dinner together. After dinner we went on a mission for ice-cream and ended up at a popular local spot with a huge line!

House of Flavors, Luddington

We headed out early the next morning for the remainder of the cruise to Grand Haven. Since we’d told them that we would be limping on one engine, they had not expected us until the evening. However, we had figured out that the engine vibration was worse in the mid-range of speed, but we could go on plane just fine. David assured me that it was extremely unlikely that we would entirely lose the prop, and since we didn’t fancy a looooooong day going 4 knots on one engine, we decided to plane. We arrived in the middle of the day when they were non-stop lifting out boats with their forklifts. They told us to return after hours, so we headed a little further around in the corner and dropped anchor. Since it was a lovely day, we decided to go for a quick swim, which might be our last until we get back to Florida! It was a lovely afternoon.

Finally hauled

Early the next morning, we were hauled out. Within minutes someone was taking a look at the loose propeller and had it fixed in about 15 minutes. David had checked the weather report and we were looking at several upcoming days of strong winds. Notice the predicted wave height on Wednesday…21ft!!!!!!

We decided to have the shop take a look at a few other issues (leaking through hulls etc). At this point, we’re pretty old-hat at living aboard while on the hard. And at least here the showers are fresh water!!

It was a fairly low-key week here. Unfortunately David wasn’t feeling too well (not Covid! common cold). There was a great running path right by the marina. As usual, the work took a little longer than expected and we ended up still there over the weekend. One of David’s college friends also happened to be in the area on vacation, so we scootered into town to meet up for the afternoon. There was a Latinx festival going on in town, so we ate some delicious street food.

On our last day, I ran into town for an errand and decided to stop at one of the wineries in town for a wine tasting. Again, the weather was warm, so I sat outside and enjoyed some wine while reading my book.

When we were finally put back in the water, it was in the afternoon, so we travelled about 2 miles down the river to the main Grand Haven town marina for one night. Unfortunately, this was far enough for us to discover that fixing the loose prop had not solved our engine problems. After some filter changing and a conversation with a Yanmar tech, we determined that the problem is likely the injection pump assembly. Unfortunately this is an extremely expensive part to replace, Yanmar-approved rebuild shops in the US seem non-existent (there’s one in Europe!), and Yanmar technicians are few and far between, booked up for weeks, and not amenable to flying out to meet us. So we are in a bit of a quagmire at the moment, but our top priority is getting to Chicago and into the inland rivers before Winter Comes!

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North Lake Michigan and Engine Trouble

Panorama from the fort on Mackinac Island

On our last night in Sault Ste Marie, after we returned to the boat for dinner, we walked through a group of Canadians having drinks on the dock who invited us to join them. They confirmed that there was a US border crossing checkpoint in the marina just across the river on the American side of Sault Ste Marie. In the morning, we cast off our lines, and immediately submitted our info via the border crossing app. It was about 15 minutes to get across the river and we were allowed to pull up to their fuel dock while we awaited our confirmation. After another 30 minutes of watching the app remain in “pending” status, I decided to give them a call. As it turns out, there had been so few people submitting border crossings via the app that they just hadn’t been monitoring it! In about 30 seconds, our info was processed and we were good to go. David dealt with filling up with diesel, water, and emptying our holding tanks while I hopped on the scooter and headed to a pharmacy where I would be able to fill a prescription for some tennis elbow meds that I had been waiting all through Canada to pick up.

After we were all provisioned up, we started heading south with De Tour being our potential stopping point. Shortly into the journey, David started noticing a large increase in the fuel consumption on our starboard motor. This one has always had slightly higher numbers, but these were significantly higher than normal. We also started feeling a slight vibration on that side at a certain RPM. We backed off on that engine and I started calling around to find local divers in the De Tour area, since our going assumption was that maybe we had something snagged around that prop. Unfortunately, the most local diver that I could get on the phone (on a weekend, of course) was in Mackinaw City. Since we were going a lot slower at this point, we didn’t think we would be able to make it safely to Mackinaw before it got dark, especially given that some winds were expected in northern Lake Michigan. After a bit of debate, we decided to head to Mackinac Island, which is a little bit north of Mackinaw – where we would avoid rough water and arrive just before dark. In theory we would be able to find either a diver or a boat yard in Mackinaw the next day, although this was somewhat in question due to it being Labor Day weekend.

Mackinac Island Airport Shuttle

We pulled into the Mackinac Island in the early evening, taking the last big-boat slip in the marina! Along the way, we had read up on the Grand Hotel dining experience and decided to get fancy (coat and tie required!) and head up for dinner. On Mackinac Island, there are no motorized vehicles allowed of any sort, including ebikes and electric scooters (although we later learned that after the season closes, locals use snowmobiles to get around in the winter!!), so everything is either bicycles or horse and carriage. I wanted to ride in a carriage to dinner, but we did not realize you needed to book this in advance, so we ended up walking. Luckily I had just bought some new fancy shoes that are actually comfortable to walk in!

I really wanted David to call me Alicia and I would call him Juliooooooooooooo, but he didn’t really want to comply. (Please, go and watch “Grand Hotel” [Ed note: don’t]). Dinner at the Grand Hotel is an EVENT. They have three different menus that they rotate each night throughout the season. You are directed into an ENORMOUS dining room and you have several different servers throughout the dinner. Our service was a little bit lack-luster, with our drinks server not seeming to care at all what we ordered. We were told there was a full bar, and when David tried to order a rum negroni, we discovered the only rum they had was Bacardi :). The food was delicious though, and it was quite a fun evening.

Another Looper couple we had met in Canada was also in the marina, and after chatting with them for a while, and looking at the weather forecast, which was going to be extremely windy for the next few days, we decided that we would stay at Mackinac and actually experience the island, rather than leaving early the next morning. We figured we would be more likely to find either a Yanmar service shop and/or a diver after Labor Day. So, the next morning, we headed up the hill to the fort that overlooked the marina. The fort/museum was actually very well done with lots of interesting exhibits.

We spent the rest of the day walking to all the major tourist spots on the island including a second fort on the highest point of the island, and a naturally forming archway. We also stopped in at the one brewery on the island, which actually doesn’t brew anything on the island. They also turned out to be a distillery, none of which was made on the island either.

At this point, the weather forecast started to look really bad with 40+kt winds predicted, and we knew we actually wouldn’t be leaving the island for another couple of days. We settled in for a couple of days of working on Mackinac. The next day, the winds were blowing so hard that one of our dock lines actually snapped (during one of my meetings!!). I felt the tug on the boat and yelled for David. We were able to replace the lines and luckily the marina had basically emptied out that morning so we no longer had a neighbour to swing in to. The next two days were also predicted for bad winds, so we ended up on Mackinac for some time!

We decided to head out with the weather window, and aim south, hoping that we’d eventually find someone who could come out and take a look at the engine. Not too long into this journey, we suddenly had the port engine overheat. Back in Canada, David had noticed that one of the belts on this engine was looking pretty worn. As it turns out there are no after-market replacements, and nobody anywhere in Canada had it in stock. David had ordered 6 Yanmar spares to our package holding service in Virgina, and we just needed to get to a place where we’d be able to send a package. The engine had overheated because this belt had snapped and had also dislodged the second belt. David was able to return the first belt to its place and we figured we could keep going on one belt and we’d overnight the belt package to wherever we ended up. However, only a few minutes later the engine reheated again, and this time the other belt had also snapped. This meant we were down to one engine – the problematic one. Meanwhile, I had found a diver in Charlevoix that would be able to come out and see if he could identify or rule out anything wrong with the propeller as the cause of the vibration. We decided we would limp in to Charlevoix on the one engine. David placed the overnight order to our package service to have everything delivered to us the next day. Luckily our friends from Mackinac were also at Charlevoix, and though we pulled in just after sunset when the marina was closed, they came to catch our lines. Our big fat cat is not very maneuverable at low speeds for docking on only one engine!!

The next morning, the diver arrived and discovered that the starboard prop was actually loose with the key that keeps the prop in place having shifted. This meant that until our package arrived with the new belts for the port engine, we were dead in the water, not wanting to put further stress on the starboard prop until we have a chance to get hauled and have everything inspected and fixed.

Unfortunately, that night disaster struck at our package center and they were not able to get the packages out. Thus ensued a 5 day struggle with the service and their lies and delays, calling every few hours to offer them money, beg, plead, anything we could do, to get the package out the door.

By Friday, with the packages still not sent yet, we knew nothing would be arriving over the weekend, and we were resigned to spending the entire weekend and more in Charlevoix. David got a haircut on Saturday and learned from the hairdresser about a local point of interest – the “mushroom houses”. These turned out to be a small street with houses that looked like they came from a fairytale!

We decided for Sunday to take the ferry to nearby Beaver Island to explore. This necessitated staying one night on the island, due to the off-season limited ferry schedule. In the morning, we hopped on the ferry with an overnight bag and our scooters. Our plan for the day would be to scooter around the island and end up at the brewery in town (they do brew on the island!).

About 15 minutes into our scooter ride out of the main street on the northern point of the island, the paved road quickly turned unpaved and was very uncomfortable! We decided to press on, since there wasn’t that much else to do in the town. We did almost the full loop around the island and saw the main attractions including the southern lighthouse, which is in the process of being restored, “the big birch” and “the big rock”. Yes, a big rock is the main attraction :).

By the time we arrived at the brewery, 37 miles of scootering later, I was ready to sit down, after being shaken up on gravel roads for the entire day. Amazingly we didn’t puncture the tires on either of our scooters! The brewmaster also turned out to be the island’s chief librarian and we had a great chat with him. Apparently it is a local activity to get large groups of people together on the Big Rock for a photo. Sometimes after slowly cruising around the island with a picnic table in the back of a truck!

For dinner, we headed to the Beaver Island Lodge for a nice meal. They weren’t quite ready to seat us when we arrived, so we sat at the bar and chatted with our neighbour who turned out to be the proprietor of the new Bodega in town and recommended that we stop there for breakfast in the morning before getting on the ferry. Dinner was lovely and accompanied by a beautiful sunset. The next morning we woke up early to hop on the ferry back to Charlevoix before the Monday work day started.

Late Monday night, we finally got a notice from USPS that our packages were actually being processed, with an estimated delivery date of Thursday (over a week after we put in our overnight delivery order…) At this point we were resigned to our fate with nothing to do but wait in Charlevoix until the packages arrived. As it turned out, they did arrive on Wednesday (while still showing an estimated delivery of Thursday…), but we had one other package on the way (a warranty-replacement solar charge controller to replace our flaky one) that would not arrive until Thursday morning. Wednesday night, David got the new belts on the port engine, and after some basic testing, we declared the engine ready to go as soon as Fedex arrived in the morning to head south to find repairs for the other engine.

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The Trent-Severn Waterway

The Big Chute – Second to Last Lock on the Trent-Severn

Recently I’ve been trying to post roughly every week, but for some reason, I have been avoiding writing up our time in the Trent-Severn. I don’t have a reasonable excuse for this because we loved the 10 days that we spent working our way up, and then down this canal system going through 42 locks. The entire time we had amazing weather – almost too hot at 85 degrees almost every day, and it’s a unique experience for us to be boating in fresh water, meaning afternoon swims don’t result in salty-stickiness.

One note through all of this is that we took two weeks off work to do the Trent-Severn and some of the following Georgian Bay/North Channel. We knew the locks would be time-consuming, as well as that the Trent is supposedly one of the most fun parts of the great loop, so we wanted to enjoy it. At the same time, with Canada waiting this long to open its borders, it’s already getting late in the season, and most Canadians have already finished their summer cruising. Marinas are empty, and weather can turn foul on a moment’s notice and stay bad for days. We wanted to enjoy what we could, but we knew we didn’t really have time to linger. We had the Trent-Severn, Georgian Bay, North Channel, and all of Lake Michigan to get through before we got back to protected river waters. With fall rapidly coming, we knew we only had time for a cursory overview of the area, so we tried to make the best of it, enjoy it, but still get a move on.

Backing up just a little, since our last post ended with us crossing the Ontario into Canada. Our border crossing went relatively smoothly with the exception that since we declared all our alcohol (a lot!), due to not wanting to lose our NEXUS status, we were boarded and ended up “surrendering to the crown” all the beer on board. Luckily we were able to keep almost all of our wine and liquor. We finally tied up in Trenton after sunset and decided to order take-out Thai from a restaurant down the street from the marina. Hands down the best Thai food we’ve ever eaten.

After provisioning in the morning, we decided to get under way and headed towards the first lock of the Trent-Severn Waterway. If there’s only one thing to say about our experience in the locks it is that the lock attendants are some of the friendliest people we’ve met on this trip so far. In the Trent, once you go through the first lock of the day, all of the locks communicate with each other regarding incoming and outgoing traffic, so largely your day is orchestrated for you.

The first couple days of the locks are called “the ditch” by the locals. It’s mostly boring narrow rivers in semi swampland, with no towns or really anything nearby. It’s not very pretty, it mostly has 10 kph speed limits, and you just need to get through it. The first night we stayed on a lock wall that wasn’t near much.

Our first night in the Trent

One of the locks we went through on the second day was a double lock – where the first lock top gates open into a second lock for a second rise.

For our second night, and almost every night thereafter, we ended up on anchor on a lake in between the locks where we were able to jump in the fresh water after a long sweaty day of docking, un-docking and managing lines.

Second night’s anchorage

The next day, we finally broke out to a fairly large lake, Rice Lake, and had a pretty lovely afternoon crossing it. David took out the drone half way across and got some pictures and video of us under way as well.

Crossing Rice Lake

On the third night, we stayed in Peterborough, one of the larger towns along the way. We found an escape room in town and did two of their rooms and had a lovely meal, as well as bought some repair supplies from Home Depot and found the best butcher we’ve seen in months. This was the first town where we noticed that the homeless situation in at least this area of Canada is just as bad as in many parts of the states these days. The pandemic has not been kind to folks.

The next morning, we headed back into the lock system and encountered the most famous lock in the system – the Peterborough Lift Lock. This lock is a 65ft hydraulic boat elevator. You drive forward into the lock, a gate rises behind you and you are lifted 65ft (quite quickly!) in a sort of bathtub. We had previously been traveling on week days, so we had yet to encounter any other boats in the locks with us. However, we left Peterborough on a Friday with a several other boats trailing us. Since the locks in this area are quite close together, we ended up spending the morning in several locks with the same group of boats (4 of us!). Once you are tied up in a lock, there is not much to do, so we ended up making friends as we worked our way through the system. I took a video of our ride up the lift, but discovered at the top that I hadn’t hit record!!

After Peterborough, we headed up into the prettiest section of the Trent-Severn, starting with Clear Lake/Stoney Lake. The navigation was a bit treacherous, with rocks everywhere, above and below the water, but it was very well marked, and we followed our charts carefully and made it through unscathed.

Picking our way through the rocks on Stoney Lake

We anchored in a nice little corner of the lake and swam around in the warm evening after a long day on the rivers/lakes.

The next day, we went quite a ways through the rivers, without too many locks in the way. We’d been traveling the system on weekdays up until now, which didn’t come with very much traffic anywhere we went. However, this was a Saturday, and we were back in civilization, and it was a different story. We went through the town of Bobcaygeon, which had a lock in the center of it, and the walls were completely jam-packed with day boaters. We got a few to move just far enough apart for us to scoot over to the waiting-area wall and get out of the way of the people locking through, and then got in the next very-full lock with a pile of boats and jetskis.

Later that day, we settled into the west end of Balsam Lake. We had a nice late afternoon in the waning sun when a huge cloud front quickly swept in and deposited a huge amount of rain and heavy wind gusts for an hour or so, then moved out as quickly as it came to a crystal clear night.

Evening over Balsam Lake

We’d heard from a few folks along the way that the upcoming “canal section” was narrow, shallow, and sketchy, so we’d hatched this plan of anchoring basically right outside the entrance to the section, and then getting up early enough in the morning to traverse the whole section before the lock opened up to let traffic through, to give us the best shot of not running into another boat coming at us. The section is literally too narrow and shallow for our fat catamaran to let anyone by, so it could be a super dangerous debacle if we did run into anyone.

The entrance to the canal section

The plan ended up working great, and after a nervewracking passage through the narrow hell, we ended up at the Kirkfield Lift Lock about 20 minutes before they opened, so we had a chance to tie up and walk down to check out the lock and the info boards around it, and only ran into a few tiny local fishing boats along the way.

Before going down the lock, this was the highest point on the Trent-Severn — 840 feet above sea level, 600 feet up since Lake Ontario. It doesn’t feel like a boat should be here. This spot is the highest above sea level continuously-from-sea-level-navigable waterway in North America. Pretty neat.

From here, it was all downhill. The canal section continue to have astonishingly shallow sections through man-made lakes, dragging boats where they shouldn’t be to get to Lake Simcoe.

Traveling through a particularly shallow part of Canal Lake

After a harrowing day, we ended up crossing Lake Simcoe and spending the night in a marina in Orillia, a fairly large town on the north end of the lake. We had a day of heavy wind coming up next, so we stayed put. Hannah worked, David did projects all day. We finally tore out the last of the old electronics, the Raymarine autopilot system, and replaced it with a new Garmin one. Later, after two long scooter trips to a Home Depot, David managed to hack the brackets enough to fit a new larger alternator to the port engine.

Now we look like a floating Garmin ad

We had a couple lovely meals in town, picked up a great pie and some groceries, and the next day continued on our way to finish out the Trent-Severn.

The last locks were pretty fun. We first hit the Swift Rapids lock, #43, with a 47 ft drop. It just kept going, and going.

Lock 44 is possibly the best of all — The Big Chute Marine Railway. This is essentially a train car that took us over land (including over a road). Since we had spent the morning encountering no other boats, we thought it would be safe to assume that we’d be riding alone, but 6 jet skis showed up as the train car was descending into the water to receive us. The jet skis boarded first, and then we were called forward. We assumed that we’d be held suspended in slings, much like a travel lift (used when we get hauled out), which is how they handle most mono-hull boats riding the Chute. However, since we are technically flat on the bottom (our propellers are inside our hull channels), they just lifted the car up until we were basically beached on the floor. This entire experience was AWESOME.

Finally, we approached the last lock on the Trent, to go out not with a bang, but with a whimper. It’s only a few foot final drop into the Georgian Bay, and the lock is the smallest one in the system, only 22 ft wide (4 ft wider than we are) — we basically occupied the whole thing!

Lock 45 – Port Severn

We were extremely glad that we had (for the most part) taken this time off work to make our way through the Trent-Severn. We had a lot of long days of back-to-back locking, and we appreciated being able to swim and chill in the evenings. Though we weren’t that entranced after our first two days of the ditch, once we made our way into the lakes that are interspersed between the locks, we started to think that this would be a place to re-visit. Since we were trying to make good time (wanting to spend some of our vacation time in the Georgian Bay after the Trent), we did end up skipping a few of the towns along the way that we heard from many people are worth a visit. Overall, though, we are so glad that we waited for the Canadian border to open so that we could have this experience.

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Erie and Oswego Canals

Upon returning to the East Coast, we spent the day visiting Kingston, which we hadn’t had the chance to do before we left for Seattle. We visited the maritime museum, which discussed the ecological impact of humans and boating on the waters of the Hudson, and some of the history of the Erie canal.

We had a drink at a local brewery and on the way got to see some amazing murals, which were all over Kingston.

The next day took us all the way to the wall just outside of Lock 1 on the Erie Canal at Waterford. The trip up the Hudson continued to not disappoint – everything is beautiful! Along the way we stopped to fill up with diesel at the slowest fuel pump we’ve ever encountered (for our biggest fill we’ve ever had) and ended up on their dock for 1.5 hours filling up.

Slowest diesel fill ever

We had a happy hour in the cockpit, and then wandered into town for a lovely dinner.

The next morning we woke up early for the opening of the first lock and started our journey up the Erie Canal. Our ultimate goal would be to reach Oswego by the end of the week which is near Syracuse, where my parents would be flying home from. Since both David and I were working during the week, our mornings consisted of getting through as many locks as we could before David’s meetings started for the day. During the work day, my parents explored whatever town we were in.

The Erie Canal locks are different than what we’d experienced before – there is generally no place to actually tie your boat to, just lines hanging down from the top of the lock that you grab on to. Each lock fills slightly differently, so sometimes you might be pushed heavily against the wall, others you might be pushed off the wall into the middle of the lock and others the water swirls around moving you at random. Going up was pretty hard work, having to hang on to the line. We did one down-lock, which turned out to be much easier!

Along the way, we visited Scotia Landing, Ilion, Rome, Sylvan Beach and Brewerton. David and I didn’t get to explore the towns much due to spending our days working, but Mum and Dad really enjoyed Rome, where we walked to a local brewery.

On the next leg of the trip, we crossed the Oneida Lake – our first fresh water lake of the trip. Since I had a break in meetings right as we were in the center of the lake, I suggested we slow down for a quick swim. David killed the engines and my parents and I jumped off the back of the boat. It was lovely!

The next morning, we entered the Owsego Canal, which would take us all the way to Oswego, where we would cross Lake Ontario into Canada (assuming the border opened on schedule). We got held up waiting for some opposite direction traffic at Lock 2, at which time we pulled off our new scooters from the boat and I set out back to Syracuse to purchase a new SIM card from T-Mobile that would, theoretically, give us internet while in Canada. This ride would test the range of the newer, beefier scooters. I made it to the store, which turned out to be in the Great Northern Mall, a huuuuuuuuge and nearly empty complex. (Of course, there was a Spirit Halloween). Unfortunately, the SIM card/plan that David had spoken to someone on the phone didn’t actually work in Canada, so I headed off back to the boat, to see if I could catch up with Highwind somewhere along the Oswego Canal. About 4 miles from my destination, the scooter battery died, and luckily I was able to get an Uber to take me the rest of the way there! But the new scooter was able to do almost 40 miles at almost 30mph before dying, which is a huge improvement over the Segways.

The next day, we explored the town of Oswego by scooter, starting off with Fort Ontario. This turned out to be an awesome museum/complex filled with historical re-enactors who where happy to answer any questions you had!

We had a great time on the scooters!

We also stopped for the biggest ice-cream cones ever!

David and I took our PCR Covid tests in order to do our border crossing. There was a small snafu with the labs resulting in David’s initial test being labeled with a duplicate of my information, so we had to re-take the tests and thought we might be delayed by a day. While we were having a leisurely morning getting ready to say goodbye to Mum and Dad, we ended up getting our test results texted to us. Since the weather was looking much better that day than the next, we sprang into action, and practically kicked Mum and Dad off the boat. They organized a taxi to Syracuse, and then we said our goodbyes, untied, and shoved off for our crossing of Lake Ontario into Canada.

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